My first instrument is drums so, for me, the melody always suggests various options of rhythm. I usually start an Arrangement with a rhythm guitar part on acoustic, getting a tempo and the right feel. When I have the rhythm in my head I take it to drums – trying a couple of different drum parts and trying to sing along to drums to see what works.
I like using a double bass- drum pedal to make the song sound a bit more interesting without over complicating the rhythm. When I’ve settled on a drum rhythm I switch on my computer and find exactly the right tempo on Cu base and play along again, adjusting the tempo till I’m happy that it’s exactly right to play and sing along.
I’m not great on guitar so I have to keep the rhythm – section fairly simple. The drums rhythm suggests a bass rhythm which I practice for a while and then I start to put tracks down. For the first couple of tracks, ‘A Dream of England’ and ‘Polish Falcon’, once I had the bass and drum parts in my head I decided to I needed something a little more dexterous than my guitar playing at the heart of the track so I got stuck into programming in Cu base It is an absolute joy to work with! I thought I’d start with traditional sounds initially to keep it simple so the first part I tried was piano. First the chord sequence with very simple changes, and then some trills based around the Arpeggios (the notes of the chord). Each bar seemed to suggest the next and before you know it you have a piano part. I just needed to avoid copying the vocal lines too much and try to do something interesting. This came by sheer trial and error. With a decent backing track on the computer I was now faced with the most difficult part of all for me – the lead vocal. With the first 4 tracks I agonised over the vocal lines. Recording and re-recording until I got something that didn’t embarrass me too much.
If your voice isn’t great it’s crucial that you get exactly the right key. I learned that just putting a song a semitone higher can mean the difference between an acceptable take and an unpleasant one. When I eventually got an acceptable vocal line, I usually worked at harmonies to improve the overall sound of the vocals. The rest of the arrangement could be built around these vocal lines. I originally wanted to use live musicians for everything but you can’t have everything so I compromise by having as much live recording as I can. Always live drums, bass and rhythm guitar and then Cu base sounds to add some quality. What I’ve learned most of all from these first half a dozen songs is that you need to be adaptable. The idea you have in your head doesn’t always work when you put it together. The Arrangement sometimes builds itself around a particular part that you’ve just added.
If it works, you go with it and enjoy the ride! The crucial things are the Key and the Tempo. Get those sorted as soon as you can and the rest will fall into place. And get at least one instrumental genius to help.