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Blueprint for recording a song - part 2 - guitar scratch track

If you got here first, check out the introduction  and part 1 of this series.

My goal in this part was to take the chord progressions I had come up with in part 1, and put them together to make a complete song . In music production this is referred to as a scratch track. It's a rough draft/prototype of the song.

Scratch tracks  will vary in production levels. Some may feature the entire band but have limited post-production. Other tracks may have  some instruments recorded by musicians, while others (e.g. drums, bass guitar) will be played by the computer. I didn't have time to get into programming the other instruments, so my scratch track is just guitar.

Before I hit the record button I needed to figure a few things out.

First was the BPM (beats per minute) of the song. Every song you hear has a BPM (aka tempo). It's how musicians are able to stay in time with each other. The majority of music  is in 4, 4 time (written 4/4). Turn on any pop song and start counting: 1, 2, 3, 4. You'll have to adjust the speed of your count to fit with the music. The speed at which you count is the songs BPM. For example if the song is 100 BPM, that means you'll count 1, 2, 3, 4...all the way to 100 in one minute.

I rely on a metronome (which allows me to set any BPM) to figure out the tempo of my music. I need to know this before I can record my scratch track. Side note: this is especially important when collaborating with other musicians over the web. By telling them what the BPM is of the song, they can program a metronome on their computer to play at that BPM, and this allows them to record in sync with my guitar.

I spent some time with  the metronome trying to figure out the "right" tempo for my song. It's a straightforward process where I'll set the tempo to a random number, start playing the song, and decide if I need to increase or decrease the BPM until I find the one that feels just right. I recorded a short video of the process:

How do I know when I find the right tempo? It's very subjective. In the video I start at 76 BPM and then go down to 72. 76 felt a bit rushed, while 72 felt a bit slow. I settled at 74 which is the tempo you'll hear in the scratch  track recording below. I also could have done 73 or 75 BPM, but I prefer keeping an even number for the tempo.

After I settled on the tempo, I began figuring out how to connect the individual parts of the song. This involves playing the different chord progressions until I find the combination I'm happy with. I've currently settled with a very standard song structure:

  • Intro (2x)
  • Verse 1 (4x)
  • Pre-chorus (1x)
  • Chorus (2x)
  • Verse 2 (4x)
  • Pre-chorus (1x)
  • Chorus (4x)

The counts at the end of each section is how many times I go through the chord progression in the respective section.

I may add another section a bit further in the process, but for now I'm happy with this basic structure. And now that I had my song structure and tempo, I recorded the guitar scratch track. Here it is:

I now have the bare-bones of a full song!

My next step is to figure out the lyrics and vocal melodies. I'll then start looking for a vocalist to collaborate with. I also need to start thinking about if I want to collaborate with a drummer and bass player to record those parts. Or I can take the easier path of having those played by the computer. I'm not sure yet the direction I'll take.

For now I have my scratch track, and am curious to see the direction the vocals take the song in!