I'm extremely excited to write this final part of the series.
The song "An Unexpected Me" is finally done and released under the band name Flip That Switch. The song took a new direction (compared to the song described in parts 1 - 4) and I'm extremely happy with how it turned out!
This post will focus on the writing and recording process of this version of the song. If you're interested in my gear and how the project originally started, check out the previous posts:
- Part 1 (Gear and Ideas)
- Part 2 (Guitar Scratch Track)
- Part 3 (Lyrics and Solo)
- Part 4 (Guitar recordings)
Play the song!
Get the song!
- Valentino Francavilla (Vocals) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Tony Parsons (Drums) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Rocco Pezzin (Bass, Mixing, Mastering) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Andrei Kryssov (Music, Lyrics, Guitar)
Where have I been?
Why the heck did it take so long to finish the song?!
When I wrote part 4 I had all the guitar parts recorded and lyrics written. I started looking for a drummer to collaborate with but couldn't garner enough interest in that version of the song. Then life got busy, I lost motivation, and shelved the song for another day.
And somehow an entire year flew by.
Then in Fall 2017 a few things happened. A new band called Cyhra released their debut album "Letters To Myself". I was blown away by it! In particular how catchy and memorable the songs were. For example check out the chorus in their song "Heartrage". Listening to this album started to rekindle my interest in writing and recording music again.
Around that time I also attended a few incredible live shows (including Rammstein and Iron Maiden). I noticed how certain songs would draw a particular energetic reaction from the audience. The audience would get engaged with the song and want to move and dance to the groove. Capturing this groove, something you can bob your head up and down to, was what these artists excelled at. Getting a person moving and excited is what made the live experience of rock music so much fun.
So I began to imagine how fun it would be to write a song like that. A song that rocked, grooved, and would be fun to play live. A song that captured that vibe.
I listened to what I had recorded in part 4 and found that my song had none of those characteristics. It wasn't a rock a song, it didn't groove, and I wouldn't be excited to play it live. And yet it had potential. The riffs and chord progressions could be repurposed. The song needed some electric guitar distortion and a new arrangement.
I also realized that my intentions when starting this series of blog posts were not focused on writing a song. Instead I put more focus on this series of posts, the song became an afterthought. That's why I lost interest in the music after writing part 4.
And so I shifted my mindset.
I put all my focus into writing the song. Specifically a rock song that I would be excited to play live. A song that could garner that same audience reaction I saw when attending the aforementioned live shows.
And yet I had apprehension. Here I was about 2 years after I wrote the first post in the series thinking of redoing the song. What was going to prevent me from putting the song on an indefinite hold again? Was it going to take me another year just to re-write the new version?
As a solo song writer I often struggle with "writers block". I come up with a section (say a verse) but then not know where to go next. My internal dialogue fields questions like was this new section interesting enough technically and musically? Was it good enough for the song? This perpetuated into self-doubt, indecision, and ultimately blocked me from continuing to write music.
And then I read this advice from Tim Ferriss. Whenever he hits writers block in a project, he asks himself:
What if it were easy?
This question became my mental approach and panacea.
I set the intention that if I hit a roadblock during the re-writing process I would ask myself, what if this were easy, what would I do?
This approach empowered me to make decisions during the re-writing process. So when I did hit a roadblock I would ask myself, what if it were easy, what would I play in this section? It wasn't literally playing the "easiest" thing, but playing something, anything. Then making various tweaks and moving forward.
The mindset was to keep moving forward. Make decisions.
This helped me unlock my creativity and allowed me to re-write the song in a reasonable amount of time. So instead of trying to write the perfect song, I just wrote what sounded good to me with the intention of moving forward and getting it finished.
Re-writing the song
The first version of the song sounded like this:
This version has some cool riffs and chord progressions, but the arrangement isn't very exciting.
So I set an intention: re-write the song so that it grooves and rocks. So that it would get a listener to bob there head up and down and want to move with it.
I came up with a Def Leppard inspired riff that became the intro of the song (first 30 seconds). Through jamming I came up with the chords for the pre-chorus which connected nicely into the chorus chord progression I repurposed from the first version of the song.
Like Lego blocks I began to piece together individual sections. I had an intro/outro, verses, pre-choruses, choruses, and a solo section. I focused on the connections between each section to ensure they were seamless and tight. I didn't overthink them, asking myself constantly: what if it were easy?
I now had the blueprint for the second version of the song. It sounded like this:
Next up was writing the vocal melody and lyrics.
Writing a vocal melody was a bit foreign to me. To get started I utilized an approach taught to me by my music teacher. The approach is to essentially analyze the music of a composer you admire to break down the relationship between the harmony, melody, and rhythm.
I really like the chorus in the song "Holding Your Breath" by Cyhra so this is where I applied that approach. I figured out the chord progression by ear and then learned the vocal melody on the guitar.
This gave me insight as to how the vocal melody sounded and played on the guitar. Thus I was now thinking like a vocalist, but instead of singing I was playing the melody on the guitar. I then used this mindset to write the vocal melodies on the guitar for An Unexpected Me.
Here are the melodies I came up with (you'll hear the lead guitar playing the vocal melody):
Now I needed to write lyrics for these melodies.
This was a major challenge. As I sketched out several ideas nothing felt right. So I started Googling "how to write lyrics" and I came across a site whose first point of advice was to not write clichés such as "I walk this road".
I looked at my notebook of ideas and one of the first lines I wrote was: "I walk this road".
So yes, my lyrics needed some work.
I took an approach by starting with a theme. In this case it was "expectations". Thinking about where they come from and how much they define us and our experiences. Going on this theme I started to match up phrases to the vocal melody.
Over time ideas started to come together and I finally had lyrics I was happy with:
Let's set the stage where you enclose on me
Display your force amorphously
I feel no choice
Living to your demands
What if I could
Split from your pull
You are the way I measure up
You are the way I see
Break from you
Break from you
Break from you
Will not concede
Expect an unexpected me
Now I will try to push
No more moments you'll take from me
Now that I'm aware
Of your stare
Your strength falters
My view is altered
I now had the guitar parts recorded and lyrics written. It was time to find other musicians to join me on this song!
Recording over the web
This song would still be in demo form had it not been for the incredible musicians I was fortunate enough to collaborate with. I give these guys my biggest thanks for bringing this song to life and making it sound so much better than I imagined!
I started my search by looking for a drummer. I wanted someone who was technically proficient, had a great recording sound, and had a groovy feel to his playing.
My strategy was to search on YouTube for drummers covering songs that influenced me. I felt that if the drummer had a solid performance, they would have the right mindset and feel that I was looking for in my song.
I sent Tony the song demo and he agreed to add drums to the track. The only direction I gave him was make it groove. I fully trusted his instincts and was blown away by what he came up with. He captured the exact feel I was going for by making the drums groove and propel the track forward.
Even though Tony is physically in a different state from me, the recording process was straightforward. He sent me his first version by adding drums to the guitar backing track I had sent him. I sent him some feedback for a few tweaks, and we then had a final version of the drums. The power of the internet!
Tony sent me each individual drum as a separate audio file, and these would then be added to the final audio project for when the song was ready to be mixed. Here are the files:
Next I started to look for a vocalist using the same YouTube "cover a song I like" strategy.
I found Valentino Francavilla covering the song "I Don't Believe In Love" by Queensrÿche. I was blown away by his performance. He not only technically nailed the song, but brought his own unique voice to the song.
I was determined to get this guy to join the song!
While I was pitching Valentino I started to look into the guitar and bass player who covered the song with him. Enter Rocco Pezzin.
Rocco turned out to have a swiss army knife skillset of music production. Not only is he a monster guitar player, but he also specializes in bass and music production.
I contacted him and he agreed to collaborate by adding the bass guitar and mixing and mastering the song. Sharing my 80s metal influences I only needed to give him limited direction as to how I wanted the song to sound.
When he sent me his first version of the mix (including bass guitar) I was truly impressed. The song was starting to come together!
During this time Valentino recorded the vocals. He sent his recorded files to Rocco to be added to the mix, and Rocco then sent me a mixed version that included all the parts.
I had a sense of what to expect from the vocals given that Valentino utilized the guitar melodies I had sent him, but I was still really amazed by his performance. He added various tweaks, intonations, and harmonies that I didn't have in the guitar melodies. He knew the style and vibe I was going for in the track and he absolutely nailed it. The song had come alive and was ready for release!
By the way, Valentino and Rocco are based in Italy - the power of the internet!
While writing "An Unexpected Me" I started to write another song. This new song currently has the guitars and drums done, and I'm now working on the vocal melodies and lyrics. Not sure yet when this second song will be released, but it is in progress!
The current vision for Flip That Switch is to release two songs, and then it's a big TBD.
As inspiration strikes I may compose additional music and continue to release as singles. But for now the plan is to just release two songs.
As far as "An Unexpected Me", it was a tremendous pleasure to collaborate with Tony, Valentino, and Rocco on this song. The beauty of finding the right people to collaborate with is that with limited direction they will contribute in ways you couldn't have anticipated. Because of shared musical influences these guys knew exactly what the track needed!
I can now bring closure to this 5 part series.
This is my blueprint for recording a song.