The Ultimate Songwriting Tool: Your Home Studio

2009 Oct 12, 2009

So if you’re a musician and you’ve come to the smart conclusion that you need a home studio (you only need $500), you may already be using it to record your finished song ideas. After all, that’s what the recording studio was born out of...a need to capture songs that people already had written and could play live. If you have a great song, a great group of musicians, a great studio, then you’ll get a great recording. However, the home studio today can be used not only for recording finished material, but as the ultimate songwriting tool. Read on to find out how...

The Band In a Box

One of the greatest things about using your home studio for songwriting is that you can arrange the whole song, not just the primary instrumentation. With the use of virtual instruments, amp modeling, drum loops, and multi-channel vocal recording you can capture the ideas for the whole band, even as you fly solo in your spare bedroom. This can be helpful when teaching song ideas to your band, or just remembering the arrangement you “heard” in your mind.

Sometimes I’ve even been looking for a cool keyboard sound for my guitar based song when I’m inspired to write a completely different song because of the tone I got out of my virtual instrument. I came in to the songwriting session going in one direction, but having the “band in a box” allowed me to take a creative detour which ended up with a new and better song entirely!

Collaboration Made Simple
We live in an age of affordable technology and unparalleled ease of file sharing. This combination opens up a huge door to us songwriters who like to collaborate with others. Again, when you fire up your recording system you are working digitally, so when you finish laying down your ideas (be it one guitar lick, or a full out arrangement) you can save the session out as an MP3 file, ready for sharing.

Why is this cool? Because what you can do is shoot that MP3 over to your friend, who in turn can import said file into his or her recording software. Now he or she can write and record new parts to the song and even “fill it out” with other instrumentation. Once this has been done, your partner simply saves the session out as a new MP3 and sends it on back to you. This is the power of digital recording as you can write and produce music with people all over the world with ease...all because you got smart and purchased a basic home studio.

Save Time With a Template
One of the best things you can do to simplify your songwriting life and save you precious time (and ultimately that’s what matters...simplifying and saving time in the studio) is to create a songwriting template in your recording software so you don’t have to spend time setting up tracks for all your instruments, labeling inputs or outputs, or any other monotonous thing each time you want to write music. You just want jump right into writing before your idea is gone.

Here’s what I do in Pro Tools to set up a songwriting template, but it will apply to your DAW of choice if you use something else...

  1. Create a new session, name it something like “Songwriting Template”, and save it to your audio drive or wherever you save your Pro Tools sessions.
  2. Once inside your session, create tracks for everything you can think of needing. Here’s what I include: 3 vocal tracks, 3 electric guitar tracks, 2 acoustic guitar tracks, a bass track, 1 stereo track for drum loops, 1 stereo keyboard track, 1 click track (metronome), 1 reverb return, and 1 delay return. Make sure to label the tracks accordingly.
  3. Route all of your tracks to the correct audio interface’s input. For most of you this will be either input 1 or 2.
  4. Insert any effect or instrument plugins you will want to use. These could be virtual guitar amps, synth effects, drum machines, etc.
  5. Arrange your windows and display settings so you can see what you want to see when writing and recording.
  6. Save the session.

When you’re ready to do some songwriting, fire up Pro Tools, open your template, then choose “Save As” and name it something different, like the name of the song you’re working on. Now you’ll have the session already setup and waiting for get your creativity flowing!

Taking things one step further...
Songwriting in your home studio is great for many reasons as we saw: you can fill out the arrangement even as a solo artist, you can collaborate instantly with people all around the world, and you can be up and running with a time saving template. But let’s take things just one step further...

The true beauty of writing in Pro Tools (or any recording software) is that when it comes time to record the “real” tracks, you already have scratch tracks in your session, at the correct tempo, all ready for you to go. You’ve just eliminated one step in between writing and recording...seamlessly! That’s the power of digital recording, and that’s the power of having a studio in your home, where you are more likely to write music. All of this saves you time and saves you from losing creativity. Both of which are precious!

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