Writing Your First Song Part II: Recording and Arranging

This is the second part in a three part series. You find the first part here: Writing Your First Song Part I: Creating Riffs.

When you have a bunch of riffs you need to arrange them into a song. A song normally has (all or some of) the following building blocks (borrowing a bit from Wikipedia here):

  • Intro – build-up into the first verse. Should build a tension that is released when the verse starts.
  • Verse – a recurring part that normally has the same instrumental content but different lyrics.
  • Pre-Chorus – a short bridge from verse to chorus.
  • Chorus – a repeated part, usually with the same instrumental and lyrical content
  • Bridge – a part that is different from the rest of the song, usually occuring only once towards the end of the song
  • Solo – an instrumental part where an instrument fills the role of the vocals, written or improvised
  • Outro – exit from the song, it can be the intro reused, a part in its own or the chorus repeated and faded out.

A pop song usually has the form intro – verse – verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus – outro. With metal it’s a bit different, you really don’t have to stay in such a fixed format and many metal bands take a more symphonic approach to song structure.

Regardless of what structure you want, you need to sort your riffs and decide what functions they will fill in your song. I usually do this by recording them and then messing around with them i Reaper, over some simple drum patterns  from Drumkit from Hell. This is the first recording I made of the riffs I had an idea would make up the song:

If you want tips on how to record, check out my previous post on how to record electric guitars. Nowadays, I almost always record dry using AmpKit on my phone, and then I re-amp my recordings with LePou’s amp sims. I always record rhythm guitars twice and pan them out 100% left and right. This makes them fill out much better, and can hide small mistakes in one of the takes if the other one is played right. Panning the two takes out also makes room in the middle for other instruments (more on this in part three).

In the example above I have an idea of what is going to be the verse, pre-chorus and chorus. There’s also a lead harmony that I was thinking about as a bridge.

At the end of it I decided to skip the bridge (which was not in the correct key anyway), I decided to use the pre-chorus between two verses and leave the traditional format a bit, I added a different bridge or slow part, an intro and a solo. So the final template became:

intro – verse – pre-chorus (used between verses instead) – verse – chorus – verse – bridge/interlude – chorus – solo – short chorus – outro (same as pre-chorus).

I took the parts I recorded for the first ideas clip and copied and pasted them in Reaper to try out different song structures. I almost always do it this way and the re-record the whole thing when I’m happy with the structure, rather than re-record each new version.

In the next and final part I will go through how I took the ideas and the new structure and turned them into something resembling a finished song.

  • Joe3

    When you record a riff.
    Do you record only the main part and you loop it or you record all the part together.

    Example if your riff is the chords (A D G D) repeated 4 times.
    Do you record only A D G D and loop it for 4 times or you record all the repetition in the same recording ?

    • http://www.osirisguitar.com Anders Bornholm

      I always record all the repetitions of a riff, so all four times in your example. It creates a lot more dynamics and overall feel of tempo and drive in your playing if you do it that way. However, when I’m just arranging the parts I sometimes reuse a part (like a verse) – so I would take record the four repetitions, and then reuse those for another identical section of the song, just to get a feel for what it sounds like.

      When making the final song I always try to record all of it, so if your four repeats of the riffs would occur in 3 different places in the song I’d do a take where I played the riff a total of 12 times. If I get a really good take with say one small mistake I might do a punch-in overdub over just that small mistake, but I usually don’t have time for such fine tuning :-).

      • Joe3

        Is there really an advantage to record all the song in one take instead of arranging riff ? It’s easier to do a mistake if we do it in one shot.

        • http://www.osirisguitar.com Anders Bornholm

          You get a more live and organic feel to it if you record it in one go. That said, I seldom record a whole song in one take, and never both rhythm and lead at the same time.

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