Caveat: When a project is just a chorus or verse or a riff and there are already layers of guitars, bass, drums, and even keys. This is hard because 1) The song itself doesn’t know where it’s going and 2) since all the parts are filled out – I don’t know where to fit in.
Step One: Listen
Let’s say that we have a song structure that is laid out and mostly complete and there is some space orchestrationally for me to add something. This could be anywhere from a complete song that is sung a cappella, to an almost completely fleshed out song that just needs one instrument added (usually bass). The first step is the same for all: Listen to the song a lot. I’ll usually listen to it at least four times in a row on Melosity itself to get it in my head a bit and get familiar with it. Then I will import into Logic and listen to it some more.
Step Two: Learn the song and take notes
Once I have the song familiar I’ll sit with the song (usually in Logic or Transcribe) and figure out what chords and melody are being played. I then write these down. I also notate the rhythms of that the song is doing in each section – and possibly make note of the feel of the song as it passes through each section.
Step Three: Write my part.
Once I am familiar with the song and have a map of the chords and rhythm, I will sketch out what my part could be. I will usually practice this part by playing or singing it along with the track. I may tweak it as I play along to make it fit better with the feel (or my playing limitations).
How do I write parts?
This depends on which instrument I am adding and the type of song. I’ll lay out some approaches for each instrument.
The core for all is to be aware of rhythm and chord tones. And I usually focus on a section at a time to keep from being overwhelmed.
Okay – this guy is of the hook when it comes to chord tones – a free pass if you will. But the drums are even more responsible for the texture of the song, the non-harmonic colors that help a chorus feel different than a verse etc. It’s like a type of harmony in a way.
For writing the parts I visualize myself behind the drum kit and literally air-drum along with the song – thinking about what accents to hit and what textures and colors work for each section. Then I might sketch the part on paper first, or just start using the pencil tool in logic. I’ll write in the part one section at a time (like all verses or all choruses). For “Wheel’s Up” a collab I am doing with Renat, I started with the bridge because his rhythm guitar part for that second gave me such a strong vision of what I would play on the drums for it. It’s also why I started doing the drum part first instead of my usual bass. I write what the kick pattern would be for the section. Then the snare, then the cymbals. Then I decide how often a fill needs to happen and what kind of fill feels best – then I make those edits.
The tools I use to build bass lines with are chord tones and a rhythmic feel. For the rhythmic feel drum parts are ideal, but a strong rhythm guitar part can do as well. Then I think of the feel of the song and what genre it might be. Different styles of music have different approaches as to how much of the chord tones to use. I usually think in terms of the note choices on the bass as ranging from solid and kind of bland (the root of chord only ) to spicy (chromatic). And lining these up with importance of note rhythmically. Like downbeat on an important transition is best to be the root of the chord. The last 16th note of the last measure of a phrase can be almost any note on the bass. How I choose the notes has to take into account how melodic I want the part to be or how driving. This is one of the ways I try to make the choruses stand out from the verses. Like in “Wheels Up”, the chord progression in the chorus is the same as the verse. In order to make the two sections sound different, I made the choruses have a driving groove on root notes (with neighboring tones to make it move along), while I made the verses have a more melodic line with arpeggios.
The Chords of the song section will essentially tell me what to do here. If it’s a lead line – I will play with and around the chord tones to add and release tension. If it’s a rhythm part – I’ll play the chords in such a way as to add different flavors for each section. I’ll try different inversions or arpeggios or links – always trying to fit the feel of each section.
This is like a cross between the drums and guitar. Melodically and harmonically like guitar, but the execution us usually via the pencil tool in logic like the drums.
Now this one is my hardest one – mainly because I also sometimes need to write lyrics. But I do try to come up with a melody, a little along the lines of how I approach the guitar and keys. I focus on coming up with a melody – something that is singable and hopefully catchy. Then I use the melody to help my choose words that work. If I am doing harmony – I try to match the phrasing of the lead singer and sing chord tones when possible.
Step Four: Record in Logic
Step three sometimes overlaps here. Recently have been recording a section at a time. I make a new track in logic for each section and I’ll hit record at the beginning of the song but only play/sing the section I am focusing on when it/they comes/come around. When I am happy with how the sections sound, I’ll edit them together into one track. Then I’ll export it to a wav file that I then upload as track in the Melosity project.
Step Five: Make updates if need be.
If the main songwriter prefers a different approach, I’ll go back to the write step and apply their suggestion and upload the update until all are happy 😀