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Make Rough Mixes Of Your Unfinished Songs

2:33 pm Home Recording

When I first started recording, I used two reel-to-reel tape decks, bouncing each song back and forth between the decks, adding a new part each time. Hardly ideal, but there was no such thing as a multi-track recorder for home use at the time!

With this recording technique, it is not very handy to set a partly completed song aside for awhile to work on something new, what with the tapes being 1800 feet long and the song being somewhere in the middle! As a result, I usually worked on one song until it was done, then started a new song and worked on that until it was done, and so on. There were never more than two or three songs “in process” at the same time.

After I graduated to a 4-track cassette-based recorder, it was very easy to simply set aside a partially completed song on one cassette and start a brand new song on another. So, before long, I had a dozen or more uncompleted songs lying around. I came to realize that I am bigger on having a cool idea, writing a song, and starting to record it than I am on coming back later and actually finishing the recording. I’d rather go come up with something else now!

When I moved on up to the deluxe 8-track digital recorder I am using now, the problem became even worse. At this moment I would say I have about 25 songs on various discs that have been started but still need more instruments and/or vocals to finish them off. Some of these are fully recorded backing tracks that I have no lyrics for. Others have some of the instruments recorded and are now ready for drums, or bass, or keyboard, or whatever. Quite a few have a “scratch” lead vocal that should be re-done.

Say “Cheese”

One way to keep these unfinished tunes from slipping into oblivion is to periodically make a “snapshot” CD that has rough mixes of each partial song just as it is right now. This serves several purposes. First, it acts as an “insurance backup” against the accidental erasure or deletion of the original song. (It happens!) You may or may not want to “restore” a lost song by building on the rough mix, but at least you have a reference if you decide to re-record the song.

A second purpose for the snapshot CD is to keep these songs bouncing around in your subconscious mind. You should make a point of listening to the CD now and then, perhaps while playing along in “noodle” mode on guitar or keyboard. Without the pressure to come up with something right now, you may think of some great parts, melodies, or lyrics while you’re listening. Sometimes when I’m playing along like that I get motivated to go into the studio right then and actually record the nifty part I just made up! And isn’t that the point?

Finally, be sure that you hang on to all of the snapshot CDs you make, and that each one is labeled with the date of the collection. As the years go by, and as you finish at least some of the songs in the snapshots, the partially completed versions will become “collector’s items,” like the obscure studio leavings and alternate song takes of famous bands that a certain kind of fan collects. More to the point, they will be great fun to listen to in later years!

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