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Please seed…

Posted by: jordan -


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It’s eleven months until the release of Selling the Ashes’ third album, and today marks a major milestone in the project. I now have all twenty songs started. I’ve decided to release a preview that compresses what will be a ninety-minute feature, down into the length of a single song. This trailer has all twenty clips in the expected order of the final release:

To be clear, I have twenty “seeds” created. These aren’t full-length demo versions of the tracks. Rather they are the first creative sparks that get the songs moving. Most songs are currently only thirty seconds or so. The term seed, is how I describe the initial riffs or notes that the rest of the song will be built around. It defines the tempo, time signature and key for the track. What starts out as a seed may end up in the final song as the melody, verse, chorus, solo, or something else entirely. It’s what gets the ball rolling, and it’s the most difficult part of the creative process for me. Once I’ve got the seeds, there’s no more battles with writer’s block. It’s just a matter of spending enough time in the studio to flesh them out into full songs.

This isn’t always how I’ve approached song-writing, and I imagine it’s not how most bands do it. On this album, everything is non-linear. I don’t just complete one song every few weeks and move on to the next. Instead, I spend a day or two writing the core of each song, and then I abandon it. I guess you could say it’s analogous in many ways to shooting a film. A director wouldn’t shoot every scene in order, add effects, and fully edit before moving on to the next shot, so why should it be any different when writing music? In a way, you could say I’ve completed pre-production. All scenes have been storyboarded, all the pieces are in place, and it’s time to start shooting.

I keep using comparisons to film making, because in the creation of Selling the Ashes’ third album, I wrote a movie script of sorts to guide the process. The script detailed twenty or so major scenes that would be in the film, and my first step was to compose seeds for all scenes. When the album is finished, these twenty songs will be about the length of a feature film; approximately ninety minutes. And as such, this will end up being a double album (although, with nobody buying physical albums anymore, does the term double album hold any significance?).

I’m excited to move on to the next phase of the project. I will flesh out each seed into a full song, with accompanying lyrics, for the scene in the script. This phase will be the longest, and I have an ambitious goal of about two songs for each week that I have in the studio. It should take about five months at that rate. Sometime around Spring, I’ll be able to move on to the final recording phase, where I track the last takes of vocals, guitar, and drums. Then comes the post-production work, followed by the release in September.

It’s a tight schedule, but so far I’m on track…


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Comments


  1. Jeffrey
    October 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    This kills me. Finding a good sound or “seed” is by far the easiest part for me. I could crank out 8 of these in a day. But fleshing it out to a song? No matter how hard I try I get nowhere. It’s frustrating to the point of wanting to rage quit and break something.

    • jordan
      October 21, 2015 at 11:57 pm

      I know you don’t mean anything negative by your comment of “I could crank out 8 of these in a day,” but if you think you can, you don’t have the full picture of what I’m doing. Let me explain further…

      A “seed” is not simply a good sound. All I have to do to find a good sound is cycle through the presets. One in ten sounds good. I could come up with 8 catchy riffs in a day if I wanted, but that’s not the goal. A seed is creating the core of the song, for a predefined concept of what that song should be. For example, I may have a scene defined in detail with descriptions such as “Character is in shock at learning that his entire life was a lie. Slowly processing the guilt of what he’s done, he finally snaps.” Only it’s about ten times that amount of description. Creating a seed means taking what the song is supposed to convey and making the right creative choices within constraints. What kind of tempo is appropriate here? Does 4/4 seem right for this song, or maybe something non-standard to convey different emotions? Should this scene sound like rock, electronic, jazz, something else? What’s the flow of the song? Is it hard hitting throughout? Does it need to build up to a big finale at the end? Now, once I’ve really analyzed what it’s supposed to sound like, I can start hunting through thousands of presets for the sounds. Even then, I never quite find what I’m looking for; I usually just find something close. I’ll spend a half hour tweaking the parameters of the sound until I get exactly what I’m after, whether we’re talking synth or guitar and bass tones. I never record a preset as is (feels like cheating anyway). As I start to play the notes that sound like what the scene is conveying, I have to figure out what key I’m in and document it, and remember what notes make up that key (this is where Komplete Kontrol has been the best new tool I’m using). I’ll continue to compose additional riffs around the first, trying to stay in the same constraints and in the same key. And I stop when I get to the point where I know I’ve built a solid core.

      So, when I say this is the hardest part, it’s because of the snowball effect that could happen if I get it wrong. It requires an insane amount of analytical thought. If that seed is not perfect for the song I’m trying to write, it’s going to be a shitty song no matter how much work I put in afterwards. I’m very happy with myself when I can complete just one of these seeds in a day, reflect on it, and say “Yes. That’s exactly what this song is supposed to sound like.”

      After creating the core of the songs, fleshing them out is not difficult; just time consuming. This is because I already know what key I’m in. The tempo is already defined. I already know at this point whether I want a soft verse and loud chorus, whispering or screaming, acoustic or electric. I’ve already done most of the analysis; I just have to do the work. And it is hard work. And most of it is not enjoyable. The fucking tedious, time consuming crap, like re-singing a chorus 50 times until I’m satisfied with it (and then I find out the next day that I’m definitely not satisfied with it). I’m done with the hardest part, not the most frustrating part…

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