The official website showcasing the music of Yellowgold, produced by Jason Howell.

Starting a session

Here's the beauty of the template file you just created. With one, now, starting a session is pretty darn easy. It used to be that I'd have an idea, fire up Pro Tools, create a new project, and then begin to stumble my way through creating the tracks needed to even get to the point where I'm comfortable laying down any music. I'd create an audio track, assign the audio input to the track, plug in my guitar, realize that I assigned the wrong input, troubleshoot my routing, scratch my head... and after a while, I'd lose my steam dealing with setup. The administrative stuff clouded my creativity and in some instances, completely shut down my motivation to create. With the template file, it's as easy as creating a new session from that template file, and getting busy immediately.

BPM Tap for Android

Usually the very first thing I do when starting a new project is find the tempo. I use an app on Android called BPM Tap to figure it out but there are a million ways to do this. (for instance: iOS and in your browser to name a few) Using BPM Tap, I simply run through the song in my mind, close my eyes so I'm not distracted by what I see on the screen, and tap along with it playing in my mind for around 10 seconds. The nearest rounded whole number is what I'll use in Pro Tools.

Since it's just me producing, I'll remove the bypass on my Click track, and play through a few times with my guitar, just to get a sense for whether or not that tempo actually matches what I have in my mind. Or further, maybe a different tempo actually works better for that song. Sometimes I'll try out a few different tempos just to see.

A new project with scratch tracks and markers

Without too much preparation, I'll hit record and try to make it all of the way through the guitar part along with the click track. I am not too worried about playing amazing. This is a scratch track. When I'm done recording one full way through, I now know the length of the song. I also have an idea of where each section of the song happens.

Markers are my friend here. I'll now play through the song and drop a marker at important points of the song: Start, Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Verse 3, Chorus, Outro, End. (as a quick no-brainer example.) Also, if I have any tricky turnarounds that don't follow a rigid 4/4 timeline, or something in my mind that is associated with a particular point of the song (ie. Drum fill here, Crescendo to noise, Two octave harmony, Claps, etc.....), I note those where I envision them.

Memory locations for my scratch project

Markers are helpful to me in the early stages because it allows me to maintain a focus of my vision, long before there's much of anything to go off of. Think of them not only as guide posts, but also as reminders of what you had intended for the song from the beginning. Don't get too detailed and in the weeds with them, but broad guidelines that give you a general sense of the arc of your song.

Then I might spend some time laying down the basic vocal tracks, again, just as scratch tracks. Everything that I am doing right now will likely be replaced later (unless of course something REALLY works, in which case I'll gladly keep it.) This is all done purely to give me the skeleton of the track and to see what works and what doesn't.

So this is all fine and good if you have a structure for your song in advance of beginning your session. What if all you have are pieces to this unwritten song, and no structure? That's up next.