I've just uploaded the very first song I recorded using only open source tools, and I'm quire excited (and scared! ) to share this here. It's a demo of the instrumental version of a song I wrote called "I'll be back for you": instrumental because it's actually supposed to be a "regular" song, but I have only sketched the vocal lines so far (in the refrain, mostly), so that will only come back later. The idea was to write a "progressive metal" kind of song, even though I guess the only prog parts left in there are a couple of tempo changes, and it ended up much more "catchy" especially in the refrain, but I like the result anyway!
There are also a couple of parts I should really re-record, but for a first complete example I think it works already. You can listen to it on SoundCloud:
Everything was recorded using Ardour, and you can find the setup for the different instruments below. Apologies if I'm adding these many details, but I'm really interested in feedback from you guys, especially considering it's my first experience with many of these tools, and so I'd like to know what you feel about the end result and some of my choices.
- Drums were written using Hydrogen, and played with the YamahaVintageKit. I'm not a drummer, and I guess that you can tell from what will probably sound like weird choices for some patterns or fills... Anyway, I added some reverb in Ardour, and a compressor, both using Calf: I'm completely new to this, but I found some tips online and I tried to follow those.
- The bass is not really a bass either, as I don't own one. I used the "Bass" preset in Rakarrack and used my guitar instead. I found out that it doesn't sound that bad if you stick to the 6th string (if you play the same note on the 5th you do notice), which made playing some parts a bit weird but I think the end result wasn't bad. In Ardour I just added a "Calf Crusher" for a bit of distortion, as I had a distinct sound in mind that I wanted to try and replicate (check 0:50 of this song by Hamferd if you're curious, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqH_2pi25rw if you're curious). Pretty sure I'm not even close, but I do like how it sounds in the verse.
- All guitars were recorded using my beloved Mexican Fender Stratocaster HSS. I've been out of practice for a while (you'll notice from how I struggle with the solo ) but I had a ton of fun!
- For the main riff I wanted something quite heavy: I struggled a bit finding something I really liked in Guitarix, but I ended up with the "Running Wild / rogues" preset, and I think it has quite the punch.
- For the clean guitar in the verse, I used the "Succulent Clean" preset from Rakarrack, which I really like: there were some alternatives I considered ("Clean Swirl" is amazing too!), but I feel this sounded the best here.
- For the short Bridge and the Refrain, I used the "rock_heavy_rack / Dirt dry" preset in Guitarix: initially I thought about using the "rogues" preset here too, but it sounded too heavy for that, and "Dirt dry" had the right "miaow" in it
- I ended up using "Dirt dry" for the Solo as well, although played with the neck pickup instead of the neck humbucker, and with some reverb added in Ardour. I couldn't find a solo sound I liked in neither Guitarix nor Rakarrack, and I feel "Dirt dry" played its part nicely anyway.
- For the sparse keyboards you can hear in the verse, I used the "Soft Pad" in ZynAddSubFx (man, I love that tool!) driven by an Akai LPK25: which means I "played" keyboards too, but they're so basic I guess anyone could I usually write MIDI a lot (especially with Lilypond recently), but it seemed simpler to just play it here.
- The main heavy riff the song starts with was the very first part I "composed". It was initially supposed to be longer, especially when it falls on the G5 and E5, but I feel it works better this way.
- The intro idea of the "low-fi riff that then becomes the real thing" has been probably done a thousand times, but I always liked the effect, for instance in "Of sins and shadows" by Symphony X (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3enWuHtTlwQ). I wasn't sure how to do it in Ardour, but I ended up just using a highpass and lowpass filter on the same track, and it seemed to do the trick.
- The verse is actually the last part of the song I worked on: I had the riff and the refrain in mind already, and couldn't find a proper way to tie them together. I knew it had to be "slower" and "groovier", but it took me some time to find the right thing. Eventually the arpeggio came to mind, and it was the seed for the verse in general.
- Initially the arpeggio in the verse was played since the beginning, but when I started experimenting with the pad in the background, it sounded cooler to have it come in later the first time the verse is played instead.
- I'm not sure we can call the Bridge a "Bridge", since it's very short and is basically part of the refrain if you think about it, but the idea for the muted two-strings chord with nothing behind it is pretty much derived from "I walk beside you" of Dream Theater (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGiTss6y5-o). Very different kind of song, but a personal favourite of mine!
- The refrain came to mind shortly after I came up with the riff: initially it was simpler and more straightforward, but I ended up with a 7/4 tempo instead. The refrain in the song actually bounces back and forth between 7/4 and 4/4 a few times, which I felt worked better for some of the parts in there.
- The solo was the very last thing I worked on, instead. While I've been playing guitar for many years, I'm not a virtuoso at all, and so I wanted something that could be melodic but still interesting enough, possibly with a couple of more "complicated" parts here and there. It came up in different moments, and I realize I still made the "complicated" parts a bit too complicated for my skills, as you can very distinctly hear in the demo (I felt like I should study "myself" ). Anyway, I like the way it starts and then progresses, and I'm sure one day I'll be able to play it properly
- What to do after the solo was something I thought about as well: initially I thought about bringing the refrain back, but since the solo comes after two loops of the refrain, and the solo itself is played on a "simplified" refrain in 4/4, bringing the refrain back once more sounded "wrong". So I just had it followed by the heavy riff for one last riff+verse+bridge+refrain round instead. This may make the song longer than it should, but I don't know, it just seems better.