"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Sounds
June 2, 2009

Marking Up An Old Song Idea

Last time I was just about to add some guitars to an old song idea. If you recall, the project started out in Garageband and was re-opened in Logic. One strength of Logic is that it can open and play Garageband files without much fuss. However, if you want to really work on a project, […]

Last time I was just about to add some guitars to an old song idea. If you recall, the project started out in Garageband and was re-opened in Logic. One strength of Logic is that it can open and play Garageband files without much fuss. However, if you want to really work on a project, it can quickly get messy, since Garageband (like any “producer”) has it’s own way of routing the signal chain.

And, it isn’t an approach to routing I like to use.

I’ve learnt the hard way that it is sometimes quicker and more effective to just start a whole new project from scratch, laid out the way I like, and copy over all the assets (MIDI, samples and audio files).

One advantage of this approach is that it gets you thinking early about the structure of the song and for me, that involves laying out markers. Markers are a powerful tool that Logic gives you to visually identify the arrangement of the song and also to navigate from one section to another within it. You can use markers to denote verses, choruses, solos, whatever you want.

There are a number of ways to create markers. Perhaps the quickest is to create markers from regions. Select the region you want to use for marker, then press shift and k and you have a marker.

One of my favourites is to create markers from cycle regions. Just drag in the top part of the bar ruler to create a cycle, then with the mouse drag that down into the marker track and you have a region. The nice thing about that approach is that as you drag to create the cycle, you get a little pop up window telling you how long the marker will be.

One powerful feature of markers is that you can create multiple alternative marker maps.

I like to use this because early on in a project, it makes sense to have lots of markers, especially when you are working in detail on MIDI or recording lot of takes to comp together later.

But, once a project takes shape, I tend to think of the song in larger, more cohesive sections, so a simpler marker map is quicker and easier to navigate.

Marking up a song really engages your imagination and makes you think about the overall structure. Typically I write out arrangements in Sibelius, so marking is simply a matter of laying out the sections I’ve already created. Occasionally there are songs like this, where I’m coming back into a project with fresh ideas and the markers can act like placeholders for future recording and arranging – solo here, bridge there, maybe a breakdown in the middle – that sort of thing.

Once you’ve marked up a song, there are some powerful navigation tools that come into play. You can quickly audition whole sections, for example. Open up the marker list (look for the “lists” button), then command click on the name of a maker in the list and hold the mouse button down. The song will play till you release the mouse.

You can scroll forwards and backwards through the arrangement by using Control and Command plus either the right or left arrow key. Moreover, if you have a the cycle area active, it will move to match the length of the marker you navigate to. This really speeds us the laying down and editing of parts throughout the song.

As always, the way to speed up your workflow is to learn and use the key commands. In fact, I have a wireless Apple keyboard attached to my music stand, so when I’m recording I can navigate through the song and manage the transport control without having to go near the desk or computer.

Responses
Mike Mahoney 13 years ago

Very cool. I dont’ use GB, but the concepts can be applied anywere. Just last night (partially inspired by this project, I think) I began to more formally record a song I wrote last year. I have it charted, but never really did anything more with it. It’s supposed to be a piece for our choir.

I started building the drum track last night. I can’t give it a lot of time on a regular basis, so this marker tip will be helpful. My DAW has this function as well.

Keep it up!

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Yeah, it’s not a sales pitch! 🙂 A lot, if not all, of these techniques will be available in other DAWs.

One thing that is worth exploring and that I didn’t get into is using markers as notes. Logic will take up to nine alternative marker maps. You can use them to store not just section names, but production notes, mixing ideas, chord progressions, lyrics, references to other files, whatever.

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