Fellow Frost*ies, I need help!

Started by Steven, July 26, 2013, 10:14:44 PM

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Hey all,

I'm more of a lurker than a poster, but I need some serious help and feedback with a couple of tracks, so I figured I'd come out of hiding and hope your collective expertise can help me out!

Backstory: long story short, I've just been through a horrendous breakup of a 4 1/2 year relationship, the only relationship I've ever been in. I've been lied to, cheated on, begged and pleaded with, lied to and cheated on again and strung along for almost a month while my girl cheerfully kept seeing her other guy on the side without telling me. She then came clean and ditched me for him, which is pretty heartbreaking since I'd hoped for a long time to marry her. Anyway, that's not the point - as 'therapy', for lack of a better word, I've written a bunch of songs about recent events, as musician are wont to do. I'm 22 and a full-time PhD student (theoretical physics!), so I don't have much time for music (everything is currently recorded in my living room during evenings/weekends) but I am flat out determined that everything I do from now on will be twice as good as ever before. My creativity has just exploded over these last few weeks (in physics as well as music!), and while I'm broadly happy with my new songs, to fulfill that determination of mine to be brilliant, I'm going to need a lot of help.

There are two songs that are mostly recorded that I need opinions with. The first is pretty much finished but has met with a mixed reception from friends, and the second is one I'm really struggling with.

i) Hello, Heartbreaker - 'finished' version at https://soundcloud.com/steventhomson-1 and www.steventhomson.co.uk

I was kind of channelling 'Snowman' here, but my extreme inability to sing (coupled with poor recording environment - a living room!) and ownership of NI's 'The Mouth' plugin led to this. The vocal processing is maybe a little extreme for some tastes, but I'd appreciate comments on it. I've been told (correctly, I think) that the song is a little 'samey' all the way through, but my only ideas to add variety also add length. I'd thought about adding another verse with just an acoustic guitar playing the vocal melody but I'm concerned about making the song too long. Also, opinions on the vocoder are a little mixed. I like it, others don't, but I think others are perhaps looking for typical pop ballads which isn't what this was meant to be. That said, while I want to do things my own way, I also don't want to alienate people too much so I'm prepared to compromise a little and bow to the opinions of people wiser than I in the arts of making music - you guys!

ii) Little Miss Liar - instrumental on SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/steventhomson-1), really really rough vox version at www.steventhomson.co.uk/music/audio/LML.mp3

This was written a little later than the other, as you can probably tell by the extreme shift in tone. This is much rockier and less sorry for myself! I love the instrumental mix of this, I love the little audio tricks, the hidden messages, the tiny things that are almost inaudible but took a lot of effort, and so on. I like the lyrics, particularly the Battlestar Galactica reference (my ex and I both loved the show, I got her into it) but my main issue is that I CANNOT SING! With that in mind, I've made extensive use of the vocoder, but this adds a tonality that I find really hard to fit into a mix neatly. To keep it interesting, I do a lot of fiddling with the processing through the course of the song, but I feel like I'm overdoing everything and trying too hard and it's all just turning to mush. In addition, NI's 'The Mouth' crashes if I run it in the same session as the instrumental mix, so I have to export the instrumental as a .wav and do the vox separately, which is driving me mad and probably isn't helping the mix balance. I can export the vocoded tracks as .wav files after I'm happy with them and put them back into the full session, but at the moment I just can't stand the vocals and I just don't know where to go with them from here. I need a lot of frank feedback on this one, I'm not too happy with how it sounds for the amount of time I've had to put into it so far. The lyrics are with the instrumental version on the SoundCloud page! The 'current' version with vocals linked to above is one I've been working on tonight and just finally bounced down to mp3 within the last 10 mins out of sheer frustration because I can't get it any better than this. That said, every night I put in a few hours and redo most of the vocals and it's getting steadily better and better every night, but I'm not seeing much of a payoff from the amount of time it's taking me!

If anyone feels like poking around my site or SoundCloud futher, the song '11' (now renamed to '10' on my website in light of further revelations - take my word for it, it's a very clever joke about the cheating, but I can't explain it to you without divulging some rather personal details about what went on) is also about recent events and I'd also love feedback on it. The song 'Fireside' was inspired by the now-vanished 'Heartstrings' that was briefly on the main Frost* website, and I'm particularly pleased with the bridge section with the vocals. The rest of 'Fireside' is perhaps a little chaotic! As for the others, I'd of course value any opinions and feedback you care to give me!

Guys and gals, I'd sincerely love to hear your opinions and feedback on this stuff. I've been through a hell of an ordeal recently, and the only way to repair my self-esteem is for me to damned well excel at everything I do in the near future, and for that I need your help. I want to nail these songs, I want to know that out of this heartbreak I've managed to to create something I can listen back to in the future and be proud of. Please help me make these tracks better!


PS: Obvious improvements to these songs would be replace the synth bass in LML with a real one (in progress, my bass is at my family home and I can't get it up here for a few weeks) and get a real singer, which I'm working on but I haven't found one yet!


I like Heartbreaker, and the vocoder doesn't bother me.  I think it could be longer, perhaps drums coming in on the second chorus, and then an instrumental section before the third verse.  The song has some heavier possibilities, just because it's sad doesn't mean it shouldn't rock out.

I need to listen to the lyric version of Liar.


Thanks for your comment! An instrumental section is exactly what I'd been considering, though I hadn't thought about drums at all. It was originally going to descend into something a bit darker/heavier by the end, but it just didn't feel like that was where it wanted to go when I sat down to record it, but maybe I should reopen that avenue of thought.

I've just had my first 'listening break' since I did the vocal version of LML, so I'm going to go listen back to it and cringe at the rubbish I've just put up on the internet!


Hi and thanks for de-lurking!
Sorry to hear about the grim stuff.

Thanks for sharing the songs,  both have plenty of potential.
I agree with Roger's comments.

I found both to be a little "repetitive" in their own ways and by that I mean I think they both just need a little more variation as they develop.

Liar could use a key change or an instrumental break to give some more variety?

The verse lines in Heartbreaker's vocal melody keep ending on the same high note. I really wanted the vox to follow the piano melody down at the end of the even numbered lines (if you know what I mean).
Then if the chorus could have maybe some harmony or something to set it apart a bit more?

Just my 2 low denomination coins... ;)

Keep it going.
"Putting food on the table is more important than 7/8"


Thanks Pedro!

I'd originally intended to make the final chorus/outro of LML in a different key, but I didn't do it out of sheer laziness really. The 'bridge' section was also originally going to be instrumental (hence the widdly synth solo lurking in the background, and Microsoft Anna chanting 'Liar! Liar!' in the background) but I couldn't restrain myself from writing lyrics for it.

Your Heartbreaker comments are interesting, maybe I need to pay a little more attention to the vocal melody rather than just spewing some lyrics onto a page and belting it out! The outro of Heartbreaker has a couple of un-vocoded versions of me that fade up to make a 'big' harmony at the end, but I think the common theme in both comments so far is that I need to differentiate the chorus from the verses a little better.

Any comments on the vocal processing in Liar? I'm on new and rather shaky ground when it comes to 'singing' and processing it, and I still worry I'm overdoing the vocoder and making it too hard to listen to.

Thanks so much for your comments so far guys, I'll take them on board and I think I'll make some structural changes to both songs over the next week or so and see where they head! Keep the comments coming, I'll be more than happy to hear anything anyone has to say about these songs!


Since you ask for opinions, I'll give you mine for better or worse :)

I like heartbreaker. Yes, the vocoder too... But then I have always kinda liked vocoders. I could see this working pretty much as is in an album context I agree it needs something to change it up. Personally I think you could do this entirely in arrangement. I am thinking of something like "the thin ice" off The Wall. Same chords and vocal melodies in both verses, but with some different musical parts, then a big dramatic instrumental left turn. Not saying you Gould clone it, but PF and Bob Ezrin got that one pretty right.

Liar I am more inclined to pick apart production wise. I had a listen to the vocal version and yes, I get that you aren't confident of your voice (I can totally relate), but that vocoder treatment wasn't working. Well, with a bit of tweaking the chorus could work like that, but... Maybe practice the verses a bit and see if you can get a decent delivery with just a compressor and a touch of verb. The guitars... Guitar rig, right? They need to be bigger. Roll a little top end off and turn them up. Try adding a touch of distortion to the organ. I heard a suggestion of a synth solo in there. Turn it up or get rid of it. I could here some other synths in there; I guess they were supposed to fatten it up. They had the opposite effect, they made it sound kinda... General midi. Keep it to bass, drums, guitar, B3, shredding synth solo and some pissed off vocals :) I think there is a rocker in there somewhere.

All IMHO, of course, and take this with a grain of salt; this is what come to mind on first listen. But I like it and see potential, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered giving advice.

Congrats on getting the ex out of your life. I know how the whole cheating girlfriend thing hurts (oh lord how I know) but once they go there there is absolutely no good reason to keep them in your life.

Except kids, I guess, but hopefully that is a moot point. I think I am rambling. Wel, that was a rather nice glass of wine. (Cough)glass(cough).


Fantastic, thanks Rook! Your production comments on Liar are exactly the kind of feedback I need to improve. Guitars are from POD Farm, actually, but that's close enough to your guess! I actually thought verse 2 was working better than the rest of the vocals, except perhaps the outro, but I agree that the better I can make the 'pure' vocals without needing the vocoder, the better it'll all sound. I guess I've maybe been in such a hurry to get this done so I can feel like I've gotten her out of my head that I've rushed it a little, perhaps I need to slow down and try to really nail the vocals without being so quick so turn to the vocoder.

I actually saw an old post from Jem earlier about the type of EQ and compression he uses on vocals, so maybe I'll strip out the vocoder on Liar and try to get a little more practice at proper singing.

Thanks a lot for your feedback! No worries about being too critical - I'm a published research physicist, so however harsh you may get, you've got nothing on the peer review process! Please do keep the comments coming guys, I do really appreciate you all taking the time to listen and help me out!


Hey Steven, jus wondering what you are using for a DAW?


I use Ableton Live, purely because it came with POD Farm all those years ago and it's the one I'm most familiar with. I keep meaning to audition Reaper, but it would mean learning a whole new workflow, and ProTools is a little beyond my budget.

I've just uploaded a new version of Heartbreaker to SoundCloud - https://soundcloud.com/steventhomson-1. For anyone who didn't notice last time, lyrics are in the song description. The vocoder makes me sound like I'm slurring some 'r' sounds so I'm not sure how understandable the words are without the lyrics! I've added an instrumental section just before verse 3 - fairly simple at the moment, just guitars and synths doubling the piano melody, and some heavy guitars and a 'heartbeat' drum kick in at the same point. The lead guitar sound needs a little work - it's heavily EQ'd since it sounded a bit too spiky for my tastes, but now it just sounds nasal. I've added some strings on the final verse/outro section too. I think things are getting quite mushy by the end - I'm already EQing almost everything playing at that point, but I haven't quite got the knack of keeping all the instruments out of each others' way yet. The piano melody in particular is getting in the way, I might cut that entirely and let the acoustic guitar and vocals carry the melody. Or maybe I should just brighten it up a little so it cuts through more. The vocals are almost unchanged, I just reined in a little of the extremes of the vocoder setting. Timings are unchanged, but the last verse might benefit from being re-sung. (Re-sang? Re-recorded? Who knows!)

What do you guys think, am I going along the right lines with this one? If you think I've shot off in the wrong direction, don't hesitate to shoot me down before I get too far!


Very much going in the right direction. Bring those heavy guitars and "heartbeat kick drum" up up up in the mix!

I don't use Live, but if you want to bounce out the tracks, I could do a mix for you. I am traveling right now, but I have a laptop and cubase so I could throw something together :)


That's an incredibly generous offer, thank you! I certainly won't turn down a chance to learn from how someone else would approach this track. I'll export the audio for the tracks later tonight and throw it up onto my webspace tonight/tomorrow depending on how long it takes (large uploads to my site take forever!).


Cool :) leave the vocoder as is, but please take off any eq, compression, reverb etc on the tracks.


Sure thing, will do! Just making another modified mp3 to stick up on SoundCloud in place of the current 'Version 2' since I've redone the lead guitar an octave lower, and bumped up a few other elements in the mix, mainly the guitars and the string line at the end. Annoyingly, without the 'Pro plan' I can't just replace the audio file, I need to upload a whole new one, and I'd best delete the current one entirely otherwise I'll have 2 very similar versions which would just be confusing!

After I'm done with this mp3, I'll bounce out the 'raw' audio files and get uploading for you to peruse at your leisure. Thanks again for offering! :)


Okay, new version up on SoundCloud - https://soundcloud.com/steventhomson-1. Very similar to the previous 'version 2', just with a few small tweaks I like better. Onto the exporting of untampered audio!


Alright, bounced tracks finally exported and uploaded, they can be found here for anyone so inclined - http://www.steventhomson.co.uk/music/heartbreaker.zip. Thanks! If anything's wrong, or if there are any lingering effects I didn't spot, then let me know.  :)


Cool, got it. I imported thm all into cubase and everything lined up ok, but I am not in a position to mix it just yet. I'll shoot for tonight...

126 bpm?