I had the opportunity to share one of my songs in class and have it critiqued. The song was pretty much done; I just needed to re-track the vocals, add some layers, and finish mixing.
As soon as he pressed play, my teacher noticed some issues that I hadn’t. The acoustic guitar and drums were not vibing. Everything was performed on time, but they had opposing feels. Basically, I had written a guitar part without drums in mind, and when drums were added they didn’t fit. Rather than change the rhythm of the guitar to be more drum friendly, I just dumped drums in. (I could also have changed the drums to accommodate my guitar, but at the time I didn’t notice the issue).
This is common for singer-songwriters. We outline a song with guitar and vocals, and just add everything else on top. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. What do you do if you like the drum part, but it isn’t working with your guitar? You change the guitar part! As obvious as this sounds, it’s never something I try. I tend to be attached to the first iteration of a song, and changing strum patterns or rhythms isn’t even considered.
You might think of the acoustic guitar and vocal version of your track as the main dish, whereas other instruments (bass, drums, synth pad) are seasoning, but that’s not the case. The song is the sum of the parts. All the parts have to play together nicely, and if they don’t, they have to be changed or removed. Just because a part is cool by itself doesn’t mean it’s right for the song. How does it sound in context?
If you’re writing a song and you know you want to add drums later, write with drums in mind. Just like with mixing, you want to be thinking ahead to the next step. My teacher said, “Writing is mastering.” If you wrote a song without drums in mind, but later decided to add drums (like I did), be flexible about changing parts. The part doesn’t necessarily need to be changed, but if it does be open to it. It’s all about what’s best for the song.
Here is the second version of my song. I didn’t have time to re-record the guitar before it was due, so I opted to change the drums.
It’s not there yet, but it’s better. I’m finding out that the more I write, the more I learn. I’m always uncovering these issues that I didn’t even know I had. For my next song, I’m going to write with percussion in mind.