Storytime: Trying to “See” My Sound

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Now that I have a few songs in my suitcase, I’ve really started to think about recording these things for real. While being away for awhile hunting I took the opportunity to begin to think about my “sound palette”. You know, the “colors” that will make up my sonic painting. When I write, the palette usually consists of an acoustic guitar, main vocals and maybe some harmony vocals. Occasionally I’ll add something to the mix, but that’s pretty standard.

Over the past few years my sonic palette hasn’t really been important or obvious to me. Recently, I’ve begun to see my desired sound more clearly. LeAnn Rimes said in a recent interview in American Songwriter Magazine that she made a mix CD for her producer to give him an idea of what she was looking for in her sound. I thought this was a great idea, so I began to look through my music collection for the “sounds” that I’ve been inspired by. After getting down to a short list of songs (not necessarily artists), I sat down and listened. Over and over again. Why do I love these songs, sonically? What instruments are playing? Where are they positioned in the sound field? What types of instrumentation and mixing fits the type of songs I write?

Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned the past few days. I’m a sucker for a few specific instruments when combined properly. Also, I have some very specific and different ideas about drums and percussion and how they should relate to the song (well, MY songs, at least). I actually took it so far as to make a list of instruments I would love to have on my CD someday. Here’s that list with a few observations about each choice:

1. Acoustic Guitar – This will be the bread and butter of the sound. Sometimes it may be the focus of the song, other times in the background as a scratch track. Also, combinations of Acoustic Guitars (posssibly capoed) could be great.
2. Piano – Sometimes there’s nothing like a few well timed chords from a piano to anchor an idea in a song.
3. Slide Guitar – High soaring sounds. Adds atmosphere.
4. Bass – Upright if possible.
5. Cello – Adds low end acoustic flavor.
6. Mandolin – Adds high end acoustic flavor plus a little country.
7. Violin/Fiddle – A lead instrument.
8. Drums – Sparse, but with a purpose when used. Not overly busy. Pocket.
9. Percussion – Usual shaker and tambourine, but other non-conventional sounds as well when effective.

So, there it is. The beginnings of my sound palette. Now all I need to do is find some folks who can actually PLAY all these instruments!