Process and Gear

My Process

I have to admit, I doubt I’ll ever be able to take this stuff to a live audience.  Not just because it wouldn’t be possible to play all parts myself, or that I couldn’t possibly decide which instrument to play and which to pass on to others for a live performance, but because I probably haven’t played any of them through in one go.  Years ago, I’d sit down and deliberately try and come up with a riff for the intro, and then I’d come up with the verse, then the bridge, chorus, maybe a middle-eight section, and I’d then start to arrange it while I wrote lyrics.  But I don’t do that now.

I mess around for hours on the guitar, never forcing anything, and just seeing if anything crops up.  If it does, I’ll record it into my phone and then I’ll keep playing it to see if it goes anywhere.  Most of the time, it doesn’t, so I keep it on the back burner until inspiration hits.  If I do find that I’m being led somewhere in a very organic way, I’ll let it happen.  Once I get to the point where I can hear a clear intro, verse, and then bridge, and nothing jars or feels forced, I know I’m on to a good thing.

That’s when I boot up the music PC, open up my DAW, pick whatever tempo felt natural when I was messing around with the riffs earlier, and I start to write a click track.  Any changes in tempo or time signature are locked-in to the click track, even if it means quickly jumping to another tempo to bridge a gap that’s not exactly one tempo, not another, or cuts a time signature short for the sake of dynamics.  But everything is added to the click track, and then I’ll plug the guitar in and start recording what I’ve written to that point.

Most of the time, doing this will inspire me enough to keep going, and the rest of the song will start to fall into place.  This is when I start coming up with the vocal melody and writing the lyrics, so everything is being done in a sort of collaborative sense, even though it’s still just one guy.  It’s been quite refreshing to do it this way, as I became so used to doing one thing to completion, then another, then another, but never really thought about the other instruments while I was doing it.  This new approach definitely feels more fluid and natural.

Again, I’ll turn to my phone and record vocal melodies and lyrics into it while I keep laying down the guitar tracks, writing lyrics as I’m going.  Once the guitars are nailed, I’ll switch over to drums and start playing the song on a loop while I record using take lanes.  This literally means I could be playing the song on repeat for an hour and end up with almost twenty separate take lanes.  That’s when I’ll start to listen to the various takes to see what I liked from each one, and I’ll start taking mental notes (sometimes I forget, which is a shame when I finish the song one way and then hear a little flurry from another take and think “Shit, that was good” but don’t want to mess with what I already have), and I’ll then construct mental waypoints so I remember “switch to double time here, bring the snare in early here, flick to the ride bell here and then switch to the off-beat”.  I’ll play through a couple of times, sometimes adding a little extra, and then I’ll finally record the drum track.

Vocals come next, so I’m not having to work my melodies around a bassline – I prefer a bassline that works around a vocal melody as it’s the vocals that people tend to focus on.  For the vocals, I do the same as the drums… I’ll set up take lanes and I’ll sing along based on the melodies I’d sung into my phone, but holding back in some places and going for more elaborate patterns in others.  I find it much more difficult to come up with vocal melodies that I love, whereas I find it easy to come up with drums, guitar, and bass that I love.  Probably because I never wanted to be a singer at any point.

Bass comes last, because I’m not a natural bassist.  I can’t jam a bassline like others do, and so I sit down and meticulously write every bassline, and then practise them until I can play them perfectly. Only then will I sit down to record them, and it’s probably the only instrument that I couldn’t ever record in a single take.  Guitars, drums, even vocals… yeah, I’ve managed them all before with single takes.  Bass… nah.  The stuff I write is too widdly for my fingers, and they’re not used to playing those heavy bass strings.  That said, I do still love laying down a bassline and always enjoy listening back afterwards.

With the 24-minute-long “Heart of Madness”, I was so concerned about getting it absolutely right that I only worked on it for a few hours every weekend rather than sitting down and for any cramming sessions.  I remember being asked one Sunday how I got on with the writing, and I was really pleased at having added another 90 seconds to the track.  It must have sounded crazy, but when you consider I had to write it, learn it to where it was flawless (on guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) and then record each of the tracks… it was a great achievement.  That particular weekend was during one of the instrumental parts, and the drum patterns were crazy – so tough to get them perfect.  Bear in mind I’ve been a guitarist since age sixteen but have only had drums since 2004 and only really played them a couple of hours a month for more than a decade, so things that come easy to others require a lot of practise for me.

Once the songs have been completed, I then strip everything back and remix from the ground up.  This is something that I learned far too late in life.  It’s why the production gets better as time goes on.  The mastering comes last, and then I listen to everything on repeat for weeks before deciding to release it… picking holes in everything along the way.  I’ll never be truly happy with any release, but I suppose that’s probably the case for most people who do everything themselves.

My Gear

It’s likely that I’ll forget something along the way, but this is pretty much everything I can come up with off the top of my head.  I’m not going to bother listing VST stuff like orchestrations from Spitfire Audio… VST stuff exists, but I’ll only mention the important stuff.


  • Ernie Ball MusicMan JP7 7-string guitar
  • Traben Bootzilla 5-string bass
  • Roland 7-pc kit
    • TD-20 module
    • 1 x bass
    • 1 x snare
    • 5 x toms
    • HiHats
    • 3 x crash
    • 2 x splash
    • 1 x china
    • 1 x ride
    • Tama Iron Cobra double pedals
    • Pearl double-braced hardware
  • Mapex acoustic kit
    • 1 x Bass
    • 1 x Snare
    • 2 x Toms
    • 1 x Floor Tom
    • Sabian Hand Hammered hats
    • 2 x Sabian Hand Hammered crash
    • 1 x Sabian Hand Hammered china
    • 2 x Sabian Hand Hammered splash
    • 1 x Sabian Hand Hammered ride
    • Tama Iron Cobra double pedals
  • Yamaha electro-acoustic guitar

Electronic Gear / Hardware

  • My old graphics PC from 2012 (i7 3770K 32GB RAM)
  • HP 32″ monitor
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 Gen 2
  • KRK Rokit 5 G4 monitors
  • Behringer U-Phoria UMC22
  • Tannoy Reveal 5A  monitors
  • RODE NT-1 SM6 mic
  • Nordell portable vocal booth
  • Shure Beta 58A mic
  • Sennheiser HD 599 monitor headphones
  • Alesis Q25 Midi keyboard
  • Roland RH-300V headphones


  • Cakewalk Sonar Platinum
  • Neural DSP Omega Granophyre amp sim
  • Izotope Music Production Suite 4