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Pages

While Soaring was the first vocal synth song I released to the world, “Pages” was actually written first. I sat on the lyrics and composition for months, not really sure how I wanted the final song to sound. Eventually, I got tired of waiting and just dove in. (Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned there….) Using what I learned from the first song and sticking to the 16-bit sounds that I love, I sat down and finally got something my ears liked. I hope yours do too!

Lyrics

Looks like it's time again, just like all those times before
You already know, but they're the one that I adore
I take my pen in hand, on your pages I will write
All my thoughts not spoken into light

"I always notice you but you never notice me"
"The hand that makes these words would fit in your hand perfectly"
Another page is full, along with two or maybe three?
Pages that they'll never get to see

It's so embarrassing, but it's the only way I know
To set free these feelings that have no place to go
They'll never read these lines, I'll never show the truth within your covers
But why should I care when I know it's what I want?

I've told them how I feel a thousand times inside my mind
I've played the situation through to leave uncertainty behind
It's not reality, though I would definitely try
But if they ever read these words, I think I'd probably die

It's so embarrassing, but it's the only way I know
To set free these feelings that have no place to go
They'll never read these lines, I'll never show the truth within your covers
But why should I care when I know it's what I want?

Sentence by sentence I
Sit back and wonder why I cannot tell them
There's nothing stopping me
But my anxiety that there may be someone
Who took their heart instead
Got to their soul ahead of me
'Cause they've got words to say
But I'm vocal in my own way

It's so embarrassing, but it's the only way I know
To set free these feelings that have no place to go
They'll never read these lines, I'll never show the truth within your covers
But why should I care when I know it's what I want?

I take my pen in hand and in your pages I will be
Pages that they'll never get to see

The Creative Process

Some of you might be curious how this song came to life, so I’ll show you a bit of my process for creating it.

Composition

Pages began during an afternoon messing with Hookpad, a very nifty tool by Hooktheory. It’s basically a musical sketch pad that allows you to place notes and chords together, and the relationship between them. For someone like me who has basically no music theory training, it’s quite helpful. If you’re interested in writing songs, I can’t recommend Hookpad enough.

The first verse, as shown inside Hookpad.

Lyrics

I had an idea for a song about a girl who likes somebody, but she’s too shy to tell them. Instead, she vents her feelings into a notebook that nobody else is allowed to read.

Surprisingly, the lyric-writing portion of the project only took a couple of hours (special thanks to RhymeZone.com who made that process a whole lot easier). I was surprised at how quickly it came together, but it took a lot longer to convince myself that it wasn’t too corny to pursue further.

Building the Song

During the process of bringing everything together, I used 3 different programs.

Deflemask is a free chiptune tracker that I’ve been using for about 5 years now. It’s designed to emulate the old consoles of the 80s and 90s, like the NES and Sega Genesis. The hi-hat loop you hear throughout the song was created with Deflemask.

(If you’re interested in hearing what Deflemask by itself can do, my “Blast Processed Otaku Tunes” were made entirely in Deflemask.)

Synthesizer V is one of many programs that allow you to virtually create vocals for a song. There are other programs you can use to do this, like UTAU, but SynthV is special because it has natural language processing. This means I can enter the lyrics as full words instead of having to build each word phonetically. But, I can still go in and change the phonics of a word if the vocalist’s pronunciation is a little off. Overall, it saves a lot of time.

The Synthesizer V interface, showing a line of lyrics.

Each word is placed on a “piano roll” timeline, with words broken up across multiple notes if necessary. After placing all the notes, I go back and mess with the “tuning” of each note. This can consist of tweaking the pitch, vibrato, etc. One interesting thing about working with vocal synth is that, without extra configuration, the program will sing your song perfectly. That might sound appealing at first, until you realize how robotic it sounds. You get the best results by playing around with the tuning, and maybe messing it up slightly.

Reaper is a digital audio workstation (DAW) that is quite affordable when compared to similar options. This is where the bulk of the work is done.

The Reaper interface, showing a number of audio tracks.

As a general rule, each row you see in the program is a different instrument. I won’t go into detail about how the different instruments were created, because I’d be here for hours.

SynthV allows you to directly “plug in” to a DAW, so I link those programs together. That allows me to hear the vocalist sing within Reaper. The hi-hat loop made in Deflemask is exported as an audio file and imported into Reaper, where it can be looped as long as desired.