This little article has the minimal amount of relevance relating back to software development, but instead a recounting of how I’ve had the an opportunity to become friends with two individuals who are utterly changing my world from a musical perspective. This article describes simply my own amazement to hidden talents, and learning an interesting technique while producing & recording a cover with these talented individuals.
Failed Vocals, Sour Notes & Polyrhythmic Woes
I am no vocalist; this is a key fact which friends and family will attest to in greater numbers than I appreciate, but it’s true.
In past projects I had attempted to befriend AutoTune -which was a horrible idea if I may add, so that I could capture various melodies, lyrics and emotions that would fly around my head during the time I should have been studying. Later, when I realized that I should never attempt a vocal rendition of Ah’s Take On Me, I jumped into the electronic music technique of vocal sampling and chopping. This produced wondrously random, yet tangible, results. Though I hadn’t uploaded any of that crop of music to online sources due to other perfectionism issues, I was content with the vocal sampling technique for the sound I was developing for that time.
One issue with the technique above was the lack of control I’d have over the samples or melodies. This is perhaps, due to my inexperience in audio production at the time which resulted in a ‘well I guess it sounds good enough’ attitude after I’d find a decent glitch-vocal melody. Think The Glitch Mob, Skrillex, Dada Life, or Daft Punk. Think any of those artists, but much less polished.
This issue, snowballing with various other issues a teenager would encounter when they can’t relate to sport programs or science fairs led me to give up entirely on music which had vocals (in any form). I started to gravitate (in the rare instances I would play or produce) to genres such as Ambient, Post-Rock, and Djent. Interesting mix of genres, but they all catered one way or another to the progressive genre which I have quite the affection for when the standard radio tune becomes boring.
Oh You Sing? Prove It.
This is my typical reaction when someone mentions how they love to sing, or they have been taking lessons for years on end. I love to hear their definition of ‘singing’, and also their vocal skill. I am judgemental, as no one should be surprised to hear, but I found this was an appropriate request since I was often surprised and moved by said individuals. More so, I was happy that they could carry a tune much better than I because it could open up the door to potential collaborations and get-togethers in the future.
This method of playing with friends led me to discover one individual’s amazing -and perhaps hidden to the public eye, vocal ability. They are the definition of all I could ever wish that I sounded like. It quickly caught my attention, in consequence the ideas began to pour out onto various notes, chord sheets, and recordings. All of which, revolved around their talents. I do wonder if some days they regret that initial jam with me some days, for I always had new ideas or experiments to try ever since.
Recording a Simple Cover
The above process occurred twice in the past summer, and by fortune both individuals had such a complementary skillset that playing together was inspirational for all. Perhaps I’m over exaggerating a simple exchange of cover songs and various melodic jams, but you have to understand that I’ve been playing various instruments for close to a decade with the minimal amount of genuine interaction with real musicians & talented individuals. Anyone can play Wonderwall.
This inspiration led to us trying a fun no-holds cover recording of Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks in the span of a single day. With the instrumentation that we had used, recording the essentials took only a few hours, leaving the rest of the day for perfectionist rerecords, and experiments.
The former is a burden of love which must be dealt with when instrument or vocal melodies aren’t as desired by the group, and the later is simply me attempting to live up to the title of a producer for fun. That is where I realized that I was recording ‘Winners’, those that see every opportunity to improve themselves; to attempt experiments which are purely based on ideas and sounds that I hear in my head.
With the minimal amount of hesitation or concern, I recorded two talented musicians attempting dangerous harmonies, real-time counterpoint, and even live vocal chopping. All of this can be heard on the final product, and I couldn’t be prouder of the result that the three of us had come to together: https://soundcloud.com/ray-gervais-711531601/pumped-up-kicks-ftp-cover
Changing the Perspective
This experience is one which really did grant me a new perspective in contrast to previous projects. In this cover, is the energy & excitement of three individuals who did not know that morning what the final product would sound like; let alone the song that we’d choose to cover! One change to my thought process is the literal idea to let things ‘flow’, meaning to let ideas come and go, instead of trying to confine them to a pre-set rhythm, harmony, or style that I *MUST* have. Instead, these experiments and reinterpretation of the song resulted in a track that encompasses the sound that we wanted, but also allowed for natural growth of the track itself.
Coming from a programming background, I’m a very rigid individual who enjoys schedules, slotted appointments, and routine. This change in perspective was one that I would never accepted had it not been presented in the way that song had done so. Those two individuals, both of which admitted that they had never recorded before, truly did shine through rigid structure and hesitant ideas to create a truly interesting experience. It translates too into the actual song, which I’ve had a close friend describe as ‘a slower, grooved version full of modern nuances’ and another comparing the track to ‘schizophrenic thoughts’. Quite the impressions!
Saving the Off-Takes
While recording with friends in the past, I had heard from a podcast on recording ‘the performance’ the concept of recording 24 bars before the actual punch in. This was, to allow the musician to get into the song instead of being thrust right into the cue point, and in turn perhaps play some interesting tidbits knowing that the ‘fiddly’ sections could be removed in post. I did this for almost all my songs, because it allowed for me to capture the moment before the actual recording which was not anticipated in the context of the song. Some of the projects have muted channels full of little tidbits; out-of-key solos, funk bass rhythms, counter-melodies. They’re great, because sometimes it’s exactly what the song needs.
This idea was used quite a bit on the cover, which results in the way some of the vocal harmonies fight for breath and syllables between your ears and drum fills are manipulated to create a rhythmic pulse in the second verse. Even the piano, which becomes a dominate rhythmic point of the song -with the constant whole bar chords, was simply David just playing the chords while waiting to get to his vocal harmony. Does this mean I potentially have Gigabytes worth of ‘noise’ on most recordings which isn’t present on the final product? Absolutely, but in the end, it’s a trick that I’m glad to have employed in my work flow.