At the inception of the project and during the original meeting Adam had made it clear he would like to take the role of lead composer due to his background in music theory. Through our group messages and with much input from Simon and Adam we had all agreed that based on the reference track the piece would be in a 3/4 time signature. Simon came up with a chord progression for the piece and we all learnt that in our own time.
Guitar - Simon Audus
We did our first session in the Neve studio which allowed us to plug the synthesiser and guitar straight into the desk which allowed Simon and Adam to jam on the progression. Simon was pretty happy with the feel and rhythm of the guitar section so we set out to record that to a click track for the basis of the piece. We did spend quite a bit of time getting the right sound for the guitar. We didn’t have a reference for guitar but we knew we wanted it to sound thin, distant and kind of vintage. We achieved this with a fender telecaster straight into the Neve by playing with the tone settings on the guitar and utilising the gain and EQ on the desk. Simon was leading his rhythm playing with a bass line and we were focusing on making sure that those bass notes didn’t hum and drown out the detail of the up strum rhythm part. It took quite a while to get a perfect take but once we did we all knew that was the take. We looped it, bounced it and all took a copy so we could reflect on it and work on our parts.
Accordion - Adam Higginson
We set up to record the accordion section in the Audient 8024 studio with the Roland DI synthesiser we choose to use this because the sounds had a bit more weight than anything we could find in MIDI via Kontact. We set the track up on loop record and allowed Adam to just play over the loop over and over again to shape the main melody into a cohesive piece. He had some melody ideas he had recorded onto his phone he was stopping and playing back to try and find the melody he could here in his head. Take after take and suddenly there was a take where I stopped and fully paid attention, I thought this is it then in the third run through of the chord progression he climbed up just how I had pictured in in my head and came back down with some variations on the fourth run through. I ran over and stopped the record at the end and yelled that was it. Adam said that was the first time through that he felt his plan had come together. We all agreed and played it back a good few times to listen to it closely and all agreed that this was the one. The final note did hang over, this caused much stress to the group in regards to looping it. So we cut the part of the note the hung over and pasted it to the start of the track to create a perfect loop.
Strings - Shay Mitchell
We choose to do the accordion before the strings because I wanted to climb up the notes or make a slight change on the strings that would follow the main melody. Adam and I had talked about this previously. So when we set out to work out a strings part this was very clear from the onset. We went for more of a cello sound than violin because the accordion is already covering the higher frequency spectrum and so was the guitar so we wanted a tone that would sit between the bass and accordion tonally with the guitar kind of keeping the back beat. I started by learning and playing the chords and incorporating this climb into the third run through of the chord progression but we all felt that the chords sounded more like a pad in an electronic song than a jazz quartet playing in a cafe so I attempted to come up with a simple but effective melody. With Simon suggesting notes that would work I tuned out to what he was saying and just used my ears trying to find the melody, I could hear in my head. This was essentially built around the root note of each chord and 2 other notes descending back down to the root note of the next chord until the third run through in which I ascend and change the 2 note decent. This change was actually a happy accident where I landed on the wrong note and just kept playing my way back down from there and hence found a new variation of the melody. I am very happy with how this turned out. We recorded the string section in MIDI using Kontact and after what was a fairly reasonable take we set about just lengthening and shortening a few notes that had overlapped to get the most emphasise out of the initial strike of each note.
Double Bass - Brenden Blanch
This was where we really worked together as a team to lift up one of our own. In the whole time, we have been doing this course Brenden has been the most unconfident in his musical ability. Brenden is not actually a musician more of a technician and has gotten extremely nervous at any mention of musical theory. While he excels in anything to do with computers, coding, binary code and signal flow this is still an area he is not confident. So as a group, from the start, we all agreed that we would help Brenden learn to play the bass part. To understand what he was playing and how it related to the guitar part in the song and to at least get a takedown, that we could edit in MIDI. In order to do this, we wrote the notes on masking tape which we stuck to the keys so he could see which notes he would be playing. We all encouraged him through his nervousness and Adam was extremely good at breaking it down into smaller sections for him. Just 2 notes at a time, “How do you eat an elephant? One Bite at a time”
This actually turned out to be quite a good learning experience for the whole team’, because Brenden’s input was less than perfect, it gave us all a lot more to do in MIDI and we actually all took turns dragging notes, lengthening, shortening and adjusting the velocity of each hit. Honestly, in this process, we all learnt so much about MIDI and how it works. It really opened up the possibilities to us as to how you could use this to sketch out a track.
The mixing process was actually quite interesting. We all had similar ideas about the space and volume of the instruments, I had a clear idea in my head of what I thought I wanted and as the desk engineer I took the initiative and set up the initial mix Just in terms of volume and panning. The interesting thing was that I had panned the Guitar 20-30 to the left and the Strings 20-30 to the Right. But this didn’t work the left channel just seemed fuller and louder no matter how much we turned down the guitar. Then it occurred to us that the Stereo channel for the accordion section had more of the lower tones coming out of the left speaker and the higher tones coming out of the right speaker. So we flipped them around sending the Strings 20-30 Left and the guitar 20-30 Right and it evened out the tone and the amplitude beautifully we were actually all amazed at how it just balanced everything out better that way. We added some compression to the guitar and accordion tracks and tweaked them, but felt the Strings and Bass didn’t need it as the strings were pretty smooth and we had already kind of manually done that to the bass by adjusting the velocity of each note. We discussed reverb and all agreed that this performance was happening in a small room so we choose a small room reverb and after checking what it sounded like with too much we worked our way down to a small amount of each signal through the reverb auxiliary channel.
Our Sound Stage looked like this
Accordion Front and Centre
Guitar Slightly Left a little bit further back
Strings Slightly Right a little bit further back
Double Bass just off centre to the left, even further back
We used our knowledge of spectral dynamics, spatial dynamics and dynamic range in order to create this space within our piece.
You can check the finished song out on the link below...
Force De Frappe
We had a very short time frame to get this done, so we started progressing with a sketch of a plan and built the plan in the early stages of the production. I feel like this made for a slightly less focused production, however, due to the short time frame, it was important to get things progressing as quickly as possible. I am really happy with the combined effort of the team, I feel everyone committed and contributed to the project, that we all grew and learnt a lot. The process of coaching Brenden brought out the best in everyone and in terms of soft skills and teamwork.