Add Garnish to Taste

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Music/Audio, Personal, Ramblings Leave a Comment

It’s been a while… and it’s story time I guess:

After a couple of weeks of Spring Break with the kid (and a two-week break from teaching), I stumbled into a situation where I was invited to re-imagine a song after reviewing the tune on MusicXRay.

That’s the same site I mentioned a couple posts back when I was chatting about finding “real” feedback.

By the way, after all 25 respondants completed the survey, I improved slightly from 2.33 to 2.44 out of 5 on my song “I’ve Given Up“.  Apparrently, the song is now in the 5th percentile (“up” from from 4) of all music submitted to the site.

Getting Hooked

Back to the story.

To tell you the truth, curiosity got the better of me after seeing these ratings come in.  What kind of music does this site get and how does the rating system work?  (Perhaps more on that in another post).  I signed up as a “listener” and soon got email requests to rate songs for a small stipend.

After listening to quite a few songs, I still can’t understand how my song is in the “5th percentile”, but that’s beside the point.

One of the songs I came across was from this duo with a fantastic female singer and heavy synth backing track.  I remember sitting back thinking that there was definitely something here, but there were some things that I would have personally preferred in the mix and arrangement.

I left a review what probably can be viewed as the stereotypical “criticism sandwich” approach, but essentially, I left some suggestions on what I’d do with the song and offered a go at re-mixing it if they were up to it and left an email address.

I’ve left my email (a “screener” email actually) for only a couple of the artists I reviewed, and to tell you the truth, I was kind of surprised when I not only got a response, but I got a response that took me up on my offer.

Hoping That Came Out of My Hat?

I’ll protect the innocent and not reveal any names at this point, but I gotta say, I’m pretty excited about this opportunity. It’s a guy / gal duo: massive rocker-style pipes with mainly electronic/DJ style beats.

The vocal performances are superb (it’s fantastic a female singer … I love kick-ass female vox) and you can tell a lot of work has gone into the instrumentation, recording and mixing.  All in all, a well rounded package.

I got sent the tracks and stems of the original recoridngs.  I say tracks and stems as some of them were dry and others were processed and bounced from multiple tracks. The absolute cool thing about this was that the producer gave me “carte-blanche” – cue EVIL laughter.

I took advantage of the situation and essentially muted everything except for the main vocal line and started from scratch.

One of the comments I had left was that I would have liked to hear more harmonic content in the song.  There was this iconic massive analog synth bass line motif that carried on through the song.  It fit, but to me (IMHO) the vocals needed to be complimented more through the sections with some changes and movement in the chords.

So, I went to work. I was thinking that this would be a cool exercise for my theory classes at the Art Institute. It’s exactly like one of the assignments I give my class, but with much cooler subject content (appologies to any students reading this…).

The original song mainly hung around the tonic chord, so naturally, the vocals did the same.  So, how do you go about inserting movement in chords under a melody that’s implying something that doesn’t move?

Warning, Geek Music Theory Ahead

A couple of the cool musical devices that I talk about towards the end of my class deal with how I approached this situation: Ostinato and Pedal Point.

Ostinato is essentially a repetitve motif or “riff” that a song or part of a song can be built around.  It’s a melodic figure (or sequence if you will) that usually repeats at regular intervals – the harmonic content around the figure usually instills some sort of tension and release by moving around consonance and dissonance to the melodic figure – think “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns and Roses.

Pedal Point works on the same principle as Ostinato, except it’s typically a bass note that remains static while the rest of the harmonic content moves around it – think “Crazy” by Seal.

Even though the melody hung around the tonic chord of “G”, using the above devices I was able to pull up some interesting chords that insert some movement in the song and remain consonant with the melody – even though the notes that it contains may or may not appear in the chords I used.  There’s a bit of knowledge of contemporary theory that I’m employing here to make sure that the chords I’m choosing aren’t creating avoid note situations, but it all really comes down to creating chord changes that sound good.

I’ve had time to work a bit mainly on the meat of the song (verse, pre-chorus, chorus) and sent a version off to see how it flies. The cool thing is – he is very happy with how it’s going.

I’m about to tackle the bridge which goes into some odd places melody-wise. More on this later!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.