Art is the proper task of life. — Fridrich Nietzsche
Before I introduce the next song to be created in the 12/12 series of twelve songs, I pause for a moment to reflect on the journey thus far.
First, it was a great pleasure to work with James Porter on “My Father Walks With Me.” After recording it and processing the vocals, it became apparent the song wasn’t the perfect match for his range. He is a tenor of the first order, and the song was definitely written in a baritone range. He did an excellent job and although this wasn’t a perfect fit, he is up for exploring another song in the next few months, so stay tuned as I would very much like to work with him again!
Second, kudos and thanks to the talented and gifted Rod Faulkner who stepped in to sing the song with his velvet voice. Rod is one of my closest friends and he continually inspires me with his endeavors (he has made a profound commitment as a volunteer with Operation Kindness, and I support his kind spirit aiding these animals to heal and find loving homes). In addition to being a songwriter himself, he previously performed in a small combo group called Two By Two, which also featured my good friends Daryl Curry, Janet Samuelson and the dynamic diva Janie Hall. They had a great time performing together in the style of Manhattan Transfer and even produced a CD. Copies are still available from Daryl (the CD is worth adding to your collection).
Third, creating the video tribute wasn’t something I had intended to do when I started arranging the song or contemplating this journey, but as the time approached to release it, I began to wonder just HOW I would accomplish the premiere and the thought of merely floating an audio file out in cyberspace seemed anticlimactic. Inspiration delivered the solution of creating a video tribute to my father, and extend it to the fathers of my friends as well. In addition, my work with the Dallas Alzheimer’s Association’s women’s fundraising organization, AWARE, compelled me to capitalize on the occasion to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease. My brother was instrumental in finding old photos of us with our father, plus old 8mm footage that ultimately lent an intimate quality to the final video. I loved being able to take the song tribute to a different level by creating the video and sharing it with my friends.
Thanks to my brother for gathering the video elements, and to all my friends who participated my sending photos. I hope everyone everywhere will use the song to create video tributes to their fathers.
Finally, a few of the noteworthy things I learned during the creation of this first song:
- When you are producing the song you wrote, you really, really get to know it. After the initial arrangement, I continued to tweak and “improve” sections of the song until the very end, which included the mixing of the various parts, painstakingly working with each individual part’s dynamics and volume on just about every note. Needless to say, you listen the song about a thousand times to get the balance to where you like it. I would go to sleep humming it, wake up singing it, listen to on my iPhone when I was walking…in short, I lived and breathed it for a few weeks. Luckily, this process plays directly into my elective OCD.
- Processing vocals is a fun an interesting task. After recording the vocal track in my makeshift recording studio (quilts and blankets draped over a couple of C stands, a decent mic and a light), the fun began. Here’s what you get to do to process the vocal: Gate it (remove background noise) with a special filter; EQ it (remove low or high frequencies with filters); compress it (smoothes out the highs and lows of the gain [a.k.a. volume] so that even the softer passages are as vibrant as the most robust ones); de-ess it (remove pops from the letter “p” and reduce the hissing sibilants of the “s;” EQ it again (to add in anything you might have eliminated during the last several steps); add reverb and delay as necessary, and finally, pitch correction as necessary. It’s a bit like a puzzle that doesn’t have just one solution – each step can affect the others to follow. So it’s back and forth until the graphic displays look good and the sound is just what you want. Fascinating!
- Pan your parts. If you pan each instrument slightly left or right of center, a process which assigns the sound in a stereo mix to one of the speakers, a percentage thereof, or straight down the middle, you open up the arrangement so that different parts can come through more easily and you don’t have to make everything louder to be heard. There are no rules about what instrument should pan here or there, so pan with abandon, just don’t pan too much or perhaps you’ll pan to the point of pain.
- The mix is not the final say. Once you get a mix you like, you get to “master” the song which means more EQ, more compression and finally the coolest thing of all: an adaptive limiter, which really brings all the parts to equal volume so that the song is full and all parts are heard without going over acceptable levels. All of this is processed on the entire mix as a whole rather than individual parts as executed within the mix.
- I absolutely love this. Arranging a song is like solving a mathematical problem with audio. It’s a conversation between what you can hear and what you feel. It’s a balancing act. It’s complete and total Zen immersion and laser focus. Hours seem to pass in only minutes. Of all my creative pursuits, it is the one that seems most natural and the closest to the full expression of who/what I am.
- Copyright via the web is a breeze. I was absolutely thrilled to file my first copyright application and upload my first song to the copyright office via the web. I was initially apprehensive, but a quick tutorial available on the site actually made sense and therefore made it a snap to complete. 20 minutes and $35 later, I was a registered copyright owner.
Switching the genre just a bit, the next song up is an electronic dance anthem titled “We Are Made Of Love” which will feature a simple repeated lyric alternated with instrumental synthesizers. I’ve already begun the arrangement and I should be recording vocals soon. I really like the melody and groove of the beat. More to come!
Thanks to everyone for the kind reaction to the first song and for joining me on the journey of creation!