The Song Doesn’t Always Remain the Same

That Oberheim DX sounds pretty good! I’m sort of sorry I sold it but it was a tank!!! It originally cost me like $ 1,100.00 in the early 80s (when it was new, not counting the Sync-to-Midi modification I had done and the ROM upgrade. They’re selling used now for somewhere between $2,500 and up! I still run into the guy that bought it, from time to time.

The clean electric guitar sounding instrument was a Hohner D-6 Clavinet. Hum included free-of-charge!

The horn parts were done on a State-of-the-Art, Roland Juno 60! One of the many Roland Keyboards I’ve owned. The piano was a cheap old Kincaid console. Actually, by cheap, I mean not a Steinway or a Yamaha. It really wasn’t that cheap, for the time. I’m not sure the mic I used had a name!


This song was done on a multi-track analog tape recorder (Yeah, it’s the one I added to the Schmitt List).  If MIDI turned 40 years old, then this has got to be older. The Master Tape was the victim of vandalism and subsequently lost in a storage facility. 

There are many ways to write songs.  Sometimes, the music comes first and other times the lyrics come first. Recording it, is another story.  Much of my work I did alone but in this case, the concept started on a guitar.  Not the one you hear in the song, but an acoustic one.  Of course, at the time, I wasn’t in my studio, and I really don’t play guitar.  I can play mostly first and third position chords, but I don’t profess to be a Guitarist. 

Anyway, when I did get to the studio, I used a piano to lay down the first track.  Again, as it has been said many times before, when it comes to music and recording music, in particular, “There are no rules!”  I love that about music.  There aren’t too many things one can say that about. 

In sports, there are rules and a scoreboard.  In music there are no rules and there is no scoreboard.  You might say record sales or streaming hits are a measurement of sorts, but not really.  It’s a very subjective thing.  I’ve heard many a hit song that I particularly didn’t feel was all that great.  Conversely, I have heard other songs, from relatively obscure Artists, that I thought were great.  The scoreboard, is your opinion, and you know what they say about opinions… Everyone has at least one. 

So, enough of that.  Back to my story…  I will usually conceive an idea on a piano, lay down a track and start building on it.  Almost always, I never use the original piano track in the mix.  When adding other parts, there will be rhythm changes and accents that become embedded in the original idea and necessitates another pass, in the recording process, after those percussive tracks are added. Often, during the process, at least in my experience, the song morphs into something that may not even resemble the original idea. In a good way… (I love when that happens…)

Anyway, the second track, in this example, is probably the Bass or the Drums…  The Bass guitar used didn’t have any frets…and it wasn’t a fretless bass!  It didn’t matter, as I was just trying to get the song assembled.  As the song evolved, the drum part changed also.  I am not a drummer, though, after some practice, I can keep time and keep the beat going.  In some of my work I use Samples, though they still need to be cut, looped, tuned, or whatever.  I am not trying to eliminate live drums or Drummers.  I guess I should also mention I feel the same way about guitars, Guitarists, strings and String Players, trumpets and Trumpet Players, etc.  There are many challenges trying to use these instruments, when songs are in the writing stage.  This is especially true if you are writing and recording at the same time, which I do often.

I use samples because of expediency in my writing.  An exception to this approach to writing music, is if I have the hankering to use some sound where a real instrument is unavailable, or impractical.  An example of that would be like a set of Timpani Drums or a Shakuhachi.  I really don’t have the physical space to store Timpani Drums and though I know of Kazou Matsui, he doesn’t know me.  I can play or fake playing several musical instruments, for the sake of trying to form ideas, but Shakuhachi, Sitars, Strings, and Brass Instruments are not in that realm.

I could only dream of having a facility where I could house all the instruments I would like to use in my music.  It would also be fantasy to say I have an address book, full of all the of the finest players in the world to participate in my Productions.  Much of my finest work happens in the middle of the night, for some inexplicable reason.  It’s been that way forever.  Being for the most part, I am an Original Artist, I am often, not always, a Songwriter and a Composer first, before I become a Player.  Sometimes I get ideas in a flash, and I often lose things, in half-a-flash.  A simple distraction at the right time and there went the whole Enchilada (Wow, I got sort of hungry for a second)

Still, working with Keyboards, I can bring out the dormant Drummer that lives inside of me.  Because I love the drums.  I know how they are supposed to sound and even if I don’t or can’t play the part, I can usually get there one way or another.  That is my goal as a Songwriter.  That is my purpose.  I have 2-hands, 2-feet …and a lot of Midi gear.  Midi helps, but there are also drawbacks.  When it comes to Drums, Bass, and Guitars, it might help to get ideas together… but I usually find, depending on the genre, these parts need to come together individually, as otherwise everything would be primarily in unison.  Unless there are lights and a dancefloor or we’re going Hip-Hop, it won’t work.  Not a rule…just the way I work… In a live situation, with other Performers, this is less of an issue.

So again, back to the point… Vocals – now I’m talking about this song… The lead vocal was a scratch take.  When someone says, “This was done in a single take,” often that doesn’t include scratch tracks…at least when I’m singing them… In this case, the vocals were only supposed to be a place holder for the Musicians I anticipated working with, who weren’t a part of the Composing or Arrangement process.  I don’t profess to be a Singer either, though I’m sure I could’ve done better.  Along with some basic sound processing, I wouldn’t be as embarrassed as I am now, when I listen to this track (Honestly, I always feel a bit embarrassed when I hear my own voice, unless I am on a stage, and I am not my own audience).  I only used a Reverb, and probably too much of it.  That’s because I wasn’t hearing everything together and never had the opportunity to dial the vocals in.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to solo individual, discrete tracks of a completed mix, you might find that the vocals sound out-of-tune or, the timbre harsh.  When combined with the other tracks in the mix, they sound great!!!  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.  If there is anything specifically that should be isolated, it’s the vocals.  The more tracks there are, the more imperative it is to have flexibility in mixing vocals, when recording.  As I mentioned earlier, there are no rules and if there were, they wouldn’t always apply to every situation.

Anyway, the background vocals were laid dry.  I was hoping to add some La-la girl or Doo-Op guy harmonies (Meant in a non-condescending way) to the mix, but it never got there.  I was still fishing for ideas and the attempted harmonies or adlibbed lyrics were not supposed to be final.

Anyway, the point is… Finally!  It is very important to keep your Vocals, Solos, and Rhythm tracks separate. The entire mix was a Scratch mix.  I can’t even call it a Rough Mix, because that isn’t until after individual tracks are combined.  Sadly, there was and still is, absolutely nothing I could do for it.  Everything was mixed down to 2-tracks (An MP3, I might add). Once the Master was gone, it was lights out, for this tune.

Does that mean you can’t have a great song, if writing or recording using this method isn’t adhered to?  Not at all.  The Beatles could probably explain it better than I can, because many of their great tunes were the result of accidental but genius deviations from standard methods.  Kudos to Brian Epstein and his genius in recognizing this.  In many ways, in my mind, he was not only a great Producer but also a 5th member of the band.  I couldn’t say for sure, but if he were here today, he’d probably agree. This rendition of “Shape of Your Heart,” is unsalvageable.

You can work with a Rhythm section, if the Performers are recorded together and are advanced studio Performers.  Now, by together, in this context, I mean at the same time.  Not on the same track.  Again, not a rule, because it wasn’t long ago, 8-tracks were all there were (Okay, maybe it was more than a while ago).  Nowadays, a Drummer alone could use twice that many tracks single-handedly. 

From a production standpoint, there is more flexibility in using discrete tracks.  Like Soup, you can easily add things.  It’s not so easy to remove ingredients, once the flavors combine.    

Sadly, this one got away from me.  It is what it is… or could’ve been.  If I had the Master Tracks, I know I could’ve done much more with it. The good news is…the song is still a song.  It can be redone, though it is unlikely it’ll ever be the same. That could be a good thing.  But that’s a different story.

About The Chazzzman

Aging is like wine, It gets better with age, but you'll likely want to put a cork in the bottle...lest it may leak.
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