Painted Lady butterfly on buddleia

Covering A Song: Before and After

Something I have been meaning to do for a while is to do a cover song, Stoneygate style. (I play various Suzanne Vega covers on the guitar, but not as ‘Stoneygate’.)  So when a musicians’ Facebook group I’m following asked who would be up for doing some cover song swaps, I decided to give it a go.

The pairings were random, and the group is based in America, so I thought I’d probably be working with somebody State-side. In the event, the random pairing put me with (cue drumroll) Lynz Crichton, a fantastic singer-songwriter based less than an hour away from me! It was a lovely surprise to be paired with someone so close by, with the added bonus of a future meet-up for a coffee. (A Midlands-based Brit also organised the cover song swaps… watch out world, we Midlander musicians are taking over!).

Before

I thought it would be cool to share a little of the process with you. The first thing I did was to listen to Lynz’s EP on bandcamp, check out the lyrics, and sleep on it. I still had an earworm the next day with the song that had stood out, One Fine Day. Having another listen to the EP and reviewing all the lyrics helped confirm my choice.

Once I’d decided on the song, I could map out the structure and chords of Lynz’s original song in my digital audio workstation. I wasn’t sure about a couple of chords, and Lynz also very kindly let me have a chordsheet to check my work against. The key was not very keyboard friendly, as the song was originally written for guitar. That was going to slow me down for writing parts, so I transposed it up a semi-tone, at a very early stage, and checked it was still going to be within my vocal range. I also messed around with the tempo a bit, slowing it down to bring out the song’s full drama.

After that, I could set to work constructing an arrangement around the original song and record a guide vocal as a place-holder. My intention was to make it into a trip-hop version, but my first attempt with the arrangement felt somewhat disco-ey. It wasn’t that I disliked it, it was just that it wasn’t the vision that I’d got for it… I mentioned this to the swap organiser in our Facebook group, and he happened to mention Portishead. That got me back having a quick listen to Glory Box to check up on and confirm my suspicion that my bassline was the main culprit for the song having the wrong feel to it. It was just too bouncy.

I wrote a new bassline, stripping it right back so that it wouldn’t attract so much attention to itself. It was better, but the song now felt like it was missing something to really give it atmosphere. I tried adding some strings at key points in the song where there was space for them, messing up the chords so they felt more jazzy and retro. (This is what has given the song its James Bond overtones.)  Now the song was really coming together. Time for proper vocal takes, some more tweaks and mixing.

After

You can hear a draft mix of my version on Soundcloud:

 

Lynz is covering Silver Bird, by the way, and I’ve heard a draft already, with some awesome vocals. Watch this space!

 

Cinematica: My Filmscore Playlist

This playlist is a bit different as it features a lot of actual filmscore music – most of the tracks have actually been used in films, but I’ve snuck in a few that fit with the filmscore feel, but haven’t been used in film to my knowledge.

What film soundtracks would you recommend?

Super-chilled Music

Super-chilled tunes for the end of the day

I’ve been making a few playlists on Spotify of work by artists that I discover, especially independent artists – we need all the love we can get!  So I’m going to do a series of blog posts so each of these playlists gets their spot in the limelight and you will get the chance to hear and enjoy them too. (In the interests of transparency, I admit I’ve snuck one or two Stoneygate tunes into each list, however nearly all the tracks are from other artists!)

They each cover quite a lot of music – it would be too much for anyone to listen to if I posted them all in one go, but if you’re a music listening super-hero, you’ll be able to see all of them on my Spotify profile.

My Super-Chilled playlist

This list covers acoustic guitar to latin jazz to electronica but the emphasis is firmly on relaxation, and maybe even dropping off to sleep in the process as the list goes on. (Just don’t sleepwalk, OK?)  Let me know your favourite tracks in the comments section!

 

First Game: Way of the Bubble

The Way of the Bubble, Menu Screen

The Way of the Bubble (Beta), Menu Screen

The last few weeks have been a bit intense at times. I signed up for a game music composition course on Udemy in June – maybe not the sanest thing to do during a 30-day composition challenge, but I doubled up and used the homework as Tune-A-Day June tunes, which helped me crack on with it.

It’s the first Udemy course I’ve studied and it is going well. I wanted to write about what I’m learning for Code Like a Girl, because it involves Unity, a very popular game development ‘engine’*.  With the games industry being so buoyant it would be good to encourage more girls to get involved. But I needed to write a long-overdue article first to complete the story about making video using Processing 3 to write basic animations, so I ended up writing two articles quite close together.  The first article is about making the music visualiser used in the Silver Bird video; the second is about what I’ve been up to on the game music course, which teaches you to make your music adapt to what is happening inside a game and trigger music cues based on events occuring. It’s been really interesting so far and I feel like I’m much better prepared for making more music for games.

I’ve also spent some time trying to learn a little more than is covered on Unity by the game music course by looking at Unity tutorials and just playing around with it. (If you read the second recent article for Code Like A Girl, you’ll see I had some fun body-modding the player character and giving his glasses a makeover). I definitely want to learn more about using Unity, as I’d like to create a simple game that I can use for making video footage from.  This will involve learning to code in C#, however, so that will stretch the old grey matter more than a little when I get to grips with it properly. I’ve only really scratched the surface so far.  (Unity can also take Java scripts, but the tutorials look like they concentrate on C#, so I’ll just follow those – the two languages seem very similar from my perspective, anyway).

Unity gives you a fantastic platform to work with for making animations, from what I can see, and you can almost treat it like a filmset once you’re proficient, setting up camera angles, getting the camera to follow a character’s movements, or to zoom in to the action, etc. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in all this learning though. It may be quite a long time before I can make something really decent – if I get that far.

New Game – Way of the Bubble

Meanwhile, I’ve had my first glimpse of the Way of the Bubble game, the first game in the TrickJazz chillout mobile games series, which I already mentioned a few times.  The game I was originally scheduled to be in, Dreamwalker, has been delayed, so they’ve included my tune Sunset Landscape as one of the tunes in Way of the Bubble. The game is now in beta testing, and I’ve had a go at playing it already, which I’m naturally quite excited about.

Footnotes:

*I’m not sure how they started calling these things engines – Unity is a development environment where you pull together and organise all the different elements that go into making a game and test it. It has built in elements, like a ‘physics engine’ so you can apply gravity to your objects and make them bounce back from walls, etc. You can also buy additional items to extend the possibilities, particularly of the graphics elements available.

A Co-write and Victory!

Apologies, I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front*  – I’ve been focussed on getting through the Tune-A-Day challenge. Last night, arriving at the completion of Day 30 was almost an anticlimax – although I did try and write something a little triumphal sounding to go out on, as I’ve never got to Day 30 before.

After the first couple of weeks, I expected it to feel like a physical battle to keep going, as it has in previous years, but it didn’t really get that bad, thankfully, apart from a wobble early on, around Day 8/9. Maybe the previous years’ ‘training’ is starting to pay off, or maybe I was just that bit more accepting of the ideas not being 100% finished. The battle this time was more about ‘this is starting to feel a bit mundane’ or creating more than just a nice sounding intro riff.

Knowing that there was a small but dedicated bunch of people who would be waiting to check out the next tune was very good motivation to keep going. Not letting people down… So thank you if you’re one of those who followed along, commented, liked or retweeted: couldn’t have done it without you.

Oversized owl mug - a cuppa during songwriting session with Matt Steady

Enjoying a nice cuppa at Studio Steady

Day 26: First Stoneygate Co-write

A highlight was co-writing with Matt Steady for the first time on Monday (although I was ridiculously tired from a road trip to a family get-together the day before). Co-writing has been a mixed experience in the past: I co-wrote several songs with a friend at Uni, then there was a long gap. It was the first time I’ve co-written as Stoneygate, and I wasn’t sure if I should be using the electronics or the guitar. It is also the first time doing a co-write as part of Tune-A-Day. In case anyone is wondering, it is definitely not cheating – co-writing uses a whole extra level of skills that I need to work on, as well as the composition & lyric-writing, so it was more challenging than sitting down to write alone.

On the day, I didn’t think I’d keep pace if I tried to go with the electronics during the songwriting – I was rather low on brainpower, even after a large dose of Matt’s real coffee.  So I stuck with the guitar, to focus on chords, melody and lyrics and not slow myself down worrying about sound design and hitting all the wrong notes. Just as well, I think we were in a funny key (a technical term, honest)!

The song felt like a proper joint effort, and once we’d got past the we’ve-never-worked-together-before shyness, and worked out what we were going to write about, we were challenging each other’s ideas and throwing in our own. There was also the important matter of being made acquainted with the most curious of the Steady cats. The song, being essentially a blues piece, didn’t feel like a Stoneygate song, though, until I’d put it into the computer, messed around to get a bassline that contrasted with the chords, then put some trip-hoppy drums in, and then it all made a lot more sense.

July is looking very busy already. Plus, I’d like to try to get to grips with Unity, the games development platform, as I’d like to try and make a video using it.  (I’ve no idea if this is a realistic goal yet – it could turn out to be too big an ask, but I don’t think it will hurt to learn more about it).  I’m following a games music composition course at the moment. And, I’ll be doing cover-song swapsies this month with one or two of the other musicians in a Facebook group I’m in.  There’s also the small matter of progressing the album(s)! With more than an hour of additional material, the Tune-A-Day exercise gives me a lot more leeway selecting what makes the final cut for the next release.

 

*Not to mention the email and Twitter fronts.