As stated in my last two posts, (Link here) I have been researching different producers to analyse their production methods with the intention of recording the song “Mother” by John Lennon in one of these styles. This is the first stage on the way to making my own production of it, resulting in MIDI mix down to show my own arrangement. The first thing I did was imported the song’s Wav. File into a Pro Tools session in order to make a tempo map.
This song was recorded back when playing to a click track was a fairly new thing, and though the song stays relatively at the same tempo, it would ultimately go up and down throughout. A Tempo map allows us to follow this by automating the BPM of the track for each bar if necessary, allowing us to know what tempo a particular bar is of the song at any given time.
In previous recordings I’ve done, I’ve usually recorded to a click, so this was completely new to me, but I could instantly see the benefits: mainly if the producer wanted to add MIDI parts of other instruments to the mix and not having to change the timing for each bar because the session already has it automated.
(NOTE: In this article the screenshots will change back and forth between Window’s and Mac style computers, However I will be giving the Mac shortcuts if I mention them, due to when it comes to doing the actual recording, I will be using a Mac.)
Creating The Tempo Map:
Once the track has been imported into Pro Tools, The first thing to do was re-number the bars of the song, setting it to minus 1. This allowed me to cut the bells of the start of the recording and later on drag the song back to bar 1/1/000 without removing count in’s.
this can be done by going Event > Renumber Bars.
After this, I then turned off the conductor on the transport bar in order to work out roughly the overall tempo of the track. By playing the song with the conductor switched off, and by tapping the T key on the Keyboard for the first bar of the song, I came to the conclusion that the overall tempo of the song was about 66-67 BPM.
I then turned the conductor back on, and set the base tempo of the song down to match the BPM of the song. It is important that the conductor is turned on, as without it selected you will not be able to automate the song.
The next part involved me turning on a lot of different buttons which I’ve listed below how to select them, what they do, and how they would help me.
Tab to Transient:
This allows me to press the Tab key on the Keyboard to jump to the nearest transient on the waveform. In this application it would help me find the down beat at end of a bar, making the BPM more accurate. First button under the Smart Tool.
Setting the Main marker from Mins/Sec’s to Bar’s and Beats:
Allows me to see when the beats in a bar change over, rather than how far the track has progressed, acts a visual aid to help keep you in time. Click on the little arrow next to the Main Selector to make the change.
Set the Pre-Roll on the transport bar to 1:
Whenever the song is played, It will start exactly a bar behind from your selection point, allowing you to more accurately find the beat. Click in the Pre Roll selection on the transport bar, and type in 1.
Turn on Insertion follows Playback and Link Timeline and Edit Selection:
Insertion follows Playback allows you to add the Beat Marker (more on that later) after you’ve worked out where the beat ends, while Link Timeline and Edit Selection allows whatever audio you select in the edit window to be played because Pro Tools automatically creates a timeline selection to match any edit selection and vice versa. The Insertion follows playback button is just under the hand tool, and the Link Timeline and Edit Selection is directly under the pencil tool.
Chose the After Playback option for Edit Window Scrolling:
this sets it so that the edit window scrolls to the final playback location after playback has stopped. Turned on by going Options > Edit Window Scrolling > After Playback.
Once all the above options were selected, I dragged the song to the start of bar 1, and added a sync Point to tell Pro Tools that this is where to calculate all following beat markers from, which can be moved manually if it isn’t in the right place. I added the sync point by going Clip > Identify Sync Point.
After this I made sure grid was enabled, dragged the waveform onto beat 1, making sure the sync point was in the correct place, and the set the grid to slip, so If I had to move it I could. The Grid menu is in the top left hand corner of the Pro Tools session.
It was then simply a case of going through the track, counting out the beats in each bar to make sure the track was in time, which would then give us something to work from when creating my version in the future. after counting out the 4 beats and making sure they were in time I would press CMD and I to add a beat marker in, inserting the corresponding number, 4/1/000 etc.
which eventually ends up looking something like this.
I then added in some markers to the song to show different parts, this would allow me to easily jump to a particular area at a glance rather than listening through. Since the song mainly consisted of 3 verse parts, a chorus and a fade out, I added a marker by pressing the + symbol next to markers just below the tempo meter, and named them “Mother Verse”, “Father Verse”, “Children Verse”, “Mother Dont Go Section” and “Fade Out” respectfully.
Making my Arrangement:
Once the tempo map was made, I imported its Session Data into a new Pro-Tools Session. This can be done by File > Import > Session Data. At the next menu, it allows me to select which parts of my previous document I want to use, in this case the tempo map and the markers I put in. I also then imported MIDI data from another session, this time selecting the channels I needed and selected the new track option.
Once the tempo map was complete and a template containing MIDI instruments playing parts from the original song, (drums, bass, and piano respectively) was imported into the session, I then began the task of addressing the roughly drawn in MIDI.
The first thing I noticed was that the song didn’t start and finish where the tempo map did. This was partly due to the MIDI not being complete, and also the song starting at a different place. This was easily corrected by selecting slide on the Grid menu and moving back all three MIDI channels (cmnd click the clips) to bar one.
The second thing I noticed was the more complicated parts of the song, (the faster tempo parts in the chorus for the bass and piano, and the fills for the drums) where absent, this meant that they would have to be drawn in to complete the song.
When addressing the MIDI instruments, I chose to recreate the bass first, as I had worked out it was just playing single notes, so when aligning them with the track, I didn’t have to worry about all the notes in my chords starting and finishing at the same time.
I also established from listening to the original song that it was mainly following the drums during the verse parts, and following the piano in the choruses, so using the MIDI track provided to me, as well as some sheet music tablature, I was able to understand the song and put in the appropriate notes.
I then duplicated the first chorus bar to make sure It played back ok, and to sort out any timing issues. Once this was complete I moved onto the drums.
The drums where fairly simple to sort out, The tempo of the song may change, but the overall beat being played doesn’t, with the exception of a couple of subtleties. These included some high-hat variations, some crash symbols added, and drum fills in the chorus, which I addressed first.
In order for me to get the snare hits on time, I had to change the grid in the MIDI editor to Triplets, so for every beat there would be six lines. This allowed me to line up the two snare hits, so they worked with the bass, and later on with the piano.
Once this was complete, and duplicated the correct amount of times, I then went back through the song to address the crash symbols and high hat variations, such as the beginning of each verse, (bars 1, 17, and 33) with the crash and the different high hats through bars 33 to 49.
Now the rhythm section of the song was running smoothly, I then sorted out the piano, like before I listened to the original song and then compared it to my MIDI to make sure the chord changes happened smoothly and had the right duration so they didn’t overlap.
For the Chorus section of the song, I compared the sheet music of the guitar and piano to what was transcribed in the MIDI, and realized I had to create it from scratch. I copied the chords across from other parts of the song and adjusted the duration to make sure they linked up with the bass and drums. Once I had created a section that when duplicated played smoothly, I continued reproducing it until the end of the song.
I then changed the sound of the piano to that of a guitar, and added some distortion to it, since in my arrangement it is an instrument I would be using. Other elements included a big 80s drum sound, and an electric bass overlayed with a synth bass. After adding a master fader set at -3.0dB and an automated fade out, the finished composition can be heard below.
For my composition I will be producing in the style of Robert John Mutt Lange an up beat, pop-punk/pop-rock inspired rendition of Mother (Link to my producers article at the top of the page.) I created a sample below of what this new version will sound like composed of MIDI plus some audio of myself singing out a rough vocal melody.
My first point of call was the tempo, which I decided to increase from roughly 66-67BPM to a static 160BPM, this would mean the song would start and finish at the same tempo, while also giving It more energy over the original. Next up was the composition, written in 4/4 timing, I simplified the chords on the song to guitar power chords, and arranged them in a boppy, dancey, green day inspired strumming pattern, with the bass playing the root notes to the same rhythm. I will also add in a synth like bass sound, adding more texture to the song.In certain sections of the song I chose to alter the strumming, going for a 16 note rhythm in certain sections, to allow the song to increase in energy but then circle back round to the hook, being the strumming pattern first described. An example of this sort of strumming rhythm can be found in the clip below.
The drums where pretty simple as well, having the kick drum beats following the strumming pattern, allowing it all to mesh together. during fast strumming parts, I added crash cymbals to add intensity and give a sense of movement, allowing the song to sound like it’s progressing.
I’ve adjusted the structure of the song as well. Instead of following the 3 verse, chorus arrangement of the original, I have changed it to a more common verse.chorus.verse style layout, fitting a more conventional pop music aesthetic. I also have removed the “Children” verse, as my intention of the song was to make it sound more angsty and youthful.
Lyrically, the song hasn’t changed though the delivery of how the words are pronounced and spoken are very different, going from a song which originally by a grieving John Lennon to sounding like an angry teenager who is bitter that his parents don’t love him.
I also have decided to add backing vocals, chanting “MOTHER DON’T GO!” and “DADDY COME HOME!” segments, as this is something Lange uses in his recordings.
My Aim is to record the drums in a drum booth in studio 1, as this will alow me then add a controlled amount of reverb/compression to get the sound of an 80s style kit, with a pair of overheads, clip on microphones on the toms, a double mic-ed snare and double mic-ed kick drum, plus a hi-hat mic. I would also remove any padding inside the kick drum to allow it to resonate fully without any of the sound being absorbed.
Both the Drums and The Bass I would record at the same time to a click track, DI-ing in a the vocal booth but hearing the feed from the drummer, this would give me the cleanest signal which I could then either keep dry or re-amp a bass amp. This would be mic-ed up on axis to the speaker cone for the full attack of the bass, but also from the back, so I blend the two together. I would also in post production add in a synth bass through either a sound module, plug-in, or a pre fader send from the DI-ed bass to an auxiliary bus with effects to make it sound more synth like. This could be accomplished in maybe 45 minutes of set-up time and an hour of recording. Pack up time would be an additional half an hour.
The Guitar would be recorded afterwards, preferably in a smaller room, mic-ing up the amp on axis to the speaker cone to give it the treble and clarity, as well as off axis to the amp, but on axis to the mic, for a more subtle variation of the first mic, as well as one from behind, so it would give an almost low pass filter effect when the other mics are blended in over it. In between takes I could tweak the amp settings so the tone isn’t the exact same on each take, maybe switch guitars, using a combination of single coil and humbucker variations I would also have a room mic in place to see how the reflections would sound. I would probably multi-track at least 5 takes and then have them all sent to an auxiliary bus for mixing, as well as hard panning two of them, having two set to 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock respectively, and have one remaining in the center. This could be done with about half an hour of set –up time and maybe an hour of recording, not necessarily on the same day. Pack up time could be about half an hour.
For the vocals, I would have the vocalist(s) in a vocal booth and singing on axis to the microphone, using a condenser or possibly a ribbon microphone for extra clarity. For baking vocals, I would use many different people, each record the parts separately, and then group them with a auxiliary bus so I could edit them down, plus create a stereo image by panning them. This could be achieved with 10 minutes of set up time and maybe an hour of recording time. Not necessarily on the same day, with a pack up of time of 10 minutes also.
When it all mixed down, I intend to bring everything in the mix to an overall level, using compression and EQ to balance everything in the mix. The guitars will sound quite bright, as the nature of the arrangement would call for this, which could be done by cutting some of the lower frequencies on the amp, or during mixing, examine it using a frequency spectrum, work out where the bass and guitar frequencies overlap, and separate them with a high past filter on the guitar.
Hopefully It will all go to plan, and be alright on the night.