April 30, 2010
The Dissection & how song brainstorming works
Something I found interesting about this song: at 136 Beats Per Minute this track has the highest BPM of all the songs on Hearts For Bullets, making it the “fastest” tempo song on the CD even though it really doesn’t seem like it is! An “average” (if you can call them that) Ayria song falls into the 125-135 BPM Range. Examples: 125BPM (Disease) – 127BPM (My Revenge On The World), 130 – (100 Transmissions) – 132 (Six Seconds). Just to compare.
This song was such an odd one for me to develop to be honest. It went through such big transformations and incarnations from the concept to completion. Starting as a simple synth loop I recorded, it was originally a ballad! To dissect this song, instead of focusing on the final demo versions of the song that were passed off for production, I’m going to go back even earlier, to the rougher stages of inception, and take you to the brainstorming stage of how I came up with vocal ideas and lyrics that started with a simple recorded loop.
When I start to write a song, I don’t repeat the exact same processes each time. Sometimes I start with the sequencer – using Reason software for you techies! – building on synths and a basic percussion loop. Other times I’ll start playing notes on my keyboard or I even start with my guitar. The guitar is my primary writing tool and first instrument I learned to play, though not very well! For this song in particular, I was playing around on my keyboard, THE Nord Lead 2 (remember kids: fancy gear and toys will not magically give you the ability to write better songs! But they are shiny and fun to play with!!). I just play random stuff, trying to come up with an idea, a melody or a vocal idea that would inspire me to develop a song out of. I want to point out that I’m not technically trained, I know some stuff, but I’ve been blessed with a pretty good ear, able to figure out what sounds good, and write harmonies, which I inherited all from my dad who played a wicked guitar and had music flowing through his veins. For this song in particular, I was recording myself just playing the keyboard and I ended up getting stuck on these 3 notes: D,F,B-flat. This is that recording of me doing some live synth brainstorming from the original session, nothing particularly fancy or interesting, just to show how simple an idea can start!
Then, I turned on the microphone and just started singing over this, to capture anything that came out of me. I sometimes do this and sit there for a long period of time. I try and let myself go and sometimes not even real words come out of me because I haven’t written any real lyrics at this point yet, and have no idea what I’m singing about! Sometime the notes go way off because I’m not sure myself which way to take the melody in the moment. This experimentation is full of lots of misses and fails, but then the few parts that stand out to me, eventually become pieces of the song. Having recorded every idea, no matter how good or bad, means I can go back, analyze it and then refine, tweak and develop a song from it.
So, once I decided this had potential to turn into a song, I created some basic percussion and sequenced the notes into a very rough and simple loop. At this point in the brainstorming phase, I’m not yet ready to flesh sounds out until there is a worthwhile song idea shaping up. The rough loop is basically a tool for me to develop vocal melodies and potential structure further. To me, the most important element of song writing, and my main passion, is the vocal melodies. I actually found a solid 5 minute recording of this loop where I was singing randomly over it to get ideas. Here were the two most interesting vocal clips that came out of the session, you can hear some of the song it’s to become in these clips, but not all of these ideas were used or developed further. I can’t believe I’m sharing this very early brainstorming phase of the recording with you guys because it’s so very rough, and, as I mentioned above, it’s still more of a ballad here, than the danceable electro song it became! You’ll notice, compared to the final recording, that my vocals sound lazy. This is because I’m actually sitting there trying to feel inspiration and get a melody from the loop and have no idea what’s going to come out. This is how I brainstorm. Nothing is polished here, but that’s the point! The way I record final vocals is obviously much different since I know what’s supposed to come out, with the lyrics and melodies 100% done. When I record brainstorm sessions or complete a demo, I always slap on a mod delay and chorus effect in Cubase so even they have some moodiness:
I don’t know exactly when and why I made the decision to scrap the ballad approach and pick it up to a fairly fast tempo song but over time as I worked out the full structure to this song, it became more of an electro-pop track. The structure for this complete song that I developed stayed the same in the final produced versions, but, of course, in production, Seb transitioned this song to something almost commercial sounding which blew me away with delight at how slick it turned out! When I passed the production kit to Seb, which includes all the files that make up the demo song so it can be produced (raw vocals, midi, separated instrument file), I said: “This song is structured like a pop song! The influence is electro/80’s while still having a darker, grittier edge.” From there, he added that main synth lead in the song as well as some other great synth layers and beefed up the percussion. I’m sure he could write a chapter on production, but that’s a completely different beast! Here’s a clip of the final produced version, obviously VERY different from the brainstorming and I’ve skipped a lot of steps in between that got us to here, but I wanted to show how dramatically a song can change and develop from it’s inception:
Yes, but what’s this song all about:
I sit next to you
You look the other way
You saw me falter for one second of the day
Why am I so invisible to you?
Sometimes I hate you more than you could ever hate yourself
But I love you would do anything for you
You don’t even see that I’m in pain
Frustration became humiliation
Waiting outside for you in the pouring rain
What’s left of my self worth you crushed it in your hand
Wicked game to torture me because you can
You toy with me then pull back
We’re never synched in time, we blew that
The sad thing I’ve done the same before to someone else
I tried so hard to be someone
I never was nobody
I tried too hard to play this game
I never was the winner
This song turned out to be a classic tale about young love and feeling rejected by the object of your affection. Trying to gain their attention, love and respect but realizing that all attempts have been futile and you remain invisible to them. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they completely relate to this song, and it’s their favourite track. Both comments that touch me. The line “You saw me falter for one second of the day”. I’m not sure I totally landed that exactly how I wanted to. In my mind, it’s about the one time that person does see you, it unfortunately happens to be a moment of weakness when you screw up. “Sometimes I hate you more than you could ever hate yourself”. I just love this line, it’s so painful and harsh and you could hear it’s beginnings in the very early demo stages. It’s self explanatory.
“But I love you, would do anything for you but you don’t even see that I’m in pain. Frustration became humiliation waiting outside for you in the pouring rain.”
I just wanted to point out a moment of self-growth I had in song writing! This song was the first in all of my history that I developed a “pre-chorus” in a song. This song structure element wasn’t something I’d ever experimented with or even thought about before. I heard a song do it once and thought, “Hey, that part is really effective! A complete change in melodies preceeding the chorus! I want to try that!”. I was proud of myself for expanding and introducing a new element to my song writing.
If you know me, you may know that I love rain. I’ve wanted to work rain into an Ayria song forever and here, I really got to belt it out. Plus the imagery of someone humiliated, standing outside in the pouring rain, waiting for someone who’s probably not going to show up. It was just so sad.
RAW VOCAL SHARE: Here’s the raw, unaffected final vocals that were produced in this song. I thought you guys might find this neat since you only ever hear the vocals in the music. This is the last minute of the song and there are multiple layers going on. There were 6 vocal tracks in the production kit, which means 6 wav files that layer together to complete all the vocals in this song.
The Bridge? (I think that’s what this is): “tried so hard to be someone”
I don’t know what this part is really. It’s a transition before verse number 2, and acts as a bridge later in the song. I’m just not sure a bridge typically makes an appearance in a song more than once? I took a pop-music history class in University and I don’t remember this coming up to be honest. I love the lyrics here with the life is a game and I’m never the winner analogy and the “never was nobody” sadness of trying so hard but never getting to be what you want, in either life, or noticed in the eyes of another. This song is not exactly autobiographical, but as always, I can’t help but inject honest parts of myself into it.
Favourite vocals: “a wicked game to torture me because you can” when you love someone that much, and they know it, they can take advantage of that. Also the “sad thing is, I’ve done the same before to someone else”. This has been true in my life personally where I know I’ve put someone through what I’m going through now. It’s karma. Everyone wants who or what they can’t have. An awesome production element in the second verse that I want to point out, is during the “you toy with me, then pull back”. Seb put a break that sounds like the music starts going backwards “pulling back”. It only lasts for a second, but keeps it interesting.
My thoughts on playing this song live:
It has an awesome energy to it. My flaw in structuring this song, from a live perspective, is that I NEVER STOP SINGING!! That’s right. There are no musical gaps in this song once my vocals come in, making this song difficult to perform live. Also, pulling off the “tried so hard to be someone, never was nobody” even the recording was done on separate layers so I wouldn’t have to sing more than one repetition at a time. There’s not a lot of space to breathe, especially difficult going right into the second verse! It was in the set list for the full European Tour I just came home from and my keyboardist for Europe, Justin, LOVED playing the parts live, but it’s slightly challenging to sing, move, dance and breathe all at once in this song! Which is weird because I tried to keep in mind the element of live shows when I worked on Hearts For Bullets because I knew that touring was such a big part of what I do! Here’s a clip of us playing it live in Dortmund, Germany in December 2009, and if you’ve seen me live before, you know this isn’t a fraction of how much I usually move around, but honestly, I was pacing myself to make sure I could pull off the singing, and NOT pass out. Did I mention how hot it is up on stage too? Excuses, excuses!