Category Archives: vocals

Two of Us (Behind the scenes)

On October 3, 2019 a version of the song Two of Us was released as a joint project between Barley Station and Minneapolis band Radio Drive (Two of Us is from The Beatles Let It Be album)  You can now find it on most digital retail outlets.

And THIS is a little behind the scenes story on how this composition was formed. It is a fitting release considering it is the 50th anniversary of when The Beatles actually finished the final version of this song – which was during the Jan. 31, 1969 session.

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Now, when you sing harmony with someone you really have to be a good listener not just a good singer. You need to hear all the nuances of the other person’s voice. Which is why sometimes people will say to an artist “you sing like siblings”. And usually it is people who have been singing together a long time.

Or in our case, listening in the studio over and over until our voices match properly since we were doing this as a distance project. So making music isn’t just about playing it, it is about listening and feeling it. If you are a musician, producer, or songwriter/arranger, etc., you might be interested in how the rest was put together.

I sent the finished vocals over to Kevin and we were very pleased with how that part turned out and we had lots of comments of how our voices blended so well.  That part was easy enough.

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Kevin Gullickson

One of the biggest challenges of the song, was trying to find the right arrangement. The first idea was to make it a bit contemporary alternative rock. That didn’t work.  Sonically, it was like the song demanded a simpler arrangement. So I went back in time and dug up what was going on when the Beatles were working it up. And not to my surprise, they had tried something similar but it ended up being what Paul McCartney phrased as “too chunky”. I knew exactly what he meant. It was too chunky.

At its core this is a folk song. I believe if you look up the genre of the original on iTunes it is classified as folk/rock.  Keeping to that original concept and also making it into something new would prove to be challenging but we didn’t know it when we started on it.  My approach has always been “let your ears guide you”, as the Beatles’ producer George Martin might say.

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Randy Wayne Belt

I listened to the original and dug up outtakes, including an outtake of the song, recorded on 24 January 1969, which was released on Anthology 3 in 1996. The chief difference to me was whether the bass lines were more ascending or descending but it was clear; those lines were important to the song and oddly enough to its integrity. With the basic rhythm track finally decided upon and liked by both Kevin and myself, I had to shelf the song again until the rest of the arrangement came the way it needed to.

There had to be a way to keep it a simple arrangement but add our own flavor. So I experimented. For months and months I would go back to it to try different things. By the last time I came back to it, it finally hit me. It needed to be mixed similar to what a 4 or 8 track recording would do and it needed a guitar part on the electric end to give it more body but not interfere with the melody or the overall feel.

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And then, the bass guitar part was really crucial to keep the songs integrity. In the album version, The Beatles’ George Harrison played the bass lines on a Fender Telecaster. No one knows exactly why but it could have been done on Sir Paul’s Hofner bass just as easily, but since he was playing acoustic guitar, to keep it with a live feel, George ends up doing bass parts. Imagining being there and knowing a bit how the Beatles worked, I would guess that George picked up his Telecaster and doodled along making bass notes to fill the song out and John and Paul said “lets keep it like that, it sounds cool”. And if anyone would do something of that kind of unusual nature, it would be The Beatles.

So when I lay down bass tracks, I went to my own Viola Bass, the same style McCartney used in the Revolver/Rubber Soul mid sixties era and it was definitely what the song was lacking for its low end.

Then the bongos were scaled back. In fact, everything was scaled back to make it simpler. At one point Kevin even had a Rhodes keyboard track if I remember correctly. And slowly we brought everything back in to see what fit right. The decision was finally made that Kevin’s crunchier electric guitar track would be brought in panned far to the right or left and my tremolo guitar would be far the opposite leaving the basic rhythm and vocal in the middle.

The easiest part to do whatever we wanted with was the double bridge “you and I have memories…”, probably because that part was more “open” and easier to experiment with without messing things up.  The tremolo guitar and the crunchy electric are allowed to stand out more there with the simpler rhythm and bass line.  I think that’s probably the part where you hear our input more – along with the original ideas that probably emanated from the brain of Sir Paul McCartney.

The final result was a balanced non chunky semi-rock version but keeping the song’s original integrity. After all, this is the Beatles. There has to be musical integrity mixed with experimentation. I think that’s how they’d have done it.

Listen on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BPZoxP8E2WU

Listen to Two of Us on Spotify

Buy it on iTunes

Buy on CDBaby

Two of Us by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Copyright Sony/ATV Tunes LLC dba ATV o/b/o ATV (Northern Songs Catalog)

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Katie Belle Akin: Review of “You Are My Holiday”

 

Katie’s enthusiasm for music and singing has been consistent since an early age.  Following her dreams, working hard, and learning from her mistakes with an always upbeat attitude has helped her multi-task successfully as a musical entertainer and in fashion as a model.

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Since her very first music release, and even since my last review of her music, she has come a long, long way, and like a fine wine, only improves with time.

She has that special “it” in all that she does that brings me to her Christmas song, which I pulled from her back catalog of other great songs.  

Blessed with natural vocal talent and an ear for a good melody, Katie brings home the Christmas cheer easily with her song “You Are My Holiday“. I dug this song up by accident and was surprised I didn’t find it before. It is from 2012 but sounds as fresh as yesterday!  It is pure goodness!

I can hear this song being covered by other artists in the future in a big way. And it is also a great candidate for a Christmas movie soundtrack.

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The rich warm acoustic guitar played by song co-writer Kip Williams starts the song out accompanied by Katie’s naturally pure and very tuned vocals and with the snare brushes and brush hits that give it a light and smooth feel.

Katie’s vocal gives a rich, warm, and enchanting beginning to the song that when the chorus kicks in knocks you out with a fantastic hook that will be stuck in your head for life.

As the song progresses from the perfect opening sparse arrangement, more instrumentation comes in and the bass picks things up a notch and never lets it back down.

With dramatic vocal pauses before the chorus, the song is well arranged and puts the “Merry” into Merry Christmas.

The song will fill you with feelings of jubilee and bright cheerfulness washing away any kind of sadness that sometimes come to many this time of year. The song is like an escape into merriment and blissful joy.

Katie Belle’s Homepage:  http://www.katiebellega.com

Watch the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/gvqd1IKorwI

 

 

Review of “Don’t Underestimate Me” by Carolina Magnolia

Originally printed here on Starlight Music Chronicles

by Randy Wayne Belt

This rootsy song by Carolina Magnolia could be the missing song from “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”, or even better, it could have been used for a follow up movie “Oh Sister Where Art Thou”.  No seriously!  This song could easily find its way into an appropriate soundtrack, without a doubt.

Based out of Petal, Mississippi this Duo has an acoustic sound all their own. blending genres a bit without you even noticing, this song in particular has that old-timey feel that will pull you right back in time.  The chorus and title of this song, “Don’t Underestimate Me”, lends the song a very memorable phrase and melody. It is like you may have heard it before, only you haven’t.

carolinamagnoliaLead vocalist Virginia Grey delivers just the right sassy soulful sound with her voice and guitar playing for this track.  The line “I’ve got horns hidden under my halo” sums up the vocal work here.  Carolina Magnolia is backed by Tammy Chambliss with her smooth harmony and background vocals and upright bass ability.  The vocals together in harmony and alone, hauntingly sound like they were pulled straight out of a time warp to back when music was pure, raw, and real and sounded music the better for it.

Adding in the upright bass gives the song just the bottom end it needs to thump its way onto the canvas of sound and bring the swampy bluesy sound into an Americana field and into your soul and feet.  If you mix a little CCR (especially that tremelo guitar sound in this song) with a bit of Alison Kraus and Union Station and a little rock, blues and country, you’ll get a bit of an idea of what sounds you can expect with this group.
The duo is currently working on their first album together which is expected to be released sometime in 2016.  Judging from the back catalogue by the duo’s songwriter Virginia Grey, (notably, and I recommend as well: Virginia Grey’s Greatest Hits you can expect some excellent songwriting and musicianship coming up on that album.

Social Media Links for Carolina Magnolia (click to view):
Website
Facebook
Since the original posting of this review on Starlight Music Chronicles
Carolina Magnolia has indeed released a full length album. It was released Dec 7, 2016.

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‘New Beginnings’ cover art

Here is the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/id1181934091

Recording Vocals

Recording Vocals

This isn’t about mixing vocals, it is about recording them. They are two very different things. I will address mixing and EQ-ing some other time. But right now I will address some very basic but important and sometimes overlooked things about getting a good vocal track. A famous saying in my studio is “do it again.”

Having a background in musical theater and formal training in singing, I act as the vocal coach for my own band and for myself, though I am always learning something new. The learning never ends.

When recording your vocals take your time.  Do it right. Listen carefully. Did you got the right feel? Did you capture the right mood? Don’t be afraid to create the right atmosphere during recording. If your studio is set up with lights that make it feel like someone’s office cubicle, you may well get a sound that makes you feel like you are at work or somewhere you don’t want to be singing the song, much less listening to it. It will reflect in the recording.

Set up some lights that reflect the mood you need for the song. It could be candles you need, or colored lights. Or bright whites if that’s what you’re going for. No matter what your recording space is like, with lighting, you can always create an atmosphere that will help you get the song out the right way. I keep different colored bulbs on hand for just this purpose. Strings of Christmas lights of various colors will work great too and they are usually on sale cheap right after the winter holidays.

As for gear, if you don’t have an expensive tube mic, never fear. There are inexpensive ways to get around that and get a good clean warm tube sound. ART’s Tube MP Project Series Tube Microphone/Instrument Preamp is under $80 and will really get you the warmth you need in your vocal. And it works great for other instruments as well. A handy little tool even if you already have great expensive gear. In which case, great, you are lucky and all good to go and there’s no reason to hear a recording that is less than stellar. photo (300x291)

If you have the luxury of having your own studio, take the time to do it right. Take lots of ear breaks and don’t be afraid to just leave it be for awhile. Go back to it again completely fresh. Take off a week from that song. Or even longer. It could be that a new approach is what you need and a fresh view of the song. Ask the opinion of a 10 or 12 year old. They will be brutally honest. Ask the opinion of an 80 year old. They will be brutally honest too. But then take it all with a grain of salt.

Are you singing with the emotion that the song needs and that inspired you to write it? If not, get it back. You’ll need to try different positions around the microphone. Do want it more airy? Do you want it more gutsy? Do want it more plain? You need to ask yourself all these things and position yourself or the microphone to capture what you want.

Do you hear something that makes you cringe? Then do it again. It will probably make others cringe as well. Do yourself a favor and become a better vocalist and do it again until it’s right. Unless you are using autotune as part of your style, ditch it. You won’t get better that way.

If you constantly use cheat machines, you are only robbing yourself of the ability to improve. They can be useful, I’m sure, but there’s nothing that beats the self satisfaction of knowing you pulled off a great vocal performance without using machines. A live audience will certainly appreciate the time and effort you put into bettering yourself as a singer. It won’t happen overnight, so don’t expect it to. But it takes constant practice, just like when you learned to play that guitar, the piano, or those drums. Your voice is an instrument and needs to be practiced.

Now, if you are singing harmony parts, there’s some things that work great if you can adjust your voice. Again, it requires listening carefully to every nuance of the way the lead or other vocal is bieng sung. I will go back and listen to a part over and over again to figure out how my band mate sung a certain part or phrase and I will make my voice match that style to get those perfect sibling harmonies everyone covets.  Is it a breathy whispery phrase? Then your harmony needs to match it for it to be effective and not sound out of place.  An example of this would be the song “True” from my own band’s album After All.

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/barleystation/true-1
Or on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/true/id507047384?i=507047521

Listen carefully to how the vocals and harmonies match each other and the mood of the song. That’s what makes it work. We have distinctly different voices, but in harmony it is often hard to tell who is who when they are effectively sung. That’s your sibling effect. (It’s what I call it anyway)

Learn to harmonize with yourself and your bandmates if you have them. You need to grow as a vocalist.  In the studio, feel the right notes. Close your eyes. See the notes in your head. Find them, hit them, and remember what you did to get them.

You can be your own vocal coach if you can’t afford one if you are self-disciplined and not tone deaf. There are great voice teachers who often give good free advice online (I didn’t say free lessons) and have written helpful things, like Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams whose clients have been folks like Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Ben Folds, Keith Urban, and Jason Aldean.

But whatever you do, make sure you are using proper technique so you don’t ruin your voice. There are also plenty of videos that can explain it so you can understand it. Experiment with your voice but don’t mess it up.

Your voice is your paintbrush and the sound is your canvas and this is your art. Take the time to do it right!