You Don’t You Won’t

Every song is my favourite while I’m writing it, but I do particularly like this one. It says what I want to say and how I want to say it. A blast against the morons running our government, and the people who vote for them. It’s not particularly at Trump (I wouldn’t give him the attention) but I used the caricature of him (from the blimp flown in the UK during his last visit there) to make the point. This is for every anti-science, anti-democratic, bigot, fascist, and denier. There’s no use talking to or engaging them. The image is via WikiCommons: Furfur [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

I started this song in Feb 2018 on guitar. There are nine parts in this collage of the ideas I recorded. What I find surprising is how clear the original idea was but how I kept veering off it, and coming back again – changing key, tempo, and style. Ultimately, this is a chorus song – the driving hook: “you don’t you won’t”. It started as ‘you can’t/you won’t/you never can tell’.

Recording it was quite a surprise. I had the song in D major and did a lot of takes of the vocal in that key but was very unhappy with them. My voice just couldn’t reach the notes. I parked the song, thinking about getting a pro singer. I had a good track finished for a while but singers cost money – quite a lot.

Then I met a drummer online and gave him the track to re-do the drums (which I had a virtual instrument to do). But he never came back to me. So the drums are UJam Virtual Drummer – and I think do a fine job. The bass is UJam Virtual Bassist, and the guitars Native Instruments.

Before I worked out how to use virtual instruments I could never have recorded this song. I might’ve finished the writing but unless I paid a pro to record it, couldn’t have done it myself. I just don’t have the equipment, room, or skills for a live recording. Not being able to fully realise a song is a strong disincentive to writing it. So having the ability to make a song come alive by arranging instruments has been a revelation.

One instrument they don’t yet make a (good) virtual version of is the voice. It’s a work in progress and I reckon they’ll get it one day, but I was stuck. I couldn’t sing the song, and didn’t want to fork out for it. More than that, I like singing my own stuff. No one gets it like I do. I’m not the most gifted singer, but it’s my song. We belong together.

Then one day I had an idea – how about dropping the key so I could sing it? The problem with the track I’d made was that it was too high for my voice. So drop the key. I had the instruments – I could technically do it. Problem was, I dislike messing around with something I’m happy with, and I was happy with the track I had. But eventually I convinced myself to at least try. I had the lyrics written by that stage and liked the concept. I was eager to hear it. Sounds odd, I know. But if you listen to the early takes and compare them to the final, maybe you’ll hear what I mean. I don’t give a shit about the early versions – I want to hear the whole thing, can hear the whole thing in my head. That’s what I’m after, crave. If I could start at the finished version, I would. But it takes a lot of work to get there.

So I dropped the key to C (lower than D) and was pleasantly surprised that the track sounded OK, and I was pretty sure I could reach it with my voice.

One day this week, everyone was out of the house, so I thought I’d give the vocals a crack. Recording vocals is loud and repetitive, and tends to irritate people. I warn anyone home to put in earphones. I’m lucky I have deaf neighbours. I did 5 takes of the vocals end-to-end and was pretty happy with the results. I figured I could comp a final from those takes. A comp is where you select the best bits of each take and stitch them together so they sound like a single performance. A bit of audio trickery, but quite a lot of work.

The highest notes are in the chorus so I went back and recorded multiple takes of each chorus (there are 3). My voice gets tired fairly quickly, so hitting higher notes at the end of a complete take can get hard. By recording just one section at a time, I avoid that tiredness.

I was into the last few takes (4-5 each) of the last chorus when I found a sweet spot in my voice, a guttural, raspy place where I found I could hit higher notes and fitted the style I was after. Before that I was singing my normal voice – fairly clean and clear. But this was different. I don’t even really know how to describe it. It was just there, felt natural, effortless.

I liked it so went back and recorded several more takes for each chorus, singing from that place. It’s like a place, a spot. I’m not even sure I could do it again. I hope I can. I enjoyed it, even though a couple of times I almost threw up, especially on the bridge. It’s a fine line.

Then I was happy with the choruses but there was a difference between them and the verses. The vocals sounded different: verses fairly clean and straight, choruses nice and growly. So I went back and did new tracks for the verses with that rougher voice. I found singing the quieter and lower verses much harder – trying to stay in key. After a few takes I figured I had enough to be done.

But that’s just the start for vocals. Next steps are to comp it to get a good full take, then tune it (using a tool to adjust notes to get in the right key), and remove stray noise. It takes ages. On this track I didn’t remove breaths – which I normally do – because I liked the extra edginess and roughness.

Then take the final vocal back to the track, apply plug ins (reverb, compression), mix, automate sections (to bring up drums at a particular moment, for example), check levels, and create a mix – a single WAV track, ready for mastering.

In recording, I usually leave a bar (4 beats) at the front for timing, count-ins, etc. Recording the vocal, I had a warm up section “you’re so”, which was me preparing for the first line of the next take. I liked how it sounded, so I kept it in.

In mastering (the final stage where I use iZotope Ozone to add life and colour to the track) I found a whole bunch of problems with the drums and bass, so had to go back to mixing to fix them, create a new track, and remaster.

Finally, I was somewhat happy, and that’s what you hear. It’s a bloody miracle any song ever makes it. But I’m glad this one did. I like it.

Lyrically, the song is about the “post-truth” age ushered by trolls like Trump – and his apes around the world: Morrison, Johnson, etc. Where it’s OK to make up your own self-serving facts, deny science, and wallow in ugly, deliberate, ignorance. Basically, fascism. The leader is god and we must allow follow and obey.

Well fuck that. We need more people to stand up to these bully boys. Evil grows when good people are silent. This is a middle finger to Trumpists, bigots, racists, homophobes, sexists, fascists, white supremacists, and other assorted assholes all over the world. I hope they hear it, and hate it.

But I hope you like it. 🙂

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