Bad Dog

That’s a compilation of five “snippets” from my Friday folder. Snippets are what I call song starts – the ideas I often to use to develop a song. I arrange them by day so I can remember when to review them. After a few false starts I’ve learned to leave snippets a while (ideally, a week) and review them before launching into the long process of developing a song. There’s a lot more snippets in the Friday folder – about 110. All about this length and development. I (very) sporadically go through them and work out what to delete.

There’s a couple there I like: 3 and 4 especially. I’m not sure if I would now pick the last snippet (the 5th) for development. But that’s precisely what I did:

I’ve been trying to work out why this snippet, and not the others? I really can’t say. It’s almost like it chose itself. The snippet is not particularly interesting – I do like the title, but at snippet stage I usually don’t have an idea what the song is about (the concept).

I got the snippet back in Feb 2019 and have worked on the song on and off since then. I got the track (the music) fairly quickly. It was one of the very first I composed using new virtual instruments I had bought – guitars, drums, and bass. So, it was kind of an experiment.

The concept came fairly easily – being treated as inferior, second class, unimportant, “bad”. I got this mostly from my day job. Having a title and a concept is one of the hardest part of songwriting for me. I don’t care too much if the title has been done before (I usually don’t check to avoid being discouraged) but need to find a new angle, find something to say in my own way. I don’t need to say what’s already been said, and probably better.

The track was also finished quite quickly. I found some loops on Splice that really fitted the song. They make up most of the bridge. I love the change in pace and melody, and how the song seems to flow from one to another.

I worked on the lyrics here and there. Often, I’ll have 4 or 5 songs going and play them on repeat adding and adjusting lines as they occur to me. For me, songs are built incrementally, not in a rush, especially lyrics.

I finished the lyrics but the song sat for a long time, assigned to an album – 6 Pack, but I wasn’t sure about the vocal. One day, I tried several takes of the lead vocal but was deeply unhappy with it. The song was just too high for me. I couldn’t reach the notes. I thought I’d have to pay a pro singer but I didn’t want to, both for the money and because I wanted to sing it. I want to sing every song I write.

Then, I finished You Don’t You Won’t which was started a few weeks before this song, back in Feb 2019. While I was recording You Don’t You Won’t I found a spot in my vocal range that I thought fitted the song, and which surprised the hell out of me. It was rough and raspy and seemed quite able to reach notes I struggled to hold with my ‘clean’ voice. Finding it was an accident and only came after I’d recorded many takes of the song.

I started thinking I could do Bad Dog if I could figure out how to get that vocal style back. I wasn’t sure how I got it in the first place, or if I could get it back. Maybe it was a one off? It happens.

But I knew the song was still too high for me – E major. So one day I thought I’d just try and shift it down (lower in pitch) and see if I could live with it. I shifted the instruments to C major, 4 semitones lower, so quite a bit. It was all going swimmingly well until I realised I’d used loops for the bridge. Loops come as sections of audio, recorded in a particular key and tempo. I hadn’t changed tempo but had changed key. This wasn’t going to work.

I’d given up, thinking I’d had to shelve the song and get a pro singer to sing in the original key (why did I start in E!?) Just for kicks, I tested a feature in Logic to adjust pitch on audio. This allows you to change the pitch of selected audio by a specified amount. Listening to the adjusted audio was a shock, but it sounded OK – now in C major. Stunned, I listened over and over and realised that it worked. I was back in business!

But now I had to record the vocal. I had the lyrics, and ‘You Don’t You Won’t’ as proof I could do the style I wanted, but could I do it again? I also realised I didn’t really know how to sing the song out loud. I listen to a track a zillion times while writing vocals and can hear the vocal in my head, and softly out loud – Moni calls it my ‘squirrel voice’. But it’s a very different thing to sing it at full tilt.

I decided to just give it a shot. I’d tried before, and failed. What’s the worse that could happen? Slowly, take after take (I did over 100 separate takes in the end – some the whole song, some just sections) I found that vocal style again and worked out (I hope) how to sing the song. I started the session when I thought everyone in our house was out, but the session went longer than expected and Moni and Madi came home without me realising. There was much complaining later about my repetitive loud screeching! I’m glad I didn’t know at the time. That’s what music is – over and over and over, incrementally adjusting and improving until I’ve found something I can live with.

Then I comp’d the vocal (stitching together the best parts of each take), adjusted for pitch and timing, mixed the completed vocal into the track, then mastered it. Simplicity! And that’s what you hear. A song that could easily not exist.

I’m trying to work out why and how it does exist. How did I choose that snippet over others? What made me stick to it when I could easily have dropped it as too hard, or not ready? Seems to me every song is a miracle of accident and persistence. I hope I did the song justice. It’s like I didn’t choose it, but it chose me, and I did the best I could to get it out.

I hope you like it – Bad Dog, in C major.

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