I always love reading or watching behind the scenes stuff. I like to see how others make their art (it helps me make my own better). So I thought maybe I'd write a little on how the horn parts of "Son" came to be.
Back in June, Jeremy Larson connected Ryan and I together for this project. (I met Jeremy through work from Sucré's first album A Minor Bird.) Ryan and I emailed a little before the work actually began. We scheduled a deadline for my work to be done, he sent the tracks, and I got to work.
Ever since I moved back to America in 2011, this has been just the kind of thing I've been wanting to do - write and work on music in my own space. I love making music, and I love working away in my little studio at home. However, in the past four years I've had to do the majority of my income-earning work outside of the home: horn lessons, teching for marching bands, masterclasses, freelancing around Dallas, etc. Whenever I did get to record for bands, I'd go and do it in person at their studio.
This time was different. I had the means and the gear to do all the recording on my own, and it seemed to be cheaper and efficient to do the work on my end and send it in to Ryan when finished.
I had three days to send Ryan the finished product. Ryan sent me basic stuff - pretty much just a piano and vocal track. In addition to that, he sent a track of some MIDI horns and the written horn parts of the basic layers he wanted. He did, however, give me freedom to lay anything down on top of the initial horn parts.
The first part was easy. I had the written music of what Ryan wanted on a basic level, and didn't have to figure anything out by ear (thanks Ryan!). The only challenge was getting good enough takes and making sure everything was in tune. I finished that in the first day.
The second part was more challenging: coming up with something good enough for a Sleeping At Last song. Ryan has been putting out impeccably awesome and beautiful music for years (like, good enough to be on TV and in movies). It was awesome to have the freedom to do what I wanted, but oh-so-daunting at the same time.
The first night was spent on the basic horn layers. At the end of the night, I tried my hand at some of the extra lines, but that wasn't a good idea. I was tired and mentally spent on what I had done before. First I tried doubling the basic horn tracks I had laid down first. Didn't sound right. Ryan's song was on the delicate side, and doubled horn parts made it seem heavy and muddy in places. I knew this song needed to be light on its feet. So I saved my work and went to bed.
I came back in the evening eager to flesh out some ideas. I spent the daytime teaching my lessons, so that night I felt ready to break into some creative thoughts. I started with bass lines: moving them around and forward through the music to give the horn lines some momentum. Easy enough. Paul McCartney turned me into a bass girl with his melodic lines. I always start there.
The bass movement really helped me in some sections. For instance, the bit where Ryan sings, "And I will try try try..." things had kind of cooled down to a mellow sphere in my basic tracks, so it was easy to swirl around simply in my horn's lower mid-range.
But other parts of the verse as well as the chorus were more elusive. Anything I tried seemed too inappropriate. It couldn't be too noodle-y; the piano was taking care of that . Long tones weren't right either; that just brought me back to my heavy doubling problem.
So I started to think about what makes the horn special. What do we do well in the orchestral world? I pondered this as I experimented through that second night.
On the night before, I had a few good lines down (mostly stuff in the verses), but the chorus still did not seem quite right. I had some hours open during the day, so I worked in between lessons to meet the deadline. I'd teach an hour, and work on "Son" for a couple of hours; teach another hour, then hop straight back into where I left off.
It wasn't until I need to refresh some of my lukewarm coffee that I got the answer to my problem. By now I had probably listened to "Son" two or three hundred times. If you listen to something that much in a short span of time, you don't really think about anything else musical. I walked to the kitchen absent-mindedly humming along to the tune in my head. Then I branched out to a little harmony, since I always find singing harmony much more interesting than melody. I poured my coffee, and made up a little harmony line without even thinking about it.
And that was it.
That's what I should have done all along! I should have been singing my parts...
That was the answer I was looking for. A horn sings. That's why the french horn is so beloved! It can soar above the orchestra and sing its melody through the hall. It sings boastful heroic songs. It croons tender melodies for lovers. It even sings the perfect tune for dinosaurs.
Listen closely... the horn sings with the strings in the main theme...
So there you have it. I ran back to my horn and was able to capture what I was singing pleasantly to myself in the kitchen. And I was done!
Well... except for all the tuning and editing I had to do. But I'll write about that some other time.