There were a few final outcomes from the project but we think the best way to introduce it is by watching and listening to the video for... “OMG Cola”
The music group wanted to write and record a song, so we set out with the aim to produce a song in collaboration, with each element coming from a different group of people. The music group can be very fluid, with who attends each month changing frequently and we wanted to explore how people could write together without everyone having to come to every session.
As well as giving the group the opportunity to create music in a different way. We also saw it as a way to explore a few outcomes -
- Break down the composition and recording process of songs by focussing on one element at a time
- Explore the use of iPads as instruments
- Increase the skills and knowledge of tutors in the use of digital music technology
There was no specific starting point other than having a session focussing on drums and rhythm. Starting with the drums came from the fact that we normally only have one drum-kit set up in the room with a large number of people and everyone wants to play the drums. So the prospect of having 3 drum kits in a room with 3 people and being able to play as loud as they wanted was very attractive for many!
As we were doing this we thought it would be a good idea to integrate recording and the use of Ableton Live into the session to create an access point for people that might want to create beats but have limited ability. The result of this was that when building up the song later we wouldn’t have to rely on stock beats or sounds within the computer. It would be the group’s playing and rhythms as loops.
We will outline the technology we used in each section, the process of working with the groups and what we did in-between each part of the process in post-production.
Technology: A drumkit with 3 microphones (SM58s and a SM57 - fairly low-cost microphones and typical in any practice space) An SM57 on the snare, and the SM58s on the kick drum & one overhead the whole kit. This was all then running through Ableton Live. We had the output going to headphones & a PA that was already in the room. *note: We had 3 drumkits in the room but only mic’d up one due to limited resources. If it was possible it would have been great to mic up all three kits as we did miss some excellent playing when people weren’t on the mic’d kit, also being unable to record ‘duets’ between people in real time was a shame.
We worked with groups of 2-3 people, in two sessions.
People would play & the facilitator would record everything, sometimes they got people to repeat beats that sounded good to see if they could expand on them. As we were going along we played back the recordings and together we identified beats and loops that people liked.
We could then get other participants to play over these loops adding syncopation, flavour and variety to the beats from before. This meant people’s different ways of playing could compliment each other. Someone with more ‘space’ in their playing would open up the possibilities for someone to alter or change the beats already recorded.
For people with more limited ability we’d experiment by building up beats, hi-hats first and then the kick, then snare and creating something by collaborating with the technology.
Post-Production: We identified 3-4 main beats, created loops out of these and tried to make a couple of variations on each beat.
BASSLINES & LEAD
Technology: 2-3 iPads, ‘locked in’ with Thumbjam, Garageband - bass synths primarily, iKaossillator. One using a midi controller. Running into separate channels on Ableton. (We also had a hardware keyboard hardware as backup… just in case!) Launchpad controller.
We worked with groups of 3-4 people in two separate sessions.
This was a way of becoming more familiar with ways of using iPads as instruments, discovering the possibilities of use, their accessibility and their limitations through playing. Had recently been made aware ot the possibility of ‘locking’ them down [link to explanation?] which really opened up the ways they could be used… in the past people might end up exploring YouTube or check our emails instead of playing the keyboard!
We ran the drum loops from the previous session out of the PA and people could select the ones they liked. We then went through the process of selecting sounds that people liked, it was important for us to take time over this to help support their choices. During this it was useful to be familiar with what was available for each app - Garageband - solid synth & string songs - Thumbjam - great realistic horn & string sounds - iKaosillator - good for wilder & weirder synth sounds and noise - but of course not dictating through our knowledge!
One person could ‘jam’ with the variations of each drum loop on the Launchpad and the other participants could play over the top of these. Some people were confident in playing the iPads as keyboards, some people it worked better to lock the key of the song in over a couple of the ipads. Would get them to jam solo and then try and work out parts together.
With some people they wanted to record specific basslines or lead lines and with some people they just played, it was all recorded and we’d find a section to loop they were happy with. There was a lot of playing just to create 2-3 sections for each of the looped beats!
Again we built things up as we got them, so some people were creating basslines, then others would play on top of these to create lead lines & hooks for the songs.
Post-production: creating 2-3 sections with the loop variations (ie. verse, chorus & middle 8th/breakdown) for each song. We tried to ensure we kept space in the songs as it would’ve been very easy to clutter and over-complicate tunes.
Technology: Paper & pens. Playback of songs possible through PA.
We took the three song ideas that came out of the previous sessions to the whole music group. They selected which one they liked the best and wanted to write words for (we ended up eventually using all 3 in the end over a couple of sessions). Using the idea of how the song made them feel we wrote words together. We wrote phrases and words whilst playing the tune and then used them by collating them into the song. This then informed which musical section would become the verse & chorus, etc…
LYRICS TO OMG Cola!
Playing drums at school
Having fun, that’s cool
Diamonds in the sky
Stars are floating high
Oh My Gosh, I’m so happy
Full of energy
Young and healthy
Oh My Days, Ice cream special
I like the bass
I feel my heart
Countdown to the stage
Flying from the cage
I feel very strong
Until we stop the song
PERFORMANCE AS COMPOSITION
Technology: Macbook, Ableton Live, Launchpad
The song naturally created a loose composition but using the Launchpad we were able to create improvised sections and play around with how many times we did each part. It’s always useful in a more traditional band setting to road-test things live, to see if something goes on too long or needs to go on longer, see how things could be built up, etc… and it was great to use technology to be able to do this as part of an electronic band. This is where the freestyle sections came from in the song as we found in the live performances people would really enjoy the song & ‘breaking it down’ to a few bare elements before one final round of the chorus would be really effective.
PERFORMANCE AS SHARING
From the point of performing it, the song gained a life of it’s own. It was performed at a Squidz Club where the rest of the group & DYOT session leaders heard it and really liked it and for the next few DYOT sessions everyone was singing it! Some DYOT participants thought it would be a great song to make a music video for, and not only that but a dance routine AND a music video. So the loose elements we had were handed over to each group - the lyrics and the rough mix of the instrumental.
Technology: Ableton Live, Audio Interface, AKG C3000 Microphone, Pop-shield
From feedback from the Dance group we slowed it down slightly, so it was easier to sing along with & do the dance. This was easy to achieve in Ableton Live. We were lucky enough to borrow a really nice vocal condenser microphone from the rehearsal space we were based in, which made all the vocals sound great straight away! The group had performed the song so many times it meant that everyone was really confident when it came to recording the final version. This meant that little to no editing was done in the final mix. The sessions got quite rowdy but that all added to the overall sound of the song!
Technology: Ableton Live, Audio Interface, Speakers
The song was mixed with Issac, a participant on DYOT and one of the drummers and one of the vocalists on the track. We had a small and quite basic set-up just running Ableton out into a good set of speakers and not too many people around us so we could have it quite loud! This process was really fruitful, Issac was able to focus on the music and what sounded good, taking out elements he didn’t think worked and adding in extra little bits or effects to what we had recorded. We then turned everything down and brought in each element one by one, starting with the drums. The volume would be increased and he would say when he thought it was loud enough, he had a very good ear and was very decisive!
What we made in our multi-arts creative workshop!
We had the song! We put this up online.
Tips and Tricks
- Start with a simple idea and let people take ownership of it. The process may take longer but the rewards are far greater.
- Sharing your work with each other is very important
- We found due to the fact you can do a lot within Ableton Live to make things ‘work’... snap things into time with each other, adjust the key of elements and move things about generally. We had to have a few guidelines when making editing decisions, these were loosely:
- Does the element enhance the song?
- Would you notice if it wasn’t there?
- If edited does it retain the character of the original recording?
- Two examples we had to consider in the editing process:
- Drum beats that are slightly out of time with each other and are phasing
- Keyboard lines that are ‘happy accidents’ that sound great but there’s a stray note which is very jarring
There are no hard and fast rules on these things and you’ll have to find out how best things work for you and the people you work with.
We tried as much as possible to make the decisions with the participants there and then, to ensure their voices were heard in the process. It’s also worth considering what outcome the participants foresee for their music, it may be very possible and quite easy to create an avant-garde noise experiment with the people you’re working with but if the music they love is Abba and Take That and they want to produce pop music, it’s worth asking yourself what your role as a facilitator is to support this!