I am just finishing up the challenge of covering other people's songs, and feel like I should tell you a couple of things that I learned.
I remember when I was a kid playing guitar. If ever I got a songbook, it would be the one that said, "Easy To Play." Bar chords were too scary, and they hurt to play, too. I wanted to play songs fast.
I remember going to the library to check out songbooks, particularly folk song books. And why? Because these songs were... EASY TO PLAY!
When I set about covering songs, I thought, "Well, this should take about a day."
Much to my surprise, not one song took a day!
My first piece of learning: When you listen to a song, you might find yourself focusing on the vocal. But the deeper you listen, the more you realise the dynamic instruments that make the vocal really happen. You have the groove, the drums, percussion, programmed beats. You find the BPM (beats per minute) and then you hear the bass, the bottom end of the groove. If there are guitars, you listen to how they also enforce the groove, or create melodic lines that colour the song. Same goes for keyboards. Make a note of what instrument, if any, is soloing. I needed to listen to all of the parts that comprised the song I loved. When I covered "Blue Velvet," I made the discovery that the bass was playing twice as many notes as Bobby Vinton was singing. What is underneath the vocal matters. You might wonder how many times I would listen to one song to get all of that information? I have a CD player with a remote that can stop at any point in the song. Really helpful, with headphones, for listening and noting.
My second piece of learning: Having listened to the cover song repeatedly, I found that piece of music resonating in me all day, even all night. I was getting to know the song, and it wouldn't leave me alone. Out jogging, I used it to keep me going and paced. But when it came my time to record parts, I first flew into a panic. Even though I felt I knew the song at this point, I could not reproduce it as it had been first created. I had to MAKE IT MY OWN. This meant using the parts to remain true to the song, but then truly giving my heart to the lyrics and letting myself sing them as I felt them. This is a bit scary, I must tell you. But it became increasingly important to feel and express, and not to judge.
Mixing is another matter, and I had tremendous coaching and assistance from Matt Forger who knows this craft, having worked with both Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.
Finally, I will tell you that my life intention is to be a PRODUCER. I have produced two albums of my own (Feef and the Folkies, and Cartoon Vagabond) but I am opening the door to producing artists who want to trust and work with me. This certainly doesn't mean that I wouldn't work with a producer on my next album (And I do intend to do that) It only means that I have been a recording and performing artist, as well as a guitar/vocal/bass/songwriting coach and teacher since 1990. My path is unfolding. I want to listen more. Listening more, learning more. These are what will make me a compassionate Producer and Multi-Instrumentalist.
Friendember is over, but Giftember is beginning. More on that next Blog. In the meantime, I am grateful to be part of the University of Music. I take my classes as I listen to your recordings. And I am grateful for all of my recording friends, including those I have yet to discover. Bless you and let's pump up the jams.