Semester B Project

Call Me – Critique & Benchmarking

Posted in Pop Music Analysis on May 11, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This is probably the best track that I have produced, the vocals sit the nicest in the track and the beat punches well. This time I used a kick drum & hand claps on top of the snare. This made the snare a little poppier, using the Ryan Tedder approach and also pushed the kick drum a little more. (LO3)

The vocals illustrate my use of melodyne throughout the process. In particular at 1:08, where I didn’t sing that phrase originally and melodyned it in afterwards and I believe that it is not noticeable and shows a real understanding of (LO4 and A&O5)

I benchmarked this track against several tracks. Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You was the original inspiration and I benchmarked it against Kanye West’s music

Reflective Summary

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This project has been a very very difficult one for me, but also very satisfying. My project was to produce a 4 track EP in the style of contemporary vocal pop. I started this Semester wanting to produce a piece of work that really challenged me and took my production skills in a new direction, something that I would really benefit from. I would be far more comfortable and find it easier for me to record an artist using acoustic instruments and multi tracking etc. However, I do not believe I would have felt much of a benefit, or added strings to my bow. VSTs and production within the DAW have always been an interest of mine creatively, however I have had relatively little experience primarily using VSTs to create music – my only real experience was my EMP Project in 2nd Year and I have nearly always used acoustic instruments to compose, only dabbling with VSTs for demoing. This is something I wanted to improve and also incorporate another interest that I find fascinating, songwriting. I believe that contemporary song writing is very interesting due to the nature of creating and selling music as a product for the public to consume, essentially engineering it for people to like. I started the project wanting to learn more about the composition and structure of contemporary songwriting witha  producer and also learn how to produce music to a similar standard. I have written all my tracks according to research. E.G all of my tracks fall between 100-120 BPM to coincide with my research about song tempo. (LO1)

I began by creating a playlist of contemporary pop songs and listening to them over and over to analyse certain aspects that I could incorporate into my own compositions. Quickly I understood that the song is built off the beat and keys using the vocal as the main hook. It’s not difficult concept to understand why, but how to start writing it was a difficult area to start with. Essentially I just started writing beats and this was very time consuming and difficult because I hadn’t done it before. Also, admittedly I am not the strongest rhythmically, but using plug ins like Ultrabeat helped me achieve that. My rhythmic ideas definitely improved and this project has done a lot for my writing rhythms in a DAW (LO4). Vocally the timing wasn’t as strong as it should have been, but I think this is a sacrifice of time. When you know a song to sing it is far easier to record because you can perfect it. Whereas when I was recording, I was working out what would fit as I went. Not the best technique and this was partly the downfall of some tracks.

I 100% believe that I have achieved my learning outcomes. I have improved vastly at using MIDI, VSTs and composing/producing pop music(LO2/4). You can hear the progression from the early uploads on the blog to the uploaded production. I understand why modern pop songs have several writers, because it is such a difficult style to write and produce the song with multiple layers that need to be created to effectively(LO3). I believe my mixing skills have improved immensely in a pop style due to the fact that I have not produced  pop music in this style before and I have learned a new skill (LO1). Pop music is a difficult style to nail down due to the fact that it takes years of experience and knowledge to write/produce it. The challenge that I set myself was big, but I believe on some level I have achieved it. I had to read a lot about pop producers/songwriters and how they approach writing. This was a very insightful learning experience and definitely helped with my understanding of their roles and helped me achieve (LO3). Such as Joel Little, Max Martin, Ryan Tedder etc

The drawbacks of this project for me are relatively simple to analyse. The first issue being technical. My mac supports 8GB RAM and I started running into technical issues when Logic Pro X started running all the tracks with plug ins at once. It would overload the system and freeze; only allowing me to work on several tracks at a time and micro-work. This became very time consuming – if I were to do this as a career I would use a Mac dedicated to running Logic Pro X with sufficient RAM etc to cope with production. Unfortunately my Mac does not support more than 8Gb RAM so I couldn’t upgrade. The second issue I faced was getting ideas off the ground. Sitting for hours on Logic trying beats, chord sequences or sounds to try and get an idea working. I tried several ideas that just were not in the pop style and would not have been suitable for this project. Spending hours trying to get a sliver of an idea was very gruelling at times and is exactly the reason why I chose to take on the project – pushing me creatively and also to work with VSTs within the DAW. The time consuming nature coupled with a micro working style was very difficult to deal with.

I aimed to produce a cohesive 4 track pop EP which I have achieved. I believe that I have produced music almost to a benchmark level of the playlist I originally provided and I have also attempted to include the aesthetic/stylistic natures of pop music. If I was to do this as a career I would most definitely work alongside other writers/producers in an environment where ideas can flow and push each other creatively. I have never worked 100% solo and spent a lot of time doubting myself, and I can work a lot better and harder when working off of another person. This is a strong reason why I believe that pop music is written with several writers. Several writers may differ on skills. E.G one may be a better top line writer, or lyricist than someone who makes the beats etc.

Overall this has been a very testing but enjoyable project. I have learned a lot and pushed myself very hard to produce what I consider 4 “good” pop songs that match the style that I was aiming for.

Changing My Direction – Critique & Benchmarking

Posted in Benchmarking on May 11, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This track I tried to benchmark against Lorde’s first album building the track off of an 808 drum sound. I believe this has totally reached the instrumental benchmark and could easily fit onto a Lorde track. This has definitely made me achieve  (LO2/4) and also (A&O 2/3/4/5). I believe that my drum track fits in a similar sense to Lorde’s work and that I have effectively mixed a track with a similar aesthetic to Lorde. I believe the drawbacks to this track are it being sung in too low of a key, which is something that would be solved within the DAW and would be changed for the vocalist. Frustrating, but I believe that the instrumental to this is strong and uses several elements that are interesting to listen to within a pop dynamic. E.G The chorus arpeggiation which is underneath the chord stabs. Once again, I have used a real kick, snare and clap to sit underneath the drums.


Around & Around & Around – Critique & Benchmarking

Posted in Benchmarking on May 11, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This track was the bane of my life throughout the project. It utilises many tracks and this caused significant problems within logic as my mac couldn’t cope with the amount of tracks, which resulted in me microworking. To me, this track does sound too much like a demo, albeit with some good techniques and pop music analysis (LO 1/2/4) it does not (in my opinion) reach the benchmark level, which is a huge disappointment to me. I originally went for something like Coldplay/Chainsmokers song “Something Just Like This” and I used this for my benchmark material. I utilised several instruments they used (Piano, pads, ) and utilised vocal production (double tracking/melodyne/reverbs) that were similar to this track. I believe the composition of this track was most likely the hardest to crack on the project, due to the fact it is less loop driven than the other tracks and requires more layers to work effectively and keep the track moving. Once again, my melodyne skills here were vastly improved due to it being the last track I melodyned. The double tracked chorus of “Around & Around” is perfectly intune to my ears, and needed a little tweaking timing wise to get the phrases in, but I believe this to be a strong positive to take away from the track as it enabled me to achieve (LO4) I also utilised the kick and snare again to place underneath and used piano, however it was not a real piano, going back to JR Rotem “There’s very little point recording real piano nowadays, the VSTs sound just as good.” This has enabled me to achieve (LO2/3/4)

The main issue for me is the drop of the track, which is a totally new concept to me and I had to mess around with it a lot – however the progression is visible when compared with the initial track I uploaded to my blog. I took the kick drum off the offbeat and made it a straight beat after some advice from listeners. Making the chorus/drop push out was difficult and I believe that it potentially is a chorus that could stick in people’s heads. However it needs someone else’s touch to make it work. This is a prime reason why composition of pop music has several writers, some people are better at different things and this track illustrates this perfectly. If this was a track with several writers, it’s likely that I would have written just the chords or the topline etc and someone else would have produced the drop and done a much better job. (LO3) Albeit I believe I did not reach the benchmark, I think I strongly attempted (LO1/4 and A&O5) due to the nature of complexity and progression of the track from earlier demo quality. Not a total loss at all, but definite room for improvement.

Crying In The Club – Critique & Benchmarking

Posted in Benchmarking on May 11, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This track instrumentally is my favourite, and features real instruments alongside VST keys, drum samples and pop music stylistics using a pop music production style. (LO1/2/4) (A&O 2/3/5).

Within the track I have layered a real kick drum and snare to make the beat really push out and used a thick bassline. I added the bassline last and friends who had critiqued it had suggested that it lacks the depth at points. After adding it, it really did give the track depth.

I have also utilised Melodyne for the vocals throughout the track and created an autotune vocal for the chorus, in the style of Akon or Kanye West which I am proud of for its authenticity. The disappointing part for me about this track is the timing of the vocals and occasionally the couple of flat notes in the first verse which hinders the tracks vocal hook. It is not stylistic of pop music due to the fact that they are usually 100% vocally spot on. I couldn’t get back into the studio and re-record/melodyne them again, so this was a big disappointment for me. However, it’s not all a loss as I believe the music and autotuning still represent a progression within this project. A critique I’d had from a listener was that the key of the song is potentially too low, which I agree with and it could do with being moved up a couple of keys, which is what would happen in the industry to suit the singer’s voice. However, I couldn’t  change the key when recording vocals due to exporting the track as a single file and then recording vocals over the top. I thought when I was singing it whilst writing it would work, but this is a drawback from the track.

I have benchmarked this track against ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ by Drake. I believe that parts of my instrumentals sound on par with his due to them sounding as clean if not more so in places. The drums sound a bit punchier, with the snare giving a crack on my track, due to the layering.

Overall I would claim this track is a partial success so far, due to it still needing work but heading in the right direction. It fits the contemporary pop aesthetic