I recently had the absolute pleasure of producing a track for composer-performer Grace Marie Hancock. The track in question, ‘The Dark Side is the Bright Side’, was envisioned as a song for a villain in a Disney/Musical Theatre style. To compliment the tone of the song Grace has released with a video. Check it out in the YouTube video below!
As myself and Grace live a considerably distance apart, we decided to opt for the remote session format. This is were a client records all their necessary part into a Logic session and send the entire project to me. From these parts I then add various desired musical elements before mixing and mastering . Grace sent me a project with a wav file for the piano part which gives me less flexibility than MIDI but really locks me onto the tone of the original performance. I then treat it with the usual EQ and compression like any other live recording. You might be surprised to know the vocals were recorded using a Shure PG48, which after some processing (EQ, compression, reverb and delay etc) actually does a really good job, especially considering the cost.
From these recordings I make the obligatory chord chart. I realize that to most modern producers this is very old fashioned by I always feel I get the best results from any session players I use, including myself. Using Sibelius and the hand-written chord chart I then construct the orchestral part. The entire orchestra is designed to enhance rhythms and feel of the piano and vocal but also fill in the sonic frequencies and create some counter melodies. By the time the orchestral arrangement was finished I had a full string, woodwind and brass sections with some timpani and snares to underpin it. I then bounced the MIDI file out and imported it into the Logic session and dialed in the appropriate sounds. I ended up using a sound bank from Komplete for the fretless upright bass which has made me consider getting a few basic instrument packs from them in the near future. It just sounds so much better then the Logic equivalent with the sampling of the buzz and finger noise.
The guitars were the next thing to go down. A cheap small body classical was used for the boxier tone and a Fender dreadnought was used for the bright steel guitar and the tremolo harmonies in the bridge. There was a slight lack of sonic weight in the low-mids so I tracked an organ part just to fill it out more and add some sustained elements to the chorus.
Digital percussion didn’t feel right against the live piano track so I set about replacing almost every percussive element with live instruments. Thankfully I had some shakers and my trusty tambourine to hand and I took a trip home to pick up my old hide head bongos. It was still sounding a little flat so I borrowed a snare to track live snare and bought an agogo to define the main beat. The percussion section is one of my favorite elements of the track and I have to give a shout out to Ollie Hambook for lending me the snare.
I ended up mixing everything as I tracked which left only tweaking sections to taste and adjusting some the levels after Grace heard the first master. The master wasn’t heavily compressed as I wanted to keep all of the dynamics in place. When you revisit those old Disney recordings the overall level is so much quieter then a modern pop production.
I’m looking forward to working with Grace more in the future as she performs with such with such heightened expression. It’s a real joy to mix something that has such a complex arrangement and allows me to use the orchestral skills I’ve spent so many years learning and maintaining. If you’d like to hear more from Grace check out the applicable links below:
- Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/gracie-hancock
- Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSKpzm7DqEaLb5T-dxkRlYA
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/GraceMHancock
I hope you enjoyed this track. If you would like to talk to me regarding your own project click here and take a look and the production services I’m currently offering. Let me know what you think of the track in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!
Performing and Production Personnel
- Grace Marie Hancock – Lead & Backing Vocals, Piano
- Antony Cull – Acoustic Guitar, Orchestral Arrangement, Percussion, Organ, Mixing & Mastering Engineer.