QuarQ

QuarQ

Music Production & Songwriting

One of the things we enjoy most is collaborating with talented people on their projects. Here's a page where we do a 'case study' of a particular song demonstrate what it was when it came to us and what we were able to create for a finished product. Please check out our production of All the Same. Links to:

One of the things we like doing best is taking interesting raw ideas and turning them into full-fledged productions that sound as good as anything out there.

Working with other’s material and shaping it into something spectacular is really fun because it challenges you in so many ways: creativity, production, sound quality, programming, directing performances and mixing.

On this page we're going to show in great detail our process in working with artists to take their nucleus of an idea and turning it into something spectacular that they can be proud of for a lifetime, and hopefully sell a bunch of them too!

Case Study: All the Same written by Bleu Cooper and QuarQ
by Bill Gwynne

Recently I was approached by a singer/songwriter who was looking to do something "outside the box" from the regular stuff she would bring into her band situation and approached me about doing a production of this idea she had hatched for a song but needed help with organizing it and creating music to go behind the lyric. When she initially approached us she had the main piano hook and one verse recorded into the lid mic of her laptop and a page with the rest of the lyrics. Here's what she brought us:

The song seemed intriguing so before making any decisions about music I asked her to lay out the song for me in a conceptual way; what was the song about and what kind of feeling were we going to try and evoke in the listener? What she told me was a producers dream saying, "This is a song about love not being returned, but not for the usual way in that one of the parties just 'isn't feeling it' but rather because the other is incapable due to mental trauma and anguish bordering on insanity (from PTSD in this case but that's not directly expressed in the lyrics). The angst comes from final realization that in spite of her best efforts, this situation is ultimately a lost cause that will end in nothing but heartbreak."

So immediately I'm thinking how awesome this project is going to be because there is so much to work with here as opposed to some songs which can be pretty much summed up with, "she wrecked my truck…"

So here's the final production of this song; while it's playing please read on down and see how we approach working on original music. Of course this song is not going to be everybody's cup of tea but what we're trying to demonstrate is how we approach the process and I think this song does a good job of that.

Mood Music

We thought about what kind of mood and the answer was pretty obvious–we needed a very dark, brooding kind of track with plenty of musical space for interpreting the lyric via melody, somewhat in the direction of a 21st century Nine Inch Nails.

Next I had to take this piano riff, which the entire tune revolves around, and see how it would best fit within a musical bar of 4/4 such as, are the 1st two notes pickup notes into a down beat or start right on beat one, and how do those last two chords sound best rhythmically to close out the phrase? We tried a couple options but (as so often happens) we tried one and it was immediately "That's the ONE!".

Next we went and found some percussion sounds in the library and auditioned some beats and there was this one family of sounds that was perfect for this tune, with lots of variation and sonic interest so we built a scratch drum track and our piano riff for the length of the song.

Formalities

Next step was to decide on the form of the song according to the lyrics that she had already written giving each section the proper number of bars, deciding on length of interludes between verses, where the bridge was going to go, how we were going to end it, how long should the intro be before the vocal comes in and all of that. There was also a loose idea for a kind of freak-out section which we started referring to as the "voices in my head" section and deciding where that would go and how long it should go on.

One of the big challenges was that since the song is built around this one single hypnotic electric piano riff and there isn't the usual Verse/Pre-Chorus/Chorus sectional we needed to do lots of things sonically to keep it from being too boring or predictable.

So we went to the scratch drum track and rather than just have it loop for the whole song we invested some time looking for ways to create variance and build interest as the song progressed and looked for ways to differentiate the songs sections from one another without busting the chunky groove we were liking a lot. We decided to break it down to bare minimums during the verse interludes so that when the new verse started there would be a sense of "arrival" which was important and remove it entirely during the freak out section in favor of a lot of bowed percussion and just generally whacked out sounds.

Ultimately we ended up with about four layers of drum loop of varying degrees of weight which we could combine in lots of different ways to give us the range of textures and raw power we were wanting for that particular spot in the song.
Initial Vocals

Bleu is very much an improvisitory interpreter of melody but not so much that you can't depend on the lyrics to show up in the same place against the music from take to take so I had her go in and sing a "pretty close" version of the vocal to our piano/drum track. I like to do this as early in the process as practical because it's really easy to over program and over orchestrate things if you don't have some reference to the vocal melody on there and since giving the vocal enough space to really soar melodically was super important to the song it was a good time.

This also had the downstream effect of taking our concept of the vocal from 'theoretical' to 'actual', and as we worked on the song further we would be much better in tune with what we really thought worked well vocally and what we might be looking to come up with something better for when the time came to sing the final vocal take.

Bridge Over Trouble

The bridge presented it's own set of challenges however. Since the main part of the song was kind of one-dimensional from a chord and harmony standpoint we wanted the bridge to be a huge change, a really big arrival to take the song to whole new level. So I experimented with some fairly normal chords in a fairly normal chord progression but in order to keep our "brooding edge" I tried putting "wrong" bass notes and fifths underneath the normal chords which had a nice destabilizing effect without destroying things. The progression repeats twice and the second time through I took it a little farther out than the first time around.

I must have tried four different bass notes underneath each 'normal' chord until I found the right combination to my ear. Fortunately the "voices in amy head" section came right after so I didn't have to manage any kind of return to the regular piano riff; the bridge could just hang there at the end and that was what worked best.

Vox Pox

The 'voices in my head' section is the biggest 'chance' the song takes from a compositional perspective. Something like this either works out to be the coolest thing ever or total self-indulgent crap; there usually isn't much middle ground here.

Bleu had the idea that this section would be a sort of disjointed conversation with her saying some lines and the other character in the song processing what she's saying and running through emotions and responses, all from of the perspective of being inside his/her head.

We knew that sonically this section had to be very interesting, dense and not too long or it would lose it's effect. So we sat down with a piece of notepaper and ran through every conceivable emotion/descriptive word we could think of that was relevant to this situation and whittled the list down to twenty or so that were the kinds of words you could say with a particular vocal inflection that would reflect the emotion behind the word. I took the list of words into the studio and in free space 'acted out' each word with my voice a couple of times in front of the vocal mic.

We then went through all of the takes and picked the best acting job on each of the twenty words and put them in a rough order that seemed like it might work. I then created five new tracks for these vocals, each one with a radically different bizarre effect on them and different left/right locations and we started distributing the spoken words among them trying to find a complimentary match between the word and the sound, like having the word "broken" show up with a super scratchy vinyl record sounding plug-in on it.

Final Vocals and Ear Candy

So now we had something that was really taking shape and was inspiring to sing to so we cut the final vocals in about an hour and a half. Bleu doesn't like to do endless takes, but instead to get a really solid emotional performance and if there's a few rough edges so be it, or if they're too rough we can do some editing in the computer so that ten years from now you don't find yourself saying "man I wish I had fixed that note!"

The Lo-Fi vocal sound is all the rage these days so I created a track with that sound and we experimented with taking certain lead vocal lines and moving them to there or creating a lo-fi background double for certain lines.

I went back into the library looking for spacey ear-candy kinds of things we could drop in to create some interest here and there and did a few guitar programming things to help provide some chordal compliments to the piano lick as well as some chunky low rhythm during the bridge.
Sir Mix-Not-So-Much

The mix was pretty easy on this one I just basically tried to keep the vocal completely hearable but not up way louder than the music. I looked for every opportunity to give sounds their own 'space' in the mix so they wouldn't have to be up louder than necessary to be heard.

I put my usual chain of mastering plugins on the master bus and we were ready to go in a couple hours.

Wrapup

I hope you've enjoyed reading this; I've tried to give you some insight on how we work with you to get truly world class results by listening to your ideas, really homing in on what's essential and then making sure that those things are always 'front and center' because four minutes isn't really all that much time to get your point across is it?

We love working on original material and would hope that you can see the benefits of involving professionals with decades of experience working with you to do great things! Give us a call and let's see how we can best serve you!