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Case study #1: Jazz song production
Over the past 8 years, Supreme Tracks has worked with over 1,500 clients, helping them create amazing songs and turning their demos into master tracks. One of our satisfied clients, Tim Hopkins from Texas, USA, reached out to us again for jazz song production.
He wanted us to produce another one of his father’s songs, written in 1975. The name of this pop jazz piece is Let’s try it again and Tim provided us with a demo of the song.
Since we worked with Tim before, we knew what kind of sound he was looking for – a modern vocal jazz song production with rich instrumental background. He didn’t have to explain to us in detail or send us any references this time around. We got straight to work!
After our producer and arranger listened to the demo, they came up with an arrangement draft that included the following setup: drums, double bass, piano, guitar, strings, french horns and a trumpet solo. The arrangement preview was then sent to Tim.
Tim loved the arrangement draft and gave us a green light to proceed and finalize the arrangement.
Note: sending an arrangement draft to client, containing verse and chorus idea, is a standard part of our arrangement process. It is done in order to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.
Tim did have one comment, though.
The New York-vibe trumpet was not what Tim had in mind, so he suggested we go with saxophone, as he thought it would work wonderfully for the solo, and that it should also be combined with the piano throughout the song.
As our top priority at Supreme Tracks is to help our clients create the best possible version of their songs, it is part of our job to disagree when we see fit.
Our arranger advised Tim to only keep the saxophone in the solo part, as adding the trumpet to the piano throughout the song would make everything sound chaotic. Tim accepted this suggestion, citing past good decisions we made.
Tim also had some ideas of his own about the intro, so he sent us a sample he created himself. We included this, as well as the other modifications Tim has asked for, and created a new, full arrangement preview that we sent to Tim.
Tim really liked musicians who recorded his previous song, so he wanted them for this one as well.
We sent Tim an offer for live recording (drums, upright bass, piano, guitar, saxophone, French horns, string quartet, vocal), as well as mixing and mastering, and after he gave us a green light, we began the recording process.
With just the vocals remaining, we sent Tim everything we recorded for approval. We assumed Tim will love the tracks – we had a full and approved arrangement and studio tracking was done by top NYC’s jazz musicians that always give a stelar performance.
As we thought, Tim loved the tracks and requested no modifications.
Picking the best vocals, the voice to carry out your song just the way you imagined it, is a challenging task, but it is crucial and can also be very fun. When listening to session singers’ showreels you have to imagine them singing your tunes and lyrics.
In order for the singer you choose to give their everything, they have to like it… They have to feel the song and express the right emotions with their voice.
We suggested Benny. Benny is known in New York City as a young Sinatra. Benny loved Let’s try it again and was given the freedom by Tim to interpret the song in the way he felt was right.
Tim loved what he heard and requested no additional changes.
Tim wasn’t the only one who liked everything, though. His father, who originally wrote the song so many years ago, loved it as well and was super excited with the whole process! That was an amazing moment for us all.
We were ready to move on to mixing and mastering.
Mixing and mastering
Since we already produced a song in a similar style and sensibility for Tim, we knew what he was looking for in the final mix. We used a lot of analogue, outboard gear to achieve that organic and pure sound. After a couple of feedback sessions and tweaks to the final mix, which is a standard process for the mixing, stage we were ready to master the song and ship it!
Tim was very, very pleased with the work we’ve done for him.
“It is amazing. I am absolutely thrilled. The mix is so fantastic. I think this is a wrap. You guys have outdone yourselves once again. Thank you again.”
Here it is. Let’s try it again in its full glory. Enjoy!
Note: On his dad’s request, we also sent Tim an instrumental version, without Benny’s vocals, so his dad could record vocals in his local studio with amazing arrangement and production backing him up. And we can’t wait to hear it.
Michael Andersson from Swededn was after dance/EDM song production for his demo track Stay Down. He was looking for a full scope of professional music production services: composing and arranging, sound design, mixing and mastering.
Michael chose to work with us because he was confident from our talks that his music will receive personal attention from our team. He also felt we were in-tune with what he was trying to do.
Michael sent us the top-line vocal of his track and sound references for us to work to – Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World and Diamonds, plus YouTube videos of dance-based songs from the Stargate Production Company.
How we worked – The collaboration process
To give you a feel for the original idea, here’s chorus line for Stay Down right at the beginning of the process, with just Michael’s demo vocal:
We gave the demo track to an up-and-coming New York electronic music producer who immediately got going with some ideas. First, he increased the tempo and made some harmonic changes to bring it closer to client’s reference tracks. The effect of changes was instant.
Michael liked the changes and felt they were in line with his vision. Michael informed us that he wanted to proceed with female vocals, so he sent us a female vocal track to replace and use while working on the song arrangement. We incorporated the new vocal track and sent the first arrangement draft to Michael. We were looking to get Michael’s feedback and ensure we were taking the arrangement in the right direction.
Here’s the first chorus of the first arrangement draft …
Note: sending a short arrangement preview, that usually has only the first verse and chorus, is a standard part of our song production process. It allowed Michael to give feedback early, and allowed us to understand if production is moving in the direction Michael envisioned.
What did Michael think of the first arrangement draft?
“I think it sounds really good! Very professional. I’m happy with the sound. Maybe make it less `EDM’ influenced and more like a regular dance pop song”.
Our producer took that on board – less electronic, more dance pop-influenced.
Michael also gave us some valuable feedback on changes he wanted to hear in the song structure.
He wanted the track to begin with the verse.
He suggested that the fast snare section could be replaced with a fill from later in the track.
He also thought that one of the breaks sounded a bit unnatural and stopped the flow.
To fix this, Michael suggested going directly from verse to chorus.
The faster tempo, harmonic shifts and professional dance production gave Stay Down a new feel. As a result, Michael thought one of Supreme Tracks session singers would be a great match for the new sound.
He wanted a Rihanna-type vocal… “nasal, not too much vibrato and a bit melancholy”. We recommended one of our session singers for whom we taught would be a good fit. After hearing singer’s demo he gave us a green light for the vocal session.
We recorded lead and backing vocals and sent him a preview. We also added more elements to the arrangement, you will notice how the arrangement sounds fuller.
“Perfect! Exactly what I was hoping to hear.”
We had an approved arrangement and master vocal tracks recorded.
As agreed with Michael, we were not to record any live instruments for the song, so Stay Down was ready to go into mixing and mastering stage.
During the mixing process, we had three or four mix modification requests from Michael. It is quite normal to have several preview-and-modify sessions when doing a mix, tweaking mix details is necessary so that the mix sounds exactly as the client envisioned.
Here’s Stay down, after mixing and mastering were completed and approved.
“Thank you! I’m so, so happy with your work for this song! Preparing a new one now …”
Several months later …
A couple of months later, Michael wrote back with a new request.
He wanted us to produce Stay down with his (male) lead vocals.
Michael also wanted an entirely new arrangement, the one that would reflect the sentiment of his voice.
In order to get a fresh perspective on the song, we picked a new producer from our talent pool who never heard the song.
We wanted to avoid using someone influenced by the original song arrangement.
Listen to alternative version of Stay down with Michael’s vocals, in an entirely new arrangement.
Austen Ledley, an experienced singer-songwriter from Vancouver, Canada, had been working on a 4-track EP. He got in touch with Supreme Tracks, top-shelf online recording studio, looking for top-shelf folk song production. He’d also listened our Nashville session musicians and thought they were phenomenal – particularly the country, blues and Americana guitars. As he said, “I’d love to have that energy and spirit on my songs!”
One of Austen’s tracks was Sunlight.
He wanted a simple singer-songwriter vibe – “an acoustic core but with some beauty and sonic space behind it”. Austen sent us the demo – his own vocals with acoustic guitar – and asked for our input on which instrumentation would best suit the mood of the track.
Here’s an excerpt from the demo sent by Austen.
How we worked – The collaboration process
First, Austen’s demo was sent to one of the world’s most celebrated Nashville session musicians for his creative input. We can’t tell you who this is – it’s the anonymity that keeps our prices so low – but you’d know the name…
Our guy was really impressed. “Great songs, I really enjoyed listening. They’ll sound amazing with the cats I have in mind”.
For Sunlight, he suggested the following set-up: acoustic guitar, upright bass, fiddle, piano, mandolin and banjo. To keep costs low, the guitar player would overdub banjo and the fiddle player would overdub mandolin. To make the song radio-friendly, he also advised cutting the intro section in half.
Austen loved these ideas and gave us a green light to proceed.
But first we had to get proper guide vocals from Austen to use as a guide for remote recording sessions. Band leader made an arrangement sketch for Sunlight on keyboards, which we sent to Austen to record guide vocals over. Sunlight sounded good, even at this early stage. Have a listen…
By this time, our session leader had “aligned the stars” to get everyone together in the studio – members of a multiple Grammy-award winning band, players on a multitude of #1 hits. We did a recording session and got 4 songs done in one day, including Sunlight.
The preview of studio recording was sent to Austen. Take a listen …
Just a couple of hours later we received his verdict: “So… This is the best thing I’ve ever heard. I’m currently in shock”.
Given the strength of the melodic line, we thought it would be great to end the track with acapella singers. We suggested the idea to Austen and gave him a quote for recording backup vocalists – a fraction of the `real world’ studio price. He came back to us: “That’s within my budget. Let’s do it!”
With recording session completed and approved by Austen, we were ready to mix and master the song. We worked with Austen on a couple of mix balance changes – mainly bringing the instrumentalists forward in the mix and allowing them to shine. Other than that, mixing and mastering went smoothly and were completed in a couple of days.
So here’s finished recording of Sunlight. It’s a fantastic song by very talented artist, arranged, recorded and produced by the best session musicians.
Shortly after this, Austen got his first FM radio play. Several publishing companies are interested in his songs, and he’s already been asked if one of his tracks can be used on an indie movie soundtrack. He told us that after hearing the recorded instrumentalists for the first time “it gave me the confidence to record some of the best vocals of my career”.