Dollars to Donuts: Behind The Music

My new Dollars to Donuts podcast features a nifty bit of intro and outro music. In the podcast you just hear snippets of the song, written expressly for the podcast by my brother-in-law, Bruce Todd. I’ve long been an admirer of Bruce’s songwriting and playing and overall musical thang, and it was an absolute thrill to have him create a piece of music for me.

Now you can hear the whole piece!

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Since we’re all about digging into creative processes, here’s Bruce’s explanation of how he developed this music.

This song came to light through questions and (heaven forbid) assumptions about what Steve was looking for or better yet – listening for. Based on some email conversations and musical examples, I had a rough idea that the music had to be relatively fast-paced, rocking and attention=grabbing. Since Steve had some alternatives there was no pressure for me to actually produce anything and this allowed me to experiment and take a few small sound risks. Most of this recording was completed through digital amplification or direct line inputs which allowed me to work quietly and at my leisure (everything except vocals). Often when recording instruments with microphones you need a quiet peaceful environment which I don’t always have access to in my (non-soundproofed) home studio.

I began by finding a drum track: a simple upbeat 4/4 rock drum track which I had used on a previous recording (having exported the tracks from a master file and imported to my Tascam DP 32 Portastudio). Then the fun began. Knowing that the end result would be used as a short clip, I laid down about 2 minutes of drums and then pulled out my Fender Telecaster and began to experiment with a riff. This came pretty quickly as it is quite a simple progression in the key of F-sharp. Next, I plugged in my Vox DA5 (5-watt digital amplifier) and located an overdrive sound I liked and added a small amount of delay. I recorded two tracks with the same guitar sound and panned the tracks left and right, which results in creating a thicker overall sound by doubling the part. After the rhythm guitar tracks were completed I worked on the bass part. I ran the bass also through the little digital Vox and added compression which brought out a punchy bass track (this is a discovery I have been using on my other recordings ever since). Once drums, guitar and bass were complete I left the recording for a few days so I could revisit the idea when I was ready.

Coming back, I wasn’t too sure I liked what I had. If this was a more serious venture I would have probably scrapped the idea. Given that I wasn’t overly convinced that the song idea had much merit I thought I would have my young daughters (Talia 8, Arianna, 4) join me and be exposed to the recording process. Regardless of what the end result was I was sure Uncle Steve would get a kick out of his nieces being involved. Talia has a small electronic keyboard which I plugged into the Portastudio, and I gave her some headphones and had her play along with the guitar, bass and drums. Her first track was a keeper as she found a funny sound and played a part that complimented the space that the guitar riff left. Then Arianna played a part with a toy instrument of hers (in the end this track did not make it on the recording). The girls also helped me do a little vocal improvisation which also didn’t make the master mix but helped me get to the next part of the recording.

recording-1
recording-2

Several days again went by until I felt ready to listen to the song and see what was there and what else I could add. I went back to my guitar and found another overdrive tone which I overlaid with the auto-wah pedal sound setting on the Vox DA5. This was a lucky choice as I think it is what gets the attention of the listener at the beginning of the song. The track is pretty much one big lead guitar riff which from time to time stops and echoes the rhythm guitar tracks. This was a fun part for me as was the final vocal tracks. For the vocal tracks I ran a Shure 57 through the Vox DA 5 flanger setting with a lot of flange and overdrive and experimented by saying “Talk it Out” and by making other weird sounds. I mixed the song and sent it digitally via email to Steve – and to my surprise received a very nice response.

And that is how Dollars to Donuts found its music.

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