The last few days I’ve been choosing songs and thinking about the best microphone to use on the new album.
After the first flush of excitement, we knuckled down at Cairncross Castle to all the preparations for next weeks’ recording.
My main task (apart from updating my blog) was to finalise the list of songs and make sure I had some clear charts for them. I know (and hope) that David Newton will probably largely ignore these and weave his own harmonic magic over the music, but I think it’s only polite to make it easy for him to do this, with a clear chart to base things on.
A good friend of mine wrote to me in response to an email I sent out to my mailing list telling people about the new album. He quipped “I see you’re doing some Doris Day, but I see also you’re only doing the most beautiful ones, which may possibly exclude my Doris Day favourite, which I think I’ve mentioned before. Still, if you do need a filler, here’s a suggestion with some ideas on interpretation…Well, I’m just trying to help!“
Here’s his helpful suggestion:
One of the things I see very often at our local pub’s Jam Session, is the singer who jumps up to sing and doesn’t know their key, or even the speed or feel in which they want to sing the song. They invariably don’t have a chart (the chords written down for the musicians to read) and then they wonder why things go wrong – or even worse, blame the band. In my opinion, it really gives singers a bad name. Most Jazz musicians know tunes in the keys that they appear in The Real Book (or other similar books of charts). These are often the high men’s key and as a rule, they’re usually lie about a fourth away from the suitable keys for me. (I have quite a low voice anyway).
To make it easier for myself, I always try to turn up with the chords (the chart) in my key. I think about the tempo and feel, and try to communicate this to the band (not always successfully I admit). I think about getting the tempo right in my head and then I count in the band – I confess that I have also made a few mistakes doing that in my time!
For the album songs I don’t already have charts for, I have emailed Dave a PDF version with the chords I have found on the sheet music. (This a very handy, as he lives in Bath and I live in Brighton, some three hours drive away). I have also sent a chord-less version of the melody and words, which I have prepared in Sibelius. When I made the list of sixteen songs and wrote down the keys, I found a few were in the same key. It would sound a bit dull on the album if I put them a row in C major, for instance. The advantage of writing your charts in a score-writing program, is that you can magically transpose the songs at the press of a button.
I’ve asked Dave to look at the keys and see if he would prefer to play them up or down a few steps. Not too far, or it wouldn’t sit so well in my voice, but I can be pretty flexible.
When you’re thinking about keys you should find the high and low notes in a song and then try singing the song in a few different keys. If you can’t do this yourself, then try and make friends with somebody who can help you. Perhaps try and sing along to recordings of various singers until you find one you’re happy with, and then ask a pianist “what key does Ella sing All the Things You Are in?”, for example. If you know your key, then you’re half way there. It’s also well worth paying a pianist to make you some charts in the best key for you, if you can’t do it yourself.
Another good tip is try not to pick really difficult keys ( a lot of sharps and flats) unless you always use the same musicians, or have a chance to rehearse. If you want to ‘sit in’ at a Jam Session (get up for a guest slot) then don’t assume that the band will know the song – if it’s in a friendly key then it makes it easier for them to read. Finally, you might want to think about choosing a key that’s not too difficult for the transposing instruments like the trumpet or saxophone. They play the printed note and sound the name of their instrument. eg. A Bb trumpet will play a written C and you will hear a Bb. So their chart will have to be a tone higher – that’s when a score-writing programme is really useful – you can run off a Bb chart for the horns up a tome from the piano part.
I was speaking to another, rather more helpful Sound Designer friend about the best microphone to use for my voice. After a few suggestions he very generously offered to lend me a vintage Neumann U87. Today we met for a coffee and he handed over the precious cargo and then scared me by telling me that they cost over £2000 new! Even more scary, was the history of this particular microphone. Apparently Ian Curtis from Joy Division recorded using the very same microphone. (He very sadly killed himself when he was only 24 and the same band that reformed as New Order later used the microphone ).
So, we nearly have the songs chosen and their charts almost completed. We have a fantastic microphone to record my voice. As you can see, my internet-marketing expert (and big sister), Nicola Cairncross is also cracking the whip, making me update my website often, so that when we have made the fabled album, people will know how to get hold of it.
There’s so much more to do – find out about manufacturing the album, MCPS licences and bar codes, designing the cover – I’m only a singer after all!
Help….can somebody please let me off
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