In our group songwriting project, we used a beat-first strategy. In our individual songwriting project, we'll be using a be using a lyric-first approach. Although we all have (or will develop) our preferred strategies for songwriting, it's important to explore multiple strategies so that you have the experience to support students and help them develop their own songwriting approaches.
We'll be using a web-based app called hookpad: https://hookpad.hooktheory.com/
*You need to create a free account to save your work! This is very important as we don't want you to lose anything.
Due to its simplicity, this app may seem underwhelming compared to a DAW such as Soundtrap, but it's quite good for the purpose of figuring out melodies and chords to accompany lyrics.
Although the app is fairly intuitive, it *might* help to watch their beginner tutorials, especially Part 1.
Part 1: User Interface: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyWT-2yfJ6Y
Part 2: Melodies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kkaMBAESv8
Part 3: Chords: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReY3PiVLXYg
If you are new to songwriting and/or music theory, a lyric-first approach might be best, and these tutorials are very helpful if you choose this route:
Going from Lyrics to Music - Part 1: Rhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTp29-pUj7k
Going from Lyrics to Music - Part 1: Chords and Melody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNJktuEhJ68
Their user guide may also come in handy: https://www.hooktheory.com/support/hookpad
This is all you really need for the purposes of this project, but if you want to go deeper, hookpad definitely affords it, and has some more advanced and longer tutorials:
Songwriting Series 1.1 (Harmony): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3inuuq67x4
Songwriting Series 1.2 (Melody): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esr1JVqnxa0
Songwriting Series 1.3 (Arranging): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7BlfSrGYz8
Songwriting Series 1.4 (Working in Logic): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SNh4ZjIoiw
Take some time to play around with the app and get comfortable with it. Drag and drop, click, see what happens. Use your ears to determine what sounds good.
Because you are a super producer, you've been hired to write for an emerging 14-year-old Okotoks-based pop star named Gary Epic. Gary Epic's handlers (his parents) have laid out the following criteria:
1. We want to hear a demo of a catchy chorus. If we like your chorus, we'll hire you to write the rest of the song.
2. We envision this being a powerful ballad that everyone can sing along to. Everyone likes Adele, and we feel that everyone should like Gary, too. He just needs his big break, and we're hoping you're his ticket to stardom.
3. We'll leave it to you to figure out the music stuff, but Gary demands the following lyrics be included: "Let's be together and look at our phones." Maybe that's all the chorus needs. Maybe it needs more. We'll let you decide.
Well, Gary's parents have laid out their criteria, but they're short on detail. Here are some suggestions:
1. If you haven't already, watch the tutorials "Going from Lyrics to Music"
2. In hookpad, input the lyrics.
3. There are no hard rules here, but the tutorials recommend creating a chord progression first, and then inputting the melody. It can be a chicken-egg conundrum, but whichever way you go, keep in mind that Gary's handlers are after a memorable melody first and foremost.
4. It might be a good idea to listen to some Adele to get a sense of the style Gary's handlers are after. Beyond lyrics, melody, and harmony, consider other elements such as tempo (bpm) and rhythm.
Hookpad has some pretty cheesy-sounding style presets (check out 'Bossa Nova'), but you can spend some time tweaking the 'Band' settings to produce a passable demo. Unfortunately, the free version we're using won't allow you to save band settings (it will default to piano only), but it is fun to experiment with. The good news is that for an Adele-eque ballad, piano plus melody will suffice.
Here's SNL's take on how this Adele song cuts across differences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2zyjbH9zzA
What to Submit
When you think you've generated a certified platinum hit and it's ready to share...
1. Save it to your free account.
2. go to File-->View Shareable URL
3. copy/paste the URL and submit
A message from Gary Epic's handlers:
We just love the chorus you've created for Gary! It's everything we hoped for. You really are Alberta's super producer as advertised. Thank you. But, there's an issue that needs to be addressed. Gary is no longer going by Gary anymore. He's changed his name to GRrrr.YE. While his name is still pronounced similarly, GRrrr.YE is adamant that he is now a hip-hop artist and would like to take his music in a new direction. GRrrr.YE is particularly enthralled with a Toronto rapper called Drake, maybe you've heard of him? We're wondering if you might be able to keep the chorus you've created but it make it like a Drake song. You know, with the beats and stuff. Please send us a demo asap.
P.S. Our retirement plan hinges on your success.
What's a producer to do?
Well, Gary's parents (or should I say GRrrr.YE's parents?), are once again short on details, so I'll try to create a more concrete path to completion for this project.
First, it would help to listen to some Drake.
Note: This review of 'Quarantine-era rap' including Drake's recent release, 'Toosie Slide' is not very glowing (language warning): https://www.stereogum.com/2079575/the-depressing-inertia-of-quarantine-era-rap/franchises/status-aint-hood/
I think there's a good lesson in here for music educators--maybe we agree with this writer, maybe we don't. Either way, it's a good reminder that our musical tastes are secondary in the classroom. We know that it's highly likely that our students are listening to this song that debuted at #1 on Billboard, so it would be wise to be familiar with it.
Second, this is a very doable project for everyone in the class. If Pete Davidson (SNL) can make a Drake song, I'm confident you can, too: https://www.globaltv.com/shows/saturday-night-live/video/pete-davidson-drake-music-video/bd8918a8-7cd5-11ea-8224-0242ac110005/
I've decided to make two different pathways for our class:
Group 1: for music students (majors, minors, and those who feel confident they don't need my help)
Group 2: for non-music students who would like a technical assist from me
This is a classic genre-switching task. Time and again this is done in popular music. For example, Gloria Gaynor's disco hit "I Will Survive" (1978) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYkACVDFmeg , which has taken on a new meaning in the current context, got a makeover in the mid-90s from Cake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KJjVMqNIgA
Same song, but different style.
Instructions for Group 1 (Group 2 is similar but different, and directions follow this section).
To switch your Adele-inspired chorus to a Drake-style hook, we'll be using Soundtrap.
1. Start by ensuring that your tempo (bpm) in Soundtrap is the same as your Part 1 (hookpad) project.
2. Using your Part 1 (hookpad) as a guide, play in the chords. After you've done this, spend some time trying to get the right sound (instrumentation and timbres) for the genre
Note: We're actually following Drake's main producer's approach at this point, which is to record the harmonic content to a click and then add the beat later (see here for a deep dive with Noah '40' Shebib if you wish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESUHhXgIaos)
3. Create/record the beat. You might want to consider changing the tempo at this point (slowing down/speeding up). If Soundtrap's beatmaking tools don't do it for you, try out Groove Pizza (https://apps.musedlab.org/groovepizza/?). It's free and easy to use. You can download MIDI or audio of your beat and then import it into your Soundtrap session (They also have an 'Import to Soundtrap' function, but it's currently broken).
4. Using your Part 1 (hookpad) as a guide, record yourself singing the melody. You don't need a mic. Soundtrap works on phones, so you can sing into your phone if you don't have a computer (or if your computer doesn't have a built-in mic).
i. Try using Autotune: https://support.soundtrap.com/hc/en-us/articles/208270805-How-do-I-add-Auto-Tune-to-my-vocals-
ii. Try using FX to further manipulate your vocal sound
Note: if you find that the melody is not in your singing range, you can change the key of your chords and melody: https://support.soundtrap.com/hc/en-us/articles/210294665-How-to-change-the-pitch-of-a-region
Note for the self-conscious: This is a music education course, and singing--not matter how good/bad you think you are it--is a basic skill and tool that you need to develop as a music educator. This isn't the 'the Voice'--there are no winners or losers. I only care that you give it your best.
5. When you're finished, export the project as an .mp3
Instructions for Group 2
1. Email me to request a MIDI file of your Part 1 (hookpad) project.
2. Import the MIDI file into a new Soundtrap session.
Follow Steps 3-5 for Group 1 (above)