Things I Have Learned by Re-recording No Words

posted 2 Nov 2010, 07:50 by James Marshall   [ updated 16 Feb 2011, 08:40 ]
1. I have limited vocal range

Recording the high harmonies, without softening my tone, has been exhausting and embarrassing (even though I'm alone with myself while recording)

2. I actually can't hold a note

As a result of the extra effort when singing higher notes, I could only manage to hold the note for about a third of the length it should be. When you hear it being held, it's being looped. Also, as I can't actually hold a note no matter how long it is, I'm wobbling it all over the place. I hope this is hidden in the harmonies.

3. I have no idea how Elliott Smith created his trademark vocal sound

From listening to Xo countless times and under countless conditions (big speakers, small speakers, car speakers, headphones, from another room etc), I thought I had cracked the method. Sing the same part twice in the same octave,  one in a soft tone and one in a stronger tone and mix them close together in the stereo soundscape. This has turned out to be pure horseshit and I've still got no idea how he did it. Dead bastard.

4. iPhone instrument apps sound really good when recorded by direct injection

Thereminator and Ellatron were used to create the string quartet and the ethereal "voice" at the start. Plugged directly into the recording device, these sounded superbly emotive and impressed me immeasurably.

5. How to harmonise

Prior to recording this song (save for a small section of Subcutaneous Lovesick Blues) the only harmonies I was even close to being able to create were split octave; same note, one high, one low. Since the rather low register lead vocal of this song was difficult to listen to on the previous version, it was necessary to give it a bit more presence and character this time around with a closer harmony. After butchering my way through the previous version alone in the car, I finally smacked into the middle harmony quite by mistake and sang it repeatedly, ad infinitum, to ensure it became second nature when singing the song. The middle harmony is the only vocal part of the song I feel any noticable pride about.

6. Lewis is an even better pianist that I originally thought (and I originally thought he was brilliant)

We've heard his jazzy, syncopated playing before but the way he switches effortlessly between standard 4/4 chord playing in the choruses to liquid, free-flowing lead sections over the verses and outro is really something to behold.