The concept behind the piece
My love of electronic music, namely dance music, stems right from the very beginnings of the disco, hip-hop and other subsequent genres. When new forms of creating music electronically emerged, resources were limited and technology didn’t have as sophisticated a grasp as it does today. Loops were common and instrumentation was minimal. Despite the enormous change in the development of music technology today (with personal laptops containing far greater processing power than entire recording studios in the 70s) I wanted to explore that type of ‘minimalism’ in my own work.
So I decided to construct this song around a single, looped drum sample and a looped piano riff, with the goal being that I would try to reference the early days of dance music by reconstructing a disco song stylistically. The main aim is to how interesting and engaging I can keep the track without losing momentum. And being anchored in a very much ‘pop’ sensibility, I wanted to keep it sharp, to-the-point and thus under five minutes.
Instrumentation and execution
I knew that I wanted a distinctly disco quality to the track, and that began with a solid beat. I searched through the data files in Ableton Live but I couldn’t find anything that suited the track, so I trawled through my songs to see if there was a sample I could nab – and there was. (So for fears of breaching both domestic and international copyright laws, I’m not going to mention exactly where this sample came from but also claim that the part of the song I have used is insubstantial enough that I believe that the original artist wouldn’t be able to recognise it out of context.) Now that that’s out of the way, I could finally provided a backbone to what would ultimately carry the song.
I already had a stalwart drum kit that I’ve been using a lot lately. The whole kit is bright yet full, with the attack on the kick clear enough to cut through the mix without its bottom end blowing everything out. It has a nice, clean, fat snare and clap sounds, and its hi-hats aren’t too abrasive or too metallic. It’s a dream to mix! I threw together a simple kick-snare beat, with some ornamentation in places from the claps and toms. All set to the backdrop of the sample, a decent percussion section fell into place.
The piano riff was easy enough. I’d already written it some months ago with the intention of turning into a full song, but just never got around to it (no surprises). For the specific piano sound though, I used another favoured stalwart of mine, the IK Multimedia Philharmonik orchestral plugin. From there I chose their version of a Steinway piano that had a very rich, reliable sound that wasn’t too synthetic and gave a great sense of verisimilitude. The synths that appear in the latter half of the song that ‘replace’ the piano were mixed fairly identically so as to be taking the piano’s place both in the arrangement and sonically.
So there were my two loops done! To now give the song a real disco flavour, there of course needed to be strings. I again used the Philharmonik and blended together several of their violin and ensemble string sounds as no standalone version worked well enough. I selected five sounds to use in the end: first and second legato violins, first and second detaché violins, and a full string ensemble to fatten it all. The legato violins provided enough sustain and air while the detaché violins provided the attack and body to create a thorough real-life string ensemble.
For the bass, I chose what sounded a fairly common bass in 70s and 80s electronic music, something with a resonant and twangy attack but with a lot of body. I also selected some other synth sounds that in the latter half of the song replace the piano riff, again felt very reminiscent of the 80s decade. The lead synth that plays the main ‘chorus’ line in the song was a simple square lead I also found in Ableton (which I later modified).
And then I threw in a choir line from the Philharmonik as well to fill out the whole song.
Admittedly the hardest part of the whole song to mix was the main chorus line (that comes in about 1:15 minutes into the song). It was either too far back in the mix or far too prominent. And if it sat back in the mix, the only way to get it to sit comfortably amongst everything else was to bring out the higher frequencies, which just made the overall sound harsh. So I compromised. I allowed for the main line to be a decibel or two too soft but at least I kept the fullness of the square.
As for the percussion, piano, strings, the bass and the synths, I took my cues from a number of websites that I’ve included in the hyperlinks above.
You find the song’s SoundCloud can be found here.