Beige Shelter – Rumours we make, Paths we Take production

I first met singer-songwriter Adi Aman, aka Beige Shelter, at the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup. He appeared on Song Talk Radio in 2014. His songs instantly appealed to me for their 90’s alt-rock inspired style, and his often spiritually deep lyrics. On Song Talk Radio, I recall commenting how his songs are actually about something.

Last year (late 2015), Adi contacted me with a request to have his songs produced as an album. We had a brief meeting during which I got to know Adi a bit more, and really saw his personality as a generous, people-loving individual, and how that shone through in his songs. We came to an agreement, and began work shortly thereafter. The plan was to produce 12 songs for an album.

Adi would send me his demo recordings, along with lyric and chord sheets. For most recordings, I would set up a session in Sonar with a simple drum loop (of my own creation, of course, since I am a drummer). He would then come over and record guitar and vocals to the beat. Often he would ask for extra “guitar licks” tracks and/or vocal doubles.

The producer brain

For some of the songs, I would make melodic suggestions for the guitar licks, or arrangement ideas for when to include instrumental breaks. I also added drums, bass, piano, strings, and other instruments using my keyboard and MIDI. Of all the aspects of producing, I enjoy this arranging process the most. It takes a careful listen to each song, finding creative ways to supplement the original performance, and at the same time, taking it up a notch. My piano and bass parts were often quite understated, providing a foundation for Adi’s performance without overpowering it. I think this is a key point for any successful production.

For one song, Midnight, Adi had written a lovely arpeggio pattern on the guitar for the intro. The rest of the song rocked out. I suggested a break in the middle where he would repeat the intro pattern at tempo. This served to open the song up and provide a breath before the final chorus.

Adi had a neat riff and chord progression for a song, but no lyric. We worked together as I made chord suggestions (on piano) and a key shift for the bridge. Adi worked out lyrics about racial diversity and inclusion, with some tweaks from me. We share the songwriting credit for Colours.

For Who I Am, Adi had written it as a medium-tempo guitar rocker with harmonica. He wanted to try it out as a piano ballad, so I took his chords and developed a piano, strings, and drums arrangement. We had to re-record his vocals, as the rocker style didn’t really fit with the more ballad-esque piano arrangement. We also forewent the harmonica in favour of a cello solo. I think this song helps to open up the variety on the album.

Adi wasn’t entirely happy with his song EdenI made a suggestion for chord changes in the chorus, which opened up the song to sound bigger. Interestingly, this song is almost entirely comprised of major chords (only one minor chord). In some ways, it’s my favourite track on the album, as it has elements of progressive rock.

Mixing, mastering and fine-tuning

I spent a lot of time going through each song with a fine-tooth comb, fixing notes in the MIDI tracks and tightening up the timing. For some, I used a fixed tempo grid to quantize all the tracks, and for others, I used Adi’s guitar recording as a tempo map. Since they were mostly recorded to a fixed drum loop, they were fairly consistent, but minor tempo variations still occur, and sometimes it’s better to embrace them rather than forcing them to fit a fixed tempo.

I also mixed and mastered the songs. I wanted punchy, clear drums and bass, and forward vocals to ensure all the lyrics were well heard. My new best friend became Native Instrument’s Transient Master.

Ironically, the sonically simplest song, She Now Flies, presented the greatest mixing challenge. It’s actually easier when you’ve got 6 or more instruments in the mix, with guitars, piano, bass and drums, than mixing a song with only guitar and vocals.

For the mastering process, I suggested to Adi that we each come up with a sequence for the album, then compare notes. He then arrived at a sequence that was a combination of my list and his. I made minor tweaks to the EQ of some songs, and applied the final volumes. There’s some finesse here too, as I didn’t want the softer ballads mastered to the same volume as the rockers. Hopefully someone out there still listens to complete albums!

The paths we take

Before we even finished the album, I was accompanying Adi on percussion for his gigs. Since then, we’ve roped in a bass player and lead guitarist as well.

It’s been an absolute joy working with Adi on this record. He had a very balanced approach to owning his songs and being open to suggestions for changes. As the producer, I would always take the approach of allowing Adi the veto power, to reject any suggestion I made. As it turns out, he took most of them. You can’t be too precious about your ideas, and understand that the vision for the record should be the artist’s, not the producer’s.

Listen to the album

 

Song Talk Radio articles

I’m a regular contributor to Song Talk Radio’s blog and newsletter, with writing original content on topics of interest to our songwriter audience.

Check out my articles at the Song Talk Radio website.

Song Talk Radio appearance

On November 24, once again I appeared on Song Talk Radio as the featured guest.  I spoke with Bruce and Phil about three of my latest songs, and in a special twist, Sonja Seiler joined us as co-host and co-writer of one of the songs.  We talked about collaboration, anthropomorphism, and whether or not I could pull off writing a love song for my wife.  Check out the complete episode, including the songs, here:

Artist interview on The Plug-In @ The Scope at Ryerson

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by one of the journalists at The Scope at Ryerson last week.  Alexia Kapralos hosts her weekly podcast, The Plug-In, around the latest in Canadian and international rock music.  I sat with her at the Ryerson studios for a short interview on my musical journey over the year and Song Talk Radio. She also featured my song “One Great Mistake” on the episode.  It starts at about the 8:50 mark of her show.  Thanks Alexia!

Scope at Ryerson interview

Earlier this month, I had the chance to chat with Scope at Ryerson reporter Sara Cristiano about my music, songwriting, my album Counterfeit Lampshades, and the creation of Song Talk Radio.

Song Talk Radio with Neel and Peter

Last summer, I met Peter at the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup group, and shortly afterward, we began collaborating on songs. Peter is a poet and singer, with some rather intense and compelling lyrics around sexuality, politics, and other themes. Paired with some of my neat keyboard parts and arrangements, we created some unconventional music. Listen to the full episode here:

Album release on Song Talk Radio

I was fortunate enough to be a special guest on Song Talk Radio, a streaming program where songwriters talk to other songwriters about the craft of songwriting. OK, I’m also a co-host of the show, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that I got to be a guest, too.

I spoke with Phil, Bruce, and Eric about the development of three of my songs on my debut release, Counterfeit Lampshades. We talked about the influence the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup group has had on my music, and some of the writing tools I learned from Pat Pattison from his Songwriting course on Coursera.

I was also awarded bonus points for the best (and possibly only) use of the word milieu in a song.

Take a listen to the podcast here:

Download the full album for free.

Song Talk Radio graphics

In addition to co-creating, co-producing, and co-hosting the weekly program Song Talk Radio, I also designed the show’s logo and business card, and co-designed the website and monthly electronic newsletter.

Song Talk Radio is a very safe space for me, and at times, a great venue for me to express my creative side in clever ways. For this logo design, I used musical symbols in place of letters, and of course, the photo we used shows the camaraderie and humour of the team.

Song Talk Radio Interview

As part of our “hosts as guests” series on Song Talk Radio, I had my turn to present one of my own songs and get some feedback from my co-hosts Phil and Bruce.  I presented Telepathic Androids, and we talked about odd time signatures (9/4 in this case), changing up your rhyme scheme, and how to pull off a bridge that plunges your song into a sci-fi inspired apocalyptic nightmare – if that’s your thing :).