I recently released my latest track, Long Heat, on YouTube. It is a solo keyboard performance over sequenced drums.
I was asked recently about my process and I decided I wanted to give a more thoughtful response. I wanted to talk a little about my inspiration for the track, how I went about writing it, how I practiced (and how long 🙃), and how I recorded it.
Inspiration is a difficult thing to nail down; I’m of the opinion that everything a person hears in their lifetime contributes to the way they think about and create music. So while I think its impossible to list every influence exhaustively, I can say there were 3 tracks that particularly inspired me in the creation of Long Heat.
Concussion : Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio
I only discovered the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio about a year ago. While they have tons of great tracks, Concussion sticks out to me because it has a super strong hook that repeats several times through the song. The hook is beautifully simple (something I didn’t quite achieve in Long Heat) and provides a strong backbone for the rest of the song.
The general structure of Concussion was an inspiration too. Breaking up the hook with a small repeated structure, and having a consistent transition between sections of the song were both features that I thought were really successful in Concussion and that I borrowed liberally in Long Heat.
And of course, the lead organ was an inspiration too 😁
Come On, Come Over : Jaco Pastorius
Come On, Come Over is such a classic groove. The first time I heard the opening bass hook, I was blown away. I never knew a bass could hold down such a strong groove and sound so melodic at the same time.
There are a million wonderful pieces of Come On, Come Over, but one of my favorite parts of the song that inspired me is the B section (not sure if it should be called a bridge or chorus or verse, but its definitely the B section). The harmonic and groove shift is so distinct and also so busy, but in classic Jaco fashion still feels refined and smooth as butter. Obviously I didn’t quite live up to this level of musicianship in my B section (actually labelled “C” in the sheet music 🤔), but it served as inspiration nonetheless.
Semente : Snarky Puppy
Of all the amazing Snarky Puppy songs, Semente is not my #1 fav (although its a solid track in its own right). However, this song was really important for helping me wrap my head around how to solo over the bass line in Long Heat. When I was playing along to parts of Semente I found they were in the Locrian mode1. I have never formally learned how to use modes effectively, but when I was noodling on my keyboard I realized the sound I was looking for reminded me of the hook from Semente. I didn’t know exactly what it was that gave the sound I was looking for, so I picked out some of the basic melodies on my keyboard (sans the wild key changes that Snarky Puppy pulls off effortlessly 😂) and noticed that it was a modal melody that gave it the interesting sound I was hearing.
My “solo” in Long Heat didn’t end up sounding anything like Semente, but it was an important part of wrapping my head around how to solo over the chords in a way that sounded interesting to me.
One of my primary goals in the past year has been to develop left hand independence on the keyboard. In particular, my goal was to be able to improvise over left hand bass lines that were more complicated than a simple walking scale or arpeggio.
To that end, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to come up with interesting left hand lines and then improvising over them. (Shout out to Matt Johnson for providing some incredible inspiration.) But, it turns out it isn’t quite so easy to just start improvising over a difficult left hand part. Once I had a bass line I found interesting, my goal was to write a hook/melody over it. It took a combination of noodling on the keyboard, thinking of melodies in the shower, and listening to music to come up with the hook for Long Heat.
Once I had the hook, I incrementally added other parts. The “bridge” section went through several iterations. I finally decided to use a bass line that had been kicking around in my head for years, and put a simple melody over it. The ending of the song was kind of a fluke, it popped into my head one day in the shower and I decided it “fit” well enough to use it.
I’ve never had a super structured writing process. I’d like to get a bit more fluid when writing, but I figure practice is the best way to do that.
Writing this track was an iterative process, but practicing was fairly straight forward. I pretty much followed the tried-and-true process that I learned when I was first taking piano lessons as a kid:
- Slow it waaaaaay down
- Learn the left hand
- Learn the right hand
- Put them together
- Slowly speed it back up, incrementally
That said, it took me what felt like forever to be able to improvise over this bass line. It still isn’t a clean as I’d like, but hey it works. At some point you have to cut it off and move on - I’m trying to be less of a perfectionist these days.
Once I had written the track and practiced a reasonable amount, it was time to record. My recording setup is low tech by design: I run everything through a USB mixer and I record stereo into GarageBand. I’ve done multitrack recording with a proper DAW in the past, and while there are definitely shortcomings to my current process, it works just fine for my purposes. The drums I recorded first (metronomes keep time but I needed to feel the groove), and then I recorded live takes of the song over it until I had a take that I was happy with.
I’ve been having fun recording video to go along with the music. Unfortunately that adds a little extra setup and complexity, but I try to keep it pretty low tech too. I just use my phone to record the video, and I hang it above me using a mic stand with a phone clip attached to it. Obviously the biggest issue with this is that I often get the camera slightly skewed (as you noticed on YouTube). The other big issue is that my mic stand doesn’t go high enough so I have to make choices about where to crop my keyboard. Kind of a bummer but its just a hobby so I’m not too stressed about it right now
Nothing to say here other than please feel free to share your own creative works in the comments! Check out my YouTube channel for other content.
1 I’m not 100% sure this is true, I’m not a modal expert, but whatever it is, Semente uses an unusual mode to give a really distinct sound to the hook