Arranging a Cover From the Ground up

I’ve talked about making a cover of a song your own before, but can we talk about how difficult it is to do so at times?  Why am I asking:  We’re going to talk about it in this post!


I’ve been working on a track for another Pixel Mixers album, my usual fair of adding lyrics and making the track folksy.  But, I sent a not so great version of it to the person who runs the album making and low and behold, there’s a new feedback committee that lets you know what you can fix in the track to make it better, and what you need to fix in the track to get it done for the album!  It came out of the blue, but honestly it was a nice surprise because I took a little bit of everyone’s notes and made the track, what I think, is a lot better than before and something I really enjoy listening to now, instead of the first draft where I was like “This is garbage, but what else am I supposed to do with this ugh”.  It made me realize how valuable getting feedback is – I needed that as a reminder, in all honesty, and made me realize another thing.


If you’re going to make a cover your own, you’re literally going to have to build it from the ground up.  There will probably be one, or two chord progressions  from the original that are majorly iconic, like Corridors of Time and Schala’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, but other than the main chord progression that is the driving force of the song, if you want to do something drastically different, it might as well be like writing an original track.


For this track in particular, I couldn’t figure out what else to add to the track as a whole.  I knew there was something missing, but just couldn’t figure out what until I got feedback, and tips on what instruments to add.  It made me see how far I have to go before I make something polished, that I enjoy, and how inexperienced I am with using actual instruments for arranging things.  But, in doing so, I found a really good trick for my composing workflow!


When I told my friend I was having a hard time finding a progression, they said something to me along the lines of “You need something that compliments the vocal, like think of it like adding vocal harmonies”.


And that got me thinking, why not literally just sing the chord progressions I want to add first?  Since I’m used to hearing an acappella arrangement since that’s how I used to do things before I had access to all these instruments, I went back to my roots and sang the chord progression I wanted to add with my flute VST.  After I did that, it just all clicked!  I usually try to find a progression by playing things on the piano, and that doesn’t always mesh well with what I’m making.  But, going back to a song writing tip I read a really long time ago, your voice is your best instrument to make music with.  If you have to sing a chord progression to make sure it fits, then do it!  I found this really works for me, and I’m going to make an effort to go to vocal harmonizing first for when I get stumped – because I was stumped pretty hard on this one!


Arranging this track reminded me of when I was majorly changing up that Final Fantasy battle theme in the beginning of the year (still need to release that ugh).  It’s just such a different process making a cover the way you want to hear it, and not just making a cover that sounds like the original – which I’ll never get, why are you going to watch a cover that sounds exactly like the original?  I’m going to listen to the original for that experience!


I guess the third thing I took away from this IS I have a lot to learn still.  I kept on telling myself “I Wish I knew more about music theory, it would make this so much easier” but in retrospect, I honestly don’t think that’s the case – I really just need to write more music, more consistently so I can practice and master skills.  I really think this was one of the more challenging things I’ve done, and it’s more rewarding at the finish line because of it.


I need to keep on writing music, but more than that:  I need to stretch myself with my arrangements, and in doing so teach myself new things.  I recently forgot I had some pretty cool electronic sinth instruments!  So I think I’m going to challenge myself and make an all-electronic VGM themed track.  I’m going to go more in detail on this in another post, but I’m so excited that I’ve found a more fleshed out screen reader script for Reaper – a far more advanced mixing program than audacity, and I can finally learn how to use it!  So I’ve been teaching myself the basics the past few days, and I’m amazed at how easily my brain is clicking with Reaper this time around.  There were abandonware  scripts for a really old version of Reaper that I used to use but I could never wrap my head around doing more than just recording tracks with it, so this is majorly exciting!  I don’t know if it’s because my audio brain has evolved or something, but it’s just really easy for me to grasp the concepts now – in part thanks to some awesome tutorials that weren’t around a year ago!


But like I said, that topic is for another post.  I’ve learned a lot from fixing up, and writing this cover in general.  I hope your journeys, musical or otherwise are going well!


Song Writing Road Blocks, aka Some More Music Talk

I realized right after opening this up to type that my blog has been dominated with music related thoughts as of late, but it makes sense considering all of my free time has pretty much been dedicated to one of two things:  Reading novels or fanfic, or looking up, working on, or learning to make music.  Which has both been lots of fun, but somewhat frustrating when I want to apply certain things I’ve found to apply. Aka, another music post ahead, feel free to skip if that isn’t your thing XD


I’ve been having soooo much trouble trying to add lyrics to my originals!  Or rather, writing a song with lyrics.  When I go to cover a song it’s fine:  I just go off of the pre-existing song’s melody and structure, add lyrics if I want and work off of that.  The next cover I’m going to post is really interesting to me, because for a while I thought it was eh because the tone of it sounds so different than the original:  my rendition of it is definitely more folk, when the original is more medieval sounding.  I’ll be interested to see what people think of it when I post it honestly, it’s my first step into making something that I’d consider “my style” the stuff I’ve been doing lately is definitely along those lines, but I stuck to the structure of the original versions a lot more than with this one.


That track was pretty easy to make, I mean, I hit a few hurdles on the way, but I overcame them fairly quickly, and got this track done in two weeks give or take.  I…need to get better at recording video footage because at this point that’s really the only thing that holds me back from posting consistently.  But, I went on that mini tangent to say, it’s so much harder for me when it comes to forming something from scratch!  I feel like The Witching Hour was a fluke:  whenever I want to use chords to form a song, or even another track, my brain just hits a road block. I’ve recorded multiple beginnings of tracks, but my brain just can’t wrap itself around making a phase 2 or 3 of the melody:  or, I’m not sure if what I’ve made as the 2nd phase of the melody really counts as such sometimes.  And when trying to write lyrics with a song, don’t get me started!  I have no clue why it was so much easier for me to write songs with only my voice.  I have some old a cappella originals I did about a year or two ago that I’m tempted to redo because the mic quality is so bad haha.  But those came so much easier to me, and I have no clue why.  Over thinking, maybe?  There are a few of those old ones I want to restructure, because some are just too long or too wonky but once again, when I think of restructuring them, my brain draws a blank on how to do so.  I think I will make it a mini project of mine to retool at least two of those old tracks, along with fixing up some lyrics I’ve never used before to make them usable for a song because right now they’re the length of a poem and not really structurally sound to be lyrics.
To top it all off, there’s another “original” that’s just coming so easily to me, I don’t get it!  I put original in quotes, because it’s something I wrote based on a set of cards in Yu-gi-oh XD I wrote a bard’s song for the set of Gaia the Fierce Knight cards, and finally got to fixing up the lyrics, and fine tuning it and after fixing up the lyrics, the music is coming so easily in my head.  This one is another case of “Crystal, get off your butt and record the music already” because it’s basically completely formed in my noggin and I just need to get its parts recorded.  But once again, why does something like that come so easily, and an original not based on something not?  Over thinking again?  Too much pressure on myself when it comes to originals?


I really think I need to figure out what works for me song writing wise.  Maybe trying to come up with the chords first just doesn’t work for me, or maybe I should record demos of chord progressions with my voice and that could help?  But at the same time, sitting at the piano and noodling around for progressions just comes so easily to me, so like I’ve said multiple times this post I wonder what my road block for song writing could be when writing music with, and for pre-existing materials comes so much more easily.


Any song writers out there? Would love any advice!  I mean, I’m gonna keep trying, but blarg this is getting annoying XD