Going into my 3rd Year Bachelor of Music, I knew I wanted to write a fourth arrangement for my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements, but I was completely at a loss! I spent the summer going through my Apple Music playlist over and over again, coming up with ideas but no song ever jumped out at me or stuck. It wasn’t until I heard a song coming out of the bathroom while my sister was in the shower, that I stopped dead and listened with hundreds of ideas running through my mind of how I could make this work! Not a minute later I sat down with a pen and paper, and thus, Polaroid began.
Making the Arrangement
What instantly astounded me was how there were so many different parts and counter melodies occurring at once to create such a full, rich sound! This became my goal; to create an arrangement based on counter melodies and individual roles rather than on creating chord structures. To begin, I notated the role the vocal parts and the instruments played in the original song, and where they featured.
Having begun this process in January and now writing about it in September, looking back at my notes it was somewhat difficult to decipher what every small annotation meant at the time, especially since the arrangement has evolved, changed and grown so much since it’s birth. I sometimes forget how much I have workshopped ideas and changed my arrangement, so it is good for me to gain perspective by looking back at where my head was at for the arrangement in the beginning.
After mapping it out this way and being able to hear the different parts and counter melodies in my head, it didn’t take me long at all, one-two days, to map it out on Sibelius and develop a basic structure for it.
The Editing Process
As I did with all of my arrangements, I took this piece to my singing teacher, Hannah Cameron, for her advice and suggestions. She noted how the chords of the song are the same throughout except for in the Bridge where there is a slight change, and that it would be a good idea to experiment with re-harmonising the piece. Since I had created so many counter melodies I was reluctant to re-harmonies the verses, pre-choruses and choruses, however the way I had constructed the bridge I felt I could experiment with the harmony. I decided to attempt a descending chromatic movement starting from the tonic chord, but could only descend so far until I was unhappy with the harmony. At least I could implement this idea before then re-harmonising it further but with a different approach.
For the final chorus I chose not to re-harmonise it, but rather create a tempo change with a ritardando leaving the bridge, and then having a poco accelerando throughout the first 16 bars of the final chorus. In the poco accelerando I utilise the effect of the tempo change alongside adding more colour through the chords.
These changes helped to change the song structurally too, making it truly my own arrangement and interpretation of the song.
Taking It To the Studio
Before beginning the recording process, I quickly learned that I would need to prepare the ProTools session for it beforehand to incorporate the tempo change, making it gradual and accurate. This process not only ensured the initial recording session would run smoothly, but also allowed me to familiarise myself with the lay out of the session and properly map it out. I even learned more about ProTools and how to manipulate tempo markings to create gradual and consistent shifts in tempo.
I structured the recording sessions differently to how I have before, placing a great amount of deserved faith and confidence in my teams ability to learn their parts. Basically, there were no rehearsals prior to each recording session. Maddie, Loki, Gabby and myself came in to the recording studio to record the guide tracks, and we sung it/rehearsed it for the first time together, and recorded the guide tracks within an hour. I then proceeded to record everyone’s main parts week by week, slowly layering and constructing the arrangement the way I could hear it so clearly in my head! With each recording session, I trusted my team to come into the recording session somewhat knowing their part, refining it with them on the day, and recording it on the spot with them. It was a few of hours of commitment from each team member, but none of this could have been achieved without them.
It was truly amazing to hear it the arrangement come together week by week, and I really want to share that, so here is a compilation of short clips demonstrating the order people were recorded in and how the arrangement grew:
The final clip below is showing possibly my favourite moment in the entire project; I had just finished recording the final vocalists, Jose and Sam, when Loki, Gabby and Maddie walked in to the studio to see how it was going. They hadn’t heard the arrangement since they recorded their parts, with them being the first three to record for this arrangement. Their reaction to the final product means everything to me as I can see the impact it has had on them, and I feel like I have created something truly special.
The Mixing Process
The mixing process for ‘Polaroid’ was very straight forward for me. By the time I had my first mixing session in week nine of the semester, I had completed the mix by the middle of week ten (with mid-semester break in between), all up taking me two weeks to finish.
It was also a very smooth process for me aside from one potentially catastrophic hiccup; the section of the bass vocal I had looped (which was the best out of the takes he had done) had headphone bleed which was audible in the mix. I tired EQing the bleed out of his mix and even tried to use a noisegate (something which would never have worked), yet none of it worked so I was sure I would have to record him again. This would have been difficult due to the recording session being unavailable and I did not have the spare time to record him! Luckily I was able to talk with Darren about it and he calmed me down and encouraged me to go through the takes again, and create a new bass section that I can loop, made up of the best takes that don’t have headphone bleed in them.
Once I had finished fixing up the bass, I was easily able to EQ the vocals, apply reverb, automate the pan of the vocals to create a feeling of movement and shift in focus as the role the vocalists were playing in the arrangement changed, and finally applied some compression.
It was after I took this video to demonstrate the automated panning that I realised Dannie’s channel was not responding to the automated panning effects I had “written in” for it. I then fixed it and re-filmed a portion of it to demonstrate the effect.
I am incredibly proud of what I have been able to produce in this arrangement. I feel that it is some of my best work so far, and I am excited to see where else I can take my arranging outside of this project. I am also extremely proud of how the mix has turned out and how I managed the recording process. Please enjoy the final product of this arrangement:
Discover how I created the other arrangements in my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements
Check out the final products of my other arrangements in my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements
Written by Sir Elton John, Davey Johnstone and Bernie Taupin, ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ has long been a favourite song of mine. This was the third piece I arranged for an A Cappella group, and my main goal for the arrangement was to create more lyrical involvement for all the […]
The jazz standard written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern was only the second song I arranged for my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements, and given the harmonic structure of this piece, I must’ve been mad to tackle this so soon! I think I’ve done a decent job with the arrangement though and I’m proud […]
Who would’ve thought that such a big project as creating a Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements would have stemmed from an idea beginning with the creation of this arrangement?! It was a no brainer for me that I would arrange this folk song, with Bear McCreary’s version capturing me from the moment I heard it. […]