The Evolution of a Song
How does a song go from a half-formed idea in the writer's head to the finished product? While those close to the process take it for granted, it can be a mystery to the vast majority of the music loving public.
Some writers work hard in the band room, some get their inspiration from random quotes they hear from day to day and build something around that, and others (myself included) hum ditties into their phones as they try to avoid making a scene on public transport. And that’s where it starts – everybody has a different process to form the genesis of a song. And lots of the time, it ends up being a lot different to the way it started!
Let’s take our song “Finale" as an example. This is a Bingers song, so I’ll pass the proverbial mic over to him!
Thanks Pep. So the very first version of what ended up being ‘Finale’ was a song about winning a dog show. No shit. As you can hear from the demo I made on my phone at the time, it was pretty dreadful. We’d just decided that we needed a single, now(!), so I had locked myself downstairs all week just throwing ideas at the wall until something stuck. The lyrics are, very literally, about being the winner of a dog show – ‘can I get your autograph/can I take you to the park’. I think it was a jokey metaphor for pop stardom – ‘you’re the winner of a dog show/I can see it in your eyes’.
Anyway, although that concept was pretty much a write-off, I thought the opening riff and melody could be cool in a different context. It might be because I worked in event management for a few years, or just because I’m morbid, but I’ve always had a fascination with nightclub and festival disasters; everyone is partying along, having a good time, and then an hour later the whole place is on fire. A few years ago we played a gig on Mardi Gras somewhere in Sydney, and our greenroom had a window where you could look over the dance floor so we could see all these people just going nuts. At one point, a fire alarm went off, and everyone just kept dancing like they hadn’t even heard it. It turned out to be a false alarm, but I remember looking at the dance floor and thinking ‘all these people are going to die’…
There’s a recurring theme in pop songs about partying like ‘tonight is our last night on earth’ – I thought it would be perverse if it actually were the last night on earth for the protagonists. Just to maximize the irony, I wanted the song to sound like something off Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – a dance track about dying in a fire while dancing to a dance track.
The second demo was a GarageBand mockup of what I thought it might sound like with a full band. The structure and vibe are pretty much there but you can hear that it’s a long way from the finished product. There are new parts, harmonies, and the road I wanted to take the song down started to become clearer.
Ok, Pete again here. At this point Bill sent me the demo for some thoughts. We’ll often send ideas back and forth to gauge whether we’re onto something or not. I was pretty chuffed with this one and thought it had some really cool parts, although it did feel unfinished - i.e. Needed a bridge. And that ended up being my contribution to the song. Terribly enough, the bridge was written on the Storey Bridge while humming along in the car. Placeholder words were put in and, as what often happens – they stayed there. The second part of the bridge relates directly to the theme, but the first is just a stream of consciousness that a) doesn’t make sense and b) sounded good enough not to change. And that brings me to the next stage – recording.
After having a crack with our home rigs, the song’s next home is a bona fide demo in the studio. We were keen to fly Stephen Schram up from Melbourne to record some tunes, but because he costs a mint, we thought it was best to make sure we knew exactly what we wanted to do when he arrived – hence another demo. For us, along with progressing the structures of the song, the end-game of demos is basically to avoid sitting around wondering how the song is going to work when you're paying for expensive studio time. From memory this is pretty much a first take, live. The whole band playing, then vox overdubbed afterwards. We did this at Alchemix in West End and ended up recording this, and another 5 new demos on that day.
Recording the real thing with Schram (as a result of all this pre-production) was pretty painless. To make the choruses bigger Steven thought that double tracking the drums would be cool, and we ditched the repeat of the “we are the lucky ones tonight” before the bridge. The delightful Jen from Ball Park was kind enough to grace us with her presence, as we decided that the bridge had a strong “lost love” type of duet vibe. She was in and out of the studio within 20 mins. A consummate professional! We toyed with making the peppy guitar riff a synth part, but ended up keeping it as guitar, which was weird because it sort of ended up sounding like a synth anyway.
You can hear how much we wanted to introduce a dance vibe into the whole thing by the final mix. With some songs you're not 100% sure how it's all going to turn out, but with this song, as it evolved our idea of what we wanted it to sound like became more and more acute. During recording and mixing we made this clear to Steven, and basically made it happen. Kooky production and mixing is also his specialty, so we were also very happy for him to leave his imprint on the song in that way too.
And there you have it - the life of a song. Scary to think that making an album means this process x 10! Obviously some songs come together easier than others, and many don't actually make it past the very first demo. In fact, with us it is LOTS. Some songs on the upcoming album have been recorded, re-recorded, broken down, re-written and recorded again. But that's just part of the process. With that in mind, we'll no doubt do a couple more of these "evolutions" in the future!