Working With Singers: Subduction

04 Sep

2. Work with what you’ve got and Adapt As Necessary

I made Subduction while still in New York. A woman and a guy had won the green card lottery and thus arrived in the states with nowhere to stay. They stayed with us for a month.

The woman, Milena Jelic sang. She preferred a house style of music, not my usual thing to listen to.

During their stay it was suggested one night that i write some songs for her to sing. A style was suggested: jazzy latin downtempo . BOOM. I had never attempted such a style before. I was intrigued. I like to work different genres. A lot. This was… new. Fresh. Tasty. I was in.

MIlena has a GORgeous voice. Drop dead gorgeous. However the melodies i was writing were not in her comfortable range zone. Her range was very precise. I had all these great melodies i was coming up with… that just… went a liiiiiiiiittle out of range….but they were SUUUCH good melodies….. What do you do?


If you’re writing stuff they can’t sing but you DO like their singing… it’s YOUR FAULT and YOUR PROBLEM. Get your melodies and your keys to fit the singer. Don’t make them sound crappy to fit you. When a singer is pushing past their range to sing something, guess what? You can tell. And it’s not pretty.

If you’re unhappy because the singer has just around an octave range and you REALLY prefer to write for a 2 octave range… get over it. Limitations are a wonderful challenge that will stretch your creativity. Embrace it. Work with what you’ve got and adapt as necessary.

As a composer and producer you will find yourself constantly in situations where what you wrote doesn’t actually quite fit the way you thought they would. My advice: change stuff on the spot. The singers need to sound good above all else. Personally, i might be much more proud of the musical arrangement behind them but the fact is your listeners will be listening to the singing first and foremost. That’s what listeners do. The vocals are of primary importance and the singer must sound good. If she’s not sounding good because the melody isn’t in her comfort zone, change it. Change it on the spot.

I once had someone say they were going to pick up a guitar, become a musician and write songs for a band and did i have any advice?

I did. Spend a month writing songs. Write constantly. Write a song a day, or maybe at least several a week. Sweat over them. Obsess over them. At the end of the month, take every song you’ve worked so hard to make and THROW THEM ALL AWAY. Start again from scratch.

That is some of the best advice i can give. You have GOT to be able to throw away something you have sweated blood and tears over. Got to. Otherwise you will suck. You will hang onto stuff because you worked hard to make it instead of because it is actually good. The amount of time you spent working on something should not effect your decision to keep or destroy it in any way. Only whether it works or not.

Okay, i think i rambled enough for one day. Without further ado, a song from the album we made together, Subduction. if you want to check out how the rest of it sounds you can listen to it here. Featuring the lovely voice of Milena Jelic:

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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


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