Student Projects

This is the first of a two-parter (updated below). Last week my students turned in their final projects for the class “Production Techniques”. It’s a group-based independent study kind of course. They work together, over the course of a semester, to go from song-writing demos all the way to final mixes. They manage everything; budget, timeline, contracting the players, producing the session, engineering (mostly), mix, the whole shebang. We toss them the keys to the ProTools HD room for a few nights, and they go nuts. For most of them, this is the first time they’ve walked through the whole processes, from beginning to end.

So, here are the 3 songs done by the first team (Paul Stephens, Cindy Hayward, Julia Dedmon). Paul is the vocalist, and the primary songwriter on all three.

“All I Want to Know”
All%20I%20Want%20To%20Know.mp3

“Free”
Free.mp3

“Just Walk Away”
Just%20Walk%20Away.mp3

(updated: decided to add the 2nd team to this same post)

Here are the 3 songs done by the second team (Elizabeth Rickman, Jocelyn Danque, Scott Ryan Ingersoll, Mike Rains).

“Buried” by Scott Ryan Ingersoll
Buried.mp3

“Leaves” by Elizabeth Rickman
Leaves.mp3

“Don’t Leave Me Behind” by Scott Ryan Ingersoll
Dont%20Leave%20Me%20Behind.mp3

18 thoughts on “Student Projects

  1. JC

    Mike: These are great! Can’t wait to hear the next team. In order I liked: 1. All I Want To Know, 2. Just Walk Away, 3. Free. Lead singer has a very enjoyable voice. Nice melodies. Good hooks. Very cool. I’ll leave the production notes to you experts, but I enjoyed listening to them and I don’t consider myself to be a pushover, particularly on vocals. You must be proud!

  2. corey

    how much of this is canned? POD/AmpFarm’d guitars or mic’d? Programmed drums or live? Bass player or left hand samples? Just curious.

  3. michael lee Post author

    Live band, real instruments, live strings, guitar tracked direct through an fx box (a concession to the players gear, not a production choice).

    This is the real deal.

  4. JC

    P.S. Mike, just so you know that at least I noticed, love the sub-headers at the top of the page. You guys remind me of when I used to watch Monty Python…I don’t always precisely understand the jokes/humor, but it still makes me smile/laugh…particularly fond of the long-playng gag.

  5. corey

    1. The solo on “Buried” pays a nice little homage to “Sultans of Swing”. Tasty.
    2. “Leaves” is really really really good. This song reminds me why I love Sarah McLachlan.
    3. The acoustic sound on “Don’t Leave…” is fantastic. Great attack in the left channel and touch of slap in the right. It’s an audial rub on the shoulder. Good good stuff. And the guitars are dark and compressed just like I like. mmmmmm… sounds Gretschy. This is comforting.

    The second group has a vintage vibe that is so cool. The snare has a neo-Motown spitty-ness that is reminscent of Joss Stone – and the whole mood is just comforting and laid back. These kids should be really really proud of themselves.

    And while I’m gushing, I dunno whose baby this project is (I’m guessing yours, Mike) but what a great hands-on experience for musicians. The chance to get together with all of that power (studio, gear, players, performers) at their fingertips is really a chance that some people will never get close to. I’m drinking a nice little cocktail of envy and elation that some youngsters get to taste what that world looks like. One more reason why I miss being 20.

  6. Karen

    The first group did great. Bobby just played with a guy that had that same kind of sound. And I loved “Leaves”. I agree with Corey on this one for the same reason! You have to remember though according to my husband I am the soccor mom that buys her music at Target or Walmart.

  7. Chad

    Before I even ask this question, I want to state for the record that these songs are superior in many ways to anything I put my hand to 10 years ago at APU. I have a healthy ego regarding my songwriting, so that’s a statement and a half.

    My question is to Mike and the songwriters / producers: do you want an honest critique? I know they’re not recordings that are trying to serve a purpose beyond this class, so I don’t want to approach them in a manner of “If you want this to play… you have to do this,” and I also don’t want to just criticize them when I know that there’s not a “take this advice (or disregard it) and fix the songs.”

    There’s much that’s affirm-able with no reservations, so I could do that as well.

    With that asked, I am currently listening to Elizabeth Rickman and thinking that I’ve heard the unholy offspring of Joni Mitchell and Christine Dente. I want to do a record with you right now.

  8. corey

    good question, chad. I wondered the same thing. And yes, Ms. Rickman, please do call when you get a chance.

  9. Chad

    Yeah.. but… well.. I mean… that’s, well.. err.. they haven’t heard MY thoughts.

  10. michael lee Post author

    I should clarify – I have no problem with you pointing out stuff that doesn’t work on these tunes, I’m just saying that wasn’t my primary point in throwing this up here.

    It was more of a “Hey, look at this cool thing we’re doing, I’m proud of my students” as opposed to, “Hey, all of you highly talented and creative music professionals, give me a hand critiquing the final projects of my students.”

    One of the things that they have to do at the end of the class is critique their own project, and that was great to read. For the most part, I felt like they had a good grasp on what went well, and what didn’t. It makes me think that, for most of them, the next time they do a project it’s going to be 500% of what it was this time around.

  11. Zack

    Elizabeth Rickman – If you haven’t already listened to every Patty Griffin record ever made, do so now. Thank me later.

    “Leaves” is fantastic. Stark and beautiful. “Just Walk Away” is very catchy. Very honest tone to the vocal, relaxed and committed.

    I’m the harshest critic I know, by the way.

  12. Chad

    Ok, so, here’s the thing… and there’s a presupposition here that I will lay nakedly on the table: I believe that sonically, mainstream secular music is by and large superior to CCM music.

    I’ve been noticing that one of the major differences between CCM and mainstream music is that Christians love chord changes. I don’t know if it’s the collective hymnology background… I don’t know if it’s Christian Liberal Arts education… I dunno.

    I’ve just noticed that Christian songs seem to have 30-40% more actual harmonic changes then their secular counterparts. Secular songs, and I can only speculate about hip-hop’s influence on this, seem to be more riff and groove driven. They’re more content to sit in a single harmonic space for longer and sort of mine the hell out of it. I think, for some reason, it gives songs more sonic identity, when you’re forced to depend on melody and tone to give you your ear candy rather then chord changes. (“Look! A borrowed major VI from the relative minor!” isn’t really tearing up the clubs these days)

    With this in mind, I think the most interesting moment in all three of the first three songs is the bridge on “Free.” It grooves, it grinds, it pulls the listener in. I would have loved to hear the entirety of the verses live in that sort of space. I’m interested to know if Professor Lee had some input into the vibe there, or if it was student driven. If it was student led… good on ya. It it was Mike… thank him… it’s the best part of the whole tune.

    On the flipside, Paul, you don’t sound CCM-y at all. I wish I sounded like that when I was at APU. We still all wanted to be Jody McBrayer. Meh. Your voice sounds fresh and open, unaffected and confident. The chorus on All I Want to Know is really haunting. Lovely. The arranging is strong and “right” for the most part, so props to the rest of the team as well…. it’s lame that the lead singer always gets the love and the production team is left to console themselves with huge huge huge royalty checks. Life isn’t fair.

    As for the 2nd trio, due to the fact that there are two distinct voices, they can’t be painted with such a broad brush.

    Buried Alive skirts the promised land of indie awesomeness, but, like Moses, I fear must look from the borders rather then tasting the milk and honey. The chorus is really really right, IMO. In the verses, I think the solo-y guitar sort of does you in and makes it more like a Southern Fried Allman Brothers thing. The pre-chorus and choruses are so hot. Love the the chimes / vibes / whatever they are. If I were in the studio with you, it would have been a mandatory double on that lead vocal for indie cred. Cool voice, Scott.

    Leaves… wow. It’s just almost perfect for me. Big groove, lots of space, daddy likee the vocal delay. I’m partial to 6/8 as well, so you sort of cheated to win my affection. Love the minor to major change in the chorus. It just seems like ya’ll knew exactly how it was supposed to sound.

    The last tune really works for me, and whomever made the wise choice to do the thumpy snare sound gets a blue ribbon. Yeah. Listening again. This is a great tune, with one caveat in that I think the melody could use a little tweakage just to make it a little more memorable. Love love love love the tweaky BGVs in the chorus. Great tune.

    All of you should be really proud. Really. You have no idea how much I would have loved to have something like this at APU. Aside from Shack teaching me Logic, I had to teach myself everything about studio production starting on graduation day. When you’re all hotshot producers, can I be your intern?

  13. Chad

    This is a critical post… sorry Mike. I thought I could restrain myself. You should be proud of your students. This is a really fun show and tell, and the School of Music should thank their lucky stars that you’re a part of the faculty.

  14. michael lee Post author

    I had very little to do with the arrangements/production choices on these songs. I played keyboards on some of the songs, but the part I played was from arrangements and demos that the students did. The biggest creative contribution I made was on “All I Want To Know” – I arranged the strings. 4 hours before the session started, the orchestration done by the students was just unusable. I decided that if I let them bring that to the session, the string players would get so frustrated that they would just say “no” when they got asked to play for next semester’s students. So, I jumped in an wrote the part.

    Most of my input was on process – how to do what you’ve decided to do. These are some really talented people, most of whom are now graduated and coming to take your gigs.

    On both “Leaves” and “Don’t Leave Me Behind”, Elizabeth and Scott went out and found a bunch of recordings that represented pieces of the sound they wanted (snare drum should sound like this song, string quartet should sound like this), then they took them around to different engineers and asked them how to get that sound. They did some serious homework to get the effortless, vibey sound that you hear on the final.

  15. corey

    [quote comment="84951"]I’ve just noticed that Christian songs seem to have 30-40% more actual harmonic changes then their secular counterparts. Secular songs, and I can only speculate about hip-hop’s influence on this, seem to be more riff and groove driven. They’re more content to sit in a single harmonic space for longer and sort of mine the hell out of it. I think, for some reason, it gives songs more sonic identity, when you’re forced to depend on melody and tone to give you your ear candy rather then chord changes. (“Look! A borrowed major VI from the relative minor!” isn’t really tearing up the clubs these days)[/quote]

    I’m not sure I’d agree with the assertion that CCM, as a genre, is chord-happy, while the rest of pop (or classic pop) likes to explore the space of a groove or riff. I think it’s one of the stylistic thumbprints of music in the last 5-7 years. I see it mainly in country, with guys like Tim McGraw – who would otherwise be pretty cowish – going to major/minor and extended chords as part of the harmonic structure. I’m wondering if songwriters are feeling compelled to make a statement against the 3-chord pop thing. I think fi there are groups that are going back to the repetiion of a riff, it’s spearheaded (publicly) by groups like Coldplay and Snow Patrol. Unfortunately, they’re doing it to such a degree that it’s not subtle enough to have longevity (IMHO).

    [quote comment="84951"]Buried Alive skirts the promised land of indie awesomeness, but, like Moses, I fear must look from the borders rather then tasting the milk and honey. The chorus is really really right, IMO. In the verses, I think the solo-y guitar sort of does you in and makes it more like a Southern Fried Allman Brothers thing.
    [/quote]

    Yeah, like I said- the guitar part lifts 90% of some note-for-note-ness of Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. It’s a little too Chicken Fried for my tastes these days.

    BUT, all that’s to say, I’m really really impressed with a couple of these tunes. I don’t know a whole lot about studio techniques, but I’m a song snob (particularly in lyrics) and a guitar tone snob and a couple of these are downright inspriring. “Leaves” is a tune I wish I’d written.

  16. June

    Finally taking a moment to read this thread…but I’ve only listened to “Leaves” so far. This doesn’t sound like student work. I think that is one of the best compliments a student can receive. While not a music pro like many who hang out here, I’ve been married to one for nearly 14 years and because of that, lame musical technique stands out to me. I can’t always explain the specifics, but I know crappy production when I hear it. Similar to the visual arts, well done music is largely about technique. (Student paintings are obviously that almost always because of technique vs. content.) So kudos to Elizabeth…she is much further down the road of professional technique than most folks at her age/stage.

    Also, I love the poetic lyrics and particularly enjoyed the vocal stylings…or lack of…I’m weary of singers coming up with weirdish pronunciations for everyday words. It’s like they’re trying to come off as more exotic or something by having an odd accent…but only when they sing. Elizabeth chose well by “just” singing.

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