Acoustic Cover of "Royals" by Lorde

Sometimes I find that the best way to get started on work that is going to be tedious and unfulfilling is to reward myself in advance with something fun. Last week I needed a little motivational kick in the pants to get going on some website work that I knew would be a long process of tedious writing and uninspiring layout design. One of my favorite YouTube artists (I guess that's a thing) is Megan Nicole, a "cover artist" of sorts who recently posted a stripped down cover of "Royals" by the teenage Kiwi singer Lorde. I had the song stuck in my head for a couple days and when I couldn't bring myself to sit down and do the tedious work on my "Not Fun" to-do list, I opted instead to dedicate a few hours to the creative, emotional equivalent of a good cup of espresso.

I wanted to try out a slightly different technique when creating both the recording and the music video for this cover project. In the past, my preferred technique for recording instrumentation has been to build the track layer by layer with single takes of each instrument. Essentially I bScreen Shot 2013-11-10 at 1.56.42 PM (2)egin with an acoustic guitar track and just keep recording until I get a single take of the entire song that I'm happy with and then move on to the other instruments, ending with the vocals. This takes a very long time and results in a lot of very good takes that are ruined by a missed chord or a botched rhythm. The advantage, however, is that the constant repetition of each performance lets me settle into a groove for the song and by the time I get to the vocals and subsequently to the mixing, I've spent a great deal of time hearing and playing each individual part and imagining creative ways for everything to fit together in the final mix. It also means I don't usually record with a click track or metronome and the song organically speeds up and slows down in a way that feels natural.

Instead of using this method, I decided to create loops of each individual piece and build the song by stacking loops on top of each other like Legos. Part of this was due to the fact that I didn't really have a good idea of how I wanted to structure the song and I wanted to have the flexibility to rearrange parts of the song in the mixing phase. So instead of doing an acoustic track from the entire song, I determined three different rhythms that would be used in the song and recorded about 20 takes in a row of each and picked the best version of each one. I did the same Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 1.56.12 PM (2)thing for the beat boxing, finger snaps and guitar-body percussion sounds. The song is originally in the key of D but I moved it up to E because I'm a big fan of open E chords. This, however moved the song into a weird vocal range where the high octaves sung by the backing vocals were at the absolute top range of my voice and the lead vocal dropped to the absolute low end of my range in the verses. This again forced me to spend  many, many takes trying to get it right, during which time I was able to figure out how to compensate for the difficult range with little vocal flares to add some character.

For the video, I again decided to use a different technique when recording all the different camera angles. What I usually do is collect as many different short clips of different angles and perspectives so that in the editing process I have as many choices as possible. For the three White Coat Ceremony music videos I've done for the Med School here I usually aimed to shoot 50% more coverage than I needed so that I would always have a range of choices with which to illustrate the different lines in the song. This allows for a great deal of flexibility but it adds a huge amount of time to the editing process since I'm juggling dozens if not hundreds of small clips. For this video, I designed eight camera angles illustrating the different instrumental and vocal elements of the song and recorded myself performing the entire song from each camera angle. This took a long time and resulted in a lot of discarded takes, especially when recording close-ups of vocals at the microphone when I flubbed lyrics.

When I started editing the footage, however, the process essentially amounted to a multi-cam editing sequence. I synchronized each of the clips and then as I went through the sing from the beginning all I had to do was decide on the timing of transitions. The tails of each of the angle were arranged at the end of the timeline and as I went through the song I would just grab the angle I wanted, drag it back to where I wanted it to start, chop the small clip I wanted off the head and then drag the new head of the long clip back to the end of timeline. The entire editing process took less than two hours and boom, it was done. I shot the footage in Black and White too so there was no color correction needed. Nearly all of the footage is exactly as it came off the camera. I only had three different lighting setups so the brightness was more or less consistent across all the different angles so I didn't have to adjust the color timings to make all the angles fit together visually.

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In any case, that's a long explanation of a fun little project designed to reward myself in between two batches of tedious, uninspiring busywork.