It’s The Real Thing

There was a time when there were no virtual instruments. No software to simulate drums, strings or full orchestras. When you wrote for violins or trumpets you had to get the real thing into the studio. There was no other option.

I remember when the first string machines came out. They sounded nothing like strings. Thin and unpleasant how could these simulate a chamber orchestra? But I remember string players complaining and there being a rumpus in the Musicians Union that they would take work away from real people. The same happened when the drum machines appeared. These were better and did sound rather good but there were still many complaints from real drummers. I said: “Don’t complain or moan about it. Go out and buy one and compete not only with your analogue talents but get on board with the new technology”, which as we all know was here to stay.

I had been asked to write many TV themes both prior to and as the new technology was developing. I do remember buying my first drum machine which really was an exciting toy to try out ideas and get tracks a little more developed. But when I was asked to write something involving real instruments there was no other alternative.

One of my personal favourites was a jingle I was asked to do for a well-known energy company. They wanted it in the style of a Glen Miller big band with vocalists. I’d never done one quite like this. I listened to loads of Glen Miller tracks, worked out the instrumentation, wrote the jingles and booked the band. All real; Saxes, clarinet, brass, rhythm section and me on piano. I was excited that it was all on paper and no demo in sight such was the trust of my producers at the time.

We had one hour to record everything or overtime would ensue. We made it with one minute to spare. Not only was it the real thing but we had very specific time limits to get it done something that nowadays is rare. Here’s a mash up I did for Topline featuring samples from the original session.

I was recording music for an animation movie. It required strings. Again, I was left to arrange knowing that any simulation would be inadequate and open up far too many discussions, opinions and bad choices. So, I simple wrote it and got in my fixer to book a decent number of strings to make it work. With similar time restrictions so as not to incur extra fees we had it down within the hour. And no one laughed at me waving at them with a small pencil allegedly to keep them in time. Here’s a version for Topline.

It’s exciting when a client appears asking for the real thing. Happily, there are still instruments that can’t be done on machines like saxophones, despite many media composers thinking they can get away with it, and, in my opinion, acoustic guitars.

We were recording Jem’s fourth album. Limited Edition. All of the previous albums had been done at my studio with overdubbing taking place in my small acoustic room. But this time I suggested that if we needed drums, brass, strings we should go elsewhere and record the real thing. This time I had a longer pencil and felt it was Ok to stand before the great sections of blowers and scrapers waving my way through the arrangements like I knew what I was doing. The results were great. It would have been cheaper to simulate some of it but nothing like as much fun. And it gave jobs to some fine players at the time. Here’s one of my favourites.

Think when you’re doing your next masterpieces. Can I afford the real thing? Would my song benefit from someone else playing on it? Would it give a new perspective, sound, feel, breadth? I reckon it would. Save up and make it worth your while and start working with real people. They are out there waiting for your call!

Now, anyone know a jazz bagpiper?