May 20

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Song Breakdown “Can’t Look Past Ourselves”

By admin

May 20, 2021

music, original songs, recording software, songwriting

Much like I do with my photography blog, I thought I’d start a series here on the music blog where I break down my some of my songs and give you some insight about how they were created. Think of this as an illustration of how the song went from original idea to demo to finished track.

I’ll begin the series with my song Can’t Look Past Ourselves, which is the lead-off song on my new album, Up Higher.

Original Demo

The song started about two and a half years ago, with me plinking around on my Yamaha digital piano one afternoon. I’m not an accomplished keyboard player, but I can play basic chords and I know enough music theory to get around ok.

I hooked up my iPad to the keyboard via a USB cable, opened up Garageband and brought up a basic drum track, using the “Loops” function. After sampling a few different options, I landed on this “Classic Studio Kit” loop, which centered around a syncopated tom riff.

Next, I brought up a simple bass part, but as you can see below, I ended up abandoning it in favor of a keyboard part. Opening up IK Multimedia’s Syntronik app, which replicates a number of classic synthesizers of the 60s, 70s and 80s, I started playing around with some of the built-in presets, much like I do with Luminar when I’m editing photos.

The original demo in Garageband on my iPad

This is the “creative playing” part of the process, where you addition different sounds, or looks, in the case of photography, and see what jumps out and inspires you.

The sound that caught my ears was a syncopated arpeggiated pattern that combined a Roland Juno J-60 organ patch, with a low, oscillating Moog “Taurus Pedal” style bass sound.

This patch seemed to work really well with the drum loop I had dialed up, so I just started messing around, playing a simple I-IV (C-F) progression, and adding a I-IV-V (C-F-G) sequence for a “chorus.”

Once I got the basic song ideas, I added a vocal track, hit record and sang the first thing that came to my mind. For a mic, I just used the iPhone headphones with the built-in mic, plugged right into the iPad. Then I overdubbed a quick guitar part, and the result is this short demo below.

Can’t Look Past Ourselves Original Demo ⬆︎

I was almost surprised at what came out, and so I immediately saved the song, knowing that it had potential. I let the demo simmer in my mind for over a year, occasionally working on the lyrics during bike rides and long walks during the early days of the pandemic.

Eventually, I had three full verses, the existing chorus, and a pre-chorus that I’d added later, so it was time to record.

Final Recording/Mixing

One of the great things about Garageband, is that it plays really well with Logic Pro X. Whether you’re using Garageband on the Mac, or on your iPad/iPhone, you can import multitrack GB projects right into Logic. This keeps your original projects intact, and you can expand on them with all of the tools inside Logic.

So, I imported the song from my iPad onto my Mac and started building. For the most part, I kept the original drum patterns in the verses, using Logic’s Drummer for the actual drum sounds.

I like fully fleshed-out drum parts. I feel this adds much more life to the song, instead of having the same pattens play throughout the whole track. So, as I often do, I programmed the Drummer patterns to give more variation for the choruses and the guitar solo.

(Click to see the tracks full size)

Although I had imported the arpeggiated synth groove from the demo, I ended up re-recording the entire synth part from scratch. This allowed me to add the pre-chorus sections. In addition, since Logic had imported the part as an audio file, redoing it gave me more flexibility for adjusting the sound if needed. I ended up using the exact same patch as the demo.

For the guitars, I recorded one additional rhythm part, and then mixed in the original demo guitar part, which I felt had a really nice sound and feel. (The original guitar is the part on the right channel.) I also added a third rhythm guitar part on the third verse, played on my Les Paul. There’s also an acoustic guitar part in there to help thicken the track.

The guitar solo as played on my rosewood neck Fender 1998 Sunburst Stratocaster. This was my first “quality” electric guitar, and I bought it right when I past my two-year mark of self-employment. It’s not the one I played in the music video. I used my 1959 Reissue Strat for that, simply because it had a brighter look on camera.

For final mixing and mastering, I used IK Multimedia’s awesome, and surprisingly affordable T-Racks 5 plugin suite. This set of powerful and versatile processors replicates many pieces of iconic studio gear and allows a guy like me to create professional sounding mixes right in my little house.

I’m a huge fan of IK products and I would recommend them any musician or aspiring engineer/producer.

IK Multimedia's T-RackS 5

Overall, I’m really excited about how this song came out, which is why I made it the lead-off track on the album. I hope you enjoy it, and I welcome your comments about the music and/or lyrics.

You can purchase song or album here, and you can stream it on all the major music sites. If you do listen to my music online, please consider sharing it with your friends and followers, or adding me to your playlists so that others can hear my songs as well.

Thanks for reading!

Lyrics

How can we keep our brothers 
From dying alone in the street 
We’ve always had the answer 
But we’re locked in a battle with greed 

Fighting for no man’€™s land in our trench 
Cause a truce would be worse than the blood and the stench 
We can’€™t seem to recognize heaven from hell 

How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
If we can’€™t look past ourselves 

We light our own world on fire 
Then we’re surprised when it all starts to burn 
Striking the same matches again and again 
You think that we’€™d all start to learn 

Following fools who make us dig our own graves 
Falling for lies and expecting a change 
And we all wonder why it never ends well 

How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
If we can’€™t look past ourselves 

Sometimes it seems like kindness 
Is becoming a fading antique 
In a world that’s consumed by fire 
We’d rather yell at each other than think 

It’€™s no surprise that’s were in such a mess 
Where this all leads is anyone’€™s guess 
We’ll never get by til we put all our fears on the shelf 

How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
If we can’t look past ourselves 

What if we all stood together 
Helping each other succeed 
Above all all else, trying to be good, 
where do you think that would lead 

Closing our eyes is not an excuse 
And yelling is only verbal abuse 
We’€™ll never get by until we put our fears on the shelf 

How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
How can we see what the future will bring 
If we can’€™t look past ourselves

“Can’t Look Past Ourselves” from the album Up Higher
Music and Lyrics ©Dan Bailey

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