We had the idea to write a traditional Christmas song for some time. But it didn’t seem to be going anywhere until one sleepless night (at least for one of us). That bout insomnia sparked a flurry of creativity on Sherry’s part, who, bored in the wee hours, dashed off the lyrics to our new song, “Have You Noticed the Season?”
The next day, with the bulk of words on paper, we sat down with a guitar and in the span of an hour magically had the melody, the chorus, a rough bridge (the transition point in a song) and, most importantly, the “hook” (the combination of melody and lyrics that is the catchiest part of any pop or rock song).
Over the next few days, we tweaked the lyrics, the melody and the chords here and there, but felt pretty good about what we had. It was the first week in November. Could we actually get this produced to sound like a new, yet classic Christmas song in the style of the ’40s jazz standards and get it out by the start of the Christmas holiday season?
We called our friends at Studio Pros, a group of top-flight L.A. sessions musicians that specializes in producing music for people like us, (i.e. songwriters who have sufficient talent in the writing department, but aren’t or don’t care to be technical masters of the production world.) After a bit of discussion with our producer, we decided on the arrangement we were looking for, with real woodwinds and horns (In this case: clarinet, trombone, trumpet and saxophone). We sent along a demo that we cobbled together, with our desired arrangement.
The devil is in the details
Paul McCartney was asked once what the secret is to song writing. He replied that it’s actually quite simple. You just take a guitar, pad and pencil, go into a room and 20 minutes later you come out with a song.
There’s an element of truth to that. But taking that rough idea to finished project can be time consuming, tedious, nerve jangling and exhausting. And anyone who has followed the Beatles (guilty has charged) knows the legendary stories of the hours they spent in the studio with their producer, George Martin, iterating on take after take to get the right mix.
We were doing the same thing, only on a much more meager budget, and, since this is the 21st Century, we were collaborating remotely, shipping files back and forth rather than dropping into Abbey Road Studios for a series of all-night sessions.
We started with basic tracks (what’s known as the rhythm section) of bass, drums, guitars and began building or layering on top of that. We worked with the arranger for the horn/winds and those instruments were recorded remotely while we worked in our home studio to lay down vocals, piano and additional guitar parts as well as some of the effects (Christmas bells, xylophone etc.) .
With all the tracks (18 and counting) captured, it was time to get into the nitty gritty of the technical stuff. Hours were spent in our home studio and in L.A. editing down to individual notes which were “quantized” (fixing the timing) or tuned to keep everything on pitch.
From there it was a question of arranging. Einstein once quipped that the reason we have time is to prevent everything from happening at once. Arranging is something like that.
It is truly an art form and without it, you’d have every voice and every instrument at “11” going nonstop. It would be nothing but noise. The song needs to “breathe,’ it needs dynamics (highs and lows) and it needs a sense of space between the instruments. This is especially critical with a full orchestra sound as we were striving for in “Have You Noticed the Season?”.
It was touch and go toward the end but, after a few 14-hour days in the home stretch, we made it. We have our first Holiday Season original out. We hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for reading — and listening.
George & Sherry