For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked to play around with music. In high school, I would try to create my own versions of songs using my turntable and cassette tape recorder. I didn’t own any professional equipment, and since these were the days before personal computers and digital editing, the best I could do was record a vinyl record onto tape, and then create a new customized version of it with the judicious use of the pause and record buttons. I didn’t use any notation in the preparation of these remixes – I simply created a mental map of the song and determined which segments would fit together seamlessly (or at least convincingly).
When I was in university, I joined the campus radio station, and after a year as a disc jockey I became the station’s Production Director. It was incredible – I had my own studio with an enviable array of audio equipment – and I could now edit music to my heart’s content. Of course in those days, CD were just being introduced, and there was no such thing as digital audio editing. Everything was recorded on reel-to-reel tape, and any editing was done using a razor blade, a special grease marker and splicing tape. That’s how I learned my craft. Kids these days – cutting and pasting digital samples on their PCs, using algorithms to eliminate background noise, and selecting from a menu of special effects – they have it so easy!
Even today, I still like to play around with music, although my editing is becoming a little more subtle. For example, here are a few seconds of an extended version I created of Somebody by Bryan Adams using (and re-using) only the existing material from the album version of the song.
Those of you who are familiar with the song might be wondering “I don’t recall hearing that instrumental part at the end – as far as I know, the vocals simply fade out on that song”. You are correct, the vocals do fade out. I don’t have an extended version of the song – I used the version from the Reckless CD – so where did that instrumental bit come from?
Now that I have a computer, and some audio editing software, I can do things that I wasn’t able to do with my cassette recorder’s pause key or the reel-to-reel decks. I created a new preset for my editing software that boosts the endings of songs. If a pop song is fading out, then I’ll ramp up the volume at the same rate that the song is fading out. That way, the song maintains a constant level right until the end of the track (more or less – this works well up to a point. After a while I’ll eventually hit the noise floor, and whatever audio is left fades into the tape hiss). This technique has the added benefit of uncovering a bit of extra material.
In the Bryan Adams example, I boosted the ending, which uncovered an instrumental section after the vocals. Then I simply looped four bars of the instrumental part a few times. The astute listeners among you should notice the edits immediately – a single lead guitar note that fades over the course of four bars, suddenly comes back at full volume at the beginning of the fifth bar (and every four bars after that).
This volume boosting is done selectively, of course. I generally won’t bother if a song’s chorus repeats as it’s fading – who wants to hear Sting singing “Sending out an S.O.S.” 24 times instead of 20? There’s not much added value in that. But if a song is fading out and the singer is not repeating the lyrics (e.g. Led Zeppelin – All Of My Love), then I can often uncover a couple of lines of lyrics that no one else (other than the band members and studio engineer) has heard before. Here is an excerpt of Led Zeppelin’s All Of My Love, with the ending boosted.
All Of My Love:
Those of you who are die hard Led Zeppelin fans, will notice some lyrics that you may not have heard before. The lyrics were always there – on my record an on yours – but they were buried as song faded out. Now they are once again seeing the light of day and being heard by people who aren’t in the band. The idea of uncovering something that was “always there, but not always in my sight” is the subject of another of my blog articles, entitled Counting Blue Cars – A Blueprint For World Peace.
In another song example, this volume boosting exercise gave me a serendipitous vindication. When I was in high school, I was talking with a friend about the lyrics of a song entitled Play That Funky Music, by Wild Cherry. I thought that the line in the chorus was “Play that funky music, white boy”, and he insisted that it was “Play that funky music, right boy”. Back then there were no Internet search engines, so our difference of opinion remained unsettled. A few years ago, I applied the volume boost to the tail end of Play That Funky Music, and uncovered a couple of new lines that I had never heard before. As the chorus was repeating, the lead singer sang “Play that funky music… honky”. While this doesn’t count as conclusive proof, it does bolster my argument that the line in the chorus was in fact “white boy” and not “right boy”. Now, years later, thanks to digital audio technology that wasn’t available to consumers at the time, I feel vindicated. Now if only I could remember that guy’s name…
Play That Funky Music:
Finally, and I realize that this breaks my encoding rule, but for some inexplicable reason, I decided to boost the ending of Message In A Bottle. To my surprise, I discovered that the song doesn’t fade out – it actually has a definite ending. The last line of the song is different. I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing it, but I will admit that even after repeated listenings, I don’t understand what it means or even why it even exists. If the song has a definite ending, then why does it fade out early? If you can shed any light on what this final line might mean, please send me a comment.
Message In A Bottle:
Message In A Bottle, from the album Reggatta de Blanc, was released in 1979 – and now thirty two years later, the Secret Policeman’s Other Ending is finally revealed!