Postcard is the first piece I’ve done totally on my own that now lives up on the major streaming services. It’s a big deal for me personally so, please indulge me while I dig deep into the creative process for this little work.
Synth Pads and Busy Drums
In November of 2019, fresh off of getting a new plugin that did a great emulation of analog synth strings, I put together some loops that started out, as usual, with an improvised drum pattern. The original drum patch was a pretty heavy, industrial sounding one. I recorded some CP70 and bass guitar loops as well. It was all very serendipitous but sounding good. I placed the loops in a sequence and ended up with this:
I eventually decided to tone the drums down to an 808 style group which helped to set the mood. This was the initial incarnation of Postcard and was how it stayed for about two years. Listening to it every so often, however, made me realize there were some things that needed to be redone if I wanted to crown it as a “finished piece.”
The piece is basically just two sections: A and B. In the B section, the initial run on the bass had the framework of a really great melodic line, but it was just a little undercooked. And during the A sections, there were moments in the bass track that weren’t melding quite as well as I’d hoped with the rest.
Enter in, the fretless Fender Jazz bass I bought around November 2020. Yeah, this was in the heart of the pandemic, and on a whim, my mask and I went to Guitar Center to see if they had a fretless bass. I’ve always wanted one, and this was truly a fortuitous day. Hanging up in the used section was a fretless MIM Fender Jazz bass. And thankfully it had fret guides on it for the queasy. After some timid plucking, it was apparent it was in good condition and only needed some small truss rod adjustments and intonation tweaking. Without hesitation, I handed over the money and gleefully flew out the door. I played it every chance I got for months. I don’t think I’ve been enamored by a musical instrument so much as this one – at least not since my first drum set. The visceral connection to a vibrating string and the full control over pitch and vibrato is … well, magical. I absolutely love it.
Fast forward a year and feeling more comfortable with my technique, I tackled recreating the original bass line on the fretless. The number of passes on this were too many to count, but eventually I got the takes I wanted for the two repeated B sections as well as simplifying the A sections. With that foundation in place, I decided to create a totally new melody in the middle part.
Stuttering Dancing Queen
This is the structure of the piece: ABABA
The original draft had all three A sections and both B sections as exact copies of each other, with the exception of the synth pad which swelled differently throughout the piece breaking up the repeating parts. The software I use, Ableton, excels at this kind of composition and it’s what has fueled my music since I got it in 2018. It allows you to basically suss out the structure of a piece and from there, replace repeated loops or keep it as is if it works for you. I can’t say enough about what Ableton has done for my music and compositional process.
So with Postcard, I decided to recreate some loops and replace other tracks altogether. For A2, I would bring in an electric guitar part routed through the mighty Boss CE-1. Again, this took a good bit of coaxing to get the melody sorted, but after many sessions, it finally gelled. I augmented it with some acoustic guitar strums: one tuned standard and the other in a Nashville tuning playing in unison with a panned delay. Dropping the drums out for the intro of this section is always an easy trick to cue the listener that a change is underway and when they come back in, it propels the piece forward even more.
A2 really takes on a life of its own with all of these changes. Harmonically, it’s A, but otherwise it’s become its own singular section. The structure is now closer to an “Arch” form: ABCBA.
For the remaining two sections, I recreated the piano parts and couldn’t help but revisit A2 and have the CP70 pop in and out of the guitar’s part.
All Three Holding Hands
The end result was the strong melody I wanted and it carries the piece; shared by three instruments with varying rhythmic nuances that play with and against the busy drums. The melody itself is tranquil sounding at times but leading into parts that hint at excitement and even adventure. In the end though, it’s a longing for home that takes over – which is why the working title of Postcard stuck and the “Arch” form works so well.
The last thing to do was the mastering. Mastering gets it ready for sending out into the world with the hopes that it will sit nicely in the mix with other songs of the same genre. I bought two more plugins to help out. One, a multi-band compressor and the other, a limiter; both by FabFilter. With these I became acquainted with the battle of “to -14 LUFS” or “not to -14 LUFS” your music. I went with the former.
In case you can’t tell, I’m really proud of this piece. The initial incarnation came incredibly easy, but I knew it could get even better so I buckled down and took to heart the 1% inspiration / 99% perspiration mentality. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
Along the Canal
The cover photograph is from an outing along the canal in Richmond, VA in the spring of 2017. It’s on Kodak’s now defunct color infrared film, Aerochrome. I hope they bring it back soon. For the streaming platforms I put a treatment on it to emulate a weathered postcard, albeit in square format.
You can stream via YouTube below. More pieces are in the hopper to go up soon, so stay tuned!