At the time of writing, I’m sitting on a plane from Shanghai heading to Genting, interrupting myself from watching “Sonic Highways”, by Dave Grohl of Foo fighters to write this blog. The TV series follows the Foo fighters travelling around the United States to various cities, musical landmarks and recording a track in each city that eventually made up their album. As I’m watching it, I’m thinking to myself, what an inspiring month!
In this month alone I’ve travelled to 嘉兴 3 times, a 1.5 hour drive from Shanghai where I am working with 华健 for the Sing my song China 中国好歌曲 singer/songwriter competition. I knew right from the start that I will be experiencing hell as at the end of all that, I’d have to arrange 5 songs within 48 hours so that the contestants can practice in time for their battle, but I jumped at the chance when I was invited as I knew this will be fun and inspiring.
And so yes, I did experience hell, thank to the powers that be that I’ve always had no problem seeking help from collaborators when I needed them, so I had my usual string arrangement partner Bang Wenfu helping me and this time I also pulled in one of my Hit songwriting trainees, Tan Kah Kong to also work with me on some of the tracks as well on strings and brass parts. By the time I finished the 5 songs and had to hit the plane again in a few hours back to 嘉兴
I was…totally…shagged out. And for those people who know me, I won’t usually say I’m tired from work =D
So in that case, where did the fun and inspiring part come from? Aside from working with Hua Jian on this, it was also working with the highly productive and talented show production team, where they really seem to have thought of everything to make their show an entertaining but yet highly musical one. Coming back with the 5 arrangements and watching it unfold before me with the totally kick ass ‘basic’ band set up(which already had 9 members) and later having the 18 piece live string section come in is truly a treat to watch.
And finally of course, watching these talented singer songwriters at work, composing stuff in front of us, putting their total heart and soul into it, totally takes me back to when I 1st started. Except that honestly I really don’t think I was as driven, hungry, and all ready to absorb and learn anything they can as these guys.
So yesterday, back in the hotel room after all the madness, I started to watch “Sonic Highways”, learning the amazing culture of the various musical soundscapes each city brought about. I’m just being hit back and forth by inspiration from the East to the West!
As January comes to an end, judging by how it turned out, I think 2015 is gonna be a super kick ass year!
Have you watched LylaHZN’s 1st song MV＃TouTouTouFlo? If you haven’t…Here it is!! =D
I’ve also put this song up on Youku, for my friends in China who cannot access Youtube. I actually showed this song to 金池 and she was so tickled that she decided to share my post on Weibo with the Youku link. And in less than 2 days after putting the link up. 120 000+ people have seen that Lyla released her 1st song on Youku! Ahhh, the power of the masses in China.
I’ve been asked if we’ll continue making more music. Hahahah. Her 1st song was created by chance, a spark of fun, so for that, I’ll leave it up to Lyla. I created her very own Youtube page LylaHZN, Instagram and Facebook. For her fans just type LylaHZN on these platforms. I believe when she grows up, we’ll have such a laugh looking thru all this, like a picture and video diary of her childhood!!
10 Jan 2015 was the first show that kicked off 华健’s new Tour 《今天唱什麽》2015世界巡迴演唱會 concert tour at Taipei’s 小巨蛋 Taipei Arena. I played guitars (4 guitars to be exact) and arranged some of the songs in the concert programme. This was a completely new tour and the band rehearsed hard from December onwards, this time we had a brass section and the songs I’d say are more dynamic as there are more fast and mid tempo songs thrown in. Total hats off to 华健 for working his ass off for this tour, working with us and refining all details of the music, arrangements and being hands on with every aspect till the very last minute!
I think the most fun part of this current tour for me is the 江湖 (Hua Jian’s latest album) segment where I got to play the craziest guitar part I’ve ever came up with, which is the solo bit for a song in the album entitled 客梦. I clearly remembered taking almost 3 hours toying around with that part with the instructions from Hua Jian being “use the western 12 string guitar and make it sound like a Chinese instrument”. Which was the basis of the whole album in general. So I locked myself in the studio and kept playing and playing what must have been almost a 100 takes and then picked out bits and pieces like a jig saw puzzle. After I finished putting together something, I remember telling Wei Sheng, Hua Jian’s production team’s engineer saying, “Ok I’m not sure what I just did. But I’m done!” To my delight, 华健 loved it so much that he insisted he wants to feature this during the concert. And in which he did.
After touring with Hua Jian for almost 4 years, my respect for him and his tireless drive to excel, even at his level never dies. To be part of the production of an album, without commercial pressures with the only goal to fulfil the artist personal artistic vision, though super fun, is also super tiring, as it also means constant experimentation as there are really no rules here. But once you get it down. The results are extremely satisfying! In a perfect world, this is how all music should be done.
I think Lyla agrees as well, as she’s watched the video of my guitar part for 客梦 at least a few 100 times! =D
Ah haha, I had a surprise call from Yun Hong 姐 on new years day. It’s been long since we touched base and we had a nice chat about things that been going on in the past year and what’s happening for me in 2015. So we were chatting about the upcoming tour with 华健，my recent collaboration with 金池 that garnered over 10 million listens etc. Just before we ended the call, I mentioned casually, oh! my daughter Lyla is having her 1st ’single’ released on Youtube soon =D That got her all excited and we ended up talking almost an hour while I was in my car with LJ and Lyla who waited very patiently and quietly for me to finish!
So I shared with her that it’s a fun project that I was playing around with over the last few weeks and yesterday I was pleasantly surprised that she decided to feature that as the headline of our chat and had Lyla’s cute pic splashed on 晚报’s Facebook and in the evening papers!
I can’t tell you how much fun and laughs I had doing this one with my friends!
So while we’re putting the final touches to the music video, do enjoy a sneak peak of LylaHZN’s 1st song which will be up on Jan 10 on Youtube! Ever since I launched it yesterday, I’ve been getting many “Aaaahhh, I can’t wait!!” messages hahaha. It’s super funny, at least to me that is, being a proud parent and I can’t wait to show you too! So in case you missed it, here’s the trailer to LylaHZN 黄姿宁’s very first song #TouTouTouFlo.
Woo hoo! Year end are always super fun times because there are so many festivities happening. So happens that most of my good friends bday happens during December and that includes mine!
I wish all you guys the best 2015 ever!!! Let’s appreciate the good things and learn from the bad!
Happy New Year!
From Wikipedia ;
In music, an arrangement is a musical reconceptualization of a previously composed work. It may differ from the original work by means of reharmonization, melodic paraphrasing, orchestration, or development of the formal structure.
To some, it might be totally cheem, to some, it might be something natural. Over the weeks I’ve been working with my team on creating an effective syallabus for music arrangement. I think it’s something worthwhile handing over to those who are interested to arrange their own music, as the task of putting instruments together, combining groove and harmony, layering and getting the right instrument, with the right chord out at the right time seems totally baffling to some.
However, it totally doesn’t need to be!
Especially in this day and age where technology has made music making much more accessible, enjoyable and most importantly, affordable to all. I, for one, who can’t read or write notes have benefitted greatly from technology. For things that I can’t communicate thru writing on paper, I can thru the aid of computers and music software to program what I hear in my head, ultimately getting the message out
When I 1st started, (ok, ‘uncle’ talk again), getting a good serious music arrangement set up will mean getting a keyboard, sound modules, a midi sequencer, a sampler plus a tape/ADAT/MD recorder, all of which will add up to almost 10 000SGD or more.
Nowadays, all that stuff is summarised to a computer, a USB music keyboard and a music software. If you want to sing into the comp, you can pick up a decent recording condensor mic at a fraction of the price compared to the past as well( I’d say from 80SGD onwards)
However, just like painting, having all the different colours readily at your finger tips all means nothing if you don’t know what to do with it. You can stack 20 different shades on the canvas and it can look like a complete mess or you can just use one color and create the ultimate masterpiece. All that takes experience.
And it’s from that experience of having arranged songs like those below, in which I’m working with my team, drawing to create the most straight forward way for those interested in music arrangements to quickly find their way to get started immediately. I believe being able to apply what you’ve been taught ASAP is the quickest and most fun way to improve yourself and take you to the next step, getting you closer to allowing others to hear what you envision.
Over the years, I’ve received so many requests from people interested in learning music arrangement. So if you are one of those, do look up FM Pop Music School on Facebook, “like” us if you haven’t done so already ( https://www.facebook.com/fmpopmusicsch?ref=br_tf ) and watch out for updates on when we’ll be launching this music arrangement course!
Meanwhile, here’s a tip, just go find a music software to install on your computer(as a Protools and Garageband user, that’s what I’d recommend), fiddle with it first for getting your hands dirty in the deed is the best way to get started on anything!
Arrangements I’ve done over the years
Have been reviving my personal music history recently thru vinyl, re collecting albums that I grew up with from bands like the Beatles to Elton John, to Poison, on to Nirvana and Oasis, fast forward to Ryan Adams, John Mayer etc. Actually it will probably be the 3rd time I’m buying most of these albums, from tape, to CD, to LP. The albums, the songs, those melodies have been firmly implanted in my musical core. At the same time, I’ve been catching up on what’s happening currently thru music streaming sites with their latest playlists, and enjoying the recent albums by EDM giants David Guetta and Tiesto as well.
Interesting enough, both of these mass appeal chart toppers albums have been getting more and more pop song oriented in their later releases. Especially with these 2 recent albums “Listen”(David Guetta) and “A Town called Paradise”(Tiesto) being very pop melody and arrangement centered, with guitars, pianos, great vocalists and more importantly including traditional song structures, 8 bar verses, huge choruses, middle eights etc that has been around before the Beatles even started.
Though what is termed as “good” songs will never ever be agreed upon with music being so subjective to tastes and sometimes, age. It’s like how I always say when I start our hit melody songwriting course, no matter what kind of arrangement(music style, genre) you want to wrap around it, it’s still the same shit, you can’t run too far from the melody/lyric form that appeals to the masses that people term, the hit song.
I’m glad throughout all these years of me discovering and later on making music, that good catchy pop songs will never go out of style!
Holleeeyyyy!!! When 小寒 shared this link a few days ago, I read it too fast and mistook as the song that we wrote together for 金池《好好过》crossed a million listens combined on music streaming sites within a week of release.
you can hear the song here.
However later on she told me it’s not one but TEN million?!?!
(this is just the count for one of the many music streaming sites in China)
That’s insane!!!! Especially during times like these where there are so many new artists sprouting, so many songs being created, recorded and released all over the world. Honestly, as a songwriter, it’s quite a kick!
Kudos to the power of going viral in the internet age, and of course the teamwork of 金池 together with the production team!
I also realise in this day and age, its not easy to look at liner notes, or album credits in a CD sleeve, so I’ve listed the music production team behind the song here
演唱 Performed by：金池
作曲/制作人/编曲/吉他/键盘/貝斯/和音编写 Melody/Producer/Arranger/Guitars/Bass/Keyboards/Backup Vocals Arrangement：黄韵仁 Eric Ng
鼓 Drums: Gary Gideon
和音 Backup Vocals : 金池
弦乐编写 String Arrangement：馮文甫 Bang Wenfu
弦乐 Strings section :中国国家交响乐团
錄音師／錄音室 Recording Engineer/Recording Studio : Glow, Mandric Tan, Tim Liew@Sound Farm Production Studio (鼓Drums),TC@Tweak Tone Labs, Leonard Fong@Resonance Audio(弦乐Strings)，王辰@非凡耳錄音室 （人聲，和音Vocals, Backup Vocals）
混音 Mixing Engineer：沈文钏 Darren Sim @The Neater Dump Studio
母带处理 Mastering Engineer：Chris Gehringer@Sterling Sound NYC
I first worked with 金池 last year when we embarked on an insane mission to record 2-3 songs a day together with the other Voice of China finalists 吴莫愁，张玮 etc. Just like the rest of the Voice singers, 金池 is not just incredibly talented in singing but extremely hardworking, professional and focused, constantly putting fatigue aside admist recording and shooting, committing to get her songs, getting the takes right.
So I was glad she gave me a call somewhere in July this year when I was in the airport heading to LA. She shared with me that she’s looking for a big sounding ‘bala’ song to make a comeback as she hadn’t released anything in a while. I said “Sure! that’s what I do! =D”
I remembered humming the melody while I was in the plane drifting in and out of sleep to LAX and the melody was done before I even got there, afterwhich I set up a chat session for 金池 to discuss the lyrics direction with 小寒 as she wanted to get more involved in the lyrics direction this time. Before I even came back from the holiday, we already set up the vocal recording session dates in 北京.
Though the vocals for this song was done real quick, just like how our previous sessions had went, the cool thing is because she’s such an incredible live singer, we had a lot of room to find different ways of approaching the song and have multiple takes that worked. What we wanted to achieve in this song vocally was to not have your typical-yet-another-singer-with-great-technique-screaming-belting-how-great-she-is-performance. Instead we were focused on how to restrain from oversinging to let the emotion, the lyrical content and sincerity come through. For great singers, especially those from singing competitions backgrounds, this is not a simple task. But I can say 金池 managed to achieve just that. In my trip to 北京 this time, I heard good 口碑 from both music lovers and industry insiders, and now 10 million music streaming listens?! I’m so glad her hard work paid off!
And as this time, my 北京 trip was a very short one. Upon knowing I was there, 金池 rushed over from the airport before I left as she insisted she had to hand me her single in person. It’s humble, hardworking and sincere artists like these that makes our work such fun, inspiring us to outdo ourselves to make greater creations for them!
Recently, Damien Rice, a singer-songwriter that I truly admire, teamed up with Rick Rubin, a legendary producer who’s had a string of producing timeless albums to release his new album, “My favourite faded fantasy” after an 8 year absence. This is such a cool pairing as these 2 guys are both make such strong statements while having an enigmatic presence shrouded in mystery in how and why they do what they do .
When I first chanced upon his album in 2002 while browsing in a CD store(anyone still remember how that feels like?), I was totally drawn into the nakedness, the stark presentation of his songs, with the music arrangement just barely there to allow the emotion to shine full force. And that inspired me to write a melody with that arrangement concept in mind which ended up as 人质 one of the biggest hit songs in my career.
On 1st listen of the new album, I felt that hmm, it doesn’t really sound that much different from what he was doing 8 years ago.
However right now I’m just hooked on the album, and that’s the power of the singer songwriter, even if the music style moving on might not be radically different. If you get it right the 1st time, that identity that you self created with your songs, your statements, is something that entirely formed and belongs to you. This is also the reason why Funkie Monkies is so passionate in grooming singer songwriters. And reflecting on my initial impression of this album, I also realise if it ain’t broken, there’s totally no need to fix it.
Finally I’d like to share one of the singles which has served as my soundtrack walking aimlessly in Taipei and Beijing in the past week. I’ve ordered the vinyl version of this album and I’m sure I’ll be drowning in it even more.
As some of you might know, I didn’t really take formal lessons for guitar playing and hence my lack of knowledge of reading/writing and music theory. So many always ask me, how did I manage to learn guitar?
I’d say the 1st key requirement to learning the guitar is. Interest, which leads to passion.
First of all, I’d like to say, guitar lessons are great, if my dad had supported me in taking guitar lessons I’d be so grateful then. However that didn’t happen. But I did have that interest, as I noticed the cool kids in school then were playing guitar. It didn’t look that difficult so my interest led me to just try copy everything that I listened to and liked. Aka my influences. And of coz, even the most technically efficient player will not be able to replicate a performance exactly note for note and feel, especially for a not very technical player like me, and hence that forms my personal style. Especially in age of Youtube, it’s so easy to pick things up. Listen to the stuff you like, and try to play along, if all else fails, I’m sure there is a link somewhere that will help you. And of course, if you can afford it, go take some lessons to reinforce and give a meaning to what you learn (thru music theory).
To end off, I shall list a few of my influences that led me to play the way I do today. Enjoy!
1. On playing leads.
This is the 1st lead guitar part I tried to play the moment I got my hands on a guitar. Because there is no other lead part more desirable to play, up till this day!
2. On playing riffs
Riffs are a series of notes, chord pattern or musical phrases that repeat thruout a song. And this is a MONSTER riff.
3. When I discovered that the acoustic guitar was cool.
4. When I realised that chords can be played like lead guitar, constantly moving, not sticking to one shape.
By this time I was starting to do gigs and moving into recording.
5. When I discovered travis picking that led to my 1st ‘hit song’ 纸飞机 with Sandy 林亿莲
6. When I discovered the wonders of layering guitars.
For electric guitars
For acoustic guitars
7. When delay became one of my favourite effects for electric guitar
8. When I realised the importance of heart and feel over technique
9. However a strong technique doesn’t hurt feel either
Of course there are many other guitar stuff that I listened to along the way like Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith etc. But I’d say these particular few albums/songs sparked me to play in a certain way, by imitating wrongly, it turned into improvisation and that’s the way that people build up their sound. One thing in common about all these links that I just provided is that they all served to a great melody which also influenced my melody sense. I also realise that these songs are all very old hahaha, so for those starting out, I’m sure you have songs that you love. Learning the guitar thru material that you love will spark that passion and interest way more. So get out there and find your own influences! Enjoy!