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Producing “The Little Things” with Sarah Joy

I worked on with Sarah Joy for a song she wrote called “The Little Things.” She’s riding out the quarantine and work-at-home era in New Hampshire so we needed to coordinate the whole project from a distance. The project started with her singing the melody into her phone and texting it to me. As a songwriter who always starts with chords, this approach amazed me. It also helps that she has near perfect pitch.

I was able to find good chords to go along with her melody and I recorded an “accompaniment” track and sent it back to her. She imported that and used Garage Band to sing along. She refined the melody, variations and some lyrics by going through this several times. I also ended up revising some of the chords after realizing that my interpretation was a bit off from hers.

Once we had the general structure of the song, I was able to create a higher quality accompaniment track. Using the terminology from my step-by-step document, this became our Guide Track. Sarah provided vocals from Garage Band without effects. I did the master mixing in Studio One. Once we had vocals along with guitar and piano, I added bass, drums and congas.

At the 11th hour, we came up with a nicer intro and essentially grafted that on to the beginning of the song. That sounds rather tricky and it was, but it worked. Intro was based on a vocal harmony that I proposed to Sarah that she rejected (which was smart because the song songs much better without a lot of vocal layers). But they harmony worked well on piano and gave it a nice jazzy intro.

For the video, we used an “MTV” approach which is essentially good lip syncing. I recorded myself playing guitar, piano and drums. Sarah’s boyfriend, Shane, served as videographer in New Hampshire and got good clips of Sarah singing from a few different angles. I mixed these videos together using Adobe Premiere. As a side note, there’s a feature in Adobe Premiere that automatically syncs tracks based on the audio. If the sound is loud enough in the lip synched video, it can be used to immediately align it with the studio audio.

Having the different angles proved to be very helpful because I could add transitions between the views in a few sections where Sarah’s recreation of the performance wasn’t exactly right. The final \video was divided into four sections with Sarah’s vocals on the left and my three primary instruments (piano, guitar and drums) on the right. I used masking to keep the proper proportions for sarah’s section so it wouldn’t distort.

Editing the video in Adobe Premiere

This is the final production:

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