Audio Camps | Creating an EP from scratch!

Young person singing in a recording studio

Over the October Half Term, Ideas Test and Swale’s Big Music Takeover hosted the first holiday Audio Camp. Focussed on song-writing, the young participants – Alice, Ben, Megan and Ramona – worked hard over the 4 days to write, arrange and record their own songs. Project Leader, Paul, takes us through the week.


Day 1 – Monday 22nd October

I led the workshop and revealed the challenge to the young people, who had just 4 days to create their own Halloween-based EP from scratch, including writing the lyrics, melodies and chord progressions, as well as creating the instrumental arrangement before recording it at Big Jam Studios by the end of the week. As well as this, the young people also learned that they would be working towards a Bronze Arts Award Qualification in the process; an ambitious ask for just 4 days, but everyone seemed keen and up for the challenge.

Young person making notes for Arts Award
Photo credit: Ideas Test

Monday morning was spent conducting research; listening to and analysing Halloween pop tracks and the soundtracks to scary films in order to get a better understanding of the stylistic qualities and different sounds utilised in this kind of music. The discussions held by the group were insightful and intelligent, and I think we picked up lots of tips on different instruments, sounds and compositional techniques that we could use to make our Halloween tracks sound authentic.

The next task was to watch and review a streamed live Halloween concert performed by Ariana Grande. Using what they’d learned already, the young people were given the opportunity to act as professional music journalists and break down, analyse and constructively evaluate the performance.  You can read the reviews here on the Youth Music Network.

After a brief break for lunch the group got straight into the song writing and held a discussion as to what sort of tracks they wanted to create. It was decided that, given the number of participants and the short time booked in the studio, it was realistic to aim to complete two tracks; a serious(ish), scary-sounding musical theatre style piece based around a young couple in a haunted house and a more poppy, younger sounding track about trick or treating, as it was decided these were the two main images conjured up when you think about Halloween. The group brainstormed their ideas and quickly came up with effective lyrics to capture the emotion and feel of the tracks.

Young person writing notes for lyrics
Photo credit: Ideas Test

Day 2 – Tuesday 23rd October

The group kicked straight into it on Tuesday morning and worked hard to create melodies to go with the lyrics they’d come up with yesterday. I helped them work out the chords and the songs really began to take shape.

At each step, the group discussed the ideas they had in comparison with what they’d learnt from Monday’s research activity. Making sure the choice of instrumentation and style of vocal lines were in-keeping with the appropriate genre. (A 6/8 feel with lots of chromatic, descending chord patterns for the musical theatre piece and more poppy, 1,4,5 chord movements and switches between a minor verse and a major chorus for the other track.)

Young people writing songs on keyboards
Photo credit: Ideas Test

By lunchtime, the basic tracks were there, with ideas for verses, choruses and introductions complete.

After lunch the group took a break from the songs to each present their own research they had conducted on inspiring songwriters. The seminar-style session was extremely insightful and the participants each gave a great presentation on their chosen artist, in their own styles. This was a great exercise and the participants not only learned from each other’s presentations, but also examined the song writing methods of different artists, which I think was helpful to them as budding songwriters.

A young person delivers a presentation to the rest of the group
Photo credit: Ideas Test

Day 3 – Wednesday 24th October

The group moved over to New House Youth Centre for Wednesday’s session. The day was dedicated to rehearsing the tracks for tomorrow’s recording and catching up with any admin or written work for their Arts Award qualification.

During rehearsals, the young people were also required to teach each other the parts of the song and share some of the skills that they had picked up throughout the process so far. They were also challenged to try something new this week, so whether it was playing keys for the first time, learning bass or having a go at singing, they all helped each other out and took turns in adopting that leadership role.

Young people teaching each other to play musical instruments
Photo credit: Ideas Test

The creative juices were clearly still flowing during rehearsals and the group managed to make tweaks and additions to the songs as further improvements. By this point the group had settled on titles for their songs and for both tracks extended middle-8 sections were created: a dynamic shift and a build-up chant in Trick or Treat and a spoken news report section in Beware to help communicate the spooky narrative.

Day 4 – Thursday 25th October

An early start at Big Jam studios and the most exciting day of the week. The group started off by laying down a guide vocal and piano track for Trick or Treat to get the tempo and sections of the songs established.

Recording studio at Big Jam Studios
Photo credit: Ideas Test

We started with Trick or Treat and proceeded to lay down the bass, guitar and keys. The group decided that a gang-vocal was appropriate for both the chorus and middle 8 of this song and so all gathered around the microphone to layer up their voices. Based on the research and discussions from Monday’s workshop, the decision had also been made to include church organ, harpsichord, Theremin and some fun, spooky sound effects to build the track and give it that Halloween feel.

Beware was next; a very different song and one that required an alternative approach. The group once again started with guide tracks and vocals but this time, opted to leave lots of space to create an eerie, discomfort. High tension-building string parts and low cello sounds to add to the atmosphere. Pizzicato strings and distant, warm pad sounds were also added for a more orchestral, theatrical style sound. It was decided that lots of reverb on the voices and instruments would help set the scene and once again, appropriate sound effects were added, this time creaking doors and footsteps etc.

A couple of last minute play-throughs and tweaks before calling it day finished off a busy, but very rewarding studio session. I think you’ll agree the songs sound incredible – especially for just one day in the studio. You can listen to the full tracks over on the Ideas Test Soundcloud or scroll down to the bottom of the page!

Overall

All in all, I was extremely pleased and proud of all of the participants in October’s Audio Camp. They all contributed a great deal and were each integral to the final outcome. They were patient, helpful and consistently kind to each other and worked tremendously well as a team.

They’ve learned new skills, analysed music on an academic level, researched song writing, explored new ideas and put into practice their newly acquired knowledge, producing two excellent, quality tracks, suitable for any Halloween playlist. Moreover, it was lots of fun and the strong characters of each of the participants can be heard in the songs.

Big thanks to New House Youth Centre for providing us with an excellent rehearsal space, and also to Big Jam Studios for an awesome studio experience and for helping the team to bring their creations to life. If the next Audio Camp is as good as this one, I wholeheartedly look forward to February.

Written by Paul, Project Manager for SBMT.


For more updates, you can follow Swale’s Big Music Takeover on Instagram and keep an eye our on our website for the announcement of February’s Audio Camp!