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VX1 Session: Charlatan Days

This is a session walkthrough, from The Making of VX1

Full Walkthrough Video

The Process

Charlatan Days has changed a LOT over its lifetime. I originally imagined this song as a duet. The lyrics of this song are very much about a breakup, and so it kind of made sense to have it feature two voices. As the song sped up, I felt like there wasn't enough space when there was two voices, so I changed it to be more of an internal conversation. But if you listen to the lyrics, you can still easily hear the two voices in conflict.

I started most of the songwriting by piecing together voice memos. I worked out chords on the piano, but it was not long before this song was entirely in-the-box. I'd say that the vibe was inspired by Capital Cities and the lead melody (especially the simplicity of the chorus) was inspired by HONNE.

The Session

In terms of how I usually set up my sessions, this project was fairly straightforward. It consists of Percussion, Bass, Pads, Harmonies, and Lead Solos. So I'll go over each of those.

But first, let's talk about the one more standalone section of this song...

Intro

The intro section vibe was inspired by the instrumentation and soundscape of lofi-hiphop (even if the songwriting and arranging is completely different). The melody and chords just came from some fiddling around. And yes, there is a lick happening here, and I decline to state whether this was intentional or not.

Introduction Tracks Screenshot

Charlatan Days Introduction Harmony

The two defining features of the intro are the pitch shifting and a set of manual hard-cuts. Both of these are used to make it sound a bit glitchy.

We use the track without the glitchiness as a pad later in the song. The cuts I made were just short stutters here and there to simulate glitching. During editing, the introduction seemed too sudden, so I also copy and pasted the root chord from the intro and put it before the intro melody started.

Introduction Track Cuts Before/After Screenshot
Charlatan Days Introduction Harmony Cuts (No Pitchshift)
Without Cuts
+ Cuts
+ Pitchshift

Percussion

For the percussion in this song, I used both a spit take and a vocal drum machine. I wanted some level of natural sounding drumset. The spit track helps it feel more natural, while the Drum Machine helps fill out the mix. You'll also notice some individual sounds here (Teeth Kick, Tuh, Crash, Sweep). These are one-off sounds that I don't expect to reuse between songs.

Vocal Percussion Tracks Screenshot
Charlatan Days Vocal Percussion
Spit Take
Drum Machine
Combined

Bass

The bass in this song is 3 sounds; the core bassline "Bass Dmm", an additional texture "Bass Ehh" that sings the same notes in a different shifting timbre, and "Bass 8vb", which is just pitched down an octave to hit those subwoofers.

Bass Screenshot
Charlatan Days Bass
Bass Dmm
Bass Ehh
Bass 8vb
Bass Combined

Harmony

For the harmonic parts of my songs, I generally split sounds into two categories: pads and harmonies. These are both "vocal background" parts. I separate them in naming in order to just better navigate around my sessions. My categorization for what is a harmony and which is a pad is rather fluid, but the general guideline I use is:

  • Pads: loops and longer-running "background" sounds that follow the bass and chords
  • Harmonies: More lyrical lines that follow the lead vocal or other stand-out melodies.

As an example, let's break down Verse 2 / Chorus 2.

VX1 Verse 2 Full

Pads

I have one long-running pad that goes through the entire song. I talk about this pad as one of my vx1 arranging examples.

V2 C2 Pads

Rhythm Pad

The rest of the Verse 2 pads are rounded out with some arps (arpeggios), whistle melodies, and some rhythmic glottle-stop-style. I also mix-in an unaffected version of the intro as a variation midway through.

V2 C2 Pads

Verse 2 / Chorus 2 Pads

Harmonies

10 seconds into the verse, the harmonies enter to add variation. Here's what they sound like by themselves, so we can recognize them in the mix.

V2 C2 Harmony

Verse 2 / Chorus 2 Harmonies

Altogether!

Verse 2 / Chorus 2 Pads + Harmonies

Add in the bass and vocal percussion, and we have the Charlatan Days Karaoke Edition! Note that this is post-mix; Bill does a great job at adjusting dynamics in a way that a lot of the pads get a moment to really shine.

VX1 Verse 2 Full

Next is Sweet Honey!

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