VX1 Session: Sweet Honey
This is a session walkthrough, from The Making of VX1
Sweet Honey is a funny song for me, because it was actually inspired by honey. I had fancy lavendar-infused honey leftover after making fancy grilled-cheese sandwiches (imitating one I tasted at Cockscomb), and was just eating it by the spoonful.
The feel and songwriting of this song was inspired a lot by my memory of Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” Album. You can hear this more in the early versions of Sweet Honey (check out v1.13). So despite the song being about honey, I tried to make it really fit that aesthetic. In short, this song is definitely about drugs and sex and not honey. Got it?
The hook was written separately months apart; I ended up finding it in my giant list of voice memos later, and paired it with the melody, lyrics, and chords on the piano when visiting home, recording the result by putting my iPhone on the piano’s music stand.
For this song, the style of things changes a bit between each section, so let’s take it one part at a time.
Verse 1 #
Verse 1 and Chorus 1
- Pads Only
- Percussion Only
- Pads + Drum + Bass
The first verse is rather simple from a layering perspective. If we take away the lead vocal, you can plainly hear three things: bass, perc, and the 5-part harmony. Both the bass and harmony are through-written, so it’s probably the closest thing to a “live performance” as you’ll find in this album. There’s also an extra two beats during the percussion fill (0:22 in the following clip).
The lead vocals in this song are primarily just a lead take and a double (two takes hard-panned to the left and right, to make the lead feel bigger). Usually, I record all of these at once, take the best pieces for the main one, and use the not-terrible takes for that double. The direct harmonies are just recorded like any other background vocal.
Prechorus 1 #
Mostly, besides the lead melody, the only bigger change in the prechorus is the change in percussion. In both pre-choruses, I recorded a separate spit take rhythm that plays over the main one.
Chorus 1 #
The only thing that really changes in the chorus is the addition of another “chorus” of voices. I wanted it to feel really big, so you notice the “Dub” tracks. In this case, since we’re looping, what I did is sing it all the way through to maintain energy, but then copy and paste the voices and swap the first and second repetition (as pictured), so that it essentially doubles the number of voices without me going hoarse.
Also, the chorus percussion switches to a halftime beat…
Verse 2 #
Verse 2 was by far my favorite part of this song to play with. There’s a lot of competing melody lines over a repeating auto-filtered pad line.
Verse 2 Main Pad
- Raw (Single Voice)
- Raw (All Voices)
- + Side-chained Gate
- + Autofilter flutter
- + Percussion
The defining effects of this main pad line are a gate that is side-chained to the kick (the audio gets quieter whenever the percussion kick makes sound), and an auto-pan (this creates a “flutter” effect). This main pad + the percussion is the canvas we use to add all the competing melodies of verse 2. While definitely used for a different effect, I got the idea of using this while listening to Billie Eilish’s “everything i wanted”. Particularly how the first 30 seconds of the song, where the main pad is side-chained to the muted kick.
These are mostly self explanatory, but one thing to note is for the Bass. I think this is the only song I used a bass 8va (tracking the bass an octave up). This is mainly to add harmonics, and give it a unique flavor. This is a “classic weird ben-imitating-synth” bassline, where I’m basically just shifting vowels from “ahh” to “ooo” and back again to make a forward and reverse feel.
Verse 2 Melodies
- All Melodies Combined
- Bass Melody
- Fourths Melody
- Ohh Melody (same as chorus)
- Lead Melody
Chorus 2 + Vamp/Outro #
In chorus 2, we kinda replay the old melody to remind everyone, and then layer on a couple new melodies to switch it up. Note: Usually, I like copy-pasting when I can. In this case, “existing melody” is not copy-pasted from the first chorus. I re-recorded it so I could give it more power and hold out the notes longer.
Also notice the modulation from major to minor between the first and second iterations. It’s easier make it out when listening to individual parts, since there’s so much happening in the mix at that point.
This is an additional kinda “solo” we add midway through the chorus.
I named the sound “electric guitar” mostly just because of where it is in the mix. Probably sounds closer to layered electric violins or something. But basically, this sound is a combination of an “oo” and a “bzz”.
The electric guitar is also what instigates that major/minor modulation. Listening to the mix without that part really ends up making that switch sound way more abrupt.
Guitar into Modulation
- All Melodies except Guitar Solo
- All Melodies with Guitar Solo
Triple Percussion Solo
I knew I kinda wanted a percussion solo in this song, and I got bored, so I decided to see if I could make 3 percussion voices at once make sense… This was the result of that. Hopefully, you can hear all three lines individually, and also make out the melody they make when combined!
This song was the first song I’ve done that had such involved percussion, while also being the “biggest” song in the album. This song was the one where I started putting together my vocal percussion drum machine as well, so I will remember it pretty well just for that.
Next is S.U.S.!