Welcome to the R.A.P. Forum, an open-format section of R.A.P. where everyone is invited to write about whatever their heart desires. This month, we hear from Tim Forrest, Production Director at Jackson, Tennessee's 92FM, WYNU-FM. Tim gives us an excellent example of how to overcome the limitations of an under-equipped studio with pure creative determination. His 92FM version of "Bartman" even received coverage in the local newspaper for its creative ambition. (Please note that the following article was submitted several months ago when Bart Simpson's song was peaking in popularity.)
How I Built Our "Bartman"
by Tim Forrest
One of the most requested songs on our station right now is "Do The Bartman," as it probably is at many stations, but when we received the CD single, the original version was just too "dance" oriented for our format. (We don't play dance music or rap. We're sort of CHR leaning toward rock.) We liked the song and knew it would be popular, but it just wouldn't flow with the format.
Then I noticed that one track on the CD was just vocals, no drums or synths. So, I decided to "rock" it up so we could play it.
Here is a list of all the equipment used for the production: Yamaha SPX-90; Casio MT-240 keyboard; Peavey T-25 special guitar with a Tom Sholtz Rockman Soloist headphone amplifier; Tech Effects CD; two Otari MX-5050-B reel-to-reels; the "Do The Bartman" CD single; and a CD player. I had no MIDI interfaces or anything like that to work with (I know that it would have been much easier if I had MIDI, but I'm sure you can relate to the phrase, "not in the budget."), and I am by no means an accomplished musician. I just dabble.
Step 1 - The Drum Bed: I had to have a rhythm, a beat to work with, and it had to match up with the rhythm of the vocal track. I found a little snippet of a drum track that I liked off of our Tech Effects CD. I put that on reel and, while listening to the vocal track of Bart Simpson from the CD, adjusted the pitch control on the reel until the beat was approximately the same on both. Then I took that snippet and loaded it into the "FREEZE A" [sampler] program on the SPX-90. Now, to do my drum track. I tried just listening to the vocals and triggering the "FREEZE A" playback by punching the button on the SPX-90 with my finger. This didn't work. Instead, I used a little trick I had discovered.
Each time the trigger button was pushed, you heard about three to four seconds of drums. To make it easier to keep punching the rhythm, and so I could be a little creative with my drum playing, I went to the "INPUT TRIGGER" on the "FREEZE A" program. I turned the input trigger on, then set it to play. The audition channel of our board is the input to the SPX-90. I took my mike, pulled it down and put it on the counter top, right against it. I put the mike in audition, opened the mike, and put on my headphones. By slapping the counter top with my hands to play the drums, the mike picked up the thump, and that, going through audition, triggered the playback of the "FREEZE A" sample. You can do a very customized drum pad this way, and I was pretty pleased with the results.
Step 2 - Coming Up With a Melody: I didn't listen to the whole original "Bartman" song, just so I wouldn't be corrupted by the original music. I wanted my version to be unique (well, as unique as it could be). I went to the chorus of the vocal track on the CD and found a note on my keyboard that fit or at least harmonized with the vocals. Then I just fiddled until I had a basic bit of music. I dubbed that, then went back and dubbed another track of keyboard music with different sounds and included a sound one octave lower for the bass line. (You can combine two sounds at a time on my cheap little $100 keyboard. Plus, running the keyboard through the SPX-90 adds a lot to it.) The whole thing was rather monotonous, but, so is rap music.
Step 3 - Guitar: This was pitifully simple. If you know three chords, you can do the guitar part -- A, D, and G. I ran the headphone output of my Rockman amp to the input on the SPX-90 and added some reverb and flanging and laid down the guitar track.
Step 4 - Revamping the Vocals: After I had done all of my music, and I was listening back to the whole thing on monitor speakers, I realized that the vocals weren't loud enough. Since I have no multi-track capabilities, I was doing the old bounce from one reel machine to the other every time I added a track; so I couldn't just turn up the vocal. So, I set about the task of starting my tape and CD vocal track at the same time to lay additional vocals to the last mix. It took several tries, but I finally got the two synced, and, as I expected, I caused the vocals to flange and phase throughout the whole song. I liked the effect. It made even the vocals on my version unique.
And that's it -- the building of my "Bartman" song. Hope you like it.
How does Tim's "Bartman" sound? Check out this month's Cassette and find out. (Sorry, non-subscribers. Just another reason why you should sign up!) Granted, the quality of the production could have been better had Tim been surrounded with state-of-the-art equipment, but he has to be given a big box of Kudo's for what he managed to do in his studio. When listening to the Cassette, please bear in mind also that the generation loss Tim received while laying tracks is further enhanced by our own high-speed duplication of The Cassette.