Last month, we ran a production challenge through our email newsletter that called for participants to create a track using captured sounds from a place they go to relax. I participated as well and, naturally, I chose the golf course (you’ll see why in a moment). You can follow along with my progress via the Story I created on Soundfly’s Instagram (until we take it down), or read on for some deeper insight into my process.
Golf and music have both been constants in my life for as long as I can remember. Looking back on how these activities have shaped my life, they appear now to be so much more connected than I ever realized.
Thanks to a classic family story that has entertained more than a few of my dad’s social events over the years, I know I was three years old the first time music and golf collided for me. I asked him to rehash that fateful day at the Belvedere Golf Club — these are his words:
It was July of 1990 and I was setting up the stage for our band, The Cats and Jammers, at an outdoor BBQ and dance at the course. Carter was 3, and I brought him along to help. I needed an extension cord, so in an attempt to make a 3-year-old feel useful, I brought Carter up to the pro shop to grab one. Carter told me he was going to sit on a nearby power cart and “drive.” I took about two steps and thought to myself, “I should check to make sure there’s no key in the ignition…” and by the time I turned around, a little guy driving a power cart flew past me. Fortunately, he came to an abrupt halt when he ran into — and dented — a bag stand about 10-15 feet away. He had a bit of a bruise on his chest where the steering wheel stopped him and the tears were rolling. It was the scariest moment of my life as a parent, but a great lesson learned.
So, my introduction to golf could’ve gone better, but any day I get to share that my dad was in a band called The Cats and Jammers is a good day.
Music tends to be what most musicians remember as their first passion. But for me, that was golf. Before I spent eight hours a day learning to play bass lines and Jaco solos, I spent eight hours a day hitting bunker shots or shaping shots on the driving range. Both pursuits are so incredibly individual; only you truly understand how much work you’ve put in towards mastery. Listeners and spectators only see the end result.
Looking back at all of that, the conception of April’s monthly challenge seems like kismet — as producers, it’s all about the work we put in when nobody’s looking. And not to mention, I love tracks that have some sort of “outdoor” element to them — like a cymbal hit that isn’t a drum sample at all, but a chopped-up field recording cut to a rhythm. For this challenge, we specifically asked that participating artists find their sounds in places where they “go to unwind,” so a lot of the submissions involved sounds from the natural world.
Environment can have a huge impact on creativity, and we’re often at our best when we feel comfortable and at ease. In my case, I knew right away my sounds would be waiting for me at the golf course. I thought I could get a variety of cool “snare” sounds from striking the ball with different clubs, so I started recording on the driving range. The first snare I really dug came from a 3 wood coupled with the sound of a lob wedge. The 3 wood was struck on a mat, while the wedge on grass, yet there’s kind of a snapping quality to both. Check it out:
Next, I needed a kick. That was accomplished by dropping a club against the mat over and over to create a dull, dead sound. (And since by now you’re probably wondering: Yes, there were other people on the range that day, and yes, a few of them looked really puzzled by what I was doing.)
I wanted to keep the initial groove pretty simple. Had I tried to get too intricate with the pattern right away while using all these non-traditional drum sounds, things may have stalled out before they fully got started. Here’s the sound of just the kick and snares joined together:
Kind of groovy already — you can bob your head to it.
I already knew that I was going to need a subtle boost to help the end of my verses transition to the chorus, so I added some percussion in the form of a driver and lob wedge, with a decent amount of delay.
The beat is most active towards the end of the chorus. I captured the sound of the golf ball hitting the cup (10-foot birdie putt, thank you very much), but hadn’t found the right way to use it yet. I settled on placing it just before the snare and loading it up with some delay. Of all the golf sounds I found, this became my favorite.
With my groove in place, I set out to build the rest of the track. The harmony ended up being firmly in the key of E minor, but I tried to create an open, light feeling by starting with a C major7 (#11) chord. With The Masters on in the background, I went to work stringing together some chord changes. I eventually landed on E minor9 and F# minor7 to go with that C major chord. Each of these chords contains an F# as either the #11, 9th, or root, which helps string them together.
As a bass player, I’m constantly trying to find ways to utilize my instrument in unique ways. Like most low-end lovers, I’m a huge Thundercat fan, and I feel that playing chords on the bass has a way of drawing listeners in. There’s something nice about hearing a part played by a bass that you might otherwise expect to hear from a guitar or piano, plus there’s so much warmth in those thicker strings. After the first chorus, the bass is most prominently heard playing out the chords.
I could go on and on about the harmonic devices, instrumentation, plugins, and everything else that factored into this track, but I don’t believe that’s what’s important here. Sometimes, I get stuck as a producer, and I think that’s something most of us struggle with now and then.
Something that may have inspired us to write one day may not work the next. Directions we expected a song to take may not come even close to working out. Through doing this challenge, I tried to let the sounds and spirit of how I feel in my “happy place” guide the track and keep it fun and loose. Instead of being obsessed with the results, I focused on the process. I may even have to make this a regular practice in my compositional workflow.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll knock out a track using sounds from a hockey rink next. For now, check out the final result of my production challenge, “Golf,” here:
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