Deconstructing the Song Part 1
It's always an adventure working with a new artist in the studio and Sophia Dion was no different. She's a busy young artist out of Southern California, attending a performing arts high school by day and writing songs in the evening. When I first heard her song, an acoustic-driven pop tune you could hear on the radio alongside Z. Z. Ward or Colbie Caillat, I was stoked to dive in. Not only is Sophia crazy talented, her voice is mature for her age and her lyrics are catchy while still managing to be fresh.
I'm a dad to two boys and the closest thing I can compare the studio process to is bringing my first child home from hospital. A newborn needs to be closely cared for and nurtured. He/she has a personality that may take minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years to be fully realized. It reacts differently when in the arms of different people. When my first son was still a baby, he would sleep contentedly for hours in my wife's arms. As soon as he was passed to me, he was wide awake and restless. It was the strangest thing. A song is just like that.
Anyways, as part of the Studio Automatic process, we like to get as much info as we can from the artist. This helps us to make sure that we put an artist's song/baby in the hands of the right team/parents. What we learned from Sophia is that she wanted the focus of her song to be on guitar, with piano being less of a focal point. Although guitar is her primary instrument, Sophia's music is about her voice and the way it blends with the guitar—so fancy riffs and finger acrobatics were not the direction we wanted to take. She gets inspiration from female singer/songwriters with a heavy dose of soul, including Joss Stone and the aforementioned Z. Z. Ward. It was clear from this info that I was going to want to choose players for Sophia's track who had studio experience in the HOT AC lane.
Side note: For those not familiar with the term "HOT AC," it represents a genre of music that essentially translates to popular adult contemporary. Songs typically feature a contemporary sound and upbeat tempo.
We created some background vox from the vocals Sophia recorded in a studio near her home to create sort of a contemporary doo-wop treatment that complements the percussive block chords being played on piano in the background of the verses. If you were to ask me for my (very subjective) opinion on the best part of this song, it would be the bridge. First of all, I love the sudden changes to the drums. It works as an almost-a-Capella drum solo with simple block chords being played at the beginning of each vocal line on guitar. This perfectly supports the gritty, soulful tone of Sophia's voice and really lets her voice be the focal point for the song's climax. A jazzy riff on the piano gets us back to the chorus for the big finish.
The awesome thing about a really good song is that it can be reimagined for almost every conceivable style of music. Without Sophia's feedback to how she envisions her song as she listens to it in her head, this song could've ended up on stage at the Grand Ol' Opry or Broadway. It's my job and the job of my team at Studio Automatic to take the artist's vision and lay it down to be enjoyed by all who listen to it.