I was recently invited to participate in an upcoming compilation album of video game music covers/remixes. Since the project is in the works, I’m not at liberty to discuss the details yet, but there are a lot of awesome artists contributing tracks to the album. I won’t say which one right now, but I’ll be doing my own version of a Yasunori Mitsuda town theme. I’m currently attempting to do a 1:1 copy of the track by very carefully listening and meticulously figuring out every single note for every instrument by ear. I started by loading the original audio track into my DAW, cutting off the few milliseconds in the beginning so that first beat of the song starts immediately. Then I set the tempo to that of the song (through trial-and-error). This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to do a remix in this way. I’ve realized two things from going through this process so far:
1. Yasunori Mitsuda’s music is far more complex and brilliant than I thought (and I already regarded him as my favorite composer). There are subtleties in the composition that I never noticed before: anything from composition techniques that are amazingly well executed, or even entire instrument parts that I never noticed were there before.
2. I really need to improve my listening skills!
I’m quite good at figuring out melodies and parts that have longer, sustained notes. I’m having quite a difficult time with shorter note phrases, particularly pizzicato strings (and especially when there are two or more pizzicato notes being played at once). Isolated, I can figure out what’s being played quite quickly, but when the pizzicato is mixed in with a dozen other instruments, it’s hard for me to hear it clearly and pick the correct note. One trick that is helping me is using my DAW’s EQ on the original track, to try to enhance the instrument I’m trying to listen to by bringing its frequencies up and lowering the surrounding frequencies. It’s not perfect since many instruments share the same range, but it’s been working pretty well.
I’m discovering that composing and figuring a song out by ear are two very different things. When I’m composing, I’m the one making all the decisions. Nothing has been written, so I build as I go, making decisions based on what I hear in my head, or making discoveries as I improvise, etc. When trying to figure out another person’s composition by ear, you have to use your ears in a very different way. You really have to tune in, and be aware of the tiniest of details. It’s very challenging, but very rewarding when you start to hear your work sound more and more like the original.
In the end, the 1:1 copy will only be used as a reference for me to do my own original arrangement of the piece in my own style (and one that will fit the theme of this compilation). By figuring out all the individual parts of the original first, I will be able to more easily incorporate them, and modify them, in my version.