Behind the scenes at BeVox: A week in the life (episode 2)

Part One of this post is here

Part Two: Bank Holiday weekend

Saturday 26th May: Mainly non-work related

I was up at 8am, which gave me chance for a shower and a catch-up on the news before I had to leave the house. It’s Toni’s birthday in August, and as it’s a big one (40), I’m planning lots of little surprises for her. I had an appointment to put some of those plans in motion, which kept me out of the house until about 1pm (I took the BeVox van for a quick wash on the way home). After lunch, Toni and I had to deal with an issue that had come in by email, which took a few hours – although this was business-related, it was also a little sensitive, so I’m not going to write about it here. We were both a little deflated by the time we’d dealt with that, so we decided to take the evening off. We’re going on holiday in August, for the first time since our honeymoon three years ago, so we did some planning for that instead!

Sunday 27th May: Rehearsal tracks

We had a bit of a lie-in, and I wasn’t up and working until 10:30am. Our usual daily schedule runs a couple of hours later than most people’s – because we don’t normally get to bed until between 2 and 3 in the morning, we tend to start the day a little later. I got back to fixing and mixing the tracks for our Summer Singing Day, and I had all the tracks done and ready for Toni’s vocals by lunchtime (about 2:15pm). This weekend was the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco, and I like to watch the races if I can, so I spent a few hours over lunch enjoying watching cars going round in circles.

After lunch, I recorded Toni singing most of the alto parts for the Summer Singing Day rehearsal tracks. We worked through until about 7pm, by which point Toni’s voice was getting a little tired, so we stopped – we’d only got one track left to finish, and there was no point pushing Toni’s voice to do this one when we could come back to it the following day. I began fixing and mixing the tracks we’d just recorded. I called it a night around 9:30pm.

Monday 28th May (Bank Holiday): Rehearsal tracks, backing tracks, business meeting

I was determined to finish the rehearsal materials for the Summer Singing Day, so I launched straight into work on the remaining tracks when I got up at 9:45am. I finished all the work I could by 11:30am – I just needed to record Toni’s vocals for the final song, then I could complete the mixing.

For any programme of music we sing as a choir, I have a list of jobs to do, and an order in which they’re usually done.

  1. Choose the songs
  2. Secure permissions to arrange and perform them
  3. Write arrangements for voices
  4. Lay out the sheet music
  5. Record a guide piano part for the rehearsal tracks
  6. Record the vocals for the rehearsal tracks
  7. Tidy up the rehearsal track vocals
  8. Mix the rehearsal tracks
  9. Write orchestrations for the backing tracks
  10. Lay out the sheet music for the orchestrated parts (for an orchestral arrangement, I typically create 4 different pieces of sheet music: 1 for all the woodwind instruments, 1 for all the brass, 1 for percussion, and 1 for strings)
  11. Record each individual instrumental part (using a keyboard to play the part, with the sound being provided by “virtual instruments” – I’ll provide more information on this part of the process in a future blog)
  12. Mix the backing track

In some circumstances, I’m able to change the order of these steps around a little – if we have a song that really relies on the orchestration to be effective, or if I’ve booked our session singers significantly in advance, I can do the final four steps (creating the backing track) before I record the vocals for the rehearsal track, which means I can include the backing track on the rehearsal track rather than using a guide piano part.

For the music we’re singing as part of the Summer Singing Day, I’ve got this whole process to do for 4 out of the 5 songs – as we’ve sung the Les Mis medley before, I don’t have to do new rehearsal tracks or a new backing track… or so you’d think. I’m actually going to create a new backing track for it, because I’ve updated the tools I use to create backing tracks so much since I first created a track for the medley, I can make it sound a LOT better now. I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to backing tracks, and I’m just not happy with the track I previously used now that I know I can improve it. I’m going to do a future blog post showing how I create a backing track, and in that, I’ll do a comparison between the old version and the new version so you can hear the difference.

So, after doing all the work I could on the rehearsal tracks before I recorded Toni’s final vocal, I jumped in to Step 10 of the process for the Les Mis medley – preparing sheet music for the instrumental parts. I’d already written an orchestration, but at the beginning of this year I swapped the software I use to write music on the computer. I’d previously spent around 20 years using Sibelius, but I’ve now swapped to Dorico – a new program, but one that is rapidly becoming the best in its field. I needed to transfer the score for the Les Mis medley from Sibelius to Dorico, then do the “laying out” of the sheet music for the instrumental parts. This is a lot quicker to do in Dorico than it was in Sibelius, but it can still be a bit fiddly. I finished this up around 1:30pm, and took a break for lunch.

After lunch, Toni and I had planned a business meeting. We have these at random intervals, whenever we feel that we need to go through all the different projects we have on the go and get a handle on where we are with each of them. It can be really handy to get an overview of everything we have on our plates, and often results in us passing jobs from one person to the other so that we have a better distribution of the workload. The notes from this meeting were really helpful, and will shape how we work for the next few months. We did a bullet-point list of the jobs we have to do – everything from immediate tasks (send an email to everyone who has signed up for this season in Nottingham with some information about the following day’s session) to jobs that need doing for events that are a year away (our massive event for April 2019). The list ran to four A4 pages!

Once we’d finished the meeting, we recorded Toni’s vocals for “Can you feel the love tonight?” – the final song to be completed for the Summer Singing Day. This didn’t take too long, and afterwards I launched straight into tidying the recording up and mixing it. Once all the mixing was done, I went through and exported the rehearsal tracks for each voice part for each song, then uploaded them to BeVox OnLine. By this point, we had four non-BeVox singers who had signed up to take part in the Summer Singing Day, so I sent them a link to the rehearsal materials too. This took me through to 9pm.

I wanted to make further progress on the Les Mis medley, so I went to print the orchestral parts out – only for my computer to have an argument with me about whether it could “see” our printer or not. The printer lives in Toni’s office, but it’s on our wireless network, so we can print to it from anywhere in the house, in theory. It seems to work fine from all our computers and laptops, except my audio PC (which is where I run Dorico, and so is where I wanted to print the scores from). I spent about half an hour trying lots of different approaches to fix the problem, and in the end, admitted defeat – I exported the scores from Dorico as PDF files, transferred them onto my “admin” computer, and printed them from there! I set up the track ready to start recording the orchestral parts, and began by playing in a good chunk of the string parts (the strings tend to play most of the way through, whereas the other sections of the orchestra have bits of the song where they don’t play much, so it makes sense to get the strings down first). Again, I’ll go into more detail about how this process works in a future blog post, but for now, I’ll just say that I recorded the first pass of the string parts for all the different instruments before calling it a night at 11:30pm – just in time for dinner!

Part Three of this post is here

Author: Tim Allen (admin)

Director of BeVox

Leave a Reply