In April earlier this year, I ran a Giveaway contest on my Facebook Page for someone to win a new tune, written for specially for them. This is my ‘Give Us A Tune’ Service that I offer to Wedding Couples.
A few months have passed now since the draw. Lauren, the winner, had her Wedding over the summer. I’m delighted she was able to play the written tune at their Wedding Reception.
From time to time I have couples asking about the Service, how it works, and what is involved. So I thought it would be good in this two-part post series to give a ‘behind the scenes’ look at how I went about working with Lauren to write the tune that she wanted for her Wedding. In Part One I talk about the first stages of a new tune commission, and the collaborative approach I take. In this blog, I will talk more about the services I provide once I have written the tune. So why don’t we start by heading into the studio…
Into the Studio to Record the Commissioned Tune
I have 4 different ‘standard’ packages for people to choose between when they commission a tune from me, each offering a different custom option like including the written sheet music of the tune, or including a full musical arrangement.
With every package though, I provide a mixed recording of the commissioned tune as standard. Although it depends on the commission, this will usually be a recording of the tune played on the bagpipes.
The ‘Glasgow’ package: the full arrangement
With Lauren’s prize, I had offered to record a full arrangement of the tune for her to keep. This is provided as part of my ‘Glasgow’ Commissions package.
I knew that Lauren wanted to use the music at points during her Wedding day, so my aim was to arrange the tune to be in keeping with the traditional Scottish wedding Lauren was having.
This is the point where I get to retreat into my home studio, reach for a microphone, hit record and start to have some fun.
When I’m not playing the bagpipes at events or writing tunes I compose music for media projects. So, working in the studio producing arrangements is a big part of what I love about my job. When I get to do this for a commissioned piece it is amazing.
The commissioned tune starts to come to life
Starting with the bare-bones recording, I might sketch out some ideas, introduce some interesting colours through harmony, and start to add depth by layering instrument parts. Little by little, the track starts to come to life.
It is just so satisfying.
I really like to layer bagpipe parts, so basically when the tracks are played back together the result sounds like a group of pipers playing (just like a small pipe band). That was the approach I took with Lauren’s tune, and I think it is really effective in creating a central focus and drawing attention.
Again, it depends on the particular commission and when the music is to be used. For Lauren, who I knew wanted to use the music during part of her Reception, I thought this type of arrangement would work well.
Mixing: the glue that holds an arrangement together
Once the various parts were recorded and written for Lauren’s tune, I left the project for a day or two before returning to it for the mixing stage. This is something I always do, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I find I need ‘fresh ears’ for mixing, so I can hear all the niggly things that need correcting. And second, I find mixing to be quite technical; it’s still creative, but in a very different way to composing. So I find having a few days away from the project before making those mixing tweaks really helps me.
With so many instruments and different frequencies competing for space and attention, mixing is an absolutely crucial part of producing new music. By carefully shaping each instruments sound, the mixing stage is where a track starts to gel together. It is like the special glue that gives the different parts and instruments cohesion.
Sending the arrangement to the customer
Once it is mixed, the last stage of recording the piece is to export it to mp3 ready to be sent out…
…which is always a time of mixed emotions for me. I’m excited to hear if they like it. I’m dreading that they might not like it.
It can feel like a long time, waiting to hear.
After sending the recorded arrangement to Lauren, she was in touch later that day to let me know that they were both so excited to listen to it.
Then, later, she was in touch again:
“WoaAaah 😍🥺😍🥺😍 that is absolutely spectacular and so emotional. We love it so so so much.”
Phew!! Breath again. When I hear that from a customer, it is honestly one of the best feelings.
Writing out the new tune and providing the notated sheet music
With the tune written and recorded, the final piece of Lauren’s prize involved me writing out the sheet music.
The ‘Inverness’ package: the handwritten sheet music
Getting the sheet music is one of the custom options that comes with my ‘Inverness’ Commissions package. This is another one of those parts of the Service that I really enjoy.
Maybe it is because, typically, this will be the final thing I am asked to do on a commissioned project; so it tends to be the thing that completes the circle.
However, I think it is the fact that the written sheet music is the one visual element coming out of a project. It can be signed and dated. It is the bit that can be framed, wrapped, presented and hung on a wall. A personal message can be added. For me, all these visual parts add something really special to the bespoke nature of the Service.
And once it’s printed, it makes for a perfect (paper) First Anniversary gift!
My approach to writing out sheet music
Recently, I have started writing my music out on the computer. It is still written ‘by hand’, but I use a tablet to capture all the notes digitally. I have a template I set up with music manuscript lines on a locked layer. I am then able to write on top of those lines, on a separate layer.
This allows me to make edits and changes more easily, without the risk of ruining the rest of the written page. It also lets me add type as well as a relevant or meaningful photograph, if the customer wishes.
If anyone asks for the music to be written out traditionally (pen and paper), I am always happy to do this. But, personally, I think the results are more appealing when I work with the computer – although that maybe says a lot about my handwriting!
The other thing I find customers like about keeping everything digital is that once the music is written, I can save it down as a pdf and send it instantly to them, anywhere in the world. The sheet music can then be printed locally and framed, ready for gifting.
The finished handwritten sheet music
And here is a look at the finished sheet music. And as I mentioned above, producing the manuscript is in many cases the final part of the commission. The last bit of the puzzle.
So, sending the finished sheet music to Lauren was a really gratifying moment for me. That is because even though it marks the end of the project, the resulting tune (as Lauren had told me) was something they absolutely loved and would treasure.
And as a composer, I can’t ask for any more than that. It is an amazing feeling.
If you are interested, you can hear the finished track here.
I thought a few words from Lauren would be the best way to end this post
“Alistair was absolutely first class through every stage of the tune writing process. We got to make lots of choices to completely personalise our tune and Alistair advised with his expertise along the way! Our tune is beautiful and brought lots of happy tears at our wedding. So chuffed to also have the sheet music framed in our room. Would highly recommend!”
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below or drop me a message. I would love to hear from you.