I’m really torn about what to say about this one. It’s difficult to discuss the writing process for it without getting into what I was writing about. And what I was writing about might change how people feel about the song, despite the fact that the song definitely went way beyond what I had originally planned for it.
I guess I can say this much: this started off as a response song to a track posted by another Song-A-Day participant during the month, and it was kind of just supposed to be a joke. But the more I thought about the joke, the more serious I realized my subject matter was. I also realized that I was writing about more than just the joke. It was one of those creative moments where the creation is doing the driving, not the creator.
- 509 Ray Toler 2:29
Those moments are… well, not rare, but not common either – especially not this month. Nothing In the Universe is probably the only other one this month that had anything close to the automatic-writing experience this one provided, and I think that those two songs are the strongest / best things I’ve written over the last 26 days. There are still two days to go, but I’ll be surprised if anything tops this one.
It’s kind of strange to write that – there’s a part of me that never wants to say “this is good” about my own work, but as I listened to the final master a few times, I had to admit to myself: this is good. As an example of songcraft, arranging, and performance, it’s one of my stronger efforts ever.
That’s part of the magic of Song-A-Day – you never know when you’re going to write the best song you’ve ever written. I don’t know what my best song ever is, but 509 is up there with Pretty Bomb, You Can’t Make Me Love You, I’ve Never Written Her a Love Song, Waiting Patiently, and The Lights as ones I’m particularly proud of and that maybe deserve more than I can provide them.
Another part of the magic is the community. It’s such a wonderful feeling when someone going through the exact same struggle you are for the month makes a positive comment that recharges you back to full battery. The one that really got me was, “509 – holy hells Ray, can you really just roll something like that out?” It’s one thing for me to know that the song is good, but it’s another level of satisfaction when others hear it as well.
My answer to that question is a tiny bit flippant, but true: well… on this day I could. As I said above, these moments aren’t necessarily rare, but they’re definitely not common. On this particular day, all of the stars aligned.
Music and lyrics got written in tandem – they are linked directly to each other through the entire song, and nothing was “first” aside from the opening three lines, which were the catalyst for the rest of the song. As soon as I realized the production was going to be “serious tone” instead of “jokey,” I switched to one of my favorite patches, a grand piano with a warm pad sound behind it. This is a really old patch, and I first fell in love with it when I got a Kurzweil MicroPiano in the mid-90s. The version I use most now is on the Kurzweil K2600, but I suspect they’re essentially the same program.
While I was writing the first two stanzas, I thought this was going to go into Billy Joel or Elton John power-ballad territory with drums and a band. But when I came to “what was your name?” everything changed. I think it was the chord that did it and not the words, but it took on such a delicate and emotional feel that I knew I couldn’t go with drums.
I was really worried that I’d written a song that I couldn’t sing. The “I wonder who you are” line is pretty high up there for me, but by the time I got around to recording my vocals, I was happy to find that I’d warmed up enough to hit them reasonably well. Maybe there’s something to that whole “practice” thing, but I’m still looking for an alternative if anybody knows of one.
By the time I got those chord changes all worked out on the first stanza, I realized that it required a string / orchestral arrangement instead. As I’m mentioned previously this month, I’ve acquired some magnificent orchestral libraries over the last 18 months or so, and finally feel like I at least have the capability to realize what I’m normally hearing in my head, even if my programming technique isn’t quite there yet.
One key to good orchestral mock-up programming is to play each section individually. I could have just loaded up a big string section and played chords, but it would sound more like a synth playing strings than an actual orchestra. In performing each section, it’s important to add the expression, volume changes, and vibrato that an actual string player would perform, and when you do that individually for each section, it makes it a lot more natural.
Another key is to generally stick with one note per section. That’s not always true, but it’s the right starting point. What makes it all magic is that there are 16 violins or 8 basses playing that one note, and it’s just amazingly beautiful.
If there’s anything that can make a big string arrangement even more amazing, it’s adding in some brass, especially horns. They’re just a big warm hug, especially when you orchestrate them in spread-out chords or give them a featured melody line within the chord. Shivers!
As I got to the end of production, I thought that maybe there was more I could do in the final stanza, along the lines of bringing even more of the orchestra – the low brass, woodwinds, timpani – and if I were doing a multi-day production of it, I might have gone ahead and experimented, but I opted for discretion, both because I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, and because the end of the day was approaching.
There are a couple of things that I’ve now identified to fix when I revisit this one in the future, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
Another day Like any other But not like any other Against all odds In the dark I came across another What was your name? I wonder who you are. Did you dream you’d ever come this far? Who was to blame? Where did you call home? And do you think they know you’re sailing to the stars? A quiet place It’s somehow fitting You’ve earned the right To sleep instead There’s no more race That’s for the living Turn out the lights And rest your head Another day Like any other But not like any other Copyright © Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.
- Piano and Synth: Kurzweil K2600XS
- Strings and Horns: Spitfire Symphonic Orchestra
- Vocals: Waves Scheps Omni Channel, Eventide H3000 Factory, FabFilter Pro-R
- Transmission: iZotope Trash 2, FabFilter Pro-Q 3, Valhalla Supermassive