Everybody hurts. At least that’s what R.E.M. said, right?
Sarah Sellers is one of my favorite artists to work with. She’s highly passionate, immensely talented, and is a fiercely soulful vocalist and performer. So basically she’s your ideal artist to be in the studio with. She’s a total pro in front of the mic, and whether she is singing live or in the studio she always gives it everything she has, until there’s absolutely nothing left but blood and tears on the floor. She and I have played a ton of shows together, and we’ve produced a handful of YouTube videos together as well, some of which you can check out here on her channel. I consider myself very lucky to call her a friend and to work with her as much as I have in the past.
Sarah was going through an immensely rough time personally (you can read her blog about it here), and wanted to do a new YouTube cover. The song “Drowning” by Banks was her pick, and she told me about it a few weeks before we did the cover. If I haven’t heard it before, I typically don’t listen to songs before I do a cover arrangement as I always want to approach it with fresh ears, and give my best inspiration to the recording process. I knew it was a sad song, and that was about it.
She came in that day in fairly decent sprits (not necessarily with the weight of the world on her back) and I listened to the song. It’s pretty easy chord-wise, just a gentle flow back and forth between G, A, and Bm. So, I said “Let’s just get the vocal down, and then we can fill in the track from there.” I took a few minutes to play the chords on a Rhodes patch from Kontakt in Pro Tools, set up the mic and was ready to go.
She took a deep breath, and began to sing. Words cannot describe how magical this moment was, although I’m going to give it a try. Every word was dripping with emotion, and every phrase was perfect. Her entire mood changed for the song. She felt every single ounce of it, and after the first take – I had tears welling up in my eyes, and major goose bumps on both arms. We both did, really. She killed it. It was transcendent. It was one of my favorite moments I’ve ever had, musically. Amazing!! She even messed up a phrase in the second chorus, and we let it stay. Who cares? It was perfect.
I was so inspired I quickly began to produce the track around her stellar vocal, and I think I did the whole thing in about 2 hours, maybe less. I added some light doubled guitar in the second verse, and used Coldplay’s Midnight as a reference on the arrangement, trying very hard to NOT bring rhythm in until it was absolutely necessary. There’s a 4 on the floor bass drum pattern that happens for about 4 bars – and that’s it. All of the guitar tracks are first takes, both electric and acoustic – no edits. I swear this track wrote itself. We completed it all without overthinking, and I think it’s one of my favorite tracks I’ve ever done. I even mixed it – which I never do!
Anyways, give it a listen and enjoy Sarah’s gorgeous performance. This is how it should be: all the emotion happened in a brief moment. It was captured on tape, then left alone. There’s no tuning, little (if any) editing, and the arrangement that shines because of it, I think. Just music, brah. Pure, real music.
Josh Goode is a Dallas, TX based record producer specializing in pop, dance, country, and singer/songwriter projects. Music is his passion, and tex mex is his muse.