I was recently congratulated on my unique method of keeping the members of Slow No Tempo “in line” by recording those 1-man a cappella quartet videos. Except, that’s not even remotely close to why I did it.
Firstly, I have to say how absolutely hilarious I found that remark. I legitimately laughed out loud reading the message, and startled both of my cats. Because it’s all kinds of ridiculous.
Well before the days of my having a YouTube channel I would often mess around with some recording gear, multi-track recording myself for fun. It was a great way to get a quick proof-of-concept recording of an idea bouncing around in my head, and I found that it was a really good way to practice tuning. Singing parts that you normally don’t sing in an ensemble is great for your ear. Plus, I’m a nerd and it was fun to play with my recording gear. It’s something I’ve done for about 20 years as random birthday greetings for people, really silly “chordially” inviting someone to an event, sending a message of congratulations, that kind of thing. (I did say I’m a nerd…)
So, fast forward to 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down choirs, and Slow No Tempo was no different. It almost felt like singing was considered Public Health Enemy Number 1 for a while. Christmas was coming up, I couldn’t sing carols with anyone, I had a lot of free time on my hands which is not something I’m used to at that time of year, my mental health could have been better, so I decided to make some recordings. We were talking about doing a quick Christmas “album” with the quartet; just quickly recording some songs so we could give the recording out as gifts to family and friends. Then restrictions increased and that wasn’t a possibility so we reverted back to the Quarantet approach of recording ourselves in isolation along to a click track.
The first impetus to start recording those initial xmas videos was that one of the hosts at CFBX was asking for xmas recordings from local musicians, and I had an arrangement I’d done of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas for SNT that I wanted to record as it wasn’t going to be part of the Christmas Quarantet project. The second was a friend with an obsession with Carol of the Bells paid me to record it. So, I did the audio recording of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas for the radio station to send it off in time for the deadline, then made the video for Carol of the Bells. Since I had plenty of free time, I thought, why not make another video since I already have done the bulk of the work recording the singing for Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Then, I had a sudden inspiration for a rendition of White Christmas that SNT could do and the time to write it out and record it, so I did. The recording was finished on Christmas Eve because my wife was busy doing… something. I forget what it was, but it was going to take up several hours and wasn’t making any noise so I figured, hey, let’s record a song.
A few months later someone in the community who was looking to support local artists anonymously commissioned me to make “another of those fun videos with multiple copies of you.” They had asked if it was possible to be a love song, and I had been meaning to write out a version of Can’t Help Falling in Love for SNT for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity. Then xmas 2021 was coming up and people were asking if I would do any more videos, as apparently that’s my new tradition. Thus came Silent Night which I had already arranged, and The Restroom Sign Said “Gentlemen”.
Now, you may have noticed that I’ve repeatedly mentioned having written things out for the quartet, or having intended to make an arrangement for the quartet of one of the songs I recorded in all this. I figured these videos would serve as a great way of saying “hey guys, wadaya think of this? Want to sing it?” At no point was my thought process “This’ll keep those guys in line. I’ll show them I don’t need them at all.” Because, well, I absolutely need them. Nobody’s going to want to watch me build up multiple parts on a loop pedal for a whole show, and singing along to recordings of myself in 3 parts karaoke-style is similarly un-interesting. There have been jokes about “Ryan’s flexing again” but it was always noted that I clearly kept things to 4-parts because I could then bring the arrangement to the group.
The 1-man a cappella band approach is fine for YouTube, but definitely does NOT work as a live performing concept. I suppose if the whole purpose of Slow No Tempo was recording, maybe my 1-man recordings could be seen as a “listen, I don’t actually need you guys, so…” But our main purpose is to go out and sing for people. Which, as I’ve mentioned above, requires the whole group. Also, recording a song here and there is fun, but not having the other guys coming up with ideas in rehearsals makes for a pretty boring process. I really love the back-and-forth of “let’s try this… now let’s try this… ooooh, what if we do this!” It always ends up elevating whatever arrangement we’re working on. Then there’s the extra entertainment value in the four of us interacting with each other and the audience in performance that you just can’t hope to recreate as a solo performer. Also, there’s the litany of mental health benefits to rehearsing with the quartet. We’ve all referred to our weekly practice as being part therapy session, and it’s absolutely true.
So yeah… those 1-man a cappella quartet videos being seen as a method of keeping the members of SNT in line really made me laugh. “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll replace you with myself!” is a laughable threat, because how am I going to do that live in a way that audiences will actually be interested in sitting through?
The recording process
In case you’re curious about the process for how I recorded those videos, I’ll give you the “nutshell” version here. I always start with recording the audio. I can easily make edits there if (let’s face it, when) I make a mistake here and there. Once I’m (relatively) happy with all the parts, I make the mix, add a little reverb, etc. Then I make a video recording of me singing along to the audio track. I have found I make all kinds of stupid mistakes if I’m just lip-syncing, and it just looks better when I’m legitimately singing, even though the audio from the video isn’t going to be used. I have a special version of the audio recording that starts with me saying “Clap in 3… 2… 1…” then clap so I can sync up the video and audio quickly. I sync each video with the pre-recorded audio, pop the videos into their respective quadrants, and voila, a (very) simple video is born. There is the “nutshell” version of how I’ve recorded these videos.