StAC Students Team Up To Form Souldrop

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The four members of Souldrop

Recently I caught up with Finn Perring, Anna Bennetto and Grace Dephoff who are part of a wider group of students that make up the band Souldrop. Anna leads the vocals, Finn plays bass guitar and Fin Gilzean (St Thomas of Canterbury College) plays lead guitar whilst Elliot Millar (Burnside High School) is on the drums. Formed in April 2016, their first single Mill Bay was released in August with an accompanying music video shot and edited by Grace Dephoff and their 5 track EP will be available from the 9th September 2016.

UPDATE 25/9/16 The band’s self-titled EP is now available and embedded below via Spotify:

 

I was particularly interested in the technology the band used to record the track as well as edit the video, however to understand all of this it was important to learn of the various musical influences on the band.

  • Elliot is a jazz and big band drummer, representing Burnside High School in various musical competitions.
  • Fin learnt blues and classic rock guitar, mostly from his father
  • Anna has been performing for over ten years in musical theatre shows, as a jazz singer in various bands as well as one soul band.
  • Finn is a classically trained guitarist who plays Spanish flamenco guitar, but bass for Souldrop.

Recording & mastering the audio track:

Most of the audio track was recorded in the St Andrew’s College recording studio with the vocals, drums and bass all being laid down in this environment. The lead guitar parts, however, were recorded in Fin’s bedroom using Apple’s Garageband. Once finished, these guitar recordings were sent to the other Finn (Perring) to add to the other instruments and mix the recording in Apple’s Logic Pro X. To this end, the band never played the entire song together in the same room during the recording process, instead relying on the use of over-dubbing to achieve the best sound.

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From a non-musicians perspective, I found this a fascinating way to craft a complete song, through the selective and judicious extracting of various takes of the song and merging them all together in an order that produces the best quality song. Additionally, the song was a very collaborative effort with the idea of the song first coming in a formative stage to Finn Perring around two years ago, before drummer Elliot and lead singer Anna co-wrote the lyrics for the song.

Recording & editing the music video:

Grace Dephoff filmed all of the footage for the video in a single afternoon using a Canon 70D camera with the 16-24mm lens and a 50mm lens borrowed from Mr Dave Jensen who works in the TV studio at St Andrew’s College. There was a limited script for the recording of the music video, instead a desire to keep it as natural as possible for the band members. One of the most clever features of the music video is the fact it is in slow motion, whilst keeping the music and singing in real time.

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Grace Dephoff filming the band

This was achieved by having the band perform the song at 1.5x normal speed from speakers that they could hear to help them keep time, whilst Grace filmed at 50fps so that it could be later slowed down to 67% normal speed and still look smooth after this editing had taken place. The end effect makes it look like the band are in time to the song, even though they are in slow motion. Grace had learnt of this technique from a former guitar teacher she and the whole band were thrilled with the end result and how it looked.

To edit the hours of video footage, Grace used Apple’s Final Cut Pro, a tool she was largely self-taught in after graduating from using Apple iMovie for a number of years, including winning numerous prizes at the annual St Andrew’s College Film Fest. All up, she spent around 10 hours editing the footage and another 6 hours completing the colour grading in the video.

Distributing and Promoting the single:

The band are using a combination of word of mouth and social media to get exposure for the first single Mill Bay, combining messages on Facebook, Instagram and, of course, the YouTube channel itself. They have added a number of live performances as well, including lunchtime shows in the St Andrew’s College Quad, an assembly at Burnside High School and a performance at St Thomas of Canterbury College as well. There is a planned interview on 98RDU radio station as well on 14th September.

TunecoreLogoThe song has been released through TuneCore which is a digital media distribution company which automatically publishes the song to the main digital music platforms including Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Shazaam and the YouTube channel the band have created as well. Anna and Finn’s focus at this stage is getting the song out to as wide an audience as possible and any revenue that is generated from the track being played is a bonus. TuneCore will send the band monthly statistics around the performance of the song on the various platforms.

In terms of copyright and protecting the song, the band have chosen to use the Creative Commons licensing platform. They recognise that this license might not stop another band from being able to sample their work, but they will be required to acknowledge Souldrop as the source of the original content for the sample.

What’s Next?

The band are keen to keep gigging and playing as many live performances as possible to increase their exposure and improve as a unit. They are also thinking about recording another music video for one of the other tracks on the soon to be released EP.

My Thoughts

I have been super impressed with the members of the band that I have met so far, both in terms of their musical ability but also their technical skills to be able to produce such high quality recordings and videos. It is always pleasing to see that skills that have been taught and learnt at St Andrew’s College are finding a creative outlet in the areas of student’s own interests such as being part of a band.

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The wider Souldrop crew including Anna Bennetto (back row, second from right), Finn Perring (back row, far right) and Grace Dephoff (from row, first on the left)

This song and video highlight how technology has enabled students to create high quality, professional looking videos and promote them digitally to an international audience. When I pointed this out to Finn, Anna and Grace their reaction was a mixture of pride and nonchalance in the work they had created, highlighting to me just how natural the use of this technology is to students these days. Importantly, they had thought about using Creative Commons to copyright their work demonstrating an inherent understanding of the value of their music and video.

Finally, there is opportunities for this work to be credited against various NCEA internal Achievement Standards in some subjects (mainly English/Music) which would be a serendipitous outcome of what is essentially a passion project for these students. This is, perhaps, one of the biggest outcomes and reasons to pause for thought from this. If schools were able to recognise the creative output of students in areas of their interests perhaps we would finally see the flexibility of NCEA that is often talked about, yet rarely achieved.

Guest Post: Collaborative Composition In Music

This guest post today comes from Mr Duncan Ferguson, Head of Department of Music here at St Andrew’s College. Previous posts have featured his work integrating technology in his practice that you can read here and here. Today’s post looks at his Project Based Learning (PBL) with his Year 10 Music Options class. You can read the original blog post here.

Over the last five weeks I’ve been trying a new way of running collaborative composition in my year 10 Option Music class.

This year I’ve been blessed to have a large class of highly motivated and talented students, so they were the perfect class to take a risk and jump into what is for me a new way of teaching composition.

The basic summary of what we did is that I divided the class into five groups.  In the first week each group had to start writing and recording a song (in a rough demo format).  In the 2nd week the groups swapped songs and continued on with what another group had started the previous week.  We did this for five weeks so that in the end, every group had been involved in the composition process on each of the five songs.

Initially the students were very nervous about this process as I’d done very little in terms of how to actually write songs.  However, that didn’t worry me as within each group of five members I knew that there were people with various strengths that when combined would make the process go smoothly.

Prior to this we had done a little work on what makes a good chord progression (mainly analysing four chord songs) and an effective melody but within the context of their own personal compositions, which they recorded/sequenced in either Garageband or Studio One Free.  It wasn’t much, but it proved to be enough to get the students on the way with the process.  What was critical to the process though (which I didn’t realise until we got a few weeks into the process) was that a strong knowledge of how to use technology and specifically MIDI keyboards/guitars with software sequencers made all the difference to the success of students being able to pass on their work to the next group (only a few students in the class had strong notation/theory skills so technology bridged the gap very effectively).

Here is a little video where I show one of the songs and how each group contributed towards it week by week:

And here some of the songs created by the students (please keep in mind that these are only supposed to be at ‘demo’ quality… we still intend to record them properly at a later date):

This whole process has been an incredibly empowering experience for the students and is a great demonstration of the high end of the SAMR model:

SAMR Diving

Software like Garageband and Studio One has enabled students to achieved a huge amount in a very short time and made it possible for this separate group collaborative thing to happen.  Students that recorded audio onto iPhones or wrote down music with traditional notation were no where near as effective in the sharing of their music with others.  By far the best way for this process to succeed was for students to compose using MIDI for the instruments and microphones/audio for the vocals… all along with a click so the music could be easily edited and rearranged by different groups.

Here are a couple of short videos watching students in action as they were creating their songs:

For other teachers who are wanting to run this sort of unit I’ve found that the following will make the process go very well:

  • Ensure that each group has at least one person who plays the following instruments: piano, guitar, drums, voice.  Often drummers don’t have a huge amount to do in the first week or two but as the weeks went by I discovered they were increasingly taking charge of the projects… running the technology (i.e. the computer DAW/sequencer)… which was critical when it came to restructuring ideas previous groups had come up with into coherent song structure of intros, verses, choruses, etc
  • Try and have a computer with a MIDI keyboard and a microphone setup in each room.  If you are using student laptops instead make sure you have a dedicated USB drive that holds the files that they work off… minimise copying of files between computers.  We ended up a losing a complete work from one room that students were working in as they mistakingly copied the wrong files then deleted the proper one.  The most successful songs were those that came out of rooms that had dedicated computers that students used each week.
  • Use the note pad facilities of your DAW (like Garageband or Logic) for writing down chord progressions, lyrics, ideas, etc  Don’t have things on scraps of paper as they may get lost.  Keeping everything with the DAW file is an elegant solution for keeping everything in the same place.
  • Don’t record piano/guitar ideas as audio… try to record them as MIDI.  This will enable successive groups to edit what was recorded.  If it’s audio, they’re stuck with it and are unable to improve upon it.

For me this process has been such an eye opener.  The students surprised themselves with what they could come up with.  The loved the process (they always arrived early from lunch so they could start as quickly as they could) and they grew so much as the weeks went by.

I will be making sure that this way of composing will be incorporated to NCEA composition at our school.  It will grow the numbers of students taking music and will help to break down the perception that you must be an orchestral musician who has been learning since you’re seven years old to be able to succeed in NCEA (even after five years at my school I’m still trying to destroy this myth!).

But overall… it was a heck of a lot of fun.  And that is what teaching and learning should be… shouldn’t it?

Suspect: The Murder Mystery Musical

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Mr Duncan Ferguson, Isaac Shatford and Ms Ginny Thorner.

Mr Duncan Ferguson, Isaac Shatford and Ms Ginny Thorner.

UPDATE: This story profiled on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp on Friday 24th October and can be seen here.

The buzz around St Andrew’s College lately has all been focused on the annual Middle School Production, largely for the fact it has been mostly written by Year 13 student Isaac Shatford, with contributions from a number of other senior students in the area of lyrics and plot. I knew something like this would always involve significant use of technology as the Musical Director was Head of Music Mr Duncan Ferguson, and was actually the first person I interviewed for a story for this blog.

Consequently, I sat down for an hour with him to learn what was involved and was impressed to learn that the following tools were just some that were used during the composition and performance of Suspect:

Quite a list! So how exactly were these being used?

Selection of Scenes from Suspect for Seven Sharp

COMPOSITION & REHEARSAL: 

Noton on iPad

Notion on the iPad

For starters, one of the challenges was that the orchestra members and cast needed to start rehearsing before the score was actually completed and with extensive collaboration ongoing between Isaac, Mr Ferguson and Ms Thorner there needed to be some way for them to see updates.

The answer was to use a combination of a shared folder in Dropbox, which was storing the score files being written in Notion. This allowed the three contributors to always be able to see the latest edits of the score at any time and also contribute edits and corrections that the others would receive immediately. The use of Notion also allowed Mr Ferguson to check the tempos and help the students ensure they were keeping accurate time with their playing. He did note, however, that the one drawback with Notion is that it doesn’t automatically update when the source files change. This was overcome by the notifications from Dropbox which would alert each of those working on the score that new changes were available.

As the product was used on both MacBook laptops and on an iPad, Mr Ferguson could use the iPad to play the score directly during rehearsals. He also used a Bluetooth foot pedal which would automatically “change pages” of the score on his iPad when playing, and if there were any changes required during rehearsals he could make them directly on the iPad, with the changes being synchronised back to Isaac in real time. This process created a great digital workflow for the writers and I asked Mr Ferguson to walk through how this looks:

“Loves a Lie” a song not completed in time for the show but will be included in the professional soundtrack recording in November.

There were a number of benefits of using Notion which included:

  • It resulted in far less printing of scores, as the digital sharing via Dropbox enabled real time collaboration to take place. In the future, it would be ideal if all orchestra members had iPads so they could also get updated copies of the latest scores in real time.
  • Because of Mr Ferguson’s other departmental commitments he could not attend every rehearsal of Suspect, but because of the excellent quality sound recordings created by Notion then the other staff involved in running rehearsals could work with the correct tempo music (particularly important for the dance choreography).

Tempo Advance AppNotion does focus on orchestral sounds and was not so strong in drums and bass, so Pro Tools was used to round out the music in this way. During orchestral rehearsals Mr Ferguson used an iPad app called Tempo Advance which allowed him to program the tempos for all the songs into a playlist and just work through them directly.

Technology has definitely allowed for the streamlining of the writing process of this show, resulting in a remarkable nine month period between the conception of the idea and the production of the show. As mentioned above, rehearsals had to start before the script was completed and to aid the students in practicing, video clips of the songs and music were embedded into a dedicated Moodle course to increase access e.g.

Moodle MusicSongs and lyrics were also distributed via Moodle in this way – with a nice mention about respecting copyright ownership of Isaac Shatford (Digital Citizenship should be taught in all classes after all!)

Moodle was later supplemented with a closed Facebook group for cast members, allowing for even further reach for sharing and practicing. Here is an example of the theme song recorded by senior students for the Middle School cast members to practice with:

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/58349924/Blog%20Data/1%20Murder%20in%20the%20night.mp3 ]

Murder In the Night – practice recording

This reveals one of the benefits of doing a show like this that was written by a student at the College: the ability to work directly with the score, modify and share it with cast and orchestra members directly. This is simply not possible with major productions that are licensed for performance (such as the Senior Production Guys and Dolls performed earlier this year).

I questioned Mr Ferguson how common this sort of “digital workflow” is amongst other schools and he believes it is essentially unique within New Zealand, describing it as the perfect model for other schools to consider implementing. He did admit, however, that working with Isaac made it easier:

Isaac is a musical prodigy, a stunning musician and I’ve never know another student who was able to produce this amount of work to this quality ever before. He’s written great songs, but it is the sheer amount of songs he has written that is just unheard of. There has been nothing to this level that has ever happened before to the best of my knowledge.

PERFORMANCE ON THE NIGHT:

Set design for the stage show Suspect

Set design for the stage show Suspect

Due to the complex set design, members of the orchestra could not all see the stage (see image to the left). To help get around this, Year 13 student Ella Harris came up with a simple, yet ingenious, workaround as explained by Mr Ferguson:

I had the iPad Mini beside my keyboard near the orchestra, and I placed an iPhone at the back of the auditorium that could easily see the entire stage. Before the performance started I simply started a Skype video call between the two devices, meaning I could see everything happening on stage at any time.

It is this type of thinking, use of technology and problem solving, that typifies what happens in the music department at St Andrew’s College. It was also during live performances that Mr Ferguson used MainStage 3 with a Midi keyboard plugged into his MacBook Pro to play the glockenspiel during performances.

During the first performance of Suspect Head of Culture Sophie Wells and Mr Dave Jensen from the TV & Media Studio, were tasked with using HD video cameras to film the show with some close up shots. Whilst the final performance was going to be filmed by the College’s TV & Film crew, it would be shot only from the back of the auditorium making close up shots challenging. With the performance captured, Mr Ferguson used Final Cut Pro to edit the two camera feeds into a rough mix of the entire show and then shared it with the cast members via the closed Facebook group.

This allowed them to reflect on their performances and actually see and hear in detail what guidance they were receiving from Ms Thorner and Mr Ferguson about their performances and to truly “get” the message.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/58349924/Blog%20Data/More%20than%20just%20a%20friend.mp3 ]

More Than Just A Friend – practice recording

 SUMMARY:

It’s pretty clear from this blog post that significant amounts of technology are deeply embedded into the practices within the Music Department at St Andrew’s College, and that they serve to enhance the creation and production of top quality music.

It’s worth reiterating that when talking to Mr Ferguson it was very clear that the use of this technology was always targeted around efficiency gains in collaboration and never simply because “they could.” Ultimately, this is how technology can assist learning outcomes – when used authentically and deeply integrated into the learning it is a fantastic tool, and in this case one that made the production of a show possible within only nine short months.