Alexa Weber Morales is a singer-songwriter from Oakland, CA whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person, but with whom I have conversed a great deal on Twitter (find her @AlexaMorales). Recently she got in touch to tell me about her experience of using Sibelius First, our entry-level music notation software designed for people just like Alexa, in writing songs and arrangements for her new album, I Wanna Work For You, which was fan-funded through Kickstarter.
Alexa wrote about her experience of using Sibelius First when she was arranging The Names of the Winds, one of the songs on her album, on her blog. It’s a great insight into the creative process, and how software can help you experiment and go in new directions. She describes an unsatisfactory collaboration with the pianist in her band whom she had asked to help arrange the song based on her melodies, and how the experience led to a new resolve:
I knew my lyrics, inspired by the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brien, were some of the best work I’d ever done. I could see he totally understood that hunger to compose a great song to match them. “You can do it yourself,” said my co-producer. “You’ve got it.”
So I began to pound away at the song, in a way I’ve never done before. After sitting for hours at the piano and playing it, reshaping some of the lines and considering how composers I admire set their melodies (Satie, Joplin, Chopin, Gounod, Bach, Guinga), I took a few good melody lines and switched to composing it exclusively on the computer in Sibelius (music notation software by Avid). I spent days on it, locked in my room. My boys left me alone. “Where’s Mommy?” I heard one ask behind the door. “She’s still working on her song,” the other replied.
I discovered that it was interesting to write orchestral string lines in Sibelius and see how they interacted — even though the piece would be recorded with just piano and bass. When I wrote the song back in the mid-2000s, it had a key change in the song from verse to bridge/chorus. I kept that. A new development was a time signature change that occurs at the end of each chorus. I was especially proud of this. The song goes from lilting waltz as I sing “Tell me all the names of the winds, whisper all the ways I’ll never know,” to inexorable 4/4 with eight-note arpeggios under the sad lyric, “Which one will blow me to my love?”
A sleepless week passed, and I emerged from my home office, triumphant — or at least, “done.” We were about to rehearse the whole band the day before our two days in the recording studio. My co-producer, Sam Bevan, still hadn’t seen the song. No one had. Was it any good? After rehearsal, he and I sat down and he played it on the piano. I could see he liked it. “Where did you get these voicings?” he asked nonchalantly. Victory! The next day, Jonathan Alford, my pianist on the album, played it in the recording studio and loved it. “Is it better than the original demo?” I asked. “Did you listen to it?” “Yep, kiddo, this is much better. Those descending lines in the chorus are great.” Another jolt of artistic pride — I explained they’d come from my playing with string lines in Sibelius.
Read the rest of the post for the full story. Using the video export feature in the new Sibelius First, Alexa has also created a video to accompany the song, which she talks about on her blog, and has uploaded to YouTube:
You can check out Alexa’s album, I Wanna Work For You, on Bandcamp, and buy a digital copy for just $10.