Following an article last month about Down for the Count’s unique line-up, Mike tells us about the process of taking a song from a recording to the live stage.
One of the things that we take pride in as a function band is the quality of our arrangements and orchestrations – in other words, the way our songs are written for the musicians in our band. We are one of the few function bands who perform only our own arrangements. Every single song that you hear us perform in concert has been arranged, by us, specifically for the instruments we have in our band, ensuring that all of the songs sound as good as they possibly can. We spend many hours on each song making sure it sounds just right before we perform it at gigs.
Most of our arrangements are orchestrated by Mike, who is only too happy to spend all day with his iMac and keyboard – although most of the other musicians have contributed songs or arrangements at one time or another. We almost always adapt the ‘original’ arrangements of songs, which are well-known to most audiences and will get everyone up on their feet and dancing. Although it can be great to hear your favourite song performed in a slightly different style, it is usually not the right thing to do at wedding receptions and corporate events, where we want everyone to be dancing to music that is familiar to them.
One of the most difficult parts of arranging the songs is actually choosing the song to start with. This has to be done very carefully; we have to consider whether a song we would like to perform is well-known enough to be popular at events, the right speed and feel to get people dancing, and also whether it is possible to perform in a 9-piece swing and soul band. However flexible we may be as a band, there are a few songs that will never be possible to perform with our line-up! We also have to be careful not to let our own preferences take over – the songs we perform have to be ones that people of all generations will enjoy listening and dancing to, and not just songs that we like.
The next step is listening carefully to the song, and choosing how to orchestrate it for our band. For some songs this is straightforward; for others, we have to be more creative. This is where the two keyboards in our line-up come into their own as they can share a variety of sounds to make our songs sound as full as possible.
The process of listening to a song (and transcribing it, if we can’t find any sheet music) and then writing out the parts for each individual instrument takes anywhere between three and fifteen hours, depending on the complexity of the song.
However, it doesn’t finish there because then we have to practice it as a band before performing it at gigs! We usually try out a song to see how the arrangement sounds in ‘real life’ (the computerised recordings never quite compare!) to see if any changes need to be made before we perform it at our next gigs.