Songstories #16 – Shift Shuffle

A few weeks ago I watched a video on Taxi TV where Chuck Henry, a musician living in California, showed how he makes a living building hip hop and dance tracks, not for the charts, but for TV and films. They’re called ‘cues’ and you’ve heard them in the background of scenes – when someone walks into a club, when they drive off in their car, you know the sort of thing.

puppetsI’ve been making lots of these and sending them to various music libraries but I’d never tried hip hop – too far from what I usually listen to. But I was inspired by his attitude and process which was essentially ‘have a little bit of structure in mind but improvise, throwing in different loops, making quick decisions and getting to the stage when you can feel something developing its own momentum.’

So that’s what I did with this. I probably spent three or four hours on it, over three nights. I used loops I’ve collected from various libraries and magazine disks over the last ten years. I would throw one in, add another. Does it work? No. Delete. Try another. Does it work? OK, extend to a four bar section.

Once I had the basic drum loops and the bass riff (also a prerecorded loop), I started cutting the loops up, making spaces, making jerky little glitches. That was fun. So section 1 was the simple beat, section 2 a little busier, section 3 had the most going on, section 4 changed completely for variety, section 5 returned to simple, and section 6 reprised section 3 but with a beefier loop to drive it along.  I then played a melody over section 3 and repeated it here and there in different synth voices. That was the only actual playing I did. The last thing was to add swooshes, drones, sweeps, and other one-off noises to carry you from one part to another.

I still wasn’t sure if it was any good. has a good forum where you can get peer reviews of tracks so I stuck it up there asking what on earth genre this was. I got some good suggestions both for the genre and for improvements. As a result I added a section at the end with the melody in a higher register. They said it fitted into hiphop (to my surprise), 80s, and electronica. Well, there you go.

I think it’s fun and it’s definitely opened the door to a different type of music for me. Having given up on any expectation of ‘success’ in the music business means I can do whatever I feel like, and forget about consistency. Hope you like it. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.


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