How a Bass Line Led Me To Record a Talking Heads Cover

Talking Heads Once In a Lifetime screenshot

I grew up listening to a LOT of ’80s new wave music, with Talking Heads perhaps being one of the quirkiest of the lot. David Byrne knew how to rock an oversized zoot suit and combined a certain performance art aspect to every concert, every music video. The band, after all, were all at one point students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) if I recall correctly.

So it comes as no surprise that while working on a song this weekend, I ended up with a simple two note bass line that sounded familiar. Turns out it was a variation on the killer bass line from Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” track from their 1980 album Remain in Light, which was co-written and produced by Brian Eno, he of the ambient music movement.

I figured, this song I’m writing that I don’t have real lyrics to? How attached am I to it? Turns out, not at all. So I asked myself, is it worth the effort to produce a cover version of that Heads song? Why yes, yes it would be fun.

And so, from that simple 2-note bass line and a bunch of African-sounding percussions was born this homage and cover version.

There was just one hitch: I figured this anthemic song about impostor syndrome (the lyrics basically amount to “What have I ever done to deserve this beautiful house and this beautiful wife?”) had to hit me in the gut somehow. And I realized the only way to do so would be to translate the spoken word verses into Filipino. Thus the title “Minsan Sa Isang Buhay” literally means “Once in a lifetime” in my native tongue.

I can imagine the Talking Heads sitting around and enjoying themselves listening to fan-made cover versions all day long. Sorta like this GIF:

Behind the Scenes of the Production

Two days after I uploaded the rough, initial mix I figured out what was wrong with it. Everything was going on all at once with not much sonic space for individual parts.

Vocals were panned randomly, without seeing if the panned left vocals conflicted with the panned left instruments. And then everything was run through a reverb making things blacker and muddier than the University belt in three-foot-high floodwaters.

This is what it looked like assembling this song.

So I went in with my editor’s hat and tried to edit. And failed.

My music software was giving me error after error and refusing to mixdown the audio into a WAV file. I thought maybe I had too many tracks with plugins all over the place, eating up my RAM? But even with the PC’s task manager on, it wasn’t showing the CPU maxing out… UNTIL I tried mixing the track down to a WAV file and everything came to a screeching halt.

I figured I may just be dealing with one of those “Windows auto-updated something and it broke” issues. And forged ahead by outputting all the instruments except guitars into its own sub-mix. After that, everything became a breeze and taking out all the plugins allowed me to start from scratch and build up the soundstage more cleanly.

Too much information? Whatever the case, you will hit stone walls in creative work, and sometimes it’s really just a matter of taking 2 steps backward in order to move forward and move beyond where you got blocked.

Cheers, and stay creative!


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