Let's Talk About "Happy Place"
Updated: Sep 26
A few days ago I announced the forthcoming release of a new album, entitled Happy Place, with a teaser-trailer (right) showing the sort of thing to expect.
For those who know me offline, in real life, this musical style and aesthetic won't come as a surprise. However, for fans of OSC, who are more familiar with my electronic and/or ambient stylings, this upcoming album might seem somewhat out of character; a strange and unexpected departure from my previous work. Well, allow me to explain...
About a year ago, after hearing Ambient Time, a YouTuber named Temprist approached me to commission a short piece of music for use in an upcoming video (he makes videos about Roblox). I made something for him, and during this process, we got to talking about the music in his videos, in more general terms. He mentioned that he would like a body of loop-able music for different scenarios to utilise throughout future videos, bespoke to his tastes and something that might, over time, become an integral aspect of his channel's broader aesthetic.
I thought this sounded akin to a video-game soundtrack; something I'm starting to feel reasonably versed in and confident with, having made several video game soundtracks in the last few years. Furthermore, Temprist's reference material (that he was using as a mood-board of sorts) was mostly Nintendo music from the 1990s and early 2000s (namely Mario and Animal Crossing), which, with my background and gaming tastes, felt like the project simply had to happen!
After some brainstorming, we decided on something that borrowed inspiration from the Animal Crossing: New Horizons soundtrack. The instrumentation would be mostly acoustic and electro-acoustic (electric guitar, electric piano, and so on), and it would be created in such a way as to sound like a handful of musicians simply jamming in a somewhat understated way. Musically, it would lean into similar techniques that Nintendo games often feature; a playful, unpretentious fusion of things like trad-jazz and Americana. There was also a little bit of ska, surf-rock and latin/samba for extra seasoning and spice.
Side-note: I won't go into depth here about the writing and composition process, as that varied depending on each track's needs. If enough people are interested, I'll make a blog or video about that in the future.
I began by establishing a framework/template for things as follows:
Drums - Logic Pro's Drum Kit Designer on the "Vintage Rods" preset, which is soft, warm and very natural sounding
Piano - Pianoteq's U4 upright, customised to be soft, and warm, with a slightly played-in sound (not perfectly in-tune, slightly roomy, etc)
Bass - "SuperNatural" upright-bass patch on my Roland Jupiter-50; a tremendous patch with intuitive, realistic input response (with regards to dynamics, note bends, glissandos, grace-notes, mechanical artefacts, etc)
Hand-Held Percussion - assorted shakers, a tambourine, cabasa, guero, clave/wood-blocks, etc, all played myself, to increase the realism (as opposed to programming percussion samples with MIDI). I only relied on sample-instruments for congas, bongos and the occasional flexatone
Nylon String Acoustic Guitar - I thought a steel-string acoustic might be too bright, twangy and sustained for the aesthetic of this project, so I opted for a nylon guitar. Its softer in tone allowed for warmer, darker mid-range frequencies, and I also found that when used with a capo I was able to treat it like a large ukulele (of sorts) at times
Other instruments that featured regularly were:
Electric Piano - Pianoteq's Wurlitzer A200 model is used on some pieces, in place of the acoustic piano. Similar to how it's utilised in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons soundtrack, it was able to provide a darker, more textured and fluffy tone. Sometimes it would adopt a thickening role, other times it was driven a little harder and used to energise the more up-beat pieces
Hammond Organ - My old Nord Electro 2 makes a few appearances, providing either percussive, staccato parts or thickening pad-like held chords (and the occasional lead-melody embellishments)
Electric Guitar - My go-to electric-guitar was (as usual) my Fender Telecaster, but a few tunes needed surf-rock style vibrato, meaning my Fender Stratocaster was also called into action. Amp-simulation was courtesy of my Boss GT-001.
Marimba & Vibraphone - more "SuperNatural" patches from the Roland Jupiter-50.
There were a few other instruments dotted around the place, such as steel drums and a Moog-style analogue-sounding monophonic synth (both courtesy of the Jupiter-50), and although I planned to use a ukulele and melodica, they sadly didn't make the final cut on any tracks. Hopefully, one day they'll feature in a future project.
If you've ever followed any of my production blogs or mix-breakdowns, you'll know I'm a strong believer in less-is-more, and in this scenario I doubled down on this notion. I established a basic mix-environment, with a natural, not-too-roomy reverb, and worked predominantly with only EQ and compression. I utilised lots of volume and reverb-send automation to move things forward and backward in the mix as needed.
This allowed me to rely less on compression and keep things sounding a little more dynamic, open and airy, as I strived for a the "session musicians simply jamming" aesthetic.
I also leaned in to nuances, dirt/grit and imperfections, not getting overly hung-up on precision, clarity or perfection. Minor imperfections such as slightly choked notes on the acoustic guitar, string-squeak on the electric guitar, and so on, were left in, to give it a more spontaneous and in-the-moment feel. Also, MIDI was never quantised beyond about 75% (and MIDI editing on the whole was minimal, and only used to fix particularly noticeable timing mistakes). This meant recording more takes than I normally do, to get things right, but hopefully it translates to a more human performance that feels less "produced" and artificial.
All the live-audio was somewhat crudely recorded with just an old Shure SM58 which I've had for about 20 years. This was in part out of convenience, as the proximity of the '58 is very small, meaning background noise wasn't an issue. My condenser mic would have picked up lots of background noise, and placed restrictions on when I could record.
Aside from logistical convenience, the '58 also gave me the tone I was looking for, straight out of the mic (almost), reducing the amount of post-production processing on the mic'd audio tracks. I wasn't interested in having super high-fidelity top-ends or thick lush low mids on my guitar or percussion. The live-audio parts were mostly nested in the upper-mid-range and therefore the SM58 was able to capture all of the qualities I was looking for.
If I were to undertake this sort of a project again in the future, I'd explore the costs and feasibility of hiring session musicians. Whilst it wasn't really feasible on this project, I believe that making a record of this nature with multiple people would elevate things beyond what I alone could conceive/imagine during pre-production. Maybe one day someone will throw enough money at me to make a multi-musician project in this way 🤞🏼😁🤞🏼.
Nevertheless, considering the end-product against how it was made (one man in a tiny room, with a few instruments and a Shure SM58), I'm very pleased with how things turned out (as was Temprist). I believe (hope) that the illusion of this record being several musicians playing live in a studio is a fairly convincing one, and I'm proud of how this album has shaped up.
I must give a huge thanks to Temprist for affording me this creative opportunity and being such a wonderful collaborator. His input, guidance and ideas were invaluable in helping shape this project, and at times, reining in some of my more out-there ideas that might have taken things too far off-topic. Whilst he was a client, he also acted like a creative consultant or executive producer; always open to new new ideas, never forthright or dogmatic, very clear in his communications, and I really valued his insight and supportive suggestions at every step. ❤️
Happy Place releases on October 6th, 2023, and will be available on my BandCamp page, as well as streamable in all the usual places.
I'm very aware that it's a huge stylistic departure from my previous output, and that it might not be for everyone, so I'm setting it at "name your price". Hopefully you will still hear (within the music of Happy Place), some of the OSC character you're familiar with, and enjoy this album regardless.
The kind of music present in this album (playful Americana, crossed with light-jazz) is something I schooled myself on, in my late teens and early 20s. Back then, when I started getting very serious about playing and making music, I was playing and writing music just like what's on this record. Twenty years later, I appear to have come full-circle and finally managed to make a record that I always knew was in me, but that I never had the vessel through which to realise, or wherewithal to make a reality. I hope you enjoy listening to Happy Place as much as I enjoyed making it 🙏🏼😊.