Back in 1987 I got my first Roland MIDI interface and keyboard. After plugging the keyboard into the game port of my SoundBlaster card in my 286 computer running the DOS version of CakeWalk I thought that Gary Numan’s Are ‘Friends’ Electric from his Replicas album would be a great tune to try and lay down on the computer. I’m a closet synthesizer freak and a big fan of Numan’s music. Well, for better or worse my programming business got really busy and the MIDI interface hit the shelf along with my drums.
Last week I happened to be looking around on YouTube when I came across a band called Little Boots. In this video they were in Abbey Road Studios and they were doing a cover of Are ‘Friends’ Electric by Gary Numan with Gary himself on lead vocals. The idea of putting down this track on tape (disc – whatever) came back to me but I thought of trying doing it in this new arrangement.
The version of the song I recorded was done using the tools I’ve put together so far in my basement studio. The track includes;
- Yamaha DGX-500 – Main Piano Line
- Yamaha DX-7 – Bass Keyboard Line
- M-Audio Oxygen 49 + Mac + Native Instruments Retro Machines – Mini Moog Keyboards
- Fender Jazz Bass
- Squire Stratocaster
- Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5
- Gretsch Renown Maple Drums & Zildjian Cymbals
- Shure SM-57, AKG C1000S, Shure SM-58 Microphones
- Mackie Onyx 1640i firewire mixer
- Reaper DAW software by Cockos
When I learned to play this song a million years ago at my parents house I learned it on a baby grand piano so playing the new arrangement actually brought a sense of deja vu. But after 30 years I could barely remember how to play it. Here’s a tip. Don’t lay down what you expect to be your final track the first day you learn to play something. Lay down a rough track, learn to play it better then lay down a final. That’s pretty much how this track went. I should mention that while the track was recorded over about 5 days the total time added up to about 12 – 14 hours. Maybe. I didn’t want to spend a ton of time doing it.
I started by recording the YouTube video as a baseline audio track to work from. Then I just added each instrument to the mix until I got enough of a structure together to….. well, to play with myself.
Oddly enough I kept running into timing glitches when I recorded drums without the baseline track. I’m not sure where I’ve messed up but the glitch is evident between the breaks where the piano solo and male vocal ends and the rocking part starts. Since it wasn’t too bad I left it. I could have spent forever tweaking and fixing but I just wanted to get something decent out there.
Next I recorded the piano back track. I know you should start with the rhythm section (being the most important of course) but with the baseline track I had I could cheat a bit. Being a bit rusty and not as nimble-fingered as I may have once been I recorded two separate tracks, one with the C / G, Bb / F back track and one with the Bb / E.
When I recorded these tracks I used two tracks on the DAW; one to record the audio from the Yamaha DGX-500 and one to record the MIDI. This came in handy later when I applied a Mini Moog source and got those cool “dah dah” sounds
Next came the DX-7. I used a deep fat bass line with a setting called Fat Funk. As with the piano I recorded the MIDI on a separate track from the audio. I then added a Mini Saw Source Bass from Native Instruments Retro Machines add-in for a really crunchy bass line played along the main DX-7 line.
The soaring synth is a the setting Mini Lead 08 from Retro Machines. I patch it through a Guitar Rig effects rack called Pimped Delay. I’ve adjusted the presets to my liking and really enjoyed the results.
While I mic’d a lot of my drum kit I ended up only using the basic snare and kick setup. Good thing I bought all those toms ; ) But seriously, I accidentally damaged the snare track somehow but found that the overhead mic and tom mic picked the snare up enough. The kick was also mic’d on its own. I finally shut off the snare and floor tom tracks as they were unnecessary.
The bass track wasn’t too tricky. I checked out a few videos online and picked a track I thought worked well (and that I could reasonably play). I haven’t been playing the bass too much lately but enough so that after a few practices I could play it ok. I ran the bass straight through the mixing board then added a little distortion and a fatter cabinet with Guitar Rig 5.
Guitar was a little tougher. I only need to play 3 chords; G, F, C. Not too tough in and of itself but transitioning smoothly between them was. And those damn little strings hurt my fingers! Give me a fat, chunky bass string over those wires any day. My solution? Three tracks! I’d put my fingers in position for the cord I wanted to play then blast it out when it was called for. This song makes it really easy. The result didn’t turn out to bad. Then I grouped the tracks in Reaper and applied a nice distorty effect on them all.
Finally it was time for the vocals. I’m not a strong singer and often tend to mimic rather than sing. My first take of the vocal sounded cool but most folks who knew me would wonder where the hell I developed a British accent. I re-did it a little more North American-ized and I’m kind of happy with the result.
Fortunately for me my wife Mari helped out with the female vocal track in this arrangement. I sort of ambushed her with the project. I showed her the YouTube video twice then hustled her into the studio to give me some tracks. “I don’t know the lyrics” she said. “They’re coming out on the printer. Don’t worry I’ll get them” I countered. While she did a few takes I think the one we went with, the first, sounds the best.
Once all the tracks were laid down it was a matter of working with the DAW to produce the end-result. While I’m sure I could have done more with everything I didn’t want to spend forever on this single project. I’m pleased with the sound I got and with how the process worked and I’m lucky to have a live-in vocalist I can ambush from time to time when the arrangement calls for it.
So here it is…