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One step at a time

A collaborative project that I’ve been working on with my wonderful friend Rachel Hardy is starting to come to fruition – and the first song, One step at a time, is out now.



Cast your minds back to August 2021. At that stage, Sydney was still in the final stages of its second major lockdown. As well as working from home, tag-teaming with my husband to assist three boys with home schooling, juggling housework and cooking duties, and keeping my choir going online, I enrolled in an online songwriting and music production course. I mean, why not?!

 

It was a Studio course with Ryan Tedder that ran for the month of August, and required us to write and produce three songs from scratch – which is a lot! I managed to get the three songs written, by dint of some late nights. One of them, Unsubscribe, went on to be the first song of my 2022 album, Oxytocin & Adrenaline. Another one, Losing you, is slated for my next album, Dopamine (which will hopefully come out in 2024). And the third song, released in 2023, is the subject of this blog.

 

For our third song, we had to write with a collaborator. I immediately thought of my friend Rachel, who I had met years earlier at university. We had never written any music together, but we had a long history of collaborating on musical projects of different types. We were co-founders of music theatre society MUSE, co-directors and producers of several MUSE shows, and had also performed duets together. Luckily Rachel was keen. The catch, of course, was that we were still in lockdown, so we would have to co-write and record our song remotely. An interesting experience for a first-time writing collaboration!


We were interested in writing about social media and one of its impacts on society – the assumption of perfection in other people’s lives. We all have a tendency to post only positive content, things that show our own lives in the best possible light, but this can cause others to feel a sense of discontent with their own imperfect lives. Our main message was that perhaps we should all ditch the mask - embrace life with the filters off - and find some solidarity in sharing the chaos that we all experience!

 

I still have a notebook with some scribbled ideas, things I jotted down during our first phone call. I think we felt that it would be a quite serious song, given the topic. We worked out some words for the first verse, and then went away to come up with more ideas separately. I remember playing around with melodic ideas, firming up the first verse, and then trying a few ideas for the chorus. One of them was particularly boppy, much more upbeat than I anticipated – but it seemed to work. I sent it to Rachel with a question mark and she sent it back with a thumbs up.

 


And so One step at a time was born. As I write this, in December 2023, it reminds me that the title is really quite apt when it comes to the process of songwriting. A lot of patience and persistence is required in this business! I would never have thought that it would take more than two years to get this song released – especially given that at the end of the course, in August 2021, I had a fully produced version.

 

However, there was quite a lot to work on. First of all, in the original version Rachel’s vocals were recorded on her phone, so we always knew we would have to re-record them in the studio. Secondly, by the time we had done that, and listened critically to the arrangement, we realised that there was plenty of room for improvement. In particular, I replaced my somewhat amateurish programmed drums with fantastic live drums by Nick Salter, and replaced the midi piano part with an acoustic version, and we added layers of backing vocals (thanks to Hugh Palethorpe and Stuart Palethorpe). We also got heaps of good advice on the mixing from Bonnie Mackinnon, Damian Griffin and Stuart Palethorpe, and then had the final mixing and mastering done through db Mastering.

 

The most exciting thing about the whole process is that it inspired us to go ahead with some more songwriting together. And so the upshot is that One step at a time is the first song of Rachel’s debut solo album. We have already written four more songs together, with several more in various stages of completion. So please follow Rachel on your favourite streaming service, and look out for more of her songs in 2024!


You can listen to One step at a time on Spotify here. You can follow Isabel on Spotify here, and Rachel here - or find us on any other streaming platform as well.

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