Avid Pro Tools and Avid Media Composer were instrumental in the creation of the latest single and music video, ‘Accept Who I Am’, from beatboxing artist and musician, Butterscotch. Entirely recorded and mixed using Pro Tools, with the video edited using Media Composer, the track features Butterscotch’s unique combination of singing, beatboxing and piano playing, accompanied by some powerful imagery in the accompanying video. We went behind the scenes to meet Butterscotch and to see how the Avid tools helped her create ‘Accept Who I Am’.
Having begun her career in hip hop’s underground beatbox scene, Butterscotch was crowned the world’s first female beatboxing champion in 2005. Shortly afterwards, she found fame via her winning appearances on America’s Got Talent, and her career has since rocketed. Butterscotch used Pro Tools to help the creative process for the single. “I sent the song to my producer, Jim, who also uses Pro Tools,” said Butterscotch. “I was able to come in and record the vocals and we found a great sound for my beatboxing and for my vocals. Pro Tools helped make this project as big as it could be.” Butterscotch’s producer, Jim Greer, added, “The new collaboration feature in Pro Tools is amazingly handy when you live in different cities. You can be working on the song at the same time, talking back and forth about it – it takes down barriers. You don’t have to worry about the distance anymore.”
Producer, Jim Greer, is also a songwriter, musician, and multi-instrumentalist. He has worked with a wide variety of well-known artists over the years, sometimes functioning as a producer, an engineer, or songwriter – quite often all three. “I’m addicted to music and really enjoy the creative process, almost more than anything,” Jim explained. “I’m happiest when I’m in a room creating music or collaborating with other people, just to be able to make something then listen back to it. Projects that are teeny-tiny are just as fun as larger projects – it’s the process of creating it that makes me happy, doing little bits every day. I take a song with me everywhere I go and tend to always have something going on in my head. I’ll be thinking of a song, so I’ll make an mp3 file of it, then listen to it again later on, and add something else.
“I have the recording side of things down to such an art that I don’t really think about it anymore,” Jim adds. “I have a fast and light-on-its-feet Pro Tools rig, so I can record something really quickly, and if I think of something I want to add, whether it’s a French horn, didgeridoo, weird synth or some backwards talking, I can do it fast. I engineer about 90% of projects myself but love having an engineer around on larger projects.”
Jim believes that, musically, collaboration is everything, and you just have to be open to ideas. “If I’m working on a song and someone says, ‘here’s a section of the song, we need something there’, I will always have an idea. I also love getting ideas from others and combining these with my own and coming up with something truly collaborative. It’s probably where the best material comes from. Butterscotch is amazingly creative and we worked really well together on this single. I might say, ‘here’s a beat’ or play her a few chord progressions – she’d pick one that she liked, then she’d make it better and add her own spin to it. Everything is better when you collaborate.”
“Collaboration is everything, you just have to be open to ideas”
—Jim Greer, producer
Jim has two Pro Tools setups in his studio – one Pro Tools|HD system with an old Digi|003 desk in one room, while the other room has a large Pro Tools|HD system with four 8-channel interfaces. “I really like the little 003 rig at the moment as it’s really fast and easy and I can use the faders when I need to. It’s nice to create volume or pan automation with an actual fader, since it’s a little more fun and organic and more of a performance. In my Pro Tools software, I have loads of Avid tools, plus Waves and Soundtoys plug-ins too. The new Avid consoles look really cool and I think they would help my mixing but probably not change it drastically. Who knows though!”
Jim relies on Pro Tools exclusively for his work. “Without Pro Tools, I’m a helpless little baby stuck by the side of the road with nowhere to go! I ulize Pro Tools in every way possible – record with it, edit with it; sometimes it’s just recording what I’m doing, other times I’m using it as a tool to alter, change, fix or create something. I find it to be the most versatile of all recording software – it has the most options and is the easiest to use. It stays out of the way when I want it out of the way but jumps to my help when I need it – as fast as I can think of something, Pro Tools can do it. Without it, my workflow would be much slower – in the days of tape machines and consoles, I could make a song every two weeks but now it’s more like two hours.
“Without Pro Tools, I’m a helpless little baby stuck by the side of the road with nowhere to go! As fast as I can think of something, Pro Tools can do it. Without it, my workflow would be much slower – in the days of tape machines and consoles, I could make a song every two weeks but now it’s more like two hours.”
—Jim Greer, producer
‘Accept Who I am’ used a couple of special techniques in Pro Tools. “There’s a sound that opens and closes the song that’s kind of like an alarm,” Jim explained. “When Butterscotch initially brought the song to me, it reminded me of a statement or warning – a proclamation. I have all these old records, including this particular one from World War II that’s nothing but recordings of Morse code, so I recorded some of this into Pro Tools then exported it out onto CD to use with my CDJ as a sample. I sent it out to some delays and effects in Pro Tools to make it sounds trippy and interesting, then added it to the start and end of the track, which was kind of fun!”
The chorus of ‘Accept Who I Am’ was originally very different too and Pro Tools really helped make this stronger. Jim continued, “Butterscotch had written great verses and all the rapping was amazing – no one can rap, beatbox or perform like her – but the chorus was really long when it really needed to be short and to the point. After recording the initial vocals, I went into Pro Tools and used it like an editing tool, chopping up her melodies and rearranging them to make the chorus punchier. There wasn’t really any other way for me to show her than to just do it in Pro Tools; I made a Frankenstein version, if you like! Butterscotch then rewrote the lyrics to fit and sang it in the new way and it turned out much stronger. This is a great example of how you can use already-recorded material to rewrite a track.”
Jim has been using Pro Tools since 1996 and often works in a very similar way with all his projects. “In this particular track, Butterscotch would say, ‘here’s my song, I have a piano part, a verse, a chorus and a bridge, and I have these vocals’. Then what I’d normally do is set up a click track and get them to track the basic music (the piano part), the scratch vocal – in Butterscotch’s case, I had her beatbox too since she had rhythms in her head that I just wouldn’t hear otherwise. Then, at that point, this is where the fun starts. I like to call it ‘giving options’. I’ll bring in beats, I’ll bring in sounds, I’ll play bass, I’ll play keyboards, I’ll add some strings. I’ll just start adding all kinds of stuff – some minimal and interesting, some really crazy and full and beautiful – all in an effort to make the message of the song stronger. With ‘Accept Who I Am’, I heard elements in the track that I really liked and so I made a palette of music, ideas, colors and sounds that Butterscotch could choose from. When I saw her reacting, I knew she loved certain things, so then I stuck to those things. That’s where you make a real production. The production is like taking a movie script and then actually shooting the movie, where you have all the lighting, photography, colors, acting, expressions, camera moves, edits – they make that movie come to life. The producer’s job is to make a song come to life in the same way and it’s loads of fun.”
There are a few old features that Jim couldn’t live without in Pro Tools. “When Butterscotch beatboxes on the track, it’s so easy to quantize it with a little bit of swing to make it in time with the drums. I love the Soundtoys plug-ins and use those on everything. There’s also the Waves H-Delay that I’ve used on this track, along with Bomb Factory’s 1176 compressor, which is one of my favorites.
Jim takes his Pro Tools laptop pretty much everywhere. “I’ve had a laptop on the road many of the times I’ve been on tour, mixing and re-mixing off my laptop. Just this summer I have a job that I will be working on, but it’s when I already had a family holiday planned, so I will be travelling with my laptop, a keyboard, a microphone and a few bits of percussion – having the portable rig means that I can do both. Between my laptop and Avid, they are both pretty much responsible for my career! Without this flexibility, it would just be the case of me sitting in a studio, waiting for the phone to ring.”
“Between my laptop and Avid, they are both pretty much responsible for my career! Without this flexibility, it would just be the case of me sitting in the studio, waiting for the phone to ring.”
—Jim Greer, producer
“My advice to anyone starting out would be that, if you want to be a mixer/recording engineer/songwriter/producer, get what you can get with the budget that you have. I would get a laptop, a little interface and a way to record, and just start recording! Make yourself available to anyone that has anything to do with recording – this is incidentally what I did when I was starting out – and find someone that needs your help and make yourself indispensable to them. Work hard and do a good job and I guarantee that they will tell someone and you will get another job. I believe that it rests entirely on your own shoulders to make your career happen.”
Avid Powers the Making of 'Accept Who I Am'
'Accept Who I Am' - Official Music Video - Butterscotch
Continue on to part two of this blog, where we hear from editor, Ali Mao, about creating the video for ‘Accept Who I Am’.
Mary John Frank, Director
Ali Mao, Editor