We Got the Beat

Somehow, I missed this video a few months back when Showtime debuted their documentary on The Go-Go’s, inventively called “The Go-Go’s.” Ok, they could have spent a little more time on that title.

I thought the documentary was a little boring and predictable, but it was nice to see how the band members have made it through the years and hear alternate versions of the songs from my youth.

I’m guessing that as part of the promotion, the original band released this video:

The description says it was “performed live.” I suppose that is possible but it was clearly edited at some point. There’s a lot of video production there, and the voices simply work too well together to have been part of an impromptu live broadcast. But, it’s still a lot of fun and the song sounds great.

Yes, it’s a little jarring to see this group of seemingly suburbanites rock out to one of the classic anthems of the late 20th century. But hey, we all get older. If you’d rather remember them in their younger days, you’ll want to watch this video instead.

But at any rate, it all got me thinking about how these videos are being produced in this weird year. I am aware of the back story, because I’ve done some of them. Are you?

The way they do it

First, they have to start with a backing track. A backing track is usually a simple version of a song played on piano or guitar. It’s recorded so everyone can have some idea of pitch or timing. This track isn’t used in the final edit.

In this case it’s really obvious that they used the final recording of “We Got The Beat” from the original album. Why do I think it’s obvious? If you play the new version against the old version, it’s exactly the same tempo. In other words, it lines up. The only version I found on YouTube was from the opening of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but it doesn’t matter. Play it carefully and you can line up the sound in both videos perfectly.

By the way, if you have a few minutes to watch that, and if you were a kid in the 1980s, it will make you smile. I guarantee that the mall in your hometown looked just like this.

Each unto their own

Each musician plays the backing track into headphones. You can see the musicians and their headphones in this video. In this case they sang and played along to themselves. I don’t know if the musicians did one take where they sang and one where they played. Honestly that’s how it’s usually done, so you get a clean recording of each.

So, let’s say you had five vocals and four instruments. So you’d have nine tracks, plus the backing track. The first thing you’d do in this case is make each track sound as good as possible. There are a lot of filters than can be used to decrease noise, make a voice sound fuller, and correct minor pitch issues. You can find a lot of these tools on apps on your phone, but the ones that professionals have are even better.

Once the sound is good, it’s all dumped into a video editing program. You want to make sure that the pictures follow the music. You precisely line up each take so they all are in unison with the backing track. Then you remove the backing track and adjust the volume of each so that it sounds right.

If this were a song instead of a video, you’d be done.

Making it look right

Of course the next step is to take the project, which consists of all those different video and audio recordings, and make it look good. You add effects, you mix things up, you add some visual interest. Again, there are tools that regular consumers can use for this sort of things but the pro models are so, so much better.

Once it’s done, it’s rendered down to a final video and uploaded to YouTube.  Seems simple, right?

None of this is new

Sure, you see a lot of productions like this on YouTube especially this year. Whether it’s one person recording themselves 15 times or 15 people performing all over the world, it’s become the only way to get a lot of things done. We all know why.

But it’s not new. I point you to one more video, produced in the winter of 1984-1985. Dozens of musicians came in and recorded their parts to a backing track, one by one. They were video taped doing it and the whole thing was mixed down to a single. It was probably a LOT harder back then, but at its heart, the idea was the same.

Oh you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. Right, here’s the video for you to bliss out over.


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.