I’m hoping that you’ve heard the news that the RSPB is making a bid to get into the pop charts. I know! Who would have thought it possible?!
Our track is pure birdsong and is called Let Nature Sing. Its aim is simple: firstly, it celebrates nature’s ‘music’, featuring favourites such as the blackbird and robin. But secondly, in doing so, we can draw attention – in an unusual and headline-grabbing way – to the fact that wildlife is in crisis and needs saving.
Whether we will be successful depends on all of you, and if you haven’t yet bought the single, please do it before 2 May here.
What we haven’t had chance to do yet is tell the story of how the single (and its video) was made. Well, for me it all started because I have a lifelong love of birdsong and a large collection of sound recordings I've made over the last five years to create the new RSPB Guide to Birdsong.
So, once the RSPB had an idea of creating a single, I was called in to help and I began by creating a demo track of what I thought we could do with birdsong. My suggestion was that we take a range of species, some with familiar songs, some which are incredibly threatened, and then we don’t alter the songs in any way but we arrange them, interweave them. It is as if we have given them their moment at the microphone to shine, and to showcase how wonderful and varied they are.
What I don’t have is the production know-how, and we felt adding trained musical ears would also help, so we drafted in Sam Lee, the Mercury-nominated folk singer who does so much work to engage people with birdsong through his Singing with Nightingale events (check out Sam's amazing events, happening right now), and through him we reached out to the musical director at the Globe Theatre in London, Bill Barclay.
Together, the three of us assembled the track in Bill’s flat (which as you can see below is full of musical accoutrements), where we ‘auditioned’ about 60 different species. Here is Sam, Bill and me in creative mode, and I'm pleased to say the collaboration was seamless. As Sam said, "It was as if the birds placed themselves".
So, many hours of arranging the songsters led to two and a half minutes of finished piece. It all starts with a Cuckoo, and along the way there is the brass section of the Crane’s trumpet call, the rhythm section of sedge warbler, grasshopper warbler, great tit and nightjar, and over the top the melodies of robin, blackbird, song thrush and blackcap. We showcase birds in real crisis such as the bubble of the curlew and the purr of the turtle dove and, of course, the nightingale.
One sound that seems to grab everyone’s attention is the winnowing thrum of the snipe, which is made by its outer tail features vibrating as the bird dives through the air. But, again, it is a sound that few these days have the chance to hear, so much has it declined in many places.
The final track was then engineered by the wonderful Andrew Mellor, executive producer & recording engineer with The Philadelphia Orchestra.
Every pop song needs a video, so we drafted in the nation’s foremost shadowgrapher, Drew Colby. Shadowgraphy? ‘Hand shadow puppeteer’ perhaps explains it best. It is amazing what Drew can achieve with a few moves of his fingers, and the video tells the story of a pair of birds struggling to raise their chicks with too little food for them to find, a story repeated for so many birds across the UK. The video was shot and edited by film-maker Mark Jackson.
Here is a photo I took of Drew in action in the studio.
To the right is a very bright light that allowed him to cast crisp shadows onto a screen, which Mark then filmed from the other side. Mark then cut and pasted all the shapes into the video - Drew's hands and arms make every shape you see from trees to spiders to birds. Here is how he creates a woodpecker:
With the track and video complete, it has then been non-stop preparation for its launch. We had the first private play to an audience of influential people from the music industry on 15 April. Then on Wednesday (24 April 2019), we invited MPs to come and hear the single in the Houses of Westminster, so that we could share how amazing birds are and how much we need to save them. The sounds of birdsong echoed down the corridors of power, and over 80 MPs dropped in. The reaction was incredibly positive; it is clear how much birdsong is loved. And the RSPB staff who had to listen to the track for 6 hours, over and over again, said how relaxing it was, and that it never became an irritation as so many other songs would do. And I don't think they were just being kind to me! That's the beauty of birdsong.
Of course, this story has many other people involved in it in the RSPB, including Alice Hardiman and her project team, and Zac and James at the creative agency, Glimpse; I am no more than someone bringing my love of birdsong to the mix.
Together, we got to the point where the single was launched on 26 April and we now have just one week to get it into the charts as a way of telling the nation that nature is special and that it matters. I hope you too feel inspired to be part of history and help us climb those charts as high as we can go!
Put the birds you care about on the main stageOur music single of pure bird song was perched at #11 in the charts by 30 April, halfway through its first week (2 May). We'd love to get it into the official top 10 by the end of the week - but that's all down to you! Please help make history by buying it today.
Really interesting, thanks! Look like other companies were getting involved with #LetNatureSing, too. I saw this playlist get tweeted recently: https://twitter.com/Spotify/status/1121809021156122626 - Thought it was pretty cool! And it ends with the single.
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