Aloha kākou nā hoaloha! Welcome to my ongoing blog-series “Anatomy of a Mele”. Each month I will feature a different Artist/Producer pairing and go behind the scenes to closely examine one song off of one of their albums, giving the reader a tiny glimpse into the sometimes magical, sometimes arduous creative recording process. The ultimate goal is to give YOU, the fans and music lovers a little insight into what it’s like to be in the studio. Hopefully it will inspire, educate and encourage the next generation of music makers!
This month I am excited to feature ‘ukulele prodigy Brittni Paiva and award winning jazz musician/producer Tom Scott.
The mele: “Tell U What” from Brittni’s 2012 album of the same name “Tell U What”.
Purchase Brittni’s Complete CD “Tell U What”:
Steven Espaniola: Dig the vibe of “Tell U What”. I hear some influence of blues, funk, jazz, reggae, and even Japanese folk. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the song?
Brittni Paiva: “Tell U What” is kind of the attitude song of the record. I was practicing one afternoon and played a little riff that sounded kind of cool, and it ended up being the hook of the song. As I continued to work on it a bit, I thought I’d incorporate a bit of blues and funk to it to further enhance that “attitude” type of sound that the riff already had. Tom and I worked together to complete the composition of the song.
What is the instrumentation on this song?
On “Tell U What”, there’s ukulele, bass, organs and synthesizers, and sax.
The song seems to follow a 16 bar blues format with an added tag at the end. Can you talk about that arrangement?
The 12 bar blues arrangement of “Tell U What” just kind of……happened, I guess. Haha. It seemed natural with the rhythm and melody.
Describe your songwriting process.
There’s almost always some sort of situation to spark the creation of a song. Inspirations are really random at times. I’ve had ideas come from watching my brother’s dog run around in the backyard, to seeing someone walking down the street. I find that if I sit down and actually try to write a song, it doesn’t come out right and, sometimes, doesn’t come out at all.
I know you started on both guitar (ki ho’alu) as well as ‘ukulele. What prompted the switch to primarily ‘ukulele?
Well, after I became more experienced playing both instruments, I realized that I connected more to the ukulele so I decided that I would focus on the ukulele as my primary instrument.
Is there a particular method you prefer to record?
When I’m recording a song, I make a scratch drum/percussion track first and then lay down the rhythm ukulele/guitar tracks. Once the rhythm is done, I do the lead ukulele track and then redo the drums and percussion.
What were some of the challenges recording this particular song?
I thought it was somewhat challenging to break out even further with the ukulele by incorporating a little blues and funk into the sound — filling up the gaps but not making it too busy.
What kind of ‘ukulele do you use to record with?
I used a Kamaka tenor ukulele — Jake’s model, to be exact. It’s what I’m using while Kamaka is building my custom.
Were any studio musicians or guest artists used on this recording?
Tom Scott played sax on this track. I think his parts really hit the spot with this tune!
With Tom’s involvement, it seems like you were able to really focus more on being an artist on this project. Was that liberating for you?
It was liberating, in fact. Playing the ukulele as a lead instrument in a jazz setting was very fun, but challenging as well. It forced me to think in a way that I normally don’t think when I play my music. I have always enjoyed listening to jazz but when it came to applying it on my own record, it was a nice push for me and a great experience.
Any anecdotal studio or blooper moments you wish to share?
I didn’t use a tuner during the project. And while recording the bass parts for another song, my G string broke and that left me with a four-stringed five string bass! I didn’t have time to run to the music store to buy a new set of strings so I winged it without the G string. Haha.
Any lucky charms or superstitions when in the studio?
I always have to crack my knuckles before I record. Otherwise, I don’t think my hands work properly.
Who is your biggest role model or influence music wise?
I am a huge fan of Orianthi. There aren’t a whole lot of women who can play guitar that well and who are around my age. She’s a great inspiration to me. I had the chance to meet her and converse with her a bit and she’s very down-to-earth and so very nice.
Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring ‘ukulele players?
Regardless of what anyone says, keep practicing! Never tell yourself and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Once you get into that mindset, you really won’t be able to do it. Remain positive while you’re practicing and have fun!
What’s currently in your iPod? Five albums.
“Believe” by Justin Bieber
“One Song at a Time” by Jamie Grace
“Borrowed Heaven” by The Corrs
“Music for Speeding” by Marty Friedman
“This is What Happens” by The Reign of Kindo
Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself.
I’m a pyro. I love fire and blowing things up!
Bonus Question by contest winner Tim Culler:
Brittni, I first saw you perform in a theater in Kona a long time ago, I bet you were only 11 or 12 years old! Now that you are a more mature 23, can you tell us how your perspective has changed about playing music and about performing and recording?
When I first started, I never had the experiences of performing on stage and performing as a backing musician or guest artist on someone else’s recording. Over time, I realized just how much I enjoy being that support role for others; lending my skill and craft where someone needs it. As a long term goal, I’d love to be a studio musician and producer to inspire creativity and allow for a wider range of experimentation.
Steven Espaniola: How did you first meet Brittni?
Tom Scott: Brittni sat in with my group at a concert on Maui last year and really knocked me out!
Where was “Tell U what” recorded?
Not exactly ‘studios’ in the traditional sense. Brittni was recorded in her Hilo home studio, a hotel room in Maui, and my home studio in Ventura, California. Michael McDonald recorded vocals at his Maui home studio, Arturo Sandoval his Calabasas, CA. home studio, Ray Parker, Jr. at his Calabasas, CA. home studio. Chuck Findley and all the other instruments were recorded in Ventura.
What type of equipment did you use to record “Tell U What”?
I have a MacBook Pro. I used Logic Pro for recording. Brittni played using a direct pickup into my M-Audio Profire 2626 audio interface which is routed into the Mac via Firewire.
Were there any special microphones that were used?
I don’t know all the mics that were used except for mine, a 30-year old AKG 414.It is still the standard by which I judge other wind instrument mics.
The ‘ukulele is an inherently “quiet” instrument without a lot of dynamic range acoustically. How were you able to balance Brittni’s ‘ukulele with the contrasting sound of horns, drums, etc. so effectively?
Here’s my big producing secret. I tweak the ukulele audio files A LOT. I like to go in and permanently alter the gain, sometimes one note or one chord at a time to even out the volume. It can take many hours, but it’s well worth it in the end.
Were there any obstacles along the way?
Not really, except scheduling Michael and Arturo to participate. They have very busy lives.
Any superstitions or lucky charms in the studio?
Nah, each day you have to sit down & go to work, using your critical abilities to figure out how you can make this or that song sound better. It’s a taxing job if you’re doing it right and only hard work will allow you to achieve your goals.
The list of studio musicians & featured artists on the album is pretty impressive. How did they get involved with the project?
I’ve known these gentlemen for many years and I thought it was time to call in a few favors.
Any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to give to aspiring Engineers/Producers who want to break into the business?
Well, if you insist on starting out prior to my retirement, I would say: Find yourself some talent [artists] and get busy!
Was this your first time working with ‘ukulele? Do you play ‘ukulele yourself?
Oddly enough, ukulele was my first instrument (age 5-6). But whatever I played bore little resemblance to the instrument as Brittni plays it.
Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about yourself.
I’m a big fan of classic films. You know, the ones with a strong plot, great actors & great film scores!
Mahalo nui to Brittni & Tom!
For more info on Brittni, please visit:
For more info on Tom, please visit:
Stay tuned for next month’s artist/producer pairing!!! A hui hou!