Strictly Dan McGrath!
Posted on: Wednesday 21st of November 2018
The man behind countless theme tunes, including the BBC’s dazzlingly popular Strictly Come Dancing, lets Kevin Hilton into his studio…
The Christmas and New Year countdown these days, in the UK at least, is firmly linked to the first appearance of festive commercials for big name stores, but also tp the build-up to the finales of high-rating TV talent and reality series. The BBC’s Strictly Come Dancinghas been a firm fixture in the autumn-winter schedules since it first appeared in 2004, heralded by the bright, brass-inspired and distinctly old-school theme music by Dan McGrath and Josh Phillips.
Back then McGrath, who handles the technical side of the duo’s work as well as co-writing, used samples to create a sound that, as he says, has become synonymous with the show’s glitz, glamour and detrimental effect on the personal lives of some of its contestants.
“There have been different iterations and versions for trailers over the years but the brand is set and always goes back to what we did originally,” he says. “We’ve said we can update it with a full band – and everything is still in the computer – but this is a case of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
While there has been no reworking of the Strictly theme this year, McGrath has been kept busy with a project for another big milestone of this time of year, New Year’s Eve. In collaboration with Nik Goodman of music and sound production company Bounce, McGrath is putting together a ten-minute sequence to accompany the fireworks that will see in 2019 in London.
“We’re knitting together contemporary hits and classic tracks,” McGrath explains. “Both Nik and I are working on Logic in our respective studios and using Skype to catch up and exchanging the various edits through Dropbox. We’ve got the same settings on our computers so our various bits should be as similar as they can be for the master sequence. Nik will tell you I’m very fussy, bussing everything using one send rather than five different tracks. He’s a bit more Bohemian.”
McGrath is working on another project that he says is “taking me out of writing again”. This sees him working with arrangers and vocalists on building up a catalogue of cover versions of well-known songs delivered in very different styles or time signatures to the originals. The finished library will be part of McGrath’s No Sheet Music production music venture. “It’s a big project and involves taking a website template and then merging metadata to make it bespoke and searchable,” he says. “The idea is to take a recognisable, classic hit and make the lyrics syncable to a visual style. Such as having [Kylie’s] Can’t Get You Out of My Head in a big, Gothic, slowed down version.”
In between all this McGrath has been refurbishing his own facility, Cannon Studios, although he admits that a massive pile of cables and other equipment was dumped outside the studio door before any of the actual “rejigging” work began. Everything is based round Logic, which McGrath says he has been running since it was Cubase Notator back in the days of Atari computers. He now works on Mac and employed Create Pro to “strip out” his computer for updating.
McGrath says as much Cat-6 cabling as would fit has been installed in the studio, with Dante being explored as a possible networking and routing system. “I’m slowly replacing various patchbays and other equipment with Dante-enabled sound cards,” he comments. “The Mac and Logic remains the heart of the controller and keyboards set-up, with MIDI synchs but also analogue stuff like Roland and Moog. At the moment it’s a pretty simple installation. One thing I’ve been doing for a while is to be able to bring all outboard gear and controllers back into the system and open them on the small SSL X console I’ve got. Having the desk means I can be in the box but out of the box at the same time.”
This combination of the old fashioned with the contemporary norm suits the way McGrath says he and Phillips like to work: “If Josh and I are in here writing TV themes, it’s nice to have the studio in a traditional set-up. I like to have things arranged so I can quickly get a good headphone mix. Once all the recording is done, that’s where the computers come into their own, with multiple edits, different versions and recall.”
During the time the studio was “in pieces”, McGrath carried on working using his laptop connected to a Behringer XENYX mixer, monitoring on small Genelec loudspeakers. “I’ve also used Yamaha MSP7 nearfields and a Soundcraft desk back in the Strictlydays,” he says, “but I’ll keep on with Genelec as they have the more consistent sound and are good for mixing TV. In an ideal world it would be Focals and I might trade up to go in that direction. If I haven’t spent everything on Dante.”