Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper created a hit with “Shallow” - the lead single from the 2018 musical, romantic drama film, A Star is Born. A country and folk pop influenced power ballad, “Shallow” received both critical and commercial acclaim and Cooper/Gaga’s live duet performance of “Shallow” at the 2019 Academy Awards became a viral sensation.
Laurie and I thought that the song was compelling, and that it would be a fun challenge for us to cover it. Following the old adage: “go big or go home’” we decided to swing for the fences! But how do you take a contemporary classic and make it your own?
In last month’s Blog (January 2020), we looked at the general process of how to create a cover song. Let’s now go from the general to the specific, and look at the choices we made to make our cover of “Shallow” uniquely ours.
Let’s start with the tempo. “Shallow” is written in the key of G and is played at a tempo of 96 BPM (beats per minute) in 4/4 time. The lead into the song is a sparse, spacious and somewhat repetitive acoustic guitar riff, and the first vocal line starts after 15 seconds of acoustic prelude. The song thereafter gradually builds and the first duet harmonies come at 2:05 into the song. Lady Gaga’s dramatic vocal build begins at 2:28 and this dramatic highlight, the climax of the song, continues through 3:06, with the song thereafter dropping in intensity to revisit the duet harmonies before finally concluding at 3:36.
In a movie, this slow build works wonderfully well as it accentuates the drama and intensity of Lady Gaga’s striking performance. In a movie, you also have a captive audience who are already engaged by the movie and who do not have the ability to hit skip if they are getting impatient with the slow lead into the best and most dramatic parts of the song.
Since our cover of “Shallow” is going to be competing for attention on streaming platforms, we decided to increase the tempo (to 120 BPM) and also to rearrange the elements of the song to bring the most dramatic parts forward and, later in the song, to repeat Lady Gaga’s signature vocal highlights so that the song “pops” with energy.
In the streaming world, it pays to get to the “good stuff” as quickly as possible. Because it is highly probable that any listener will already be familiar with the original, by rearranging the elements of the song we are also presenting the listener with an unexpected “surprise” that will hopefully stimulate their curiosity to hear and pay attention to what is coming next!
The next consideration was instrumentation. The original relies on the acoustic guitar for the first 1:15 and then adds in the support of a cello followed by the addition of a piano and bass guitar. The drums kick in at about 2:30 in support of Lady Gaga’s vocal build. Electric guitar and additional strings follow to help support the build to the vocal climax.
We decided to begin our version with a brief intro of drums/hand percussion followed by the introduction of fretless electric bass (we both take inspiration from the great Jaco Pastorius, especially from his work with Joni Mitchell). The acoustic guitars then enter along with a taste of the duet harmony, followed by Laurie adding the phaser like stabs of an electric sitar guitar. (The electric sitar guitar has an additional 12 drone/sympathetic strings that add greatly to it’s unique character - these strings are also an absolute beast to tune so the sitar guitar works much better in the studio than it does on stage!)
Additional color is provided by high strung instruments (a Veillette Gryphon - a short scale 12 string high octave guitar that is tuned up a minor 7th from standard tuning, and a standard acoustic/electric guitar that is in high strung or Nashville tuning) which together add a sustained warmth and fullness that floats somewhere between the sound of a pedal steel or lap steel guitar and the sound of a synthesizer, while retaining the rich organic overtones of acoustic instruments that blends well with the fretless bass. Laurie then brings forward Lady Gaga’s signature vocal build and adds supporting background harmonies to make it both familiar to and deliciously different from the original. We next go back to what would be the start of the verses in the original, with the sitar guitar and high octave instruments being featured in the interlude separating the two verses.
When we thereafter return to Lady Gaga’s signature vocal build the drums switch to a tribal rhythm that reinforces the intensity and drive of Laurie’s vocal. The sitar guitar is used here to add an almost harp like quality, while the sympathetic strings of the sitar guitar add in a separate bright element that sounds almost oriental and chime-like.
As in the original, we conclude by returning to the duet chorus while ramping down the energy to a catch your breath conclusion.
For me, this process of creating a cover song reminds me of my favorite puzzle: a Rubik’s cube. You take something that comes in a structured and highly ordered pattern, reduce it to chaos, and then experiment with different ideas while you try to restore order and structure to what you have disassembled!
By now you have undoubtedly guessed that we are very happy with how our cover of “Shallow” has turned out. We have decided to release it on Valentine’s Day and hope that as you listen to it you may also feel inclined to share it with your favorite music lover!
Please Follow Us on Spotify to have Shallow show up in Your Release Radar! We can be found in search as 'Raveis Kole' or 'Electric Blue Dandelion'.
If you have any favorite songs that you would suggest as potential cover songs for either our live shows or for future recordings, please let us know! Who knows, maybe we’ll be singing them soon at a concert near you!
Sign Up For Raveis Kole Monthly Music Blog & Newsletter