Eric Whitacre’s guide to writing a masterful a cappella cover

17 November 2017, 10:55 | Updated: 17 November 2017, 13:10

The phenomenally popular American composer has just written an a cappella version of ‘Hurt’, made famous by Johnny Cash. We asked him to talk us through his process.

Finding the soul of the arrangement

“When I go to cover a song, I suppose I’m looking for a hook. The best way I can describe it there’s this field of lots of objects, all of them sort of dull in colour and then I’m looking for something in the original song that shimmers and then I can build this whole cover on a single idea.”

Here's Johnny Cash's famous version of Hurt:

It’s all about the tritone

Eric Whitacre heard the tritone in the original song – by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. And he built his arrangement around it: “This becomes the fundamental DNA of the song.” 

Here's Eric taking about how he built his version of the song around this tiny motif. 

Here's Eric's brand-new arrangement: 

Buy and listen to Eric Whitacre's version of Hurt here.