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  1. #1

    Taking the plunge, shooting the shit about music

    Okay so after sitting around with my thumb up my ass waiting for the inspiration to come to me, I decided it was time to buckle down and teach myself the ropes of actually putting a song together as opposed to just playing some guitar, some keyboard, doing some rapping and singing to someone else's beat. I'm experimenting with some actual, albeit low-budget tools now. I'm not going to get into that because honestly, I'd love to field suggestions for equipment but on my budget what I got is what I got and this is some of the most ghetto-ass production probably since the infamously obscure Black Metal musicians of Scandinavia still doing underground metal in their garages and basements to this day.

    What I really need help with is plotting things out, knowing good alternative ways to "write" music if you're not formally trained at all. Or maybe an easier way of teaching yourself that if "the right way" is really that important. Just one drum machine alone I find can leave me dazzled by the amount of percussion I can layer on. I could create like a dozen different beats that all seem to fit one song just fine. How does one decide what to go with? Or should decisions like that be made after a simpler framework has already been laid down? I can see pros and cons to both at this stage where I haven't yet committed to anything and have just been fooling around. Messing with the beat can fill my head with ideas for what to fill that beat in with, and by the way one rule I set for myself was to at least establish what tempo I want before I break too much there and lose track of what song I was going to set out to do there.

    One thing I will reveal is that, in trying to use as many different tools and resources as I can get my hands on, that's included digital as well as analog. Beats right now are all digital until I can find at least one decent, affordable drum machine (assuming I can also obtain whatever peripherals I might need to actually make use of it) and I find with software, I can screen cap whatever the interface is and use that as a template to "write" beats if I want or need to do that away from the computer so that's a work around for that. But is there a "standard" way to write just a beat?

    I know I'm talking an awful lot about beats here, like I got a one track mind but dude, that's the most important part, the part I have the least practical, applicable knowledge in, and the whole reason for that is because I've been a melody guy all my life up until now so I actually feel pretty comfortable trying to explore that turf myself. Bass lines though, those can be tricky. Anyone got a knack for bass that has some suggestions there for how to go about really nailing that?

    Does anyone else find trying to play a keyboard with one hand, and their non-dominant hand oddly advantageous? Or what about guitar, for that matter? Playing guitar, I'm left-handed but opted to try learning right handed because left-handed guitars are more expensive and harder to find and I figured where it's a two-handed activity and neither hand is use to doing either thing, both are going to have to learn to do their part in tandem and it'd be hard either way. But do you think there'd be anything to be gained from trying left-handed? On keyboards obviously some stuff has to be played with both hands but I like just tapping keys within a range of notes or steps or whatever, and for whatever reason it's gotta be my right hand otherwise the timing just isn't the same, which could be from playing guitar with the right-handed rhythm but with my left hand it seems like even the melodies aren't as solid even if they were played right-handed.

    I guess it's not really an issue, whatever works, right? It's kinda mysterious though. I'm just getting my toes wet in music really so a lot of this shit come across like magic to me lol.

  2. #2
    What instruments do you have and which you can play well? Do you have a keyboard/MIDI controller?

    What is your budget?

    What genre of music do you want to get into?

    Oh, and what type of computer do you have? Mac? Windows? Linux? Just thought I'd ask.

    Here's my biases before I continue so you can get some context: I make electronic music. Piano is my main instrument and I later started learning guitar and bass. I started composing music using trackers (.MOD, Impulse Tracker, etc.), and am now using Ableton Live. I did score a video game once, so I have a little more than hobby-level experience with this. I don't have a lot of room in my studio as it's being shared by an animation disk and a Cintiq, so physical space is a huge concern for me and dictates what I buy. I like to bake my loops from scratch and fancy myself as a sound designer, but I still value using sounds from a library for inspiration.

    I don't think there's a right way to go about creating a song. Some people have to write the lyrics first, others have to do the chords first, or melody. I've even started songs from a drum patch or a weird sound. People's brains are wired differently and inspiration comes from different sources. The struggle is trying to take that initial idea and create the rest of the song based on it. In other words, overcoming your musical weaknesses, whatever that is, so you can take the initial idea and flesh it out into a complete song.

    I do think that there is a right way to learn how to compose. BE GOOD AT PERFORMING. There's a reason why I'm an illustrator now instead of a composer. Aside from what I want to do with my life and the best media for the job, there's a huge disconnect between what music I hear in my brain and what I can play because I only learned enough performance skills to use a keyboard and put notes into the computer without using a mouse. It is because I didn't learn to perform enough. With illustration I don't have that problem because I practiced figure drawing, character design, and so on until that disconnect between my brain and my hand disappeared. So if you want to compose, perform a lot of music. Perform a bunch of different music so the barriers break down.

    One problem I ran into when I was younger is that I would take an idea, then layer upon it, then layer upon that, and then more layers, until every part of the sonic landscape was just so full that I couldn't add anything more. It was already too crowded as it was. Okay, now what? Where do I take the song? I can't add anything more to it. It still fits.

    I learned two things. First: less is more. Don't have two instruments stepping on each other's toes. Sure, beefy bass notes sound great on those pads, but when you add a bass line it's now muddy. When you do your own mastering you'll need to do a high pass or a low pass on our instruments so they don't overlap sonically with other instruments.

    Second: a song can switch on a dime. The A and B parts can be pretty different from each other. When I started composing music I think I took the African drum circle I learn about from a Cal Arts workshop too literally, and thought music had to be composed that way, where one instrument couldn't play something different until a different one changed what it was doing, like every part had to take turns being different. Nope, it can all change on a dime. Good example of this is "The Last Firstborn" by Celldweller. At 0:45 the song switches from Metal to Goa Trance in a second, then later it switches to Metal again, and then back to Goa Trance, completely swapping out the guitars with synths, completely changing the drum samples at the same time as well. There's no overlap, and it totally works. So baller.

    I've made the decision to never buy a hardware synth ever again. I had a drum machine and an Alesis QS6, but as soon as I was introduced to a modern DAW and VSTs, all that kit became obsolete. The QS6 became a glorified MIDI Controller, and now it's not even being used anymore. I now have an Impulse 61 as my MIDI controller and let the DAW/VSTs make all the sound. VSTs are much cheaper than hardware synths, it's easier easier to route from one device to another, swap out, reprogram, you get the idea. Your DAW will be your drum machine, your mixer, and your synth. I don't want to put people down for using hardware synths, drum machines or mixing tables, because the tactile feedback is fantastic and moving from one instrument to another is as simple as playing on a different keyboard instead of clicking with a mouse to select a new channel, but for me the pros of having it all in software far outweigh the cons.

    Still want the tactile feedback of a synth? MIDI controllers nowadays have knobs and sliders that you can map. They also have drum pads that you can use, or you can buy a Novation Launchpad (or if you have the money an Ableton Push) so you can have 64 pads to use. It can also be used to trigger loops and do live performances in session view (the pads light up).

    Some specialized hardware for drum machines is Native Instruments Maschine which comes with some really great software and tons of samples. You can also buy expansions to increase your sample library. Maschine also comes with grooves that you can use as starting points. My opinion? Kind of pricey, but it's a specialized and very well designed piece of kit and software.

    My philosophy is use your computer to be the brains and use MIDI controllers for the tactile feedback. I don't like the idea of stand-alone hardware creating the sound, but then again I'm a studio guy, not a live performer.

    You might be pretty happy using the drum machine that comes with your DAW and buying a Novation Launchpad ($100), or if you want pressure sensitivity they have the Lanchpad Pro with full-color pads ($300). Also fun fact about the Launchpad, you can get scripts (for the new Lanchpad Pro it's built in) that let you turn your 8x8 pad grid into a isometrically laid-out keyboard for playing notes, which is TONS of fun to compose with. It's the only thing I can truly shred on.

    On the keyboard I generally play melodies and bass lines with my dominate (right) hand. I'll use both hands for chords, but that's about it. My off-hand is usually arming and launching the recording, using the Launchpad, etc.

    Creating bass lines, those I usually compose along with the rhythm because the bass needs to compliment the drums. I almost always have the bass line play one of the notes in the chord, often it's the root or the 5th but it depends on the emotion I want to go for. Sometimes I want to stress the 3rd. Like the melody you don't want your bass notes to be all over the place. I'll have the bass line walk a little from note to know but not excessively because the actual frequency change from note to note is too subtle for people to pick up sometimes. But all that talk about having the bass line be based on the chord is if you want to be safe and cookie cutter. I'm honestly learning a lot more about bass now that I've been playing bass and learning a lot of songs using Rocksmith. Especially funk. Ermahgerd. Funk. The bass is basically being played as the main melody for the song, like it's the heart and soul and everything on top of it is bowing to the bass line. So again, no wrong way to compose your song, just whatever starts your inspiration for the piece. Learning about counterpoint would be good though when learning how to compose bass lines (a little too complicated of a musical idea to explain here).

    A word of warning: you will never feel like you have enough sounds. Ever. Sample libraries, VSTs, and hardware is a black hole that you can throw money into and never feel like you have enough sounds. Learn to use what you have to its fullest. You'll be surprised what your stock synths can do once you learn how to use it, and you'll be surprised how much you can change the sound of a kick or a snare to get the exact sound you want without having to mindlessly audition your way through the entire Kontakt Komplete sample library, only to fork out a hundred bucks for an expansion that will hopefully have the sound you have in your head. Luckily feeding your insatiable want for sounds is cheaper than in days of yore, where the only option was a 50 pound synth or a $2000 rack-mounted MIDI box. But the black hole still remains, feasting...and feasting in the cosmos...forever.

  3. #3
    Premium User Oly's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    NB/male leaning
    I'll give you the same advice I give to people on the music forum I mod at.

    Don't worry about it. Just keep putting in work.

  4. #4
    So basically I've been neck deep just figuring out how half this stuff works, it's quite a trip. Sorry if I don't bump this thread with anything tangible for a while lol.

  5. #5
    Hehe, no worries. Which software are you trying to learn for music production?



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