Posts Tagged ‘computer music’
Why does yesterday’s banging track sound like crap today?
So you’ve got this track of yours that you were jamming out to yesterday. Building, adding, eqing & tweaking all night. You wake up today & go back to your masterpiece and….. someone must have changed half the sounds.
It sounds like shit!
Who could have done this to your tune? Sadly, nobody. You are suffering from the music producer’s next day syndrome.
You know the story & it probably happens more often than you would like to admit. It has happened to us all & we always wonder why.
I don’t have a definitive answer on this but I do have a hypothesis that that might help shed light on the subject.
What happened to my song?
Sadly, nothing. The better question to ask is “what happened to you?”.
Between last night and today, you hearing & listening skills have changed. Unfortunately, you are hearing more clearly today than you were last night.
This happens for a few reasons.
For 1, long “inspired” sessions can often turn to uninspired actions. Over time, our ears get start hearing things differently. We become less sensitive to certain frequencies & are bound to over do things. Our ears simply get fatigued & we lose perspective. Unfortunately our brain didn’t get the memo & the more you work toward finishing your song, the more damage that is done.
In order to keep perspective, you need regular breaks to let your ears recover & at a certain point, when you find yourself suddenly feeling like you need to eq everything to make it sound right, that is usually when you should consider walking away for the night.
Have you ever listened to a loop so long that you kind of get lost in a zone? It’s a fantastic experience when you are listening to music, but not when you are writing it. What happens is, you start hearing things differently. You start hearing things that aren’t actually there or a hidden ghost note that is implied. You may get so lost in one sound, that you stop hearing certain other sounds.
Sometimes you get in too close to the details to really have a handle on the big picture. The more you listen to something on repeat, the more your imagination takes over until what you are hearing is not actually what you are listening to. You are no longer hearing what is coming through your speakers, but more of a fantasy version of it. This can make an average sounding idea sound better than it actually is.
To avoid this, you should try to avoid listening to your song idea as a constant loop too much. Listen to your song start to finish & take mental notes along the way. This way, when you listen back, you are taking an active role instead of putting yourself in a passive self hypnosis role. You want to check in with yourself often & make sure your brain isn’t filling in the blanks.
A better tomorrow
In order to have a better tomorrow, make sure you pay close attention today when you are writing. Although it’s great to get excited and have fun with your music production, it’s also important to put yourself in somewhat of a neutral state at times & view things as a realist. When you start getting the itch to change things too much, consider walking away from the computer. You’ll be happier the next day & the day after.
All is definitely not lost when you find yourself unhappy with where your song is at. Given enough will & persistence, you can almost always find your way back & revive your track. It might take a couple days, but if you stick with it, the spark will return.
Happy music making,
Simple Stereo Widening Trick in Ableton
Here is a simple Ableton trick that I use in nearly every song I make.
It’s often easy to overlook the simple when you expect that it’s extremely complicated to get a professional sound. In truth, a professional sound is culminated from the understanding of many simple tricks used in the right way. I hope you add this to your box of tools.
Happy Music Making,
Attack Of The 8 Bar Loop
So there you are, staring at your computer screen. 12 tracks of brilliance, or at least 15 seconds of it.
You sit there listening to the loop on repeat over and over again, trying to convince yourself that you are being creative, instead of just stuck.
We have all been there. Our closet is not full of only skeletons, but unfinished digital waste that only sits there as potential. Unfortunately, this is where most of your work will stay.
One day, your gravestone will read: “He almost put a lot of great art into this world”
If there is any challenge that computer musicians have that I hear about repeatedly, It’s the 8 bar loop syndrome. This seems to stop more creative people than any other obstacle I can think of. Let’s solve this here and now.
Making loops is easy, finishing songs is hard
The first step is admitting you have a problem. Your problem is that you make your little loops & you rock out to it for a couple hours, pat yourself on the back & then put it aside. The next time you sit down for “studio time”, you open up another blank slate & off you go into 8 bar purgatory. This repeats over and over & you eventually realize years later that you haven’t finished any music.
The problem is that you haven’t defined your goal before you sit down to write. You buy loads of equipment & can’t wait to get into the studio because making music is fun! We it stops being fun, you end the session and hope eventually inspiration will bring you back to another fun session of finishing what you started.
It doesn’t happen like that. Fun follows struggle and frustration, which follows fun and so on. It’s almost never fun to do something you don’t know how to do, so you usually get stuck because nobody likes doing things that aren’t fun. Realize this. Even the things that are fun today will stop being fun tomorrow because you will have done everything you can with your current skill set.
Stop focusing on fun
I know that is the last thing a music producer wants to hear but if you are going to finish songs, you are going to have to start by accepting that some unpleasant work is involved. “I don’t know how” is not an excuse. The answers are out there, but they won’t help you much because you are probably looking for the “golden bullet” that will fix all your problems. It’s not going to happen. Consistent practice and experience are what fix all your problems.
Trust me, when you get in the habit of working through that 8 bar loop, you will make important discoveries that will not only start making the process easier, but it will start to become fun again. In fact, more fun than you had with your previous skill set.
What all this mental mumbo jumbo? Just give me a damn solution!
You probably know me enough by now to know that I believe creative solutions are much more complicated than just throwing you a few problem solving bullet points. Sometimes quick tips can be a huge help, but when it comes to finishing songs, it is sometimes necessary to dramatically change your mindset & focus. This in itself can be very simple to understand but difficult to internalize. That is why the tips I am going to give you below are in the middle of my post instead of the top. The internal work always comes first.
Some practical tips
Ok, so it really isn’t that hard to turn that 8 bar loop into a finished song. If the task seems daunting, it’s likely because you are overthinking things. From my experience of working on music nearly every day for the last 2 months, I’ve discovered a process to getting things done that has worked well for me. With experience, you will discover what works for you, but here is my cheat sheet for turning that loop into a song.
1. Get out of the session window – Most of you reading this are probably Ableton Live users & know that is has 2 different music windows. The Clip view & the arrangement view. If you are using another DAW, you are probably already in the arrangement view, which is where you want to be.
So if your loop is still in the session (clip) window, record it into the arrangement window. Since all finished songs end up there anyway, this keeps you from procrastinating in the wrong window. The Session window has it’s advantages for getting quick ideas together, but you need to leave this view asap.
2. Drag out your loop – Once you have your loop in the arrangement window, just drag it out or copy it for around 7 minutes. You can always go shorter or longer in the end, but this starts you looking at your loop more as a song.
3. Intros & outros – Start working on a simple 16 bar intro by stripping out what is not needed. This is where the DJ will be mixing, so keep that in mind. Once done, copy the whole 16 bar intro to the end of your song. Congrats, you have an intro & an outro.
4. Ghost track – Create an audio track & pull a similar style song in as your first track. Turn off the track so it doesn’t play unless you hit “solo”. Now visually look at the breakdowns in that song & emulate that by simply removing your kick drum in those sections. This will give you a visual cue where your own break will happen. You can also shorten or lengthen your song so your 16 bar outro lines up with your ghost track. (Remember, nothing is permanent & you can go in a new direction once you are inspired to)
5. Bringing in elements – Listen to your ghost track for how certain elements are brought in & out through the song. Test this out with your own elements to see if similar arrangement works for your song.
6. Creating atmosphere – From my experience, it really helps the mood of your song by having some subtle atmospheric sound going on in your song so things don’t sound too clean. This can be a simple field recording from out your window or an ambient loop fed through a good amount of reverb with or without delay. I keep it low enough so it’s not interfering with anything but when turned off, you notice it’s absent. You’ll be surprised how this can make your song sound more professional.
7. FX – Nearly all electronic tracks have effect sounds, odd voices or drum hits bouncing around the stereo spectrum. When you hear a song like this, you imagine the complexity of what must be 50 tracks of just effect sounds. It’s actually much easier to do this. Just pull your fx sounds into a drum machine instrument. For Ableton, I suggest Drum Racks. Next, create an effect chain that gives some stereo movement. I typically add reverb, delay, filter & autopan. I’ll also create 1 or 2 return tracks with panning, verb & delay with different panning settings. By feeding the fx track through the send/returns the sounds randomly bounce all around your head. Cool stuff! Make sure you filter off the low end on your effects or things can start getting really muddy, really quick.
8. Breaks and builds – Breaks and builds often sound most effective with reverse sounds, sounds with rising or falling pitch, percussion & more intense reverb or delay. Once again, listing to your ghost track for a reference on what might help your own song sound better.
9. Cut copy & paste arrangement sections – I find this to be good fun & easy to do. I imagine you should be able to do this in most DAW’s but it works incredibly well with Ableton Live. I can easily cut a few bars of the song here & double a section over there to make sure the good parts are enhanced and other parts don’t carry on too long. You will typically work in 4,8 & 16 bar chunks of music. This is where you abandon your ghost track & feel what works best for your own song.
10. Drum programming – Once you have a basic structure & arrangement happening, it’s time to make sure things aren’t sounding boring. There is nothing more effective than drum programming & variations. It doesn’t take much to spice things up. An extra kick here, a snare fill there, maybe a few well placed claps. I also can’t understate the importance of layering. Just when things seem to be losing excitement, you can add in a second snare drum or clap & later another hi hat layer. Using multiple sounds can really help to keep interest throughout the song.
Congrats: No more 8 bar loop –
If you followed all the steps above, you will be well on your way to turned your well crafted loops into full songs. It is my hope that you put more music into this world by pushing through the challenges on a regular basis & getting your endless list of loops out of purgatory.
Happy Music making!
Best of 2013 – Ableton & Music Production Tips
Wow, this has been quite a year for myself as well as Ableton Users. I moved from Iowa City to Denver and quickly met up with some of the most forward thinking DJ’s & producer’s. I notice the people here are very open, friendly and without typical egos that are known to plague the electronic scene. From this, eventually came a residency for a night called P.U.N.C.H.I.S. at Denver’s world famous club Beta.
Being able to both play music & listen to top notch DJ’s on a regular basis has given me a massive amount of ideas and feedback on what works in a club & what moves a crowd. I get to collect my favorite ideas and apply them to my own creations. If you can’t get out in that environment, at least listen to as many DJ mixes in your style as possible. This is a great resource that gives you more of the feeling of being there: http://www.be-at.tv/
Sometimes it is true that moving yourself to a new location can bring a dramatic change if your current one isn’t inspiring you or doesn’t support the lifestyle you want. This is not to say that you can’t do wonderful creative things from wherever you are, but it sure helps to meet people face to face who have similar passions and tastes, who can give you support and constructive criticism. Just make sure that the people giving you feedback understand your “sound” and your goals. I went a long time getting feedback from the wrong people & heading in a direction that wasn’t fulfilling for me & it took me a while to even realize.
In 2013 I feel i’ve started developing a new sound that feels right to me. I expect 2014 will see this develop much further and I will certainly take you along for the ride in my best attempt to help you discover & develop your sound.
New Website design
If you are here reading this, I am sure you have noticed a visually pleasing upgrade to the website. Your feedback has been wonderful. Thanks to those who dropped me a line to tell me how much they like the new look. It’s been something I wanted to do for a while & finally was about to get it done thanks to some help from people much better at it than me. Members should notice a dramatic difference in the navigation of all of the tools & features. Members can also expect even more tools & tips coming your way.
As always, this year brought about several new discoveries I felt were worth sharing. I experimented with new production approaches, new habits and put new tools to use (See Ableton 9 below). I also share my own struggles in hopes that working these out for myself will also help you & open you further to your creative genius.
Here are some posts from last year that I feel are in the “must read” category if you missed them:
Ableton 9 & Push
We saw the release of Ableton 9 & the Push instrument. Both a huge leap forward. The new features have really opened up more creative possibilities, while also allowing me to speed up my workflow. Perhaps like you, I started getting caught up in the “too much information” trap and caught myself before my productivity suffered.
These posts below cover some of the very cool features that were added:
Here are some other notable Ableton tips to put on your watch list:
Writing a song in 24 hours
This experiment was very cool and I surprised myself with what came of it. I gave myself no more than 24 hours to create a song from start to finish. I did not take into account any legality issues, but I did give myself limits to help keep me focused. In 1 week I had a 4 song ep in a style I had never attempted before. It was very freeing & I found it really inspiring.
Here’s a video walkthrough of 1 of the tracks I made:
The “1 Hour a Day” Club
This, I must say, is the best thing I did all year. Seriously
The simple idea was to create a group of people on Facebook willing to work on music at least 1 hour a day, every day & post a snippet of your daily results. This group is completely open and free to anyone who wants to join and share. Just be prepared to hear from the group if you are slacking. It has been going for about a month now and the results for me personally have been absolutely incredible. Many other’s found the results to be pretty incredible as well. Below explains things a bit more. I’ll be posting another update soon.
I also released a new tool for Ableton called “Stutter Pads” which has had a very positive response. This gives you a great way to chop up and stutter sounds or samples & get some really cool sounds quickly. Here’s a bit about that if you haven’t checked that out:
(To those reading this early January 2014, use the coupon code: stutterme $17 to $9.99)
If I wanted to wrap up this years most important tips in a nutshell, I would say there are certain things that are incredibly important to greater levels of success with your music making.
1. Write music every day. Regardless of results, you win if you just write.
2. Have at least 1 person you trust who will give you honest feedback to your music.
3. Recognize resistance to music making when it comes & know you only have resistance because your brain hasn’t built a habit yet. Build the habit & it’ll feel unnatural to NOT make music.
4. Believe in yourself even if others don’t.
5. Share your creative goals publicly
6. Listen to a lot of music
Happy New Year and may 2014 bring you ever closer to your goals.