I know… Formulas. What a creative killer! Whenever I see or hear this word in the context of music, art, or any creative endeavor I get a little bit edgy. But unfortunately I also accept the fact that there is a lot of formulaic action involved when we create. Sometimes, we’ll get inspired by someone else’s work, mimic it, and then make it our own. I know that there are some artists out there who will deny this and claim to be 100% original. But I don’t think so. Anyway, in this article I will provide an outline of some steps you can take in order to get stuff done and put your music out there. By being organized I find the creative process to be less cluttered and more effective. And sure, there will be times when things happen naturally and you don’t need to follow a plan. I think I’ve only ever written 2 songs with this “naural” approach- one is Pluto and the other is Painting Ocean Dreams. So I thank the universe for those 2 grandiose moments. However, I am more grateful for being organizing and following a plan in order to craft more than simply 2 songs. So here are the six steps:
- Form & Structure
- Sonic Palette
- Mix it
Let’s briefly go over each one this.
1- Form & Structure
I’m going to assume you’ve already created your main loops. I’m talking about the stuff that can fill up verses, choruses, or even a long form kind of ambient/electronic piece. If not, let’s say you just have a verse, then write that chorus. Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect and just put something down in the session. Fill up that space where a chorus would go and move on. You’ll find the perfect parts as you move along. Some questions I ask myself are: How long is the intro? Is there even an intro? How long is each section? How will I balance tense moments versus more stable ones? Builds? Breakdowns? Bridge? You get the picture. Have a map that you’ll follow and this will trigger some ideas into your flow. I promise. There’s nothing like being involved in the process of doing as opposed to the process of thinking about doing.
Does your tune has lead vocals? Is it instrumental with some kind of main lead melodic instrument? Whatever it is, make sure you record a take that captures an emotion. When I record vocals, I usually go into it for a few days, I’ll do practice takes, do it over and over, until it gets to the point where it is happening very natural and effortless. Then on the next day, with fresh ears and completely rested, I’ll stand in front of the mic and get that first take. I find that first takes have a magic to them, and with every take you do after a little bit of the magic is lost. So don’t take that first magic take for granted. Even if you mispronounce a word or sing something out of tune, you can fix that one spot later. And please don’t worry too much about recording quality (which is why you should probably have your recording settings ready to go, dedicate another session to take care of that). But overall a good performance beats sound quality any day.
Now that you have the form and main performance down, you can tweak the parts. Maybe re-do that bass-line or try a different synth part or sound. Work around your main melody, don’t clutter it, make it the star of the tune and make sure every ingredient on your tune is supporting your main character. Arrangement building can be a lot of fun, it can bring life into a tune. You could invite a friend over and him/her record some parts into your song.
This might suck, but there is a chance that the kick drum you picked earlier when you were composing the tune isn’t the best choice of sound. Or maybe a Stratocaster would fit the tune a lot better than that nylon string you have there. This is the part were you start introducing killer sounds from your arsenal. Replace whatever sounds average. Or maybe simply do some sound design and sculpting and get those sonic elements up to par.
5- Transitional Elements
I made a tutorial on this here. Basically these elements will smooth out the shifts between different sections of the song. These will be in the form of crescendos, swells, long whoosh sounds, filter sweeps, or simply sending a bunch of things to heavily effected buss tracks as a new section approaches.
Here you take care of the balance of things, compress if needed or compress for flavor, Pan, add verbs and delays, etc. this step is really fun and also could make or break your track. So take your time!
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