CERAMIC FLESH (Track No. 19)

If you are looking at the hour-counter above and are surprised by the small gap in time between this track and the last one, then you should know that I am as surprised as you are. 

The very abundant and detailed data from the production sessions (sarcasm) tells us that the track took 1 hour and 15 minutes of "clean" time to make. That's very short! Let's have a listen.


PRODUCTION DATA
Writing sessions: 3
Time counted toward 10000 hour goal: 1:15


Just over an hour of production, but the results, in my opinion, are pretty great! This track makes me feel stuff. It grabs me emotionally. Isn't that what good music is meant to do? But how is it possible that something good was created in such a short amount of time? 

To figure it out let's see how I felt. Here are the notes that I took after each session:

Session 1:
"Inspired by ambient music I managed to create an eerie textural soundscape with almost no percussion by repeating and overlapping a couple of musical phrases. It is actually pretty easy to come up with textures, as long as you don't overthink it. Making those phrases into a cohesive whole is another story, however. The main inspiration came from a poem of mine and the visual space that it creates in my mind. I guess it doesn't matter where it comes from, as long as there is something you can hold on to emotionally throughout the writing process."

Session 2:
"Was really tired after work today. Sat at the DAW for a couple of minutes for the sake of trying to work, but was feeling very uninspired. Eventually I started messing around and soon enough my fatigue took over, putting me into a dream-like state (helped by a little bit of cider from dinner time). I started to work only half-consciously. It was crazy to feel myself being in that flow state - no sense of time, no sense of frustration, just making sounds, music, and not worrying about the outcome. Soon my visual idea from before came back to me and it really helped me to guide the mood of the track. I like how disjointed and not locked to the grid the track is. The drum hits are happening organically, the ride cymbals do not coincide with the snare, etc. I need to avoid the temptation to gridlock the song when finishing it up because that will ruin its feel."

Session 3 (after finishing the track):
"Did I really write this in just over an hour?"

So here is what we can learn from this:

There is no direct correlation between how much time you spend on a track and whether that track will sound good.

Sometimes songs need time to evolve to their full potential. Sometimes they emerge quickly. Just because you spent little time doesn't mean that your song should be considered undone, unfinished, not right, not good. Conversely, just because you spent a whole lot of time working on a track does not mean that it will be good. In fact, if you lurk on reddit and read what other music producers have to say, the majority of them will confirm that the good stuff, their favorite songs, strangely come out quickly. It probably has something to do with the way we tend to overthink things if we try to approach them too intellectually. We lose objectivity and the emotional backbone of the song, which is something to be avoided. 

Keep your vision alive.

In music production the options are infinite. Yes you could tweak that one note of the bass line and shift the groove a bit, but is the new groove better than what you had before or are you making changes just for the sake of making changes? Once you get something good, see if you can resist the urge to change things up. If you change things too many times you might find yourself stranded with a random collection of loops and you will have lost what might have been the best sound for the track (bounce to audio, anyone?) Note how in my scribbles at the end of session 2 I cautioned myself not to forget to keep the feel of the song intact. I could've made it "perfect" and even and "correct" but that would reduce the character of the song to zero. 

It doesn't matter where inspiration comes from.

In my case it was this poem with a strong visual component to it that I wrote some time ago. For you it might be something completely different. It doesn't matter. As long as you find something that stirs up some emotions inside you, you are on the right track. 

If inspiration is lost, find it.

In the beginning of my second session I hated the idea of having to work on the track because I was too exhausted. But by forcing myself to open up Ableton to at least do some minor tweaking I opened the door for inspiration to come through. Soon enough the fatigue that seemed to be a problem turned into a portal into the vision in my head and allowed me to connect with the world I was creating with my sounds. Had I gone to bed that night, who knows if this track would ever come to life.

NEXT (Track No. 18)

Okay, whoever is reading this, I’ve come to the conclusion that taking detailed notes on what I do in my DAW every session and then posting them here in the magazine is too time consuming for me and I am assuming not very informative for you. The process is just plain old me sitting behind a computer and beating my head against the keyboard until something more or less interesting reaches the eardrums.

So from now on to save us both some time I will just post the latest track with more detailed and accurate production data, and the most important takeaways a-la "short and sweet". As always, if you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them. 

Ok, so here is my latest track. I hate it because it sucks. (Like what genre is it even?!) But it is too weird to live, to strange to die. 


PRODUCTION DATA
Writing sessions: 6~7
Total time spent making track: N/A
Time counted toward 10000 hour goal: 05:05


Here are the main takeaways after finishing this track:

Trial and error is a valid way to compose.

I used to freak out about not having the music originate in my head. I never hear any chord progressions or melodies in my mind. But the more I browse the web and listen to other musicians talk about their creative process, the more I realize that trial and error is the way a really big chunk of all music is composed. Not convinced? Think modular synthesis. The magic of it is the unpredictability. Our goal as musicians is to recognize a good musical idea and then develop it into a song. How that original idea comes to you does not matter. 

Any time spent producing is better than that same time spent wasted.

Even a 15 minute session can be productive and move the track along. 

Hack your production workflow.

If you are feeling "uninspired" (a.k.a. lazy) and don't want to work on arrangement, you can still be productive. Organize the tracks in your DAW. Build some drum loops, make some drum racks, program some patches, make some midi clips with little melodies, get to know your samples. This way you are doing a bunch of easy and fun tasks and creating materials which you will be able to use as creative fuel in your future productions. 

Do whatever it takes to get out of the loop.

Stuck after the drop? Don't know how to build the next section of your song? This is perhaps the most frustrating thing a musician can encounter. There are two ways to deal with this. 1 - Get depressed and not make music for the rest of the week. 2 - Play the drop on repeat so many times that it plays in your head for the rest of the day, then get sick of it and not make music for the rest of the week. There's also a third secret way to deal with this. 3 - Do WHATEVER it takes to "bleed" the part that you already have into the next section of the track. All methods are valid. Sometimes all it takes is a reverb tail decaying into the silence of the next section to give you some ideas of what should come next. If that doesn't do it, turn on the delay with high feedback for the last note of your existing part and listen to it rhythmically propagate into the next section. Whatever you do, get into the next section of the song. And turn off those loop locators because they are like a cage keeping you inside your creative prison. I recommend listening to your existing section and then how it transitions into the silence that comes after. Like this you can start thinking what should come next instead of going back to listening what you already have.

Finish it.

The track you are writing now may not be a game changer, but it's a stepping stone. Finish it. Can it. Ship it to the nearest black hole.

Clean up.

Get rid of redundant plugins. Nothing is worse than choosing between two identical VSTs instead of making music. Pick the one you like best. Delete the rest. But make sure to bounce all your previous projects using those plugins that you are about to get rid of. 

Dedicate time to learning your plugins.

The best way to familiarize yourself with a new plugin is to play around with it for an hour. It is preferable that that hour is specifically dedicated to just that kind of exploration and isn't in the middle of your creative/arrangement session (see next point).

Use the tools you know well when working on serious projects. 

I learned this one the hard way. I used one of the many free VSTs I had just downloaded for the melody of a track I was writing. I selected a preset that sounded good and then moved on with the arrangement. At one point after having developed the other parts of the song, I realized that I needed to change the melody sound. The problem was that I was completely unfamiliar with the VST I had used! It took me a good half an hour to just get the sound that I wanted. The takeaway? Learn VSTs outside of your creative time. Use the VSTs that you know well when composing tracks, especially for serious projects.

Know your materials.

Get familiar with your samples. What's the point of having 1000 kicks if you only ever use the first 10 on the list?

Embrace minimalism.

A minimalist approach to samples, equipment, and VSTs that you know inside and out means that you are more likely to finish more better music. 

Relax.

It's not the end of the world. At least not until the world hears your new song ;)

WHAT IS NOW (Track No. 17)

Alright! Finished another track and that brings me to 67 hours and 05 minutes. Have a listen:


PRODUCTION DATA
Writing sessions: 3~4
Total time spent making track: N/A
Time counted toward 10000 hour goal: 02:30


And here are the lessons I learned:

Don’t take each production session so seriously. 

Usually when sitting down to make music I go into “full production mode” by cleaning my workspace, powering up the gear, shutting out the rest of the world. While this can be very great sometimes, it can occasionally also be counterproductive because it might make you overthink the process. When I begin to overthink, my music reflects it by sounding robotic and confined. The ideas don’t flow easily, and frustration often decides to sit in for a listen.

For this track I was kind of surprised that the foundation was laid down while I was showing some loops to my brother and not really trying to focus. I just started to throw some elements together and it started to sound cool.

Not overthinking also helps with sound design. With so much tweakability at you fingertips its too easy to get lost. For this track I made the sub bass in 3 minutes by simply mixing a sine wave from the Serum sub oscillator with a touch of sawtooth from Osc 1. I don’t know why I made it like this but it works! 3 MINUTES! Don't fix what's not broken, right?

Making a track takes a long time. Don’t rush it. 

I was reading the Dance Music Manual the other day and in one chapter I noticed that the author mentioned that it isn’t unusual for a producer to spend 20-30 hours programming and sequencing the kick drum! That’s insane. That’s like half of my total production time! Wow that really put things in perspective and made me feel silly when I was trying to churn out a banger in 45 minutes. It’s comforting to know that music production takes time. 

CAUTION: This might be overkill for someone who’s just starting out. Spending this much time on one element is only reasonable when you are already a good producer and you are doing everything to maximize the impact of your track. For noobs it’s better to finish a lot of songs while those skills are growing.

There is no right way to do things. 

Making art is all about navigating the endless waters of uncertainty. You might be asking yourself questions like: Is what I am about to add going to sound ok? Will it fit with the rest of the music? Am I using the right sound? Is it too much? Will it clash with other parts? Is this correct according to music theory? Does it sound good? All these questions mean that you are pushing your boundaries and learning. Yes they can be overwhelming but that’s the nature of the process. Pro tip: better to just have a lot of fun and not take things too seriously. See first lesson. 

Consider all feedback, even from non-experts.

I was stuck on the breakdown when my brother walked into the room and listened to the track. He immediately told me to add some toms to give my pattern some variations (even though he expressed it as “you gotta add some of those small drums that are attached to the big drums, you know”). I didn’t dismiss his feedback because even though my brother does not produce his own music, he does listen to a lot of it, and he is capable of spotting what is lacking. After we added some low toms they pretty much saved the breakdown from being completely static and boring. Check them out at 1:55 in the track.

Approach music with an open mind.

After we added some toms with my brother I asked myself, why didn’t I think to add them myself? And the reason was because I thought that I didn’t really know how to program toms. So I was holding back, waiting for some sort of “permission” that I would one day obtain by learning everything about toms. I was afraid of making something “wrong,” whatever that means. 

Use pen and paper to focus on the important parts.

I got this tip from Mike Monday’s free guide on how to finish tracks. I listened to my track with a notepad in front of me and took notes. I then made a checklist of the things that I needed to fix and then went ahead and took care of them one by one. It really streamlined the process and prevented me from tweaking unimportant things.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

LET'S GO!

In my last post I finished talking about where I come from, how I discovered music, etc. Now that I am all caught up on that I can finally start showing you where I am now, in real time. 

That prompts this little little housekeeping post so those of you who are following my story know what to expect in the future. 

I was thinking about how to best deliver the new material and I decided that until I have a track finished it makes no sense to post my session notes and talk about what I learned because what good is me talking without the track that I am referring to? (Yes, I did consider posting works in progress but who has time for that?) 

So I am going to do posts the following way:

Once I am done with a track I will publish it here and on Soundcloud. The track will be numbered so it is easy to keep count of how many I have completed. (Remember this is not just me making music, this is also an experiment on talent, so some kind of data is great to gauge my progress.)

Below the track I will post what I learned along with some production data and the total time spent making the track. The time part is tricky. I will only be keeping track of quality time. Why? Because it’s the only time that counts towards the 10,000 hour goal. So for example I might spend 10 hours on a track, but since 2 of them were spent not productively (i.e. listening to the loop over and over) I will only count the 8 hours that I was productive for. This won’t be an exact science because I am not actually running a stopwatch while making music, so I am estimating the total time spent, and then I am rounding it down to an approximation of what I consider to have been quality time. Don’t worry, I do glance at the clock when I begin and finish, and I will always err on a lesser side when approximating quality time. This means I will accumulate hours slower, but that will be a more realistic measure of my position on the long road to mastery.

The total accumulated time to date will be displayed in the main post image like this:

That’s it for now. See you next time.

ENOUGH WITH THE PAST - PART 2 (Tracks No. 15 & 16)


A LOT OF NOTHING

I was just jamming and ended up with this minimal track. That's all great, I love minimal, except I wasn't trying to write a minimal track. I wanted to write ambient/downtempo but because I am not good at ambient drums, soundscapes, and what not, I just programmed the familiar 4 on the floor drum pattern and ended up with something with a completely different feel. 

One thing about ambient that I need to understand is that it rarely uses what we think of as regular drum hits. Instead in downtempo the hi-hats are often noisy and not bright and sparkly. Snares have a sandy kind of texture and kicks can be either very subdued and sometimes crunched up with distortion once again for a grainy kind of texture. This is very general of course, but I need to understand that making a downtempo track with dance sounds is not the right way to approach it haha. 


RISVINTINE

This track is important to me because it succeeded at capturing the mood/feel that I am going for with my music. A kind of dark pulsing energy. Cool! Small victories like this really inspire to move forward and show that practice does some invisible magic shit that you can only see in retrospect. Perhaps that's why it is so often underestimated. 

BTW, anybody know what Risvintine means? :P


Alright! This concludes the trip to the past. The next post will be shared in "real time" meaning that I will publish it right after I finish my next track.

See you then!

ENOUGH WITH THE PAST (Tracks No. 13 and 14)

In my previous posts I talked and talked and talked about my aspirations, my background, about the music that I'd made in the past, blah blah, but what about making music now? Isn’t that the most important thing? Yes it is, so let me quickly take you through the rest of my November and December 2015 so we can focus on where I am at NOW. Enough with the past. 


DANCED

I started this track by coming up with a chord progression and a rhythm. It's interesting how the chords really help write the rest of the song and provide the necessary momentum to get to the end of the arrangement process, but they also dictate the mood throughout. So choose your chords with great care. Otherwise they might not let you escape their pull.


ARCHIPELAGO

This track starts with three synth voices progressively layering over their own rhythm. Then the closing low-pass filter lowers the energy before the next section of the song drops in with a groove-setting bass. Later a sparse melodic call and response comes in to do the emotional heavy lifting. Lots of trial and error and lots and lots of luck with this track but I really like the result. I am getting closer to the sound that I like.

Speaking of luck, sometimes I let myself be bothered by the fact that some of my music is very accidental in nature. The control freak inside me wants to make sure that he makes EVERYTHING. That means EVERY SOUND, EVERY TRANSITION, EVERY EFFECT, EVERY PROGRESSION, EVERY DEVELOPMENT. Yeah, that ego-driven behavior makes sense, except for one tiny detail that was hilariously pointed out by a reddit user:

He's talking more so about pre-made material, but that also applied to arranging songs. You can’t make everything and you can't control everything. Sometimes you layer a cool sound on top of what you have and then luck does its magic, and suddenly you have your breakdown figured out. But then again, luck happens because you sit down and actually try things. You accept some motifs/sounds/progressions and reject others. In the end without you sitting there you'd have nothing, so let that inner control freak get the credit that he deserves instead of feeling like you've lost all your artistic integrity. This is important.


This post is continued in Part 2.

WHAT I WANT TO SOUND LIKE

There’s a lot of music out there and I love most of it, but my absolute favorite genre at this point is downtempo. Genres are tricky to define but to me downtempo is 80-110 BPM tracks that are steeped in dark sonic energy. Glitchy percussion, powerful grooves, drones, pulsating bass, soundscapes, fluctuations in energy levels, delayed gratification, and textures, lots and lots of textures. Love it love it love it. I have Pandora Radio to thank for the discovery of this genre. Infinitely grateful for this. 

Some of my favorite downtempo artists are Aes Dana, Solar Fields and Asura. But pretty much everything released under the Ultimae Records label will have me extremely stoked. The music they release is about a life bigger that we know. A life that transcends the borders of what is Earthly and observable. It takes you to places other than here, into the realm beyond that which is accessible to humans. It takes you to a place where everything that is physical exists in perfect symbiosis with the emotional. 

Here’s my latest favorite:

Cut by Aes Dana (third track in video)

Another track that I absolutely love:

Atalantis Child by Asura

And one more that I’ve listened to dozens of times and still find it fresh every time I put it on:

Sol by Solar Fields

Another guy that I cannot stop listening to is Deadmau5, even though we are now talking about a different genre. Some people hate him, some love him. I love him. His music is not boring as some say. I find it to be extremely deep and complex, while also powerful, energetic, nostalgic, and deep. Besides, he is never afraid to experiment, he has a cool personality, and he stays true to his art and to himself. Much respect. Can’t wait for his 2016 album. 

Below is one of his non-typical tracks that I really enjoy. If you think this one is boring then I don’t know…

Sleepless by Deadmau5

But yeah, anyway, I look up to these guys. Their music is phenomenal. I will study it in great detail. They are the masters I want to learn from.

If you listen to my music you will see that I am all over the place in terms of genre. That’s because I am just trying my best to at least complete tracks, let alone make tracks in a specific genre, but I am trying. I am okay with the current situation because there’s no need to rush this process and skills will come as I make lots of music. The bar is set high by the artists mentioned above. Now it’s up to me to progress on my journey.

ART AS MEANS TO COPE (Track No. 12)

The song that I want to share with you today is a special one for me. I wrote it on Nov 14, 2015 - the morning after the Paris attacks made the city quiet with terror. 

COLD COFFEE

This track - I didn't want to write it. I needed to write it. 

I picked up my guitar and while looking out of the window on the gray sky started singing how I felt. It's like I needed to capture the pain and the hopelessness in order to cope. I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to create so much suffering for innocent people, yet I connected very profoundly with the victims. I felt extremely sad that their lives were cut short and that they would no longer have another chance to laugh, enjoy the sun, listen to some music. 

I’ll let the lyrics do the talking:

Broken glass on the floor,
The coffee's gone cold.
New shoes back at home,
Yet to be worn.

Phone in your pocket.
When will the charge run out?
Messages come,
For no one to see.

That life that you wanted to live,
Where is it now?
Those new shoes,
What if you'd worn them last night?

Where would they take you?

So yeah, I wrote this song out of personal necessity to understand the tragedy, to put it in the right place in my mind, to try to understand the strange thing that death is. I hope that this is the only sad song like this that I write. Ever. Life is beautiful. People shouldn't be killed.

WILL LIVE BREATHE LIFE INTO MY MUSIC? (Track No. 11)

In the previous post I spent a whole lot of words telling you that switching gear is not the way to get better at making art/music. But I know this because I have countless times made that very mistake. As I've told you before I switched from Logic to Reason, but my music didn't improve. So after trying Reason for a while, I decided that it wasn't right for me, and got the Ableton Live 30-day trial. I just didn’t have the right tools, I thought. Besides, everybody kept talking about Ableton, so I had to find out what the deal was. Maybe it was the big secret that could make my music awesome!

Uh-um. Sure.

But I will say that I love Ableton the most out of the three DAWs that I've tried and I think it will be amazing for a long long time to come. I really like its emphasis on automation and its streamlined, efficient workflow, and its respect for screen space. It's a sharp tool. But yeah, it won’t make your music for you. 

So here’s the first track that I finished in Live:

ANGLES

It sounds the way it does because I had heard the tip that if you write out the whole song using simple piano sounds, then you are more likely to finish it and not get stuck somewhere in the middle. While this is indeed true, once my track was finished, I had a hard time making any changes because they all felt wrong. The track was built to work with the sounds I put in, so changing them would kind of ruin the whole thing, and so I left it as it was. Unfortunately, as a result I got something that is completely different from the genre that I like. It’s more like classic-y piano-y sounding and I am more into like dark electro, ambient stuff. Good learning experience though. 

LOGICAL REASONING (Track No. 10)

There is a very common tendency among artists of any kind to occasionally become delusional about the source of their artistic power. During periods of creative slumps, writer blocks, stagnation, and depression, artists tend to focus too much on their tools, and often shift the responsibility for unsuccessful artworks onto them. In 95% of situations, of course, the tools are not the problem, but the illusion that they are is very convincing. So artists go on the internet or to a store in search for the next big magical thing that will automatically, simply by nature of its expanded capabilities, make great art possible. “If only I had this… or that, I’d be selling records by now.” Nothing is further from the truth. 

SKILLS COME FIRST

Searching for new tools, in 95% of cases, is nothing more than concealed responsibility shifting, fear avoidance, and procrastination. Getting a new toy feels good. Learning how it works makes us feel productive, makes us feel that we are learning something, that we are moving forward. But all we are doing is learning how to use the tool. Not how to make something with it. And so once we have a pretty good handle on how it works we are back at square one - staring at the blank canvas, with our great ideas obstructed by even more technical nuances and learning curves that come bundled with the new equipment. We face renewed depression, having achieved nothing over the course of two weeks that were spent obsessively researching, acquiring, and learning the new tools. 

So why do all artists fall in this trap? Because the illusion is very, very believable. Look at how the tools are marketed. “Get that pro sound!” “Capture the best moments!” The ads show you the tools and then some amazing shiznit made with these tools by real pros, so we think hmmm great tools = great results. It gets under your skin to thin your wallet.   

MAKING SPACE FOR GREAT IDEAS

How does one beat this problem? It’s not easy, but conscious acknowledgement of the illusion is the first step. Step two - you take zero action on the buying impulse it creates. Take a break from thinking about the new tools and, most importantly, try to find enormous satisfaction in 100% dedication to the craft and not the tools, 100% dedication to practice with the tools at your disposal. Find satisfaction in knowing that progress takes time and that you have all that you need, because remember, we rarely max out the capabilities of the tools that we already possess. Learning new tools only dulls our skills, spreads us thin between too many things, removes us further and further from making our brilliant ideas a reality. Like they say - keep it simple, stupid. 

But yeah, ok, I am so smart, but when I switched from Logic to Reason it was not logical, nor reasonable. Logic is an extremely powerful DAW, and so is Reason. With either one stellar results could be achieved. You could make all your music in one or the other, and it could sound great. No doubt about it. Look at Trifonic who uses Logic, and Stromae who uses Reason. But I convinced myself that the workflow of Logic wasn’t working for me. Minor things would irritate me and I thought that they were preventing me from making good songs. If only I had spent some time learning Logic properly instead of watching every Youtube video about every other DAW on the market, then maybe my music would have been better by now and I would have avoided the learning curve of the new tool. But no, I had to get Reason. I just had to. And so I did. My music didn’t improve even by .000001%. I learned some things about the tool. I learned how to route some signals, how to tweak some presets, but my music, my art - they were as dry as before. 

I only have one complete track made in Reason. I made it for the Electronic Dance Music Production subreddit’s sample challenge out of the provided samples and nothing else. The track is ok, but clearly far from anything great. Take a listen:

EXTRA DRY

So to conclude, yes the tools are all different, and some are more suitable and intuitive for some people and not others. It’s a matter of preference. It is a good idea to try out many tools using their trial versions and choose the one that just feels right. Once that is done, don’t convince yourself into geting a new tool unless you know why you need it. If you want a magic pill to make you better at your art, the tools are not the most direct way to get there - they are but a cherry on top of your practice, experience and skill.

But if you fall for it and get a new shiny toy - don’t beat yourself up about it either. All artist do this. All of them. I don’t know a single one that doesn’t. So have fun with the toy and learn how to use it, and then learn how to make it work for you creatively, incorporate it into your workflow, squeeze its potential out of it! Now that you have a great tool, make something great with it. 

Good luck and see you next time!

TRYING TOO HARD (Tracks No. 7, 8 and 9)

Using the momentum from my previous tracks, I set out to write this piece Alpha Centauri. Inspired by space and downtempo music, I tried to create a dark, brooding, mysterious setting, still feeling my way around Logic and trying to figure out my workflow.

ALPHA CENTAURI

Alpha Centauri was a pain in the ass to complete because I got completely stuck in a loop of perfectionism. I think it took me three weeks to get it done. I was thinking too much. I wanted it to be killer! I spent days messing around, deleting parts, tweaking, looking up tutorials… and most importantly, constantly worrying that I wasn’t able to make a professional sounding track. It was getting me depressed and when I finally finished it was a huge relief. 


I then produced another track - Somnium. Inspired by post rock and a cool riff that I came up with earlier on the guitar, I made this track in Logic over the course of two days. This one was, as always, a lot of trial and error and tweaking for ages without getting anywhere, but what's cool is that I was able to maintain the dark theme that I envisioned throughout the song. Note that the vision wasn't musical, but visual. As a photographer, it was easier for me to see various scenes in my mind and then sort of try to write a soundtrack for them. If you are curious what sort of visual ideas I was using as the foundation for the track, check out my Sinc series here.

SOMNIUM

The visual inspiration allowed for a brief state of flow which was followed by a long slump. I was too afraid to start another track for the fear of failure. I would procrastinate and do other things. Why the hell would I want to face frustration again only to fail? I concluded that I didn’t have what it took to be good at making music, completely ignorant of the importance of experience and learning by failing. Perfectionism ruined any hope of progress. Perfectionism resulted in no music.


Fast forward two years, and for some reason I am back at my DAW trying to make sounds again. Countless 8 or 16 bar loops that go nowhere, bad sound design, boring drums, hours of trying, and not a single piece of music longer than thirty seconds to show for it.

That’s when I stumbled on Mike Monday’s tutorials and realized that it was time for a change. It was time to start finishing music.

And so I made this track, titled appropriately Choke:

CHOKE

For this track I tried not to get carried away by the things that happened by accident and trial and error, and instead I tried to guide it to represent the dark sound that I knew I liked. It wasn't easy because I would jam and get something that wouldn't fit my idea, so I'd have to scrap it and start over. Finally I was able to capture the mysterious kind of sound, but my production feels repetitive and stale. But oh wow, it was so nice to be making music again. 

SOME TRANSATLANTIC ROMANCE (Tracks No. 5 and 6)

My next track (Long Distance) was made in an attempt to make something more palatable than my previous effort. This one was made in Logic, on my lap in a friend’s living room, and featuring a female vocal sample recorded spontaneously via the built-in mic on my computer. A whole lot of trial and error and a ton of frustration, but I am still quite fond of the musical idea expressed despite the so-so production (make sure to listen through headphones or speakers - the bass does not translate on laptop speakers).

LONG DISTANCE

Not sure what can be learned from this track, but my drums for sure need work. They are robotic and static.


Continuing with the romantic mood, here is the track that followed:

NEW STORY

The idea was born from some simple arpeggiated chords that I played on guitar, while singing whatever came to mind. That's how I got the first verse. Then I kind of forgot about the song until much later, and when I came back to it (luckily I wrote my idea down!) with a fresh perspective I buckled down and wrote the rest of the song:

You invaded my space
Things fell out of their place
It was a new beginning
Of the well known story

Words turned into meaning
Breathing underwater
I thought that I was dreaming
Then woke up to you calling

Objects shifting their shapes
No time will be sufficient
I need to have your eyes
In my field of vision

Fighting through the distance
Finding love in places
Long ago abandoned
By those afraid of waiting

Please come in invade my space
Put things back into their place
Let’s rewrite the ending
Of this well known story

I then arranged the track in Logic, ditching the guitar, and recording vocals through the built-in mic (took like 20 tries). The whole process took about an hour, granted the lyrics and the chords were ready.

Takeaways from the track:

I think some sort of musical break would be nice after the fourth verse to give the listener a little bit of time to process the lyrics. The flow of the track gets a little monotonous towards the end so some sort of chorus or instrumental break could be useful. Other than that, having an actual singer would be cool, but it was nice to be able to record my very own interpretation of the lyrics giving the song exactly the twist I wanted. But then again, sometimes ideas from the outside can be really cool too!

Okay, till next time!

THE IMPORTANCE OF IDEAS AND DEVELOPING RELEVANT SKILLS (Track No. 4)

One summer a good friend of mine showed me Logic. It seemed like a natural progression from Garage Band so I figured it would be a cool way to get more serious about music production and take my tunes to the next level (if only it was that easy). I got my hands on a copy of Logic Express and with great excitement and huge hopes started working on my next track. I had a clear idea in mind - I wanted the track to create a sense of unease and anxiety.

PANICK ATTACK

Despite the fact that the track turned out stale and boring, what can I learn from it in retrospect? Well, it's cool that I saw my idea for creating an anxious feel through to the end. It wasn't successful, but it was purposeful.

Don’t abandon your ideas for the sake of production. 

What do I mean by that? Let me explain. Often, when I don’t have the chops to make my idea a reality I tend to default to what I already know how to do. For example if I want to make a dark downtempo track but don’t know how to make a cool downtempo drum beat, I might default to programming a four-to-the-floor and that destroys the feel of the track. It takes a completely different direction from my vision and I lose creative control. What’s more is that by doing the same thing over and over again I am not learning the skills that I need to learn in order to make the kind of music I want to make. 

So yeah, the takeaway is: try to maintain your vision of the track throughout the production process. You might not succeed, but you will learn appropriate skills that will help make those ideas a reality in the future. Eventually ideas and skills will begin to fuel each other, leading you to better, cleaner, more exciting music.

But also don't forget to have fun! If the track is beginning to take a life of its own and you are digging it, then no reason to interrupt the flow! Not all music needs to be preplanned! (more on that in the future)

FIRST ELECTRONIC PRODUCTIONS (Tracks No. 2 and 3)

By the time I produced my first electronic track (Frames, below) I was already a sophomore in college, and it happened by chance. I took an audio production class as an elective where we were given an assignment to make a soundtrack for a short video. We weren’t required to write our own music, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I was feeling creative. So I pulled the video into Garage Band and started messing around. Using the laptop keyboard and speakers I wrote the whole thing in about an hour and a half while chilling with my friends in a study room as they were preparing for midterm exams. It felt so easy! I didn’t know any techniques or have fancy plugins. I think I used some EQ here and there to boost some frequencies to help them cut through the mix, but at the time it was more like: I need to hear more of that sound so I’m just gonna increase the volume here. What I am getting at is that the process was very natural. It was kind of like throwing paint on a blank canvas with no intention other than to throw paint on a canvas. I used my ears, not my knowledge of what the right way to do things was. It was all organic and… easy! A case of beginner’s luck mixed heavily with instincts. I was creating with no expectations, and I think the results are pretty good, considering this is my first electronic music piece!

FRAMES

Today things aren’t quite the same. The knowledge that I have now, while in many ways liberating, can sometimes be a burden. Sometimes I wonder if the way I am using EQ is correct. Am I allowed to boost frequencies? Or should I only cut? I am not listening - I am thinking. It is the nature of the learning process, and the goal is to eventually have the knowledge become instinctual so we can come back to that playful approach while bringing our skills along. But that can only happen with a lot of experience. 


Ok, that got philosophical really quick. 

Here’s the next track that I wrote (Softer, below). It was probably made two weeks after the first one. I was super excited about the possibilities of electronic music, and how great of a creative outlet it was. So while riding the excitement wave I began working on this track, and it was still pretty easy! As you can tell, back then I had no concept of music structure. Things are happening kind of all over the track and not at 8, 16, or 32 bar intervals. I had no grasp of any music theory, keys, scales, chords, all that good stuff. No knowledge of sound design. So it was me just selecting a preset, tweaking it ever so slightly and going straight for the arrangement. I think my arrangement back then was much stronger. Now that I know about structure my songs feel structured when they should have flow instead. 

SOFTER

But yeah, live and learn. Let me know what you guys think about this knowledge/experience thing in the comments.

MY MUSICAL BACKGROUND

Today I want to tell you a little bit about my minimal music background.

I’ve had several guitar teachers in my life. With only one of them I studied consistently and for a period of time longer than two months, and that was in high school. Why didn’t I play for longer periods of time? Because playing music was difficult! You had to read sheet music, count in your head, refine your fingerpicking technique, etc. It was fun, but to play the right way was too much for my young self. I just wanted to make cool sounds! As for the beautiful intricacies of the music language that my teachers were trying to share with me - I was too young and musically inexperienced to be able to appreciate them. For me playing an instrument was simply about hitting the right notes in the right order. Only much later did I discover the importance of playing expressively and interpreting the music in an interesting way. 

Although in high school I made some great progress and even played a solo piece during a recital (see below), most of my guitar knowledge has vanished since. I remember but a few basic chords and maybe two-three pieces that stuck. I don’t even remember where each note is on the neck of the guitar. As discouraging as this should sound to someone who is about to jump into music for the next 10,000 hours of his life, I am actually quite excited about my lack of musical talent and ability because it makes me a perfect candidate for my study of talent. And this is what this whole experiment is all about! My goal is to make amazing music, but my other equally important goal is to find out if talent is necessary for success. 

Anyway, I got a little sidetracked. So, with my guitar skills mostly nonexistent, today I find that I am much more comfortable with the piano. I can’t play it as well as the guitar (or at all), but at least I much better understand the relationships between the notes. The intervals are easy to see and the keyboard basically gives you um... a key *facepalm* on how to build major and minor scales. I am sure this is something that is covered early in any piano class, but for me this was a significant discovery! On the guitar you really gotta practice to commit the intervals to memory but on the piano it’s a piece of cake. 

If you play all the white notes starting on C, you get a major scale. Cool, right?

Now if you play all the whites notes starting on A, you get a minor scale. Even cooler, because you are still only playing white keys, but you get your cheat-sheet for building a minor scale. 

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for my musical background. The only other thing I learned in high school was how to drum a four-to-the-floor pattern with the snares on 2nd and 3rd beats and hihats on every 8th note, but since you can learn that in a day behind your desk this isn’t a significant accomplishment. 

Okay, that’s it for today. Next time I tell you about my first venture into the realm of electronic music. 

FIRST RECORDING (Track No. 1)

I think my account of my progress would be incomplete without me sharing with you my very first efforts in all their “glory”. I think it is important that I show the ugly side of creativity to dispel the idea that creativity is easy or pretty. Not for the sake of calling attention to it or trying to make it seem more important than it is, but simply to give comfort to the artists and creators out there who might be holding themselves back from making their best work by thinking that there is a correct way to do things, or that creativity should be effortless, or that it is effortless for those who are gifted with the "necessary" talent. 

So here is one of my very first recordings. I think I was 16 back then. It was recorded in Garage Band via the built-in mic on my laptop. All one track, drenched in reverb and other effects to make it sound "good”. 

GOLDEN FOAM

Back then the purpose of this recording was simply to make a memo of the song to preserve it, as well as to hear what it sounds like recorded. But now I am curious - what can I learn from this recording by looking back at it with the knowledge I have now? Well, I think it is interesting that the guitar, being a single instrument, fills the frequency spectrum so nicely (I am guessing it was designed this way on purpose). We've got some sparkly highs provided by the steel strings, and probably emphasized further by the low-res mic of the laptop. Then we have some nice sustained bass happening when I strum the top strings for some of the chords.

But there are some problems too. It seems that the heavy reverb tails fill the mid-range with an incoherent muddiness, making the song less bright and clean, and also drowning out the vocals. Okay, what else… The vocals are too quiet. But given that this was a one-track recording, there couldn’t be any mixing happening. As for EQ and all that other cool stuff - I had no idea what any of those tools were for at the time. And if I were to do this track again? Well I’d have to start from scratch. No point in trying to polish a turd. 

While this is a very basic analysis, it is nice to know that I have learned something since the time of this recording. I guess this is why progress takes such a long time - over the years things click and start to make more sense, providing you with insights you simply couldn’t acquire in a day or two (as we often wish). 

FIRST CONTACT

I have a lot of anxiety and insecurity going forward with my project of 10,000 hours. Since I can remember, I have been told, and thus have come to believe, that I do not have musical talent. And perhaps that is true. I do not have perfect pitch, I cannot sing, I cannot tap a cohesive rhythm like some of my friends who turn a steering wheel of a car into a drum kit, nor do I have good audation allowing me to compose cool melodies in my head. I do, however, seem to have pretty good visualization skills and an ability for abstract thinking. Hopefully I can leverage these talents to build and improve my musicality. 

Let me tell you a bit about my very first musical discoveries. When I was about 4-6 years old I had this little battery powered keyboard thing (Casio SA-5). I’d pull it out every once in a while when I was completely bored, but most of the time it was left untouched. It’s a shame because it was actually a pretty neat device. It had small keys, and above them several buttons each programmed with a preset. I didn’t know what the designations like pads, synth, bass, and drums meant, but I would lie on the floor and go from one patch to the next, playing whatever on the keys. Out of all my experimentation I remember only one moment vividly. While going through the sounds I stumbled upon one that was an evolving pad that sounded like a choir of mighty Greek gods or something. The sound was big and made me feel like I was experiencing something profound. I think it was back then that I discovered my first chord (must have been an Am because dammit I don’t know why but I love that chord). Of course back then I didn’t know it was a chord. I just knew it sounded cool. Anyway, I'd keep playing this chord over and over again, meanwhile letting my imagination run completely wild. I remember envisioning myself walking through giant glass doors into some enormous space. It was a powerful experience and it even made me tear up, and I wasn't even sure why.  

I don’t know what happened to that little keyboard. I wish I still had it. But one thing is for sure - that keyboard orchestrated my first experience of sound intertwined with feelings. It was my first contact with the power of music.

INTRODUCTION

My friends, 

As someone who talks a whole lot about creativity and overcoming the challenges that come with it, I am about to see if I can actually live up to what I preach. I am about to embark on the most significant creative adventure of my life yet - I will be trying to become a professional electronic music producer, and using the process of getting there to find out if talent is indispensable to attain a reasonable level of success or whether it can be overshadowed by hard work. 

According to the trendy notion established by one of the best known authors on the topic of success Malcolm Gladwell, by dedicating approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to a skill, one can reach the level of mastery. So starting today, I am officially committing the next several years of my life to music, until I reach 10,000 hours.

A STUDY OF TALENT

Now, most of you know me as a photographer, but the more I understand myself, the more I realize that I am many things - a photographer, a writer, an artist, and now a musician. I am truly passionate about creativity in general (not any particular field) and the role it plays in our lives, so I thought what better way for me to study it than by putting myself to the test? Not only will I be testing the 10,000 rule, but I will also be finding out whether to succeed in any field, talent is an absolute requirement. 

Here are the goals that I want to attain at the end of my 10,000 hours of practice:

  • Play a live set of my original tracks to a live audience at a decent venue
     
  • Release an album of ten original tracks so people can purchase my music if they wish
     
  • Establish a unique sound

Here are some important points that I am considering:

  • I am currently on hour 56 (more about those hours in later posts)
     
  • The 10,000 rule is not really a rule. There is no proof that it works, but it is safe to assume that after 10,000 hours of practice one can expect to be infinitely better at the skill in question than without such a commitment. However, that does not guarantee success, nor does it prove or disprove the importance of natural talent, but aiming for 10,000 hours is a great, tangible target that I will be aiming for.
     
  • I did some simple math and determined that if I continue to produce music at my current pace of about 6 hours per week I will attain 10,000 hours in 32 years. That is a really long time. If we add my current age of 24 to that we can calculate that I will be 56 years old at the time of completion. Music doesn’t (or at least it shouldn’t) have an age limit, but I’d like to not wait so long. Besides, who wants to follow an experiment for 32 years? So I am going to have to step up my game. I think it is reasonable to give myself 10 years. Even less, let’s say 8 years. That gives me the following numbers: Year of completion: 2023. My age at completion: 32 (reasonable). But! That means that I have to make music for at least 24 hours a week. This is going to be challenging in its own right, considering that I have to keep my day job to “finance” this experiment. That is about 3.5 hours of making music a day. I will have to make music my top priority after work. Hopefully, as my skills improve, I will have more endurance to make music for longer stretches of time and, hopefully, somewhere down the line I will be able to find a job in a field related to music, so that my work serves as an apprenticeship, accelerating my growth. 
     
  • It’s important to note that only the hours of actually making music count towards the 10,000 hour goal. Reading about music, watching tutorials, learning to play an instrument, and other related activities are important, but only applying those skills to original music productions actually counts.
     
  • For the experiment to qualify as a success I must actually play at least one live show to a live audience, and have the above-mentioned album actually released
     
  • A similar experiment is currently in progress. It’s called the Dan Plan, where a man named Dan is trying to reach a world class level as a golf player. You can read all about it here: thedanplan.com. The only reason why I find his experiment unsatisfying to my curiosity, and thus feel that I need to conduct my own, is because golf and music are entirely different in terms of what kind of talent they seem to require. Golf is a physical activity and is not notorious for requiring any extraordinary inherited talents. It appears that anybody in good health, without physical disabilities, and with enough dedication should be able to perfect his game through guided practice and persistence. Music on the other hand is surrounded by a heavy notion that only those naturally gifted with particular skills can reach mastery and that usually the talent of such people is seen in their early years. It is believed that music requires a very specific cognitive predisposition, good audation, an ability to hear pitch, as well as a strong sense of rhythm. So while I am by no means discrediting golf, I am acknowledging the fact that there is a much stronger emphasis on talent when it comes to music, and hence I have the desire to find out with my experiment whether someone with no talent can nevertheless reach mastery. 
     
  • Another very important thing to mention is that I am not trying to attain “best in the world” status. No, that is very complex and probably requires not only years of hard work, some extraordinary circumstances, and yes, perhaps even some magic in the form of natural talent. I just want to find out if I can reach a relatively high level of electronic music production so that people like to listen to it and so that is indistinguishable in terms of quality from the music produced by professional artists. 
     
  • With that said, I think it is important that I mention that I do not have musical talent. I do not have perfect pitch, I do not know rhythm, I cannot sing, or play by ear. Which makes me an ideal candidate for this study and thus makes this experiment all the more interesting and important.
     
  • Regarding this blog that was set up to keep anybody who is interested up to date on my progress: I’ll take notes after each production session and then convert them into a post with a report and the accumulated hours, weekly.

Okay, so this about wraps it up for now. With clear goals established and some important aspects of the challenge considered, I am very excited to begin and to see just how far I can go. I invite you all to follow along and I would love to hear what you think about talent.