Riding the waves of motivation

Shortly after I started this blog, my friend Adam started one as well, because I said he should. For a while he’d stopped posting frequently and I had to encourage him to write, but now the tables have turned and he’s the one telling me to get blogging again!

Anyway, I might have, kind-of, completely and utterly abandoned the A to Z blogging challenge soon after the half-way point, but I will not look back in sadness! It was super fun and I’m sure that if/when I do it next year, I’ll be better prepared for it.

Instead of blogging, I have, at least, been making music! I’m working on Song 7. You might say,

“I know you started out by writing 4 songs in 12 weeks, but I haven’t heard much since then. How come you’re at Song 7 now? Where did 5 and 6 go?” Where indeed.

“And I still haven’t heard two of the original four yet!” Well, maybe one day.

Song 7 currently has 88 bars of music, which means at a tempo of 130bpm (beats per minute), it’s around 2 minutes 42 seconds long. It has a beginning, a tentative end, and a middle that needs stretched out a bit further. I also – of course – need to write the entire drum accompaniment. Drums make me uneasy. I tend to leave them to the end. Song 7 has a provisional title: “Following Me In The Sunshine”.

I’ve composed the entire thing so far using my MIDI keyboard and my computer. When you write music on the computer, organisation is key. It’s really important to carefully keep track of all the bits and pieces of the song, otherwise things will get lost and mixed-up. I decided to completely reject the notions of “verse-chorus-etc” for this composition, so I had a bit of fun with naming the different sections:

intro
1: wistful daffodils
2: on the wind/below the wind
3: when everything starts to feel see-through
4: coming to light
5: unwinding the space on either side of me
end: wistful daffodils?

I haven’t actually written a fifth part yet but I thought “unwinding the space on either side of me” sounds awesome, and I want to add more to the song anyway. Maybe I should use it as an actual song title instead of the name of a fragment of a song; a mere organisational tool. I also really like “when everything starts to feel see-through”, although the music doesn’t quite capture the essence of that kind of feeling. Well whatever, it hardly matters.

Since I’ve slipped back into meaningless procrastination recently, I’m going to impose a deadline on this song. I’ll give myself a fortnight. Come back on the evening of Sunday 11th May (oh! That’s my friend’s birthday!) and you might just hear a new song!

Sometimes the software gets in the way of the creative process

I have a few more days left allocated to writing the fourth and final song for my project, but I’ve been trying to tie up various loose ends in earlier songs.

When I was working on Track 1, way back in weeks 1 and 2, I used a program called Ignite to record my musical ideas into the computer. I’ve been using Ableton Live 9 (Intro) for the following three songs, so it made sense to me that I should go back and set up Track 1 in Ableton Live. While Ignite provides a really simple, intuitive way to record ideas and arrange songs, it doesn’t offer the mixing and mastering capabilities that Ableton has.

I used the following instruments in the song: some electric guitars, a bass, drums and a keyboard. I’m using MIDI for everything except the guitars – that means I tell the computer what notes to play, and the computer plays them for me using a synthesized MIDI instrument instead of a real-life instrument. Different music programs have different instruments, and there are infinite possibilities to choose from! Now, I really liked the sounds of the instruments I’d chosen in Ignite, so I converted each MIDI file into an audio file, which is easily done in Ignite. The software is designed for musicians, not engineers! I then imported the audio files into Ableton Live. I could have exported the MIDI files instead, but then I would have had to pick one of Ableton’s instruments to play back the sound. I only have the Intro version, and it seems that the best sounds have been reserved for the Standard and Suite versions!

For the next songs in my project I had used Ableton Live straight away. However, I ran into trouble writing the MIDI bass parts: the stripped-down Intro version that I have just doesn’t contain any particularly good bass guitar sounds. So, since Ignite comes with a nice set of instruments, I thought I could export the MIDI files from Ableton Live, import them into Ignite, pick a cool sound, and export the audio files to put them back into Ableton Live. But unfortunately Ignite isn’t able to import MIDI files! Alas, if I want to use Ignite’s instruments I’d need to record the music with my MIDI keyboard from scratch. I’m sure it would take no time at all since everything I’ve written is very simple, but it’s still quite frustrating!

In short, Ignite is great for getting started with creating and recording ideas into the computer. It’s very basic, and has a really good range of MIDI sounds to choose from – especially since it’s all free!! It’s also set up so that it’s easy to export everything into another piece of software (eg Ableton Live) to make more complicated adjustments and do the post-production stuff. Ableton Live is amazing both for recording and everything that comes after, but the Intro version I have is a bit disappointing when it comes to the available sounds.

This has been a bit of a dull blog entry. So, if you made it this far, here is the grand unveiling of the tracklisting for my wee EP!*

old dreams

1. i was an entire instant, all to myself, more than i am now
2. time is nonlinear, it slows when i realise
3. those moments i don’t want to be a part of anything
4. daydreams and denial

Really first and fourth songs are the only ones worth listening to. I’m so tempted to discard the third track because it’s such a non-song. But it still has a chance for redemption…

*Subject to change – coming up with titles for instrumental music isn’t easy.

Fun with Colours, Numbers, Patterns, Rhythms

I’m currently writing Track 4, the final song for my music project. Everything has been going really well with this one! Having set up my overall song structure and chord progressions for the verse and chorus, I got to work writing main melodic parts for those two sections.

Prepare yourself for what might be some incoherent rambling about my thought process!

For the verse, I began by writing a rhythm for the main melody. The track will be instrumental, so instead of using lyrics I constructed a couple of meaningless sentences on-the-spot. I took the natural rhythm of those sentences and based my melody on it, by inputting the rhythm into my music editor as a series of notes with the same musical pitch (F, since the song is in the key of F). After that I just just started jiggling the pitches of the notes around until I had a melody that I was keen on (I also adjusted the volumes of individual notes to make it sounds less mechanical). Sometimes imposing restrictions on your work makes it easier to get creative. I actually ended up discarding that melody, writing another in the same way, and eventually reincarnating the original as a countermelody for the final chorus of the song.

The main idea for the chorus came about really naturally while I was exploring the different sounds that can be used to synthesise notes in Ableton Live, my music software. I didn’t use any fancy techniques to compose it; it was simply a playful wee string of notes that went from my fingers, through my MIDI keyboard and into the computer. However, it’s maybe a little tedious, since the pattern repeats itself four times in the one chorus. I’m thinking I’ll need to replace maybe the third repetition, or the second and fourth, with something new…

As well as writing these “sing-a-long-able” parts for the verse and chorus, I’ve also written the drum and bass parts, as well as a couple of other twiddly bits for the musical accompaniment.

Turning my attention now to the middle 8, I sat back and had a think about where to go. Well, something I haven’t ever really done before in writing music is to insert a key change! That’s because I don’t really know how to. There is the super-cheesy method of simply raising all the music up by a semitone or two – that’s the climactic point where the boyband get up off their stools when they’re performing their slow ballad – but I knew there are other, classier ways to do it, so I did some Googling to get some answers. I found some information about “pivot chords”, where you use a chord common to both keys to bring about the change. Without really knowing what I was doing, I played around with my keyboard until I was happy with a chord progression.

I decided to change the key from F to C, since they have a difference of only one note: while F has a Bb (B flat), C has a B. I ended up with the following: F-Dm-G7-C-Dm9-G13-Cmaj9-Cmaj9. The final four chords are quite sophisticated; they’re beautiful and jazzy! After that section comes the final, triumphant chorus, transposed up to the key of C. I actually changed the final chord of the middle 8 to F to give more of a feeling of movement, since the new chorus starts on a C. Overall, the middle 8 sounds a bit… weird, but it’s not too bad, and I love the transition into the final chorus!

Image

This is how my song looks so far. Ableton Live is an unbelievably cool piece of software! The bottom right corner is the “piano roll” which currently shows the chorus melody. The top section shows the whole song, with a row for each instrument. I haven’t quite figured out a good system for colouring all my little musical blocks but I love the fact that I can do that!