A demo

I decided to export my half-finished song as an MP3 file to listen to on the bus to work, away from my computer screen. Then I thought, “why not share it on my blog?”

So here it is. I have so much work still to do – I haven’t even properly decided on the instrumentation yet. I might keep the cute synth and echoey piano or I might record it all with guitars.

What do you think?

PS I’m late for work!

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L is for Like It’s Your Last

…which is the title of my blog!

If you’ve listened to the songs I’ve written (in particular Daydreams and Denial) then it might surprise you to learn that the title of my blog is taken from a song by a band called Devil Sold His Soul that can sometimes sound a bit scary.

They write music that is at times slow and climactic, gradually building up into crushing guitars and screamed vocals. And yet at other points there’s beautiful, delicate moments with big spacious synthesizer sounds and sweet, naive singing.

I’ve seen them in concert four times – or maybe five? The first time was in a little venue built into one of the arches under a bridge in the Old Town of Edinburgh. It was perfect. Everyone just piled on top of each other, singing along at the top of their lungs, totally enraptured by the moment. A lovely feeling of togetherness.

But anyway, I chose to call my blog “Like It’s Your Last” because it sounds good. I suppose it relates to the idea of “living each day like it’s your last”, interpretable as “go do something with your life and try to be the best that you can be”. So, that seemed like a reasonable choice.

I, J, K are for I Just Keep forgetting to update my blog…

I wish I could say I’ve been busy. You could argue that I have been, but not so much so that I couldn’t write a short blog entry each day. So I’m taking the easy way out and combining the last couple of missing entries with today’s one, under a title which conveniently gives me freedom to ramble about anything, really.

What’s new with me? Here’s some recent events in my life: I had a burrito for dinner. My boyfriend and I went on a lovely trip to Glasgow on Thursday to visit my family and go to a gig. I started watching Suits and am convinced that Netflix is trying to eat up my soul, one TV show at a time. And I just found out the lease for my flat is being terminated in two months, noooo! (Don’t worry Mum, I’ll be fine.)

But let’s not worry about that, or the fact that I’ll be a penniless shop assistant for the rest of my life. I’ve been working on a couple of new songs recently.

One’s almost finished, in the sense that I have a basic skeleton of a song written, including drums and one and a half guitar parts. So what I should have said is that it’s actually no-where near complete. I’m pleased with what I’ve written so far, but it sounds like a backing track, so I’m working on making it sound more interesting. I think I’ll call it How To Become A Ghost, because that sounds damn cool.

As for the other song – let’s call it Song 6, as it’s my 6th effort of 2014 – I’ve only written about 45 seconds of music, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve heard part of it before. I think it must be an idea I’ve played around with in the past. I certainly hope I’m not accidentally plagiarising someone else’s music!

I’ll write more about my music soon, but now I’m off to practice my guitar and then watch another episode of Suits (but just one, honestly!). Tomorrow is a day off for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, but I promise I’ll use it to get my next few posts organised!

E is for Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate)

I’ve managed to get some overtime at work – an extra wee 4 hours a week for the rest of the month – which means that I’ll have a few extra pennies and be able to do some fun things! I’ve only been working 16 hours a week, and almost everything I earn goes towards my rent, food, and travel costs. I complain a lot about it, but I can still live comfortably enough and it means I have plenty of time to focus on creative pursuits, or sleep all day, or whatever.

There’s a gig on Thursday that I thought I was going to have to miss, but the extra money means I can justify going. (Clearly I’m choosing to ignore, for now, the fact that I won’t receive that extra wages until the end of the month!) It’ll be a cheap gig – something like £7 for a ticket, since it’s quite an unknown band – but I also have to pay to travel to Glasgow. Nine out of ten times, when bands come on tour to Scotland, they choose Glasgow over Edinburgh, which sucks for my bank balance.

The band I’m planning on going to see on Thursday is a husband-and-wife duo called Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate), who write incredibly sweet, sad songs. They’re doing a co-headline tour with another band that has something like 10 members and is called The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die. They’re pretty cool but sometimes when I listen to them I feel like someone’s bombarding me with ribbons and confetti and I get really confused. Anyway, it’s a tour of the ridiculously-named bands! I’m really looking forward to it.

I was a day late with this post because I couldn’t decide whether to write about Edinburgh, “Emo” music or (Quantum) Entanglement. In the end I picked none of those. I need to get myself a bit better organised for this A to Z Blogging Challenge!

D is for Daydreams and Denial

Several weeks ago now, I wrote a song that I called Daydreams and Denial. It’s an instrumental track, and I always enjoy picking a name for a song with no lyrics. I like this title because one section – let’s call it the “chorus” – sounds light like a daydream, but the “verse” has a bit more tension in it, like it’s hinting at something hidden.

I wrote this song entirely using virtual instruments with Ableton Live: in particular there’s a cute synthesiser and a marimba as the two main voices. Writing the song was a little bit of an adventure, and I had a lot of fun with it.

It’s a sweet, silly wee piece of music, and I complained to my boyfriend that the music I write never comes out sounding like I’d want it to. He laughed and told me “that’s because you write songs with marimbas in them!”

Point taken.

A is for April!

When I started blogging in January, I foolishly assumed that by April I would already be a blogging genius, writing regularly three or four times a week. That isn’t what happened. Regrettably, my blogging fizzled out almost entirely during March.

I brought this blog into existence with the intention to use it to chronicle a creative challenge that I set myself. That challenge was to produce a 4-song EP all by myself, in 12 weeks! It involved writing, recording, drum-programming, mixing, mastering… You can find out more about it here. As with my blogging, March wasn’t a good month for making music, and I’ve put that project on the back-burner for a while.

But never mind that: today is the start of something brilliant! I’m taking part in the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge, which means that I’ll be blogging every day this month! That is, with the exception of the four Sundays, to take the total down to 26 – that’s so that each blog entry can correspond to a letter of the alphabet.

So today, for the letter A, I chose April. It’s maybe a little uninspired, but it gives me a chance to introduce myself to anyone coming from the A to Z Challenge website, and to outline my plans for the month.

I’ll still be focusing on documenting the ups and downs of creating music, but I think I will allow myself to include reflections on things not directly related to that process. In other words, I don’t actually have a plan, and you’ll just have to wait and see! Well, so much for introductions.

See you tomorrow!

Learning to mix

Last night I finished up the writing and recording part of my project, and today I have officially started mixing. My understanding of mixing is that you process and add effects to individual instruments in your song to make everything sound coherent and beautiful. You might have 3 tracks or 13 tracks or 30 tracks in your song when you start mixing, but afterwards you should be ready to condense it down into just two: a stereo pair, one for the left ear and one for the right. After mixing comes mastering, which is similar except that you work with those two stereo tracks, not individual instruments. Its purpose is optimisation: to give the song that magical oomph.

Both mixing and mastering are extremely creative, complex skills that take years and years to develop. I’m really excited to get started!

When mixing, it’s important to have a good set of speakers to monitor the sound. You want something that reproduces the music as honestly as possible: many speakers and headphones are designed to boost certain frequencies to make the sound more appealing. I’m going to have to make do with a couple of sets of headphones, one of which produces a notably bassy sound and the other which is a cheap set of earphones that I use to listen to music on my smartphone. It’s not great, and using headphones at all isn’t the smartest choice, but I’ll make do with what I’ve got. I’m going to learn so much and that’s what I’m excited about!

Let’s have a quick wee look at my timeframe. The plan looks like this:

Weeks 9 and 10: mixing each song (deadline: Wed 19th Mar)
Week 11: more mixing (deadline: Wed 26th Mar)
Week 12: mastering (deadline: Wed 2nd Apr)

It’s pretty vague. Having had an hour whizz past me earlier while I played with one effect applied to one instrument, I’m quite aware that you could spend forever mixing a single song. I’m only going to spend three weeks on four songs. And actually, to be fair to each song, I’m allocating a strict half a week to get a semi-decent mix for each song, and then I’ll spend the third week working on finer details that will no doubt come to my attention.

When I first started to learn about mixing, I kept hearing about compressors, limiters, EQ, reverb, delay, gates, filters, automation, and a ton of other scary words. Where do you even begin with all this stuff?! So for now I’m trying to look at it as being simply about volume. You might start by adjusting the volume of each track so that the right instruments stand out at the right times, and then you might look at EQ, or equalization, where you adjust the volume of frequencies within a track to clarify the sound. Then you might use a compressor to reduce the difference between the loud bits and quiet bits… it’s all volume.

This is going to be a whirlwind. Wish me luck!