Start with Drums
* Start with one or two bars of Hi Hat, on a quantized grid, input notes with different velocities. (eighth notes typically for rock, 16th notes for dance)
* Lay down the same bars of bass drum. (Beats 1 and 3 for rock, ballads, etc., 1,2,3,4 for dance) (Go ahead, add leading notes, experiment--you are building a house, make the foundation strong and weather-worthy.)
* Position and choose the snare. (Normally to beats 2 and 4) (Yes, add a frill, a flam, and flirt with this essential backbeat). Don't add the Toms yet, or anything else.
* Copy this sequence to bars 1-8 (verse), then copy it again to 9-17 (chorus)
Using Audio Loops? No Prob. Just find the beat you like and lay it down. TIP: Even if you have the same loop repeating you should put it down a least every 5 bars. Even the best cut loops go out of sync if you try to run them 16 or more bars.
Doing Trance? Many pieces that have made a lot of money just start with a kick for 4 bars, and the hats the next few bars, then the snares all culminating in a snare roll. The rest of the rules below don't necessarily apply. Trance works by building up elements and dropping them out and adding new ones. Sort of like driving your car on the expressway with an every changing landscape, with the throbbing of the motor keeping it all unified.
Add Bass for Chorus
* Back to a standard song. Do a baseline for the chorus. Take your sweet time and experiment till you find something you really like--do not settle for "anything", and avoid tweaking reverbs, FX--just get the bass right. You do not have to sound like Jaco the Great here. The most powerful basslines in our music are very simple play-offs of octaves and fifths. Or its a simple walk up or down the scale. Or in some Trance music, just playing the same note in a straight run of 16th notes, deleting a couple at random and raising one note a half step. Make sure you LIKE what you have given birth to. Groove it, twist it, torture it. When your inner censor says "Wow, Cool!" move on to....
* Using Loops? Then find the bass loop you like. Note that it will probably take you longer to find one you like than making one from scratch.
Add Melody for Chorus
* Add a simple melody line, same as above, to the chorus. (Note we do the chorus before the verse). Play around a long time. What possibilities does the bass open up? Don't like it? Fire the Bass player and get a new one. Try different tempos. What's your mood? Try to match it with your inner rhythm of the moment. You are looking for a statement, so listen for it. its very common for sudden little sparks and flashes of meaning, but the hand might not know how to get there. Keep at it. When you are close, if you are not adept at keys, take a look in the grid editor and see what you have and move things around till they speak. In traditional rock, country, ballads, etc., the melody is the part sung. If you are doing something dancey, a one or two bar looped pattern of 8th or 16th notes go here.
Keep it simple, even if its stupid and sing-songy. Dude, think about jingle bells or yankee doodle. Or the Beatles "She Loves you Ya, Ya Ya." Stupid melodies WIN HEARTS BIG TIME! If you have any doubt, just turn on the radio to ANY channel and listen to melodies. They are simple, catchy, easy. Even you jazz buffs, go watch a concert of avante gard players and watch the AUDIENCE. They only clap when someone does something simple (or finishes an overly long solo, thank god).
Using loops? Here you have to do major digging to find something that is going to define and carry the piece. Keep you bassline running as you audition different arpeggios, (Arps). As above, be patient and try lots of things. you are looking for something to "lock". If you don't have to use loops, here is the place you want to try your hand at the keys and come up with something fresh.
Do the same as above for the Verse
* Go to the verse and do the bassline and melody line. Same process as above. Lots of new composers have a little trouble here. The trouble begins usually when you start thinking of how these things must be different. Think of the melody as a friend you have that you want to introduce.
* The verse is the part that gets everyone ready for the chorus. Now if you were a chorus (stay with me now) what would you want the verse to do? Of course, you egotist, you would want it to build you up, roll out the red carpet, say all kinds of great things about you. That way, when you the chorus takes the stage you can fly.
* Tension/Release. Question/Answer. These metaphors don't always hold. (Hey there's NO Rules), but they will get the new composer over the hump. Once you have a few successes with music, you will feel a freedom and all of this will become second nature.
Consider the basic form of the Arrangement
* Now let me introduce the basic structure of the Arrangement. The Verse is sometimes called the "A" Section. The Chorus is called the "B" Section. There is usually a "C" Section too. We'll get into that in a bit. There is also an Introduction and and Ending
* Your homework assignment: Do you really want to get good at music? I mean really? Then you will do this painless exercise at least once. Get our your favorite CDs. Get a pencil and paper. Write down the structure of your favorite songs. Count out how many bars each section goes. It's easy. And in the space of one hour you will have MUCH more songwriting wisdom than you had before you did this.
Mechanics of Building the Arrangement
* Copy bars 1-8 to 17-24 (These are the "A" Sections)
* Copy bars 9-16 to 25-32 (These are the "B" Sections)
* Your "core song" is now complete. Evaluate. Do you like it? If so, Continue. If not, start over. Don't waste another second on something you don't like. A good song will "pull you in" at this point. A great song will feel like time has stopped and you'll feel irresistible elation, a willingness to throw yourself on the alter of humanity, and a desire to stay up all night to cull this out. As funny as that sounds, experienced composers know its true. When you stumble upon a great song, you will know it and you will be in total awe as its beauty reveals itself to you.
* Go ahead and orchestrate (i.e., add different instruments that "go together") some instruments with the melody. Find the best patches, experiment with contrast, put a different sound in each frequency range. Avoid sounds that compete with each other. Imagine they are people actually playing the instruments. Make them earn their union wage, but don't piss them off with incredibly unrealistic passages, except when you have to. Remember, you are the boss, here.
o Develop a "break" (The "C" Section) or counter melody or variation to fit into bars 32-48. It is OK to copy the drums from the verse section, just remember to change them a bit later on. Don't forget that drummers need a little break.
o Orchestrate the break
o Move the entire construction so it starts at bar 9
o Develop an introduction.
o Develop an ending. Congratulations! Your song skeleton is complete.
o Go back and listen to the whole thing a few times. What are you hearing? How can you make the piece unforgettable?
o Adjust the tempo
o Work on each sequence till it does what you want it to do. Break the rules of form if necessary. If it doesn't "fit" you need...
o Transitions! Add gaps, pauses, extra bars. This really adds drama and excitement.
o Fix the drums--add and delete parts so it does not sound mechanical, unless you are writing disco :).
o Add frills, ornaments and transitions, double parts that need emphasis.
o Set the midi volume and pan for each channel. Give each instrument is own sonic space. Pretend you are in the front row and you are looking at the stage. Always center the bass and kick drum to get started.
o Go through each track, cleaning up bad notes, trying alternate patches
o Start setting up FX patches and mixing board EQ, gain stages, etc.
Every Song Has A A Story
* Sit back and listen. What does this song Mean? What is its message? What is it Like? If you really like it, a word or a phrase or some kind of meaning will pop up. Think of the whole song in light of the new found Meaning.
* Ask yourself what it would take to make the piece truly memorable. The meaning will tell you what to do.
* Do that. The song will start sounding like a story. Now you are ready for the...
* Climax! Copy chorus 2 to chorus 3. Double instruments. Possibly write a new variation on the melody. Possibly put the melody and countermelody on top of each other--see what happens.
* Tweak the climax, add, delete, transform, extend. You are the boss. Make a Statement. Go all out. Triple instruments if you have to, stack them sounds up.
* Write the Ending again if necessary
* Go back to each part, starting at the last, this time, and tweak it all down to where you are happy
* Add slight tempo changes, track offsets--especially the snare---, and add humanization if appropriate to quantized parts.
* Listen. What needs to be changed to make the story a good story. Do it. This may take an hour, or a week.
* Turn on the master deck, set levels, and do a rough mix.
Making A Beat
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