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killerwatt

Need Some Direction...

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Hi everyone. I'm in need of some guidance, and I hope you can help. Over a year now, I've been researching and learning about music production with the goal of making music for games. I've been a musician for a long time (trained in bass guitar and voice) but I've never composed until recently. The result was pretty awful, as I realized I had no idea how to mix in my chosen DAW (Reaper). So I'm at a bit of an impasse. I want to know what is the best way for me to learn about composing, mixing and mastering and basically everything needed to make great original music and remixes. Are there classes I can take? I have a day job, so I'd have to do them part-time/online. Where should my focus be, learning composition or music production? What are the baby steps I need to take? I completely understand that it may be years before I make anything halfway decent, so I'm willing to be in it for the long haul; I just don't know where to go from here. I really hope you can help. Thanks, and if you need any more info from me, please let me know.

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I think that the biggest thing you can do is to find reasons to practise as much as possible. It can be very demotivating to make music by yourself, especially if you are not happy with it. As such, I would recommend joining some of the competitions that are run on the forums. They give you a goal to work towards, force you to finish tracks and allow you to gain feedback from multiple people. There are 2 in particular that I personally like:

- PRC. A roughly fortnightly competition which involves remixing a given source. This would give you a chance to work on your composition as you can be quite liberal with the sources. http://ocremix.org/forums/showthread.php?p=972457

- MNP. This is much more conservative as you are encouraged to stay close to the original source material, making this a good place to practise your music production skills. http://ocremix.org/forums/showthread.php?t=47513

I recommend that you read the following guide by Rozovian. It covers a tonne of topics that you will hopefully find useful.

http://ocremix.org/forums/showthread.php?t=33049

In terms of classes etc. I can't really help, sorry. This youtube channel has some great content that is presented in a simple fashion: https://www.youtube.com/user/recordingrevolution

I appreciate that I haven't answered all of your questions but I don't really feel qualified to. Hopefully some of the more experienced members will be able to pitch in with suggestions.

Hope this helps.

Jonathan

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I think that the biggest thing you can do is to find reasons to practise as much as possible. It can be very demotivating to make music by yourself, especially if you are not happy with it. As such, I would recommend joining some of the competitions that are run on the forums. They give you a goal to work towards, force you to finish tracks and allow you to gain feedback from multiple people. There are 2 in particular that I personally like:

- PRC. A roughly fortnightly competition which involves remixing a given source. This would give you a chance to work on your composition as you can be quite liberal with the sources. http://ocremix.org/forums/showthread.php?p=972457

- MNP. This is much more conservative as you are encouraged to stay close to the original source material, making this a good place to practise your music production skills. http://ocremix.org/forums/showthread.php?t=47513

Just my opinion, but if he/she's just starting, a competition would be too big a leap (prereq: able to compose, but composition is still something that is challenging).

I recommend that you read the following guide by Rozovian. It covers a tonne of topics that you will hopefully find useful.

http://ocremix.org/forums/showthread.php?t=33049

This I would recommend.

I would start by learning independently. I don't know of many in-depth guides for just writing music in general besides that one, but I would try listening more attentively to music you like, and trying to identify what's going on. That might give you an idea of how you can create a cohesive piece of work.

Then you might want to start getting acquainted with your DAW, learning what each plugin type is supposed to do, and trying it out to get the context. In the process you might also want to write something short to hear the plugins in action. It doesn't have to be a long piece. Perhaps you could start writing 1-minute-long pieces or so.

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As a regular participant since 2008, I heartily recommend People's Remix Compo as an easy-going environment to hone your skills, no matter what your current level is. We could always use more participants!

I remember a regular voter who was ultimately disappointed in how relaxed the competition was and felt the musicians weren't taking it seriously enough because they weren't fighting tooth and claw for the win. I also find the feedback is on the kind side, though still useful.

I trust MnP is much the same, even more so. Since its idea is to stick close to the source, there's definitely no composition skill prerequisite. And even the tournament compos can definitely be entered at whatever skill level. Also look for Remixing with the Stars, which is about pairing up with a mentor.

Personally if I wasn't taking part in PRC (and lately other compos), I wouldn't probably have ever even started a VGM arrangement let alone finished several. Regularly having a deadline and some sort of an assignment has been really really good for my productivity, and through that has come the gradual skill increase.

I definitely ditto the recommendation for Rozovian's guide, it was very helpful for me as well!

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I'd suggest letting mixing and mastering take a backseat, and just focus on arranging for awhile. Download midi's of songs you like, and try to see what's going on, why it sounds good. Try to arrange copies or something similar to music you like, not for sharing, but so that you can learn about it and find out what works and what doesn't, and why stuff sounds the way it sounds.

When it comes to mastering, I'm still mostly clueless. :P

Getting to know your DAW is also important. I couldn't compose a thing until I found one I understood. (Mixcraft)

Edited by Slimy

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When it comes to mastering, I'm still mostly clueless. :P

Heh, me too. Actually, one of the most liberating things I read from Rozovian's guide was the suggestion to not fret about mastering (or finalizing, as he calls it) and focus on mixing first. For the master channel in the end, I still pretty much just use the basic maximizer DSP that comes with Renoise and pump up the volume to some agreeable level that doesn't start sounding bad, and if there's some problem, I go back to mixing, where I probably just have to adjust levels or EQ.

Getting to know your DAW is also important. I couldn't compose a thing until I found one I understood. (Mixcraft)

That's also true. I tried to migrate from trackers to Cubase, but I just couldn't get going. Thankfully I found Renoise.

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Heh, me too. Actually, one of the most liberating things I read from Rozovian's guide was the suggestion to not fret about mastering (or finalizing, as he calls it) and focus on mixing first. For the master channel in the end, I still pretty much just use the basic maximizer DSP that comes with Renoise and pump up the volume to some agreeable level that doesn't start sounding bad, and if there's some problem, I go back to mixing, where I probably just have to adjust levels or EQ.

Yeah, mastering is more than just putting stuff on the master channel. It involves stuff such as checking EQ on many audio systems for consistencies, checking loudness consistencies between tracks on an album, track flow on an album, etc. I would also call simply using the master channel "finalizing", because you're really just finishing up the track with those master channel edits.

As for me, I finalize with just a steep high pass at 28Hz, a steep low pass at ~19000Hz, a soft knee limiter with a 72.4% knee, and sometimes a little parallel compression. :)

Edited by timaeus222

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I don't know why there is so much obsession around "mastering" in the hobbyist musician community. I put it in quotes, because if you are only working on a song at a time it's arguably not mastering at all, which usually refers to an album context. Seriously, people are utterly obsessed with this mythical "mastering" process that will take their poorly mixed track and polish it into gold.

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I don't know why there is so much obsession around "mastering" in the hobbyist musician community. I put it in quotes, because if you are only working on a song at a time it's arguably not mastering at all, which usually refers to an album context. Seriously, people are utterly obsessed with this mythical "mastering" process that will take their poorly mixed track and polish it into gold.

Yeah, there's all these 'mastering' videos on youtube, and I just skip past them. :whatevaa: Honestly, if there's something up with a piece's EQ or anything, then I would go back to the individual tracks and adjust those, rather than try to do edits on the master channel to compensate for what's off. For me, I just get the mixing (disregarding the master channel) to where I'm happy about it, and then I don't need much on the master channel.

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Have you tried arranging? I find that arranging strengthens your ear (if you learn the song by ear) and gets you used to song structure and other elements that can be applied to your own compositions. When you get used to arranging songs, I would also suggest doing compos. Doing compos ensures that your arrangement gets done, and pushes you to do better each time.

I'm also trying to learn more about production, so I'm stuck in the same boat as you. However, listening to music you like in a more active manner will help you understand more about it -- how the guitar is panned slightly to the right or how some beats from the kick will have reverb but others sound more compressed. When you get used to your DAW, definitely play around with mixing tools. Sometimes I watch videos of mixing/mastering, but they bore me to tears lol. It's more fun to hear what you're doing than having someone explain it to you in a monotone voice.

Before anything though, start with arranging. You'll flow into composition easily once you can break down what happening in a song. I'm sure you'll learn more production the more you arrange/compose with your DAW, so have no fear!

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Have you tried arranging? I find that arranging strengthens your ear (if you learn the song by ear) and gets you used to song structure and other elements that can be applied to your own compositions. When you get used to arranging songs, I would also suggest doing compos. Doing compos ensures that your arrangement gets done, and pushes you to do better each time.

I'm also trying to learn more about production, so I'm stuck in the same boat as you. However, listening to music you like in a more active manner will help you understand more about it -- how the guitar is panned slightly to the right or how some beats from the kick will have reverb but others sound more compressed. When you get used to your DAW, definitely play around with mixing tools. Sometimes I watch videos of mixing/mastering, but they bore me to tears lol. It's more fun to hear what you're doing than having someone explain it to you in a monotone voice.

Before anything though, start with arranging. You'll flow into composition easily once you can break down what happening in a song. I'm sure you'll learn more production the more you arrange/compose with your DAW, so have no fear!

You really think so? Now when you mean "arranging" do you mean taking a song by someone else that I like and making a new interpretation of it, like a kind of remix?

To everyone who replied, thank you and please continue to chime in if you can. Sad to say but even after learning about them I still don't know the difference between a compressor and a limiter, much less know how to use them in a musical context. What are some great resources other than those already mentioned to learn those concepts of audio production?

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You really think so? Now when you mean "arranging" do you mean taking a song by someone else that I like and making a new interpretation of it, like a kind of remix?

To everyone who replied, thank you and please continue to chime in if you can. Sad to say but even after learning about them I still don't know the difference between a compressor and a limiter, much less know how to use them in a musical context. What are some great resources other than those already mentioned to learn those concepts of audio production?

Yes, and it mostly involves the contributions to creating a new context to a melody, adding your own harmonies, changing up rhythms, or other ways of modifying what you are remixing.

A compressor and limiter are *almost* the same. Compressors are made to amplify and/or control the tonal qualities of a sound, keeping them from having excessively large volume differences/variations (+/- 10dB oscillations would be huge). Sometimes they are used to keep a big pumping bass from pulsing in and out too much, sometimes they are used to make drums sound stronger, and so on. Limiters are designed by default to be on the Master channel in a Mixer, and its job is to prevent sound coming from every instrument playing from going over the optimal listening limit as a whole (0 decibels). So then, the primary difference between them is just their purpose or their role. A limiter should not kill the dynamic range of instruments (in a bad way), whereas compressors are supposed to do that (but in a good way instead) in order to achieve a higher level of loudness than is typically possible without them.

More detail: http://www.ovnilab.com/articles/limiter.shtml

I like the http://soundonsound.com/ tutorials. They might be a little advanced though, so maybe bookmark it or something. :)

Edited by timaeus222

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The best advice I can give you in terms of producing is, find a sound that you like and that works for you. You want others to be able to know when a song of yours comes on without even looking at what's playing. Creating a unique sound/style for yourself is also a great way of getting your music out there. People get tired of listening to the same stuff over and over again.

In terms of mixing and mastering, I would highly recommend reaching out and try to talk to another producer who you like or respect. There is a lot of good info on the Internet concerning mixdowns and mastering but you will find that everyone does it a different way. Talking to a producer and getting an in depth explanation of what they do can point you in the right direction. And with that knowledge you can either continue doing what they do or find a method that works even better for you.

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Yes, this.

Perhaps I'm wrong but judging by the original post, I really think the issue of making something that you're happy with here comes down to theory and composition knowledge.

I would recommend learning everything you can about the actual process of composition before even touching a DAW and virtual instruments except for maybe a MIDI controller and a piano patch.

If you're new to this whole composing thing, I would start by getting some sort of notation software like Sibelius, Finale or if you're a guitarist - Guitar Pro and start putting what you learn about composition into practice there.

On any of my best tunes, for any genre, I always start with just a guitar or piano sketch of the composition and then arrange it later. This removes the production, performance etc. distractions and conquerors writer's block easily because at this level you're just dealing with the fundamentals and most important elements of music. If it sounds good as just a piano or guitar sketch, you know you've got a good composition. From there, arranging the piece and what not becomes an easy process. I find it also goes much faster this way. Using this method, I've discovered I can write quality tunes much much faster than if I just opened up a DAW, fiddled around trying to find the write sound, mixing as you go etc.

Jeff Tolbert puts this idea in shorter, better words than I can.

Read, watch and do everything about music theory, composition, arranging, recording audio and MIDI, mixing and other elements of production. In that order if possible. Study scores of sheet music too. You can learn a lot just by listening to and watching the notated music at the same time.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw

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For me arranging existing music (video game and pop) into genres that differed from the source helped immensely. Though I still only have a passing/intuitive understanding of composition. I can't really articulate what I know, it's still just inklings and instincts.

Since you have musicianship experience, maybe you should focus on developing your ear by arranging and do some basic theory work on the side. I rushed to get the best equipment out there, but truly only time made me better.

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I'm just going to agree with everyone who said compos. I'm a lazy bastard, but now that I've committed to my first round of the PRC, I feel much more motivated to get something done.

I am aware that I'm not exactly answering the OPs questions, but I feel that this is worth mentioning at least once. The best way to learn is to practice. Like, all the time. You can read all the books and watch all the YouTube tutorials you want, but it won't mean diddly if you don't apply any of this knowledge yourself on a regular basis. Don't be like me and do absolutely nothing for years. Practice, even if you have to force yourself to do so.

So yeah, join compos and practice a lot. That's my advice in a nutshell.

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My advice would be to not get too caught up in what other people are doing at first. Discover your own method of composing tracks and you'll eventually find your own unique sound signature and a workflow comfortable for you. Keep in mind that this could take years of dedicated practice as well.

When you find yourself hitting a creative block or frustration, that's a good time to take a break, read the manual for your DAW, check out some articles or tutorials. Some basic books on sound design or music theory might be useful too. Sometimes Coursera will have some free online courses on the subject. But all that should take a backseat to actually sitting down and trying to make music, that's where you should spend most of your time. I would also highly recommend some kind of midi controller as well, to get more hands on with your software. There are plenty of affordable control surfaces floating around that will make the process a lot more enjoyable than clicking around virtual knobs and faders with a mouse.

Regarding mastering, you should not even consider learning about it in depth until you are comfortable composing, and eventually mixing. If you need a track properly mastered for a label release, somebody else really should be taking care of it anyway so you can focus on the creative side.

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