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What am I missing?

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I've been writing music since I was 16, I'm currently a music major in college and yet for the past year or so my music output has been middling at best.  I don't know what exactly it is I'm missing.  Is my knowledge of music theory lacking? Am I just not inspired enough? Am I just terrible at writing music?

Could I get some opinions by sharing my music?

https://soundcloud.com/crazy-8-1

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I think it's mainly your idea of structure and your intuition in sound selection. Your "Thing Scrap" sounds like it could be a Drum & Bass track with jazz chords, if your sound choices were more cohesive. That sound at 0:24 just sticks out too much (lacking reverb), and same with the one that came in at 0:36; they're both very basic saw or square waves as well, and lack the interesting expression your chordal synth suggests that you need. The bass at 1:00 doesn't really fit though, timbrally or compositionally IMO, and feels randomly placed.

 

Try finding time to learn how to synthesize your own sounds and learn how to decide what sounds go with what. Build up your sound library and have sounds you keep going back to, and you'll eventually find "your sound". Also, study the structure of music you like and see what kind of structures you naturally gravitate towards. "Thing Scrap" doesn't have much structure, and having structure would have helped you decide what to do next.

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Making your own sound is okay, but a good sound is never going to fix your writing.

 

Music is about ideas. Writing music is about presenting those ideas, developing them, showing them in new lights, and referencing them (among other things I'm forgetting).

 

The most standard musical "main idea" is called the melody. The melody has something to say in the music, and it's closely related to chords. The chords define how the melody functions (its core essence) and the melody itself is the representation (or if you'd like, the execution) of that core essence. 

 

I notice a lot of people kinda just lean on one of them sometimes, especially people getting their chops from OCR. They write the melody, then kinda just add chords that sound like they fit underneath, or, they have some chord progression and then just slap in some notes in a lead synth to make their melody. This doesn't ever really work because it doesn't really wield an understanding of why chords and melodies are so closely related.

 

A melody has a start and an end. Depending on how out your style is, your melody may or may not resolve. It may move across different tonalities or it could just be something really simple and catchy. Sometimes, melodies are very transparent and non-catchy (and that's fine, and if anyone tells you otherwise you smack them upside the head) when the musical presentation is supposed to be about color (harmony/texture) and not statement (main idea presentation).

 

Sometimes you don't have melodies at all, instead your music is about presenting and manipulating color. Even though melodies are hard to write, color music (most popular in the impressionist era) is actually harder to write, since it's kind of abstract. In electronic music, it's a little easier, since you're forgiven for lots of repetition (which you can use to build up your tracks more linearly instead of moving around organically).

 

You should listen to music, especially symphonies. The old guys were masters of using music as a means of communicating ideas. They had their melodies (themes/motifs), then gave them to different instruments, changed their keys, swapped major/minor, chopped them up, etc. All of these things are valid ways of manipulating and presenting ideas.

 

When you're writing music, you have to have "something". There has to be something where you say "I want this to be developed". It can be a cool synth arp, or a wacky chord sample, or it can be a full melody. You have to build your track around presenting whatever that is. You need to foreshadow it, lead into it, show it, then hide it, lead out of it, bring it back in a different way (or the same way). Don't do all that stuff in that order all the time, the point is there's all these things you can do with one idea, so the more you do, the longer your piece/track gets and the more dynamic it is.

 

Then start piecing together ideas and having overarching progressions.

 

is a perfect example, since this band does this thing a lot where they build a track out of 3 or 4 main ideas. At 1:36, the entire direction (rhythmically and harmonically) of the track shifts someplace else. The mood and part-writing style changes considerably. It's a "new idea", it's "we're done with that, here's something new". Again, they do this at 2:15, and I would argue the second idea foreshadows the third one with the way its harmony works. That's up for debate, but the point is the song moves to different places. That's progression! In each of the three sections, they do a lot with their main ideas (having melodies, b-section melodies, changing texture, changing chords), but the sections also flow together as one big unit. 

 

This is just a snippet of advice. Learning how to write takes lots of practice, study, and mentors. I can't fix you in a forum post, but I can help change your mindset a little. My recommendation is learning more music theory. You need to get past chords and rhythms, that stuff is where people usually stop and it's not really what music theory is about at all, and thus it pollutes the general populace understanding about music theory and people think it's too basic or rigid to have anything general to say about music.

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Those should teach you the basics, but you need to go way beyond for it to start actually helping you.

 

This is a great book: http://www.amazon.com/Music-Theory-Practice-Volume-Audio/dp/0077254953

 

It's the second volume in a series, where the first one is basics. This one talks about actual compositional tools like voice-leading and counterpoint, and it explains more complex music in terms of key changes and borrowed chords. It'll also show you how to write hymns, which while sounds pretty lame, is actually an extremely educational skill to master.

 

Additionally, you can acquire a jazz theory book: http://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Theory-Book-Mark-Levine/dp/1883217040/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1440336899&sr=1-1&keywords=jazz+theory&pebp=1440336901213&perid=1GNYDP0WVRK6K3J9BPZG

 

That one's really good, I used it in my MUSC 380 - Jazz Theory class a year ago. It talks about improv methodology as well as advanced harmonic concepts. Since you seem like an electronic dude, you'll get more usable tricks (in terms of harmony stuff) from this book. There's lots of chord progression examples in the book; you should transcribe them in a DAW and see how they sound as arps or in synth pads. It'll give you some nice creative boost.

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Neblix already covered melodies rather well, so I'll focus on instrumentation and mixing. There's also rhythms, but I'll let someone else cover that.

 

Let's use Prisoners for this example.

 

0:00 Right from the start, the drums stand out in a bad way. This is when you need to figure out what kind of sound you want, and design that sound. Drums are often layered, so that eg two snares with different good qualities are combined into the same snare sound, maybe one with a nice strong attack and the other with a nice long body and tail. They are also processed with different effects to make sure they have their own place in the mix... that they're the right amount of loud at the right time at the right frequencies.

 

0:04 Once the chords come in, the bells are probably too loud and clutter up the soundscape with their shrill sound. I would bring down their levels quite a bit there, and again when the piano comes in, if I wouldn't remove them entirely at that point in favor of a cleaner mix. I could also combine the bell melody with the slower melody that comes in with the chords, to cover that range and bring a bit more rhythm to the track, but that's not mix/sound design.

 

0:13 The piano is rather loud and rather exposed, and has an annoying reverb. I would soften its reverb. I'd adjust the piano's sound to give it a little more punch, just so I could play it at a lower level and still have it get through enough.

 

0:30 The bass is panned. Don't do that. Most of the time, the bass works best centered, for both technical and aesthetic reasons. I won't go into the bass' rhythm or melody. It plays on top of the kick drum, and has a similar kind of sound. That doesn't work, because I can't hear the kick anymore after the bass started playing. For some genres, you'd want the kick to peak at a lower frequency than the bass, for some genres vice versa, but you don't want them to fight over the same frequency. This is where you change one of them so it has different qualities, eg stronger sub, punch at a different frequency, brighter overall sound... The synths/samples you use affect this the most, so adjusting those is the best course of action here. Other solutions include transposing the bass, and separating them with an equalizer.

 

0:48 The trance synth doesn't quite fit the aesthetic. There's also a ton of stuff happening in the track right now, making it a mess to listen to, especially as there is no clear lead. This is both a mixing and an arrangement issue. The mixing issue is best solved by picking a track to be the lead, deciding a frequency range that it's got a clear sound in, and cutting down that frequency a little from the other instruments. It's good to do, but it's not a replacement for solving problems in the arrangement.

 

My guess is that you're using a lot of presets without modifying them much. timaeus already suggesting learning to make your own sounds. Even if you go back to presets after that, you'll know how to adjust those presets to better fit the rest of the instrumentation. Beyond fiddling with the instruments themselves, you should learn how to use effects. the basic ones, the ones everyone into this should know the basics of, are equalizer, compressor, reverb; and most importantly and often neglected: track level (volume).

 

This track isn't that different than the stuff I made when I was 16, except you've turned to people for criticism much earlier than I did, and are taking music courses in college. Learn to identify things you're not happy with, and find solutions to those things. That's how you learn.

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Escape man. Let your mind go, don't try to find it in a book on theory ! Sure, learning is great, but some people will dress walls around them.. Experiment and have fun..

I like your "Prisoniers" tune btw, there's potencial there.

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Escape man. Let your mind go, don't try to find it in a book on theory ! Sure, learning is great, but some people will dress walls around them.. Experiment and have fun..

I like your "Prisoniers" tune btw, there's potencial there.

The kind of people who vehemently oppose learning academic theory ironically tend to end up sound kind of samey anyway. I think the attitude is ultimately kind of ignorant of how human beings work. We don't exist in a vacuum, and most people who have no formal grasp of theory are still going to converge around the same fundamentals they find pleasing. You'll just end up making your own language in your head of things that already have standardized explanations in music theory. In the end, theory is about effectively communicating musical ideas with eachother.

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If something sounds "good" to your ears, there tends to be a logical reason why.

 

Theory offers to put the reasons into words that can be universal among musicians. It's just a shame that many musicians have an aversion to learning it. 

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My music professor offered to give me private lessons so I'm taking him up on that offer, but other than that I really feel like there's just a vast ocean of information I need to go through and I really just don't know where to start.  I'm still having fun writing music which is the most important thing though.

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Well, you have some theory nerds who can't compose a song.

You have classic nerds who can't improsive anything and just robot-play what they see on a score.

Etc.

 

I have enough theory to talk music with other musicians, without going into a deep song surgery... Relying on "theory" to create is missing the point. You have to be able to flip the switch and say fuck theory imo. I'm always gonna go in the opposite direction when someone will say "you can't do this". Theory isn't the same for everybody anyway, at some point. I'm interested by mathematic concepts for instance and will sometimes play with polyrithmy and Fibbonaci or something.. I don't see the point of explaining that after, but I have fun while doing it and although it's a little concept, I forget about it and just escape in my little world. Things like that.

 

edit : yes man, it's a vast ocean and you're heading on a journey that will last forever.. you'll learn and experiment new things in 50 years ;) music has no end.

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Well, you have some theory nerds who can't compose a song.

You have classic nerds who can't improsive anything and just robot-play what they see on a score.

Etc.

 

I have enough theory to talk music with other musicians, without going into a deep song surgery... Relying on "theory" to create is missing the point. You have to be able to flip the switch and say fuck theory imo. I'm always gonna go in the opposite direction when someone will say "you can't do this". Theory isn't the same for everybody anyway, at some point. I'm interested by mathematic concepts for instance and will sometimes play with polyrithmy and Fibbonaci or something.. I don't see the point of explaining that after, but I have fun while doing it and although it's a little concept, I forget about it and just escape in my little world. Things like that.

 

edit : yes man, it's a vast ocean and you're heading on a journey that will last forever.. you'll learn and experiment new things in 50 years ;) music has no end.

 

I don't want to derail this thread any further past this post, but

 

Who are these "theory nerds" you speak of, who can't compose a song? I've personally never met a musician who knew a lot of about music theory who were flat-out unable to compose. It doesn't really make any logical sense to say that someone who has a strong understanding of musical terms, how it functions etc. wouldn't put those into practice. Maybe you mean some of these "nerds" don't compose music you like. Or maybe if they feel they can't do it, it stems from a lack of experience actually practicing it. It doesn't mean they wouldn't know what they're doing, though.

 

As for the "classical nerds", well "classical" music historically was often a lot more strict and composed rather than Jazz which has historically been spontaneous. That being said, improvisation is still based on the same musical principles as regular composition because the only difference is that in improvisation, it happens spontaneously. If a classical musician supposedly can't improvise, I suspect this means they can't improvise to your liking or simply don't do enough of it. 

 

None of these invalidate the worth of music theory.

 

I can agree that at a certain point, some concepts of music theory don't serve much in the way of practical uses for composing or performing music. 

 

 

 

You have to be able to flip the switch and say fuck theory imo.

 

 

Flip that switch and I will still be able to explain what you did and why it worked (or maybe didn't) with theory anyway. When I'm composing music, I don't really consciously think about music theory beyond what key, scales and chords I'm using, but just because I'm not over-thinking it doesn't mean the knowledge isn't actively being put to use.

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My music professor offered to give me private lessons so I'm taking him up on that offer, but other than that I really feel like there's just a vast ocean of information I need to go through and I really just don't know where to start.  I'm still having fun writing music which is the most important thing though.

 

Keep in mind that the final result is a combination of things. I generalize those things into three groups: the writing, the performance, and the production. Music theory is all about the writing, or what to play. Performance is how to play it. Production is how to make it sound good for the listener.

 

You can think of music as voice acting. Writing is the words, obviously. Performance is the voice. Production is the microphone.

 

In electronic music, the performance takes a back seat to sound design, but they serve to fill the same role, which is to infuse the notes with emotion that the notes themselves don't have. Changes in timbre, timing and strength combine to create an illusion of performance.

 

In your case, I would just keep making music, seeking out criticism and advice, trying new things, studying new things, listening to all kinds of music, and overall engaging with music in every way. I've seen that OCR is a pretty good community for this stuff, as it takes around 2 years for remixers to get their remixes posted here. Some have more experience than others, and get there faster. Others come here with little or no music skill and it takes a little longer. Those with more time and energy to put into the remixing get there sooner. It takes years to get good at this, years of making music, learning new things, finding mistakes, and developing your skills.

 

The most important skill to develop is your critical ear.

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Well, you have some theory nerds who can't compose a song.

You have classic nerds who can't improsive anything and just robot-play what they see on a score.

Etc.

 

I have enough theory to talk music with other musicians, without going into a deep song surgery... Relying on "theory" to create is missing the point. You have to be able to flip the switch and say fuck theory imo. I'm always gonna go in the opposite direction when someone will say "you can't do this". Theory isn't the same for everybody anyway, at some point. I'm interested by mathematic concepts for instance and will sometimes play with polyrithmy and Fibbonaci or something.. I don't see the point of explaining that after, but I have fun while doing it and although it's a little concept, I forget about it and just escape in my little world. Things like that.

 

edit : yes man, it's a vast ocean and you're heading on a journey that will last forever.. you'll learn and experiment new things in 50 years ;) music has no end.

 

No one suggested relying on theory to create, so the premise of your contribution to the thread is unfounded.

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When you have trouble understanding a musical idea (be it in theory or otherwise) I suggest really pondering upon it. Spending time on the piano playing it, transposing it, changing the spacing and inversion. Before you know it you will have that musical idea mastered and stored away in your compositional tool box, making it easier to build and play ideas in your head. Also if you hear a cool lick or effect you like, try and figure out what was done to make that happen. Ignorance of theory and technique are a greater limiter then a lack of good sample libraries in my opinion.

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If I started posting more of my shit music on here would anyone mind helping me to find out what is wrong and how I can improve it? I want to reach my maximum potential and I really like writing music and yeah.

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These days I've been writing first and refining afterwards ("going with the flow"). I find that if I keep reworking something in my mind, I won't get that far. It may work differently for you, but maybe you could try that for the sake of getting the practice in.

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I kinda feel a bit overwhelmed trying to remix something by listening to the original piece of music, like, i can't really think of anything that I can do to do to the track. And the tracks are all so well made and I just don't know what the fuck I'm doing

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When I remix something, I consider what kind of mood I get when I listen to it, and then usually if there's a melody, I take the melody and write new chords under it. For example:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xASXvoNU-5A

 

When I listen to that, I hear an upbeat funky vibe that can be danced to, and so I slowed it down for an intro with an electric piano sound, leading into an electro house hook that uses that same melody with various basses underneath.

https://app.box.com/s/j44ueda9bnjno6cw2zv90umfwvli6ptv

 

And I have to say, I did not for a moment think it was going to be something that I would end up wanting to put a lot of work into, but I actually really like this now.

 

If you're afraid of "not doing the original justice" or whatever, don't worry about that. The important thing, IMO, is to get the practice in so that you can improve. If you get yourself in the habit of doing something and finishing it, I think it'll help you with actually working towards finishing the track, rather than being unsure of what to do with it and not putting forth the practice as a result. The less hesitant you are, and the more you write, the more you improve. Practice!

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If you're talking about modern video game music, you're not likely to make it _better_, even after yours of experience. But making it better shouldn't be your goal, either. Your goal should be to make it your own. Have a listen to a few remixes of recent games and compare them to the originals. You'll find that the remixes are often in a new genre, have a new mood, or does something very differently.

 

With older source materials, especially chiptunes and their like, they were limited in polyphony, instrument realism, and mixing. Those are easier to just upgrade, but that's not nearly as much fun as taking the melodies out of them and putting them in a new context, be that a specific instrumentation, genre, mood, rhythm, or something else. You can look at the different remixes of the same source to find how people have used the same melodies to different results.

 

Another way to approach it is to think about your skills, your sound, the kind of music you can make. What source would be a good fit for that? Some remixers are guitarists and most of their remixes rely heavily on guitars. Some remixers are club-oriented producers, and make music that'd fit the club scene. Some remixers mostly just play piano. Some remixers make orchestral arrangements. Some remixers are real-life jazz bands. Some remixers make things more like covers. Some remixers twist the source so it's barely recognizable. Some remixers play cello and make chiptunes. Whatever your skillset, whatever the style of music you make; what would be a good source to remix in that style?

 

A very educational approach is to pick a style (eg Pendulum) and try to remix something into that style. It'll teach you structure, it'll give you a reference track to compare production and performance to, and you'll be forced to adapt the source in different ways to make it fit. Some melodies are easier than others. The theme from Halo would be easy to adapt to almost anything. Some sources can be very difficult because what makes them recognizable is the style more than the melody itself, like the strange scale used in the Left 4 Dead games' music.

 

If your thing isn't "better than Koji Kondo" but instead "what if x... had lyrics" or "everything can be a waltz" or "all synth, all original synth patches" or something like that, you've got your own thing. Do that instead. Have many things of your own to try, and see which ones work. In my case, it's been chopping up the source, and basslines. Mostly.

 

This isn't an exhaustive list of ways to remix things, either.

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A different mindset that I take with this that others are going to disagree with:

 

If you don't know how you want to remix something, don't remix it. Trying to force a track where you have no idea what you want it to sound like is not an organic process.

 

Get better at writing and learn how to wield different styles effectively. Make sure you *enjoy* these styles, too. If you know what a style sounds like, you're more likely to be able to hear a certain song and imagine it in that style, and that ability is the foundation for starting your arrangement. In my experience, arrangements that were born out of request or specification (I need to remix [insert name here] tune for project/compo/because I like it) always paled in comparison to arrangements born out of initial ideas ("The Fire Emblem theme from Smash Melee, but cranked to 11, and with orchestral part writing in the bridge!")

 

That's not to say you can't have inspired ideas in projects/compos/picking your favorite tunes; you definitely can, and you should enter compos to exercise that. But even in compos, I've had a few instances where I simply just was unable to think of a clear idea on what to do and was essentially forced to output a grinding of the gears, so to speak. I had to completely revert to mechanical, theoretical understanding without enjoying what I was writing and just do "the melody" and "the other melody" and "making sure the harmony is correct" and "adding cymbal transitions" and then mixing it together. I've also committed to projects and then left after picking a cool source and not actually thinking about how to arrange it.

 

This runs true in many other mediums of creative output as well. A similar sentiment is shared in screenwriting. The top screenwriting books will always tell you that you have a hot concept if you can describe it concisely while capturing the essence of it and differentiating it from what's already out there.

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Haven't been able to write anything in a while.  I'm fresh out of ideas when ever I try to write, I kinda sound needy here but maybe someone can give me a song they want to hear remixed and I'll try something? Idk.

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