Meteo Xavier

Things I've Learned In My Years Of Music

31 posts in this topic

Would anyone believe I've actually become a composer who's managed to grab a series of worthwhile gigs and absorbed enough commissions to kinda be sick of working on music? I know I don't. A decade and a half of putting in tens of thousands of hours behind a DAW has been yielding some returns and I've reached heights no one should take for granted.

From my vantage point, I thought I would like to share some of the less-talked-about things I see from this elevation that could be useful advice to newer composers or even some older ones. In no particular order, here we go:

1. There is no recipe or gimmick for success. If there was, we'd all know it and use it by now. It's all pretty much random. All you can do is get creative with your ideas and execute them with the best audio quality you can.

2. Only upgrade your sound and studio if you can't produce quality work with what you've got anymore. You don't need 18 orchestral symphony libraries to make a quality orchestral track or soundtrack, you don't need the latest version of this or that for everything, you don't need loads of hardware just to pretend you're staying current. Master what you have before you start thinking you need to spend $$$ on more shit.

3. Synth nerds are the worst people to get hardware advice from. Sorry, but it's true. Nothing is ever as good as the best there was from the 1970s or 1980s, and therefore nothing is ever worthwhile enough. If you have your eye on a keyboard or hardware item, listen to it, think on it for a while, think on it, think on it for a long time and decide if it's really for you or not. No one else can decide that for you, you have to decide that for yourself.

4. Doing a bunch of songs at the same time and in stages is better than trying to knock out one song at a time. This is because you need a break from audio both to give your ears a rest and also to let your judgment become less biased. While doing a song, there are the stages of beginning it, working on it and finalizing it. You get into these stages naturally, and it is surprisingly easier to do these stages with multiple songs than just one.

5. To expand on #4, after a few years of experience in finishing and finalizing tracks, you start learning a skill for a music ear that can hear where your songs are supposed to go, rather than where they go now. It's almost a 6th sense in a way - you start hearing and expecting it to go this way when where you actually have it going is wrong. You can also hear what ISN'T there and what needs to be there. It's kinda freaky, really.

6. Some people try to write and arrange a track starting with the melody and designing everything around it. This is dumb. Building a song is like building a house - you start from the ground up (drums and bass), then the walls and body of the house (chords and arps and accompaniment), and then the roof (usually the melody). Doing it with the melody first is like putting the furniture in a field in a certain way and designing the house around all that.

7. Rely on as few people for your songs and projects at any given time as possible. Other people have lives and crises, too, and you would be better off doing or learning to do things you need yourself than hope their timeframes work out for you.

8. All business success requires risk to fuel it, however not all risk is the same. Being smart and meticulously deciding where your money is best to go and getting clever and resourceful with your situation could still create the concoction that provides success without putting you in danger.

9. "Value" or "reward" for your audio work is not always money. This is a VERY controversial and unpopular opinion, and there are good reasons for that, but the fact remains those who only consider value and reward to be coin or cash will find it much harder to navigate throguh business success here.

10. Even if you hate loops products, many are worth getting anyway for a variety of reasons. One of the best is that they often come with MIDI files that can be an excellent teacher for how to humanize notes in a DAW.

11. No one doing indie games has $300.00 per audio minute. Success from the indie game sector comes more by showcasing artistic achievement through its humble roots, not trying to do what AAA game studios are already doing. Know this, accept this, and use it to your advantage while builsing up a career in game audio.

12. The more artistic a person is, the less skill they have for conventional thinking ideas in audio like how business really works, humility, common sense and even at times common decency to others. This is not a guaranteed exclusion, but the "artist's brain" phenomenon really does seem to be true.

13. You can work on next to no music for years and years and suddenly be chosen for a big project seeming for no reason. Don't question it too much, just give thanks to the god or powers you believe in and do it.

14. Don't count on tempo-sync'd loops and samples to work correctly. Many do, but many also do not for whatever reasons. It's better to just get a BPM that works innately for the samples' speed you want to use.

15. Every composer, sooner or later, does work for free, undercuts a friend/competitor for a job. If they say they don't, they are most likely lying. Also, every composer eventually pirates stuff as well.

16. It doesn't matter what tricks you need to do to get a track done (just don't use illegal samples!), just get it done somehow. Arranging and recording music is supposed to be that difficult.

17. Have a Plan B and Plan C for all music you're working on, as it's incredibly easy for that music to not go used or be cout out somewhere else.

18. Don't worry if you use a loop or phrase or sound that's been used ad nauseum or something. It turns out the niche for LIKING recognizable sounds is bigger than we though.

19. Uploading MIDIs from Valkyrie Profile, Secret of Mana, Star Ocean 2, Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario 64, Final Fantasy Tactics and some of Tim Follin's work to your DAW and studying them will teach you pretty much everything you need to know about doing game audio.

20. When approaching someone for possible music work, be bright and cheery, but don't be desperate. Act like a seasoned professional, even if you aren't, and use a tone that says "I can do this work, but I don't need this work." Talk in length about the fine details of how you do things and how this works whether they might understand it or not, as it creates for you an air that the client thinks "Hmm, this guy knows his business." and helps keep it so the client respects you enough not to take advantage of you. If they leave soon after you establish this light bit of dominance in the conversation, then it wasn't meant to be.

These things are obviously not objective, and they are subject to much scrutiny and debate themselves, but potentially useful stuff I'd like to impart all the same.

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19 (though, I'd say different games personally, 20, 15, 13, 9, and 10.

Good stuff.

edit: lemme add one. Buying an expensive instrument is more about ease of playing than it is about making something sound better, in most instances I've noticed and dealt with (playing Sax, Vocals, and Guitar). That's okay. Recognize whether, a t first and foremost, it's actually being a pain on you before upgrading your instrument.

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6 hours ago, Meteo Xavier said:

6. Some people try to write and arrange a track starting with the melody and designing everything around it. This is dumb. Building a song is like building a house - you start from the ground up (drums and bass), then the walls and body of the house (chords and arps and accompaniment), and then the roof (usually the melody). Doing it with the melody first is like putting the furniture in a field in a certain way and designing the house around all that.

This is the one point I will disagree with you on.

Maybe in certain genres starting with something else works, but most music is composed melody first. Actually, starting with a chord is still technically melody first.

Great example being that the very basis of part-writing, and how harmony came to be understood today, is by playing multiple melodies at the same time. That's all a chord really is: Different melody lines moving homorhythmically. Pretty much everyone from Bach to John Williams started with a great theme or motif, and harmonized it from there.

Not to plug my own shit, but I literally just posted a track for critique over in the Original Music forum before reading this. I started with all the melodies, and built from there. To my ears, it turned out cohesive.

So I'd agree that building a piece of music is like building a house, but I'd disagree that the melody shouldn't be the foundation.  

EDIT: Points 7, 8, 12, and 20 are very, very good points.

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6 hours ago, Meteo Xavier said:

11. No one doing indie games has $300.00 per audio minute. Success from the indie game sector comes more by showcasing artistic achievement through its humble roots, not trying to do what AAA game studios are already doing. Know this, accept this, and use it to your advantage while builsing up a career in game audio.

Sorry for the double post, but there is a goldmine of good discussion that can create a thread just from this point alone. You and I discussed a similar topic last year via PM.

I've gotten in a number of fights now, with bigwig composers drilling this shit into the heads of n00bs (and I was at one time among them) that charging anything less than a 3-digit figure per minute is "devaluing the industry" even though Danny Elfman — Danny fucking Elfman — lowers his prices to $1 USD in exchange for keeping the rights to his music at least once per year on an indie film. Yet, they expect everyone to believe that a kid scoring a crappy college film or indie game for nothing is undercutting the business. Despite that it's business as usual considering Danny Elfman's tradition.

It's like everyone working on this game is doing it out of a labour of love and to get experience. The artists, the programmers, etc. But not the composer! No, the composer is special! On that note, I have actually had one composer, quite successful and used to be married to a famous actress, tell me that composers are "criminally underpaid" even if their paycheck amounts to millions because "actors make more". It's like, holy shit dude...Tom Cruise risks certain death to promote his films as do stunt people (who get no recognition from the industry btw) and you expect me to agree that the composer deserves the same pay rate?

Most of these composers don't understand the concept of consumer buying power. You can't expect that a bunch of college students or whatever are going to be able to pay you Hollywood rates. And guess what? It isn't you who gets to decide you're worth the big bucks; it's the people with the big bucks who do.

It's actually the hardest pill to swallow in this life: That we don't get to decide our value to other people.

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On 4/16/2018 at 6:31 PM, AngelCityOutlaw said:

So I'd agree that building a piece of music is like building a house, but I'd disagree that the melody shouldn't be the foundation. 

This may be more of a semantics thing, but I guess I mean it as more of a full arrangement with bass, drums, accompaniment, changes, etc. As there's several different ways to refer to that which is music as composition I thought that was enough, but obviously it's different if we're referring to a composition as just the melody and chords (like something you come up with and save as a leitmotif to be arranged many different times) and not something invented only by starting out a musical entity with full arrangement.

I'd still argue that, in a full arrangement at least, the melody should be among the last to put in. Reason for this is it's easier to move some notes around there than it is to move around all the chords and accompaniment to fit the melody (although it's inevitable that you'd likely have to end up doing that in a track at some point anyway).

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On 4/16/2018 at 7:34 PM, Meteo Xavier said:

6. Some people try to write and arrange a track starting with the melody and designing everything around it. This is dumb. Building a song is like building a house - you start from the ground up (drums and bass), then the walls and body of the house (chords and arps and accompaniment), and then the roof (usually the melody). Doing it with the melody first is like putting the furniture in a field in a certain way and designing the house around all that.

This seems totally counterintuitive and -dare I say- wrong to me. Melody is the main attraction, the thing that gets people hooked. It's the vision of what the song (or in your analogy, house) should look like. All the rest is just there to support it. No use in building walls and foundations just to figure out you need to tear it down again because it doesn't work with the final vision (in your analogy, you built a too short foundation, the walls are all lopsided and the body of the house looks like a nightmare out of H.R. Giger's brain). Doesn't make any sense for buildings, doesn't make sense for music - ask any architect or composer worth their salt.

Your argument that it's easier to move around a few notes in the melody rather than in all the chords and accompaniment sounds as if you feel melody is there support the chords and accompaniment rather than the other way around. That sounds very strange to me, but meh, it's your music, you can do what your want. Just don't present it as univeral truth.

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10 hours ago, Jorito said:

This seems totally counterintuitive and -dare I say- wrong to me. Melody is the main attraction, the thing that gets people hooked. It's the vision of what the song (or in your analogy, house) should look like. All the rest is just there to support it. No use in building walls and foundations just to figure out you need to tear it down again because it doesn't work with the final vision (in your analogy, you built a too short foundation, the walls are all lopsided and the body of the house looks like a nightmare out of H.R. Giger's brain). Doesn't make any sense for buildings, doesn't make sense for music - ask any architect or composer worth their salt.

Your argument that it's easier to move around a few notes in the melody rather than in all the chords and accompaniment sounds as if you feel melody is there support the chords and accompaniment rather than the other way around. That sounds very strange to me, but meh, it's your music, you can do what your want. Just don't present it as univeral truth.

To be fair, he didn't present it as universal truth — he said this was his experience and subject to scrutiny.

 

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That and the aforementioned post on "semantics" and acknowledging the range that "composition" can refer to as a music creation.

I'll probably have some more items posted here later as they come to me.

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14 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

To be fair, he didn't present it as universal truth — he said this was his experience and subject to scrutiny.

 

Fair point; the opening post was clear about that, but the tone of his follow-up felt was stated less subjective to me. Guess that’s what triggered me.

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To move on, something else I found interesting was point 7. Because, as a composer I've found myself to be very dependent on other people since I'm mostly unable to perform and play my music myself. Not just because I don't know how to play the trombone and the violin and the vibraphone and the clarinet and the contra-bassbasoon and the whatever but also because I'm literally physically unable to play all those instruments at the same time. I know how they work, and I do play quite some instruments, but some music is just written to be played life. I mean, I'm a jazz composer, which means that I always deal with living, breathing people, and I can imagine that being a completely different thing from writing music completely on a laptop. I definitely know the mess of having to organize rehearsals for 10+ people with completely different schedules, and I wish I would be able to do it all by myself, but would that imply that writing music that is to be performed live and that also includes more then 2 or 3 musicians is an invalid business tactic? That would contradict about 300 years of music composition, including the crazy late romantic era where composers would write for giant 200+ musician seated symphony orchestras with two choirs and their neighbors.

So while I understand your notion of advising composers to stay as self-sufficient as possible, I also think that it's very much centered around a way of making music that is designed for self-sufficient composers that are able to do everything by themselves, and that it doesn't mean that all ways of composing are like that. That's kind of an awkward sentence, but I hope my point is clear haha. Of course I'm not saying that you don't have a point. I usually write my music for ensembles that I know I can make myself and I'm always connecting and making friends in order to make my netwerk as big as possible. And, more importantly, I write simple and effective and I prepare everything as perfect as I can. So rather than saying that you should rely on as few people as possible, I would say that you should be smart with the people you work with, that you should always have 3 back up plans and that you have to be very very realistic in the way you write. Which nicely connects to point 12, because that statement is just soooo true. Being a decent human being should be everyone's priority because no one likes people that aren't likable. 

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Yeah, well, if I round up all the time I've spent waiting on other people for things I've needed, even some of the most basic things, just with the stuff I can think up on top of my head, it would amount to 3 years of time being wasted waiting for other peoples' schedules, motivations, budgets and memories to get around to what they agreed to do for me. After a while, you're like, "Man, I am too old for this shit." and quit bothering.

Granted I'm rather on the south side of the bell curve when it comes to social skills and charisma that might suggest "fuck other people entirely" is not an objective wisdom tip when it comes to this stuff, but it's backed with a lot of experience that is definitely regretted. :)

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9 hours ago, Bowlerhat said:

To move on, something else I found interesting was point 7. Because, as a composer I've found myself to be very dependent on other people since I'm mostly unable to perform and play my music myself. Not just because I don't know how to play the trombone and the violin and the vibraphone and the clarinet and the contra-bassbasoon and the whatever but also because I'm literally physically unable to play all those instruments at the same time. I know how they work, and I do play quite some instruments, but some music is just written to be played life. I mean, I'm a jazz composer, which means that I always deal with living, breathing people, and I can imagine that being a completely different thing from writing music completely on a laptop. I definitely know the mess of having to organize rehearsals for 10+ people with completely different schedules, and I wish I would be able to do it all by myself, but would that imply that writing music that is to be performed live and that also includes more then 2 or 3 musicians is an invalid business tactic? That would contradict about 300 years of music composition, including the crazy late romantic era where composers would write for giant 200+ musician seated symphony orchestras with two choirs and their neighbors.

So while I understand your notion of advising composers to stay as self-sufficient as possible, I also think that it's very much centered around a way of making music that is designed for self-sufficient composers that are able to do everything by themselves, and that it doesn't mean that all ways of composing are like that. That's kind of an awkward sentence, but I hope my point is clear haha. Of course I'm not saying that you don't have a point. I usually write my music for ensembles that I know I can make myself and I'm always connecting and making friends in order to make my netwerk as big as possible. And, more importantly, I write simple and effective and I prepare everything as perfect as I can. So rather than saying that you should rely on as few people as possible, I would say that you should be smart with the people you work with, that you should always have 3 back up plans and that you have to be very very realistic in the way you write. Which nicely connects to point 12, because that statement is just soooo true. Being a decent human being should be everyone's priority because no one likes people that aren't likable. 

Generally speaking, 99% of film, game, and especially TV composers don't have the luxury of composing for real players and they're under very tight deadlines.

Being able to produce a full piece, in sometimes a matter of hours, all by yourself, with virtual instruments is pretty much a mandatory skill. I don't personally know anyone in the business who can't.

Even I have had indie gigs that needed me to have a brand new tune conceived and finished in a couple days because they had a new level finished and they decided to include it at the last moment in the build of the game they're showing at some trade show or whatever at the end of the week. Not really enough time to get even one live musician on it, let alone a full ensemble, and definitely not when there is no budget to hire them and the gig doesn't pay nearly enough to justify paying them out of pocket and trying to deduct it on your taxes.

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In my experience, working with other people does indeed involve waiting, and sometimes that can get a bit frustrating. But there’s another side to it to, or at least for me: being able to work with other people does make it more enjoyable, social and educational. Depending on your individual needs and desires that may or may not be something that interests everybody, but I’ve learned bits and bobs from everybody I worked with, and that is totally worth it for me. But YMMV of course; just wanted to mention another side of it.

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Ok, new set here. This time much more focused on production in FL Studio (version 11, in my case).

 

1. Supposedly, the key to getting a good mix is turning it the volume down to very low levels and listening to see if you still hear everything that needs to be heard. I read this somewhere and not sure if it's objectively true, but it seems to work for me.

2. Learn volume automation in your DAW and establish habits for optimum efficiency. Learning to automate volumes with instruments will fix a huge percentage of mixing problems and is the key to instruments coming in and fading out at the correct places.

3. Volume automation is 100% essential for orchestral passages and songs. Strings, horns, pads and choirs all need them to be executed correctly.

4. Might just be a placebo effect, but putting the FL Studio limiter plugin on every mix channel, and NOT messing with it, seems to provide a slight bit of invisible improvement.

5. In 80% of songs and mixes, the Fruity Waveshaper should be on the main mixing channel and set to Class B Distortion. Then set it to Unipolar mode (near the bottom left corner right next to where it says Waveshaper) and set point 2/4 (the second dot from the left to the right) where necessary.

6. Fruity Stereo Shaper is at the top of main channel and should be set to "Invert". This also seems to create some sort of objective improvement in the mix while being kind of invisible. Might also be a placebo effect but continues to work.

7. With a difficult instrument to mix, there is no shame in having multiple EQ plugins on it even for very small changes. This is to help prevent making the EQ worse and forgetting what settings it was on before that.

8. For most mixes, the "Ambience" reverb plugin (which is free), is on and set to Vic - Concert Hall Bright (most often) or Griels - Standard or J-Ring - Warm. Turn Dry to 0.0db and start wetness down at -16.0db or so and adjust to taste.

9. Making an instrument seem smaller requires turning the channel's stereo separation mix channel button to the right to narrow it, as well as lowering the volume and some of the high end of the EQ.

10. To keep bass instruments' frequencies in check, use the Fruity Multiband Compressor and set it to Mastering 2.4db, turn the stereo separation almost entirely narrow, and adjust volume to taste. Lots of EQ with very narrow bands may be needed.

11. Speaking of compression, on the main channel, the Fruity Multiband Compressor should be on the main channel and set to Mastering 2.4db and adjust the volume to taste, usually not more than 5.0db. If this compression doesn't work well for the song, use DensityMKII compressor (free plugin) and try Final, M/S Solid, M/S Steady Center or M/S Even Mix.

12. If an instrument passage needs something more interesting in it, a little bit of dBlue_Glitch (free plugin), set to random and turn it down to like 10% on the mixing channel. Don't keep on throughout the song because this plugin really loves to suck up CPU power and create audio artifacts all throughout.

13. When in need of some sub-bass to add heaviness to the song, FL Studio's 3xOSC with everything set to Sine and turned way down is a very quick and effective way to do this. Adding some light distortion to it can work as well.

14. To warm up ear frequencies at the start of an audio session, listen to a professionally published song file that is loud and bombastic (Hiroyuki Sawano's stuff, for example) for a little bit is a good way to get your ears "cleared" for the right frequency balance. Begin at low volumes and work your way up to your regular volume. Then start your audio file and also begin with a low volume and work your way up.

15. Your ears WILL play tricks with you if you go too long a mixing session without stopping. Instruments will literally sound too loud and too soft randomly AFTER you're already satisfied with it. That means it's time to stop for a while.

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52 minutes ago, Meteo Xavier said:

Ok, new set here. This time much more focused on production in FL Studio (version 11, in my case).

1. Supposedly, the key to getting a good mix is turning it the volume down to very low levels and listening to see if you still hear everything that needs to be heard. I read this somewhere and not sure if it's objectively true, but it seems to work for me.

2. Learn volume automation in your DAW and establish habits for optimum efficiency. Learning to automate volumes with instruments will fix a huge percentage of mixing problems and is the key to instruments coming in and fading out at the correct places.

3. Volume automation is 100% essential for orchestral passages and songs. Strings, horns, pads and choirs all need them to be executed correctly.

4. Might just be a placebo effect, but putting the FL Studio limiter plugin on every mix channel, and NOT messing with it, seems to provide a slight bit of invisible improvement.

5. In 80% of songs and mixes, the Fruity Waveshaper should be on the main mixing channel and set to Class B Distortion. Then set it to Unipolar mode (near the bottom left corner right next to where it says Waveshaper) and set point 2/4 (the second dot from the left to the right) where necessary.

6. Fruity Stereo Shaper is at the top of main channel and should be set to "Invert". This also seems to create some sort of objective improvement in the mix while being kind of invisible. Might also be a placebo effect but continues to work.

7. With a difficult instrument to mix, there is no shame in having multiple EQ plugins on it even for very small changes. This is to help prevent making the EQ worse and forgetting what settings it was on before that.

8. For most mixes, the "Ambience" reverb plugin (which is free), is on and set to Vic - Concert Hall Bright (most often) or Griels - Standard or J-Ring - Warm. Turn Dry to 0.0db and start wetness down at -16.0db or so and adjust to taste.

9. Making an instrument seem smaller requires turning the channel's stereo separation mix channel button to the right to narrow it, as well as lowering the volume and some of the high end of the EQ.

10. To keep bass instruments' frequencies in check, use the Fruity Multiband Compressor and set it to Mastering 2.4db, turn the stereo separation almost entirely narrow, and adjust volume to taste. Lots of EQ with very narrow bands may be needed.

11. Speaking of compression, on the main channel, the Fruity Multiband Compressor should be on the main channel and set to Mastering 2.4db and adjust the volume to taste, usually not more than 5.0db. If this compression doesn't work well for the song, use DensityMKIII compressor (free plugin) and try Final, M/S Solid, M/S Steady Center or M/S Even Mix.

12. If an instrument passage needs something more interesting in it, a little bit of dBlue_Glitch (free plugin), set to random and turn it down to like 10% on the mixing channel. Don't keep on throughout the song because this plugin really loves to suck up CPU power and create audio artifacts all throughout.

13. When in need of some sub-bass to add heaviness to the song, FL Studio's 3xOSC with everything set to Sine and turned way down is a very quick and effective way to do this. Adding some light distortion to it can work as well.

14. To warm up ear frequencies at the start of an audio session, listen to a professionally published song file that is loud and bombastic (Hiroyuki Sawano's stuff, for example) for a little bit is a good way to get your ears "cleared" for the right frequency balance. Begin at low volumes and work your way up to your regular volume. Then start your audio file and also begin with a low volume and work your way up.

15. Your ears WILL play tricks with you if you go too long a mixing session without stopping. Instruments will literally sound too loud and too soft randomly AFTER you're already satisfied with it. That means it's time to stop for a while.

Here's my perspective (btw, I'm using the latest FL 12, fyi).

tldr; I prefer to do certain things to the mix for reasons that I'm aware of. If there's no perceivable difference in the context of the mix, then what's the point?

----

1. Sure, I've heard @WillRock say it to me before. It makes sense; you should be able to hear roughly the same balance at quiet or loud listening volumes.

2. Yeah, sometimes that helps. But for synths you could simply adjust the ADSR envelope and that would probably be easier. For real instruments, yes, I would consider automating volumes.

3. Yep.

4. Probably placebo... I never use Fruity Limiter anymore (because the default setting overcompresses more easily than other limiters I've used), except for sidechaining (where the effects of overcompression are negligible). I don't just stick it on a mixer track without doing anything with it.

5. But why? What's the purpose? To add brightness? Why do it when you can leave room for brightness on your hi hats, for instance?

6. I really don't hear much difference. I prefer to leave the original stereo image how it is, and use that as a starting point, because I know exactly how it started as the original sound source.

7. Yeah, I also use multiple EQ instances to do small edits. That's normal for me.

8. So the purpose is to slightly blend? Can you hear the difference except by turning on/off on bounced WAVs? If not, then why?

9. I suppose... what you're doing is phase inversion to make the net result sound more mono, so it should feel "smaller" horizontally. Reducing the brightness dulls the sound, which should make it feel "smaller" vertically.

10. That just seems to be boosting the volume... and not doing anything else. Notice how all three bands are bypassed. Couldn't you just NOT do this and then just boost the volume using Fruity Balance?

11. As in 10, does it actually do anything more than raise the volume? I would stick to using Density MKIII, and learning to use it (without relying on presets) if you are trying to do soft knee compression to keep peaks in check. I get that presets are meant to be used, but "set and forget" isn't exactly the best motto.

12. ...Why? I always like to know what's going on in all parts of the mix. This just adds a random factor out of my control, and it doesn't make sense to me. It's just going to get drowned out anyway once you add in all the elements of your mix, so it likely just adds clutter.

13. I suppose you could do that, or you could determine what instrument is capable of doing that within its own UI (such as Serum or Zebra) and add that layer within that plugin. That way, you don't have to write a whole separate pattern and you already would have synchronized ADSR envelopes, i.e. it'd be taken care of already.

14. Uh, I suppose you could, but I just listen to the mix fresh. That to me is the most honest listening perspective, not colored by previous songs.

15. That really applies to everyone, but it depends on what headphones you use. I can go for 2 - 3 hours of writing and mixing at a time and not lose track of what's off, because my headphones (Beyerdynamic DT-880) are comfortable and semi-open, so my ears don't hurt by the time I'm done.

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Damn, Timmy. Right, I'll give you some answers there.

2. I use ADSR as every sane musician should when the option is available, but frankly, once I've gotten better and used to automating volume controls, it's been less of a pain in the ass than ADSR.

4. I dunno, it just seems to work.

5. Oddly enough, what I find it seems to do is contain frequencies better. The way I describe it is like coloring outside the lines before I put it on, then when I put it on, it sucks the color back up inside the lines. That may be a confusing concept for others, but that's how it works for me.

6. I dunno, it just seems to work.

8. It's the reverb/wetness that seems to work the best for general application in all the things I've tried. That's all there is to it.

10. I could try that. The compressor on the bass came from a mixing textbook I looked at once at Books-a-million. I tried it and found merit to its advice, but I could definitely stand a less fussy operation.

11. Another case of trying a lot of different things for a lot of different songs over more than a few years and finding those options to be the ones that work the most overall.

12. It's not a perfect solution, but unless I could not remember what it sounded like when it's on, that has not been a big problem.

13. Done that, stopped doing it. This way is better. :P

14. The most honest listening experience for me is not waking up after 6 hours of sleep to go to work on a track and mix 5 days since I last had time to do it. The volume is immediately overpowering, I do not hear certain frequencies correctly, it's not efficient. I need to listen to a professionally mixed and mastered song that hits all the frequencies in order to wake up and warm up my ears. 7 minutes of that is much better than the 25+ minutes of headache just going right into the song does.

 

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I just thought I add to this one, in regards to point 6: not writing a track around a melody. 

I find it best in the writing stage to write many aspects of the song quickly, then flesh it out into a full arrangement later. I'm a pianist and I almost always write by making a recording (on my iphone) with myself playing to a metronome, playing chords with my left hand and melody with my right. This gets down the rhythm (in an extremely limited fashion), harmony and melody. I'll then make a note of what instruments I will use. Then finally I spend some time in front of the DAW and make the thing. 

Writing from a drums and bass seems very strange to me. I tend to think of what emotion I want the piece to convey. Melody and harmony are the most effective way to reach this.

Thank you guys, I've learnt so much from this thread:). 

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#7 is my favorite. I only have a limited amount of music friends from high school, and only one of them is at least a little interested in the same genre I am, jazz. I'm going to a school for Liberal Studies now (to ensure complete unemployability), and believe me when I tell you there are absolutely no other students at this school that play jazz. So my options are limited, and I don't have anyone better to play around. Being a big fish in small pond isn't that great for me. Being a freshman, I can only hope that I can find incoming students in the next coming years who know how to play, or at least want to learn just as much as I do. But for now, I have no expansions to my circle so I have to work inward. Taking hours and hours a week trying to make the most of Garage Band using Keyscape on my Macbook Air Laptop, and it's a really slow process. But it's all I got, and even if I wanted to go around gigging places, I wouldn't be able to rely on anyone. So I'm trying to push my performance ability and my production ability so that tomorrow, I'll be able to do these things a little better, and that ten years from now, I'll be able to keep a decent flow of income. I can really connect to #7. Hopefully after working this summer I can upgrade my DAW.

 

EDIT: Number 7 from the original post to be exact.

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I can see why you say what you say about melody. None of your tracks have any compelling melody going on... you have some dense textures and good ambient stuff but nothing grabs my immediate attention.
that's alright but it isn't for everyone, and it sure aint the "right" way to do it.

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I suppose you're the source of all these half-or-less listened to tracks I have on my Bandcamp analytics then. :wacko:

Constructive though your "Uh, I've listened to your tracks and your melodies actually suck" criticism is, it's not quite enough to get me to change my mind on it. Designing a melody last to fit the rest of the track instead of designing the entire track to fit the melody is not the same thing as discouraging a focus on strong melodies (though not every song calls for strong melodies either), nor does it mean you can't start in the sketching phase going melody-first or that you can't do it in certain parts of a track that could call for it. What I'm saying is that designing a full production - drums, percussion, bass, pad, keys, synth, guitar and strings that are all doing the accompaniment around the melody is a lot more tedious and less effective than designing that stuff first and having the melody fit it. The listeners don't always hear the melody going on 100% of the way through a song, they hear more of the accompaniment and context (chords) of the song than what's actually being said.

For that reason and the previously stated ease of changing some notes around as opposed to changing the accompaniment to fit the notes constantly, that is the basis of the position. A strong accompaniment, I am absolutely convinced, takes higher priority than a strong melody.

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As a note, whenever I write a song with a strong melodic focus, it does go case-by-case whether I write the chords first or the melody first. I do get that sometimes the melody can be hard to think of, or to be original with if that's an issue one has.

  • Most recently, I did what @TTT was describing: playing out something rough on keyboard and getting that down to MIDI. Then, I dumbed it down to a more basic chord progression as the intro to an original WIP, with plans to, later in the arrangement, add in the full deal of what I was playing.
     
  • A few months back though, I also wrote and finished an original where I thought of the melody first, playing chords with my hands and humming the melody on top of it to test it out. Then, I used the melody throughout as a motif, to try to make the listener familiar with it... and perhaps even make it more catchy. This is done, but here's an early WIP example.
     
  • A few years back, I actually had a burst of inspiration in college and sat down in the library to mouse in raw sheet music for one of my songs, purely because I thought of the melody first (I was humming it on the way home every day for a week), and then the accompaniment came to me while sketching it. Here it is: https://www.noteflight.com/scores/view/3829339a06f1f5fefe6c1978a5ac8a4dd86e0894
    And here is an early WIP of the now-finished song.

In all three cases, in the DAW itself, I did write the accompaniment first, but I had the melody in mind early on in the second and third cases, and sketched the major bits in the third case outside the DAW.

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It's definitely case-by-case and isn't directed towards every kind of music generation there is, I'm talking about when you go to design the full production of a track and there isn't already a melody in mind. For times when you need a strong theme, leitmotif or generating some very base stuff that you can store away for when you can't come up with anything else (like I do), then yes - you go to a piano and start coming up with some melody and chord material and save what you like the most.

Now if you're jumping into a track without having that in mind (like most of us tend to do) or without needing a strong melody or leitmotif, like a desert track or a bizarro world track or more filler material, then trying to do it that way is more of an obstacle than a production step. Not every track has to have a strong, memorable melody. Good exclusions apply (Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, The Killers' Sam's Town), but honestly, it's exhausting trying to make sure every track is focused melody first and really impractical. Some require something that really commands attention, most others just need something to guide the listener. Without that balance, the album or soundtrack production becomes more of a chore and potentially dilutes out the emotional dynamics at the bottom line.

Plus it's easier to do rearrangements and remixes that way, in my experience.

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Well, that's true, a melodic focus isn't necessary, but I do think some sort of leading contour could still shape, say, a desert track, using your example. It doesn't have to end up being a melody, but you could hypothetically hum a melody on top a chord progression you try playing, but then not put a melody. It can just guide the chords you write (or help you visualize which chords you could write), knowing that one can write a chord progression to any given melody (in principle). And then, that wouldn't have a strong melodic focus, but it may be easier to construct by using a leading contour as a guide.

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Melodies by themselves imply chord changes by the chord tones that are present in them. Polyphonic, contrapuntal textures still imply harmonic progressions without ever actually playing a "chord".

The two are not as separable as many may think.

But to say that starting with the melody is dumb, is to say that composers like Bach were also dumb.

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30 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Melodies by themselves imply chord changes by the chord tones that are present in them. Polyphonic, contrapuntal textures still imply harmonic progressions without ever actually playing a "chord".

The two are not as separable as many may think.

But to say that starting with the melody is dumb, is to say that composers like Bach were also dumb.

This.

Even when I'm arranging a video game tune or a jazz standard or a whatever and the melody is already given from outside, I always first play the bass and the melody together to make sure they work. When I have two outer voices that convey the things that I want to say at that moment, it can be anything from atmospheric desert to adventurous battle theme, the inner voices fill in themselves. It can be done in many different ways, but when the outer voices run I know that I'll have a nice progression. That's the reason why things like counter motion works so well, and paralel fifths and octaves don't. This is of course also a stylistic thing, but in every genre of music you can have good and bad relations between the outer voices, it's just that the criteria is different. I think that when you're just thinking of chords, rhythm and melody as something separated by semantics, you'll never be able to write coherent music. It's all about the relationship to each-other and how it mixes and ends up as an organic whole that makes the music. 

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