BloomingLate

Dealing with discouragement when making music

14 posts in this topic

Hello guys and girls,

I'd like to share a bit of my experience with discouragement when making music and ask if you have similar experiences and perhaps suggestions on how to deal with it.

Basically, I experience trouble in these areas:

  1. I might suddenly no longer like the sound of what I have produced. My enthusiasm and appreciation just completely drop. They may come back at other times, but I can't work on something while I think it just sounds utterly horrible. Perhaps this is due to over exposure to (the same) music? Its not just that I don't like the song anymore; the sound just doesn't register well in my brain.
  2. I might get stuck on the ending of a track and never get around to completing something. I can finish a piano solo piece well enough, given that I can actually play it on my instrument. Complex multi-instrument remixes however are liable to ending up unfinished (I suffer from this defect in other areas as well, like when writing articles).
  3. Not having a great sound library for my DAW can be discouraging. I don't want to invest tons of money in good stuff yet before I have some confidence in my production skills. On the other hand, it is hard to increase my skill when I have nothing to work with. I'm trying to make the best of whatever is available for free, but a lot of stuff is quite frankly just horrible.
  4. Not really knowing where to start or where to go next in terms of learning things can have a paralyzing effect. I guess I can be impatient too. My composition skills appear to be somewhat ahead of other skills, particularly mixing channels and getting everything to sound right.

Any encouragements, advice or insights?

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41 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

I might suddenly no longer like the sound of what I have produced. My enthusiasm and appreciation just completely drop. They may come back at other times, but I can't work on something while I think it just sounds utterly horrible. Perhaps this is due to over exposure to (the same) music? Its not just that I don't like the song anymore; the sound just doesn't register well in my brain.

This happens all the time for many different people, so you're not alone by any means.  A thing to remember is the amount of exposure you have.  Find a recording you didn't have anything to do with.  Listen to it 100 times, and tell me you still like the sound of it as much as you did the first time.  With the best made recordings, you will to some extent, but most likely not.  Also, you know what your shortcomings are, so when you hear them over and over again it just kind of solidifies the idea that you have those shortcomings.  People who have not heard them over and over may not even notice.  For the most part, nobody will put a recording on as many times as you did making it, regardless of quality.

It's also important to take into account that your tastes evolve.  Sometimes you'll love something, then come back to it in a few months and hate everything about it (I can't stand to listen to my earlier work, or performances because of how much I've grown as a musician since producing them).  This just means what you see as good or ideal is changing constantly as is normal.
 

46 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

I might get stuck on the ending of a track and never get around to completing something. I can finish a piano solo piece well enough, given that I can actually play it on my instrument. Complex multi-instrument remixes however are liable to ending up unfinished (I suffer from this defect in other areas as well, like when writing articles). 

This one can be remedied by doing more listening.  Music isn't as original as people think it is, and you can use this to your advantage.  When working on a track, if you struggle to find out where to go next to finish a track, find somebody else who expressed the same sentiment you want to.  I work with big band arrangements quite a lot, and most of the time I do more listening to others' writing than actually working on the track.  There are tropes and idiomatic ways of writing that are common because of how solid they are.  Don't steal them note for note, but do think critically about why they work or don't work, and see how you can apply that to what you're working on.  You mentioned piano solo, I actually have the scores of all of Debussy's solo piano works handy for whenever I need to write a solo piano piece.  "I want this musical idea, how could I express that?  How did Debussy express a similar thought, and what textures, harmonies, etc did he use to do it?"  In a jazz style I'll usually defer to solo performances mostly by Makoto Ozone and similar pianists.

Don't think of it like you're piggybacking off of other musicians.  When learning to talk for the first time, you didn't learn to talk in a vacuum did you?  All you're doing is listening for musical vocabulary to enrich your own.
 

 

51 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

Not having a great sound library for my DAW can be discouraging. I don't want to invest tons of money in good stuff yet before I have some confidence in my production skills. On the other hand, it is hard to increase my skill when I have nothing to work with. I'm trying to make the best of whatever is available for free, but a lot of stuff is quite frankly just horrible.

I get this one entirely.  I only use the default sounds that came with Logic, mainly because I can't be bothered to get anything else that isn't free.  As a result I do as much with live instruments I can, which is why my music typically uses so much french horn and other brass (I'm a professional french horn player, and I have access to a good recording setup for that).  I also do a lot of jazz, which samples do not do well.  That said, there are all kinds of really good free sounds.  An example is the Sennheiser drum library (Drummic'a) that was released for free as an advertisement for their microphones.  It's definitely a solid drum sound that works for many things.  You can find these things if you look hard enough.  A lot of music composition and arranging is knowing how sounds work together, and the limitations of having bad sounds can spur creativity of how to work around them.  More easily said than done, I know.  But in college there were several times where we would have assignments like "this is a saxophone player who only has an octave of range that sounds good.  Write a solid piece that takes advantage of that.
Production concepts are universal.  Generally basic things like compression, EQ, and reverb, and even non plugin things like musicality, balance, and arrangement used correctly can do a lot for a track.  If you get solid with these fundamentals, you'll notice your sound will get better just because the sounds you have will work together better.
 

 

59 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

Not really knowing where to start or where to go next in terms of learning things can have a paralyzing effect. I guess I can be impatient too. My composition skills appear to be somewhat ahead of other skills, particularly mixing channels and getting everything to sound right.

So a really easy way to find out where to go next is just focusing on one shortcoming that you have, and learning about it.  If you have a mix that sounds very loud, muddy, and noisy, look at balance and separation.  If you have a mix that sounds very stale and robotic, look at humanization.  If the mix lacks energy and seems very static, look up textures and orchestration techniques that can add variety to a mix. 

Alternatively you can sit down and say "I'm going to really nail this style in this track."  Let's say you wanted to write a solo piano mix in the style of Joe Hisaishi.  Do a lot of listening and transcribing solo piano works he's written (there are a lot of them because he's Joe Hisaishi).  Then when you sit down to write a thing, basically take note of what characteristics he uses in his writing, and see if you can use those in your writing so that your track will sound right at home among other Hisaishi tracks.  Listen, analyze, apply.  Then, once you have that one, move on to something else.  This applies to any style or genre.  Gradually, as you do this more, you will get better and better at it and will notice that learning comes much more naturally based on what you're interested in.

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On point 1... Just step away and come back later. Sometimes, overexposure to your own work leads you to dislike it, but once you forget the sound, it'll sound better. Give it a day. Or a month. Work on a nother piece of music in the mean time. And listen to more music. Get new ideas. And do experiments. Depending on your music, style, and resources, start by considering these: Can you work without drums? Can you do everything with the same synth? Can you work without any virtual instruments?

On point 2... I have, no exaggeration, over a thousand, probably several thousand pieces of music I've started but never finished. But I do finish a few of them. Often when I have a deadline. Finish one. That's more than none. And that might give you the skills or mindset or encouragement or whatever you need to finish more.

On point 3, listen to the debut mixes of remixers here, especially from further back in time. Like my old mixes. They were good enough for ocr, though. The free stuff out there today is a lot better than the free stuff back then. But I know it's not easy with limited resources. Having better resources not only makes it easier to work, but also easier to learn. Do what you can with what you have, and do it well. When you get something new, learn it thoroughly. It's better to have a few libraries and tools you really know how to use, than to have every tool in the world and not understand when to use any of them.

As for the 4th one, you and me both. You will never learn enough to be fully satisfied, because once you learn something, you realize there's so much more to learn. But you can learn enough to make something you like. 

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Just wanted to add that having a good sound library is something that not only greatly helps inspire you, it also makes your life easier, because you have to work less hard to make it sound good. Consider it like an investment and use it to learn and hone your skills, rather than boring and depressing yourself with things that don’t inspire you.

I probably have too much stuff in mine, but I accumulated it over the years. I remember buying Komplete years ago and thinking it was a lot of money. Turns out I did and do use it a lot, still, and I definitely got my money’s worth out of it. And I don’t even use all of it.

So yeah, mine is a bit of a contrast with Rozo’s post above, I probably have too much stuff, I didn’t learn a lot of it in-depth, I mostly stick to presets, but it’s very comforting to know that I have a varied and good quality sound palette that inspires me and is able to get the job done.

As for point 4: do what you love and figure out the related stuff as you go along. For me, I like arranging the most, but as my skills grew, I also sort-of out of necessity had to pick up related skills like EQ-ing, mixing, mastering, etc. Just because I want to make every track better than the previous one, and you learn something from every track you do. The more you learn, the more you learn about things you don’t know yet, too. It can be overwhelming at times, but on the other hand: try to just dive into something and look back after a few months. Chances are you will be like ‘wow, did I learn all of that?’ and can be proud of what you learned rather than being paralyzed about stuff you didn’t learn yet.

 

 

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12 hours ago, BloomingLate said:

Not having a great sound library for my DAW can be discouraging. I don't want to invest tons of money in good stuff yet before I have some confidence in my production skills. On the other hand, it is hard to increase my skill when I have nothing to work with. I'm trying to make the best of whatever is available for free, but a lot of stuff is quite frankly just horrible.

The truth about "production" is that it really is entwined with composition. Except for when it comes to sound quality.

Yeah...despite what a lot of people out there will try to say, timbre does matter. It's a key part of arranging/orchestrating any piece of music.

Something that samples more articulations and velocity layers, from multiple microphone positions in a great-sounding hall or stage is better than anything that doesn't. Full stop.

There's also the matter of what the instrument samples can actually play. Look how many sample libraries just sample nothing but "short note" and "long note" and maybe some fx. That's just garbage. Any good musical phrase is dependent on rhythm as a foundation. Good luck playing the Star Wars theme with Orchestral Essentials.

That's why I like stuff like CineSamples; they sampled different note lengths so that you can easily program a realistic phrase.

 

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On 4/28/2018 at 9:50 AM, BloomingLate said:

I might suddenly no longer like the sound of what I have produced. My enthusiasm and appreciation just completely drop. They may come back at other times, but I can't work on something while I think it just sounds utterly horrible. Perhaps this is due to over exposure to (the same) music? Its not just that I don't like the song anymore; the sound just doesn't register well in my brain.

Depends on how long you say you have waited... I'm assuming it's a few days, and not a few years. That does happen to me, where I think I have something going, and a few days later I listen to it and think "nah, scrap it". I think it's natural, because a few days later, you SHOULD have a fresh perspective on what you wrote, and if you don't like it, then I would believe it. A fresher perspective would be more realistic as to what a general audience would think than right in the moment of when you wrote the WIP.

If you are concerned about that, ask a friend to listen to see what he/she thinks.

If you think it is because you listen to too much of the same music, then I'll suggest to you a few playlists of music I like to see if it helps; I play it for my chemistry students each week, and maybe it'll help inspire you (by that I mean that you presumably will not have heard it before). Let me know if something changes for you.

Joshua Morse's Greatest Hits (imo) - https://soundcloud.com/timaeus222/sets/joshua-morse-greatest-hits

Exciting Music - https://soundcloud.com/timaeus222/sets/exciting-music

Energetic/Smooth Music - https://soundcloud.com/timaeus222/sets/energetic-smooth-music

 

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I might get stuck on the ending of a track and never get around to completing something. I can finish a piano solo piece well enough, given that I can actually play it on my instrument. Complex multi-instrument remixes however are liable to ending up unfinished (I suffer from this defect in other areas as well, like when writing articles).

It happens. It happens to me as well, and I have plenty of resources that would satisfy my visions. To resolve that, I would examine another song that is similar to yours. There is no harm in imitating the style of ending of someone else. For example, I wrote this remix that was inspired by Weather Report's "Birdland", and the ending was based on the ending of "Havona". I'm not embarrassed about imitating someone else, because so many other people do as well.

 

Quote

Not having a great sound library for my DAW can be discouraging. I don't want to invest tons of money in good stuff yet before I have some confidence in my production skills. On the other hand, it is hard to increase my skill when I have nothing to work with. I'm trying to make the best of whatever is available for free, but a lot of stuff is quite frankly just horrible.

I think you shouldn't restrict yourself to free material. I'm not saying splurge yourself on expensive stuff, but don't limit yourself to free stuff. Look for relatively inexpensive libraries, and definitely consider Native Instruments' Kontakt ($400) as a sampler engine---I know it's expensive, but if you want to expand your resources, that's the most flexible one you can get, because most of the sample libraries out there are made for Kontakt. Or, if you want to start out slower, try to find libraries that run on the free Kontakt Player, such as Super Audio Cart PC, or Leonid Bass.

Or, if you want to continue using free stuff, I might suggest FluidR3 (especially the harp [see sfArk decompressor]), Squidfont Orchestral (see sfpack decompressor), and jRhodes3. DarkeSword has some other good suggestions here.

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Not really knowing where to start or where to go next in terms of learning things can have a paralyzing effect. I guess I can be impatient too. My composition skills appear to be somewhat ahead of other skills, particularly mixing channels and getting everything to sound right.

I did write a learning log of what I worked on over the years. Maybe it can help give you some direction. But you'll have to decide what you want to work on next.

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Thank you everyone for your responses. I will come back for a proper response when I have a moment to sort everything out.

EDIT 1:

I'll answer your responses to point 4 first, and then gradually update this post when I have more time (these things can get overwhelming for me):

Point 4:

I can relate to what Jorito says a lot. I always wanted to play piano and when I got my first instrument I quickly discovered I love coming up with my own compositions as well. A few years later I could see that I probably am more of a composer than a performer. Of course I want to keep investing in my piano playing skills which will help me become a better composer as well (plus, I just want to be able to play pretty songs).
I also love orchestral instruments, so if I can make my piano tunes better with some strings, I'll want to be able to do so, at least for my own enjoyment.
And then there is the other skills that come into play when you really want to produce something for an audience. I don't aim to become some kind of best-selling producer/artist, but I do want to see how far I can get. Its about the music first.

For me, especially because of my autism I will have trouble with keeping oversight and if you literally don't know what there is to know about music and where to start, things can get really overwhelming. Which is why I can see the value of JohnStacy's approach. Rather than going after everything you can possibly learn, just start with where I am lacking now.
His comment also made me realize how very little exposure I have to other people's music in general. Its tough if you have to figure it out all by yourself. Maybe I need to expand my horizons on that.

As for Timaeus222's learning log: something like that seems helpful enough. Just being aware of some of the basic vocabulary of music production can help me move along. Stuff like EQ, filters, sidechaining etc. A bit of a compass when on the wide open sea...

Patience is a bit of a thing for me. My piano teacher always has to slow me down when I get all worked up about things I cannot do yet. :)

I'll be back for more.

EDIT 2:

Okay, back to provide another bit of answer. I hope this isn't going to make things too messy.

Point 1:

I think I should clarify what I meant, because it seems you can interpret my words differently. What I was trying to communicate was the experience of, if you will, physically not being able to properly listen to music anymore. Not just the experience of being "bored" with or used to a certain song of genre of music. I generally have a higher resistance to repetition, so that's not really it. Maybe it's just fatigue or the drop in mood that clouds my perception. I used to have this with my photographic works too. My very favorite pictures would suddenly seem absolutely dull or overly manipulated and I'd just hate my entire portfolio.
With music I can get into a phase lasting for a few days where I experience a lack of coherence between the different sounds of a song. The instruments seem disconnected, I might not hear any bass and sometimes my ears just plug up. I feel pressure building up in my nose and ears and the entire listening experience just becomes terrible.

I guess all I can do at that point is wait until my hearing restores and not force myself to work on a track. The discouragement comes especially when I've waited for days and days and when I sit down to work, I feel stuck still.
I may need to work on my self-control so that I don't allow myself to get to that point where I'm overexposed and hurt my perception of things. Quit when things are still going well enough.

EDIT 3:

Point 2:

On 4/28/2018 at 8:01 PM, Rozovian said:

On point 2... I have, no exaggeration, over a thousand, probably several thousand pieces of music I've started but never finished. But I do finish a few of them. Often when I have a deadline. Finish one. That's more than none. And that might give you the skills or mindset or encouragement or whatever you need to finish more.

In other words: I don't have to pursue every idea to completion? I'd hate to have to finish "several thousand" pieces :) but at this point I'm struggling to finish even one. My Volley Fire remix is just haunting me! I did start working on multiple mixes at the same time to keep things interesting, but leaving them all unfinished would be a bit of a disappointment.

I suppose I should allow myself more time. Its not like I have deadlines. Sometimes you can create your own pressure when there is none. Like: "the people on OCR are just dying to see my completed mix so I better get my act together." That kind of thinking is just not helpful.

EDIT 4:

Point 3:

On 4/28/2018 at 9:54 PM, Jorito said:

Just wanted to add that having a good sound library is something that not only greatly helps inspire you, it also makes your life easier, because you have to work less hard to make it sound good. Consider it like an investment and use it to learn and hone your skills, rather than boring and depressing yourself with things that don’t inspire you.

I probably have too much stuff in mine, but I accumulated it over the years. I remember buying Komplete years ago and thinking it was a lot of money. Turns out I did and do use it a lot, still, and I definitely got my money’s worth out of it. And I don’t even use all of it.

 

On 4/29/2018 at 7:10 PM, timaeus222 said:

I think you shouldn't restrict yourself to free material. I'm not saying splurge yourself on expensive stuff, but don't limit yourself to free stuff. Look for relatively inexpensive libraries, and definitely consider Native Instruments' Kontakt ($400) as a sampler engine---I know it's expensive, but if you want to expand your resources, that's the most flexible one you can get, because most of the sample libraries out there are made for Kontakt. Or, if you want to start out slower, try to find libraries that run on the free Kontakt Player, such as Super Audio Cart PC, or Leonid Bass.

 

On 4/28/2018 at 8:01 PM, Rozovian said:

On point 3, listen to the debut mixes of remixers here, especially from further back in time. Like my old mixes. They were good enough for ocr, though. The free stuff out there today is a lot better than the free stuff back then. But I know it's not easy with limited resources. Having better resources not only makes it easier to work, but also easier to learn. Do what you can with what you have, and do it well. When you get something new, learn it thoroughly. It's better to have a few libraries and tools you really know how to use, than to have every tool in the world and not understand when to use any of them.

These are definitely golden days when it comes to technology and the availability of free things, compared to earlier days, that's for sure.

We could probably have a whole separate discussion on this point, but I'll keep it brief. I think there is a psychological effect in play and I probably need to rethink my position on spending money. Let's face it, things come with a price and you can't go through life expecting everything will be free. That's a mindset thing.
That said, there is a psychological barrier to purchasing digital things costing more than the price of a video game. Its not that I cannot afford a more expensive package; the question is: is it responsible and worth it? I guess you have to take risks from time to time; I just might end up with something good that I actually do use. The fact that you can't return these products and get your money back is slightly annoying (but understandable).

I read somewhere that its not a good idea to gradually update to a better package. For example: start with the cheapest FL-studio instrument pack ($15-20-ish) then move on to a slightly better pack for $30, then $80 and finally $190. I definitely don't want to waste money.

Would it be a good idea to start by tackling things one by one? Consider what I want to achieve eventually:

  1. Make energetic songs featuring electric guitars.
  2. Make emotionally rich orchestral music
  3. Make piano solo pieces
  4. All of the above in one :P

If I take it point by point and start with 1, I'll probably need to dive into the basic of guitar playing first, learn about the differences between say lead guitar and rhythm guitar, learn about different amps, come up with a tune, and finally find a suitable VST.
Rather than getting some expensive guitar thing, orchestral thing and piano thing first and then finding out I don't know what to do with them (and end up discouraged).
Then again, perhaps there is a single package that has the above and more that would be comparatively cheaper than the individual components.
Just thinking out loud here.

 

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On 4/28/2018 at 5:50 PM, BloomingLate said:

4. Not really knowing where to start or where to go next in terms of learning things can have a paralyzing effect.

 

My life.

 

I'm starting to find that having more of a "leap before you look" approach to things helps. Come up with a project idea and then try to fulfill it to its full potential. You will naturally do all the learning you need along the way because your curiosities will guide you. Theory books do nothing for me unless i need them for a specific purpose. Reading through a few consecutive chapters about chords, scales, modes, cadences, circle of fifths etc just overwhelms me, because i can't possibly apply all that to the next thing i write and still have a natural flow of ideas or any amount of FUN, and without application all those concepts are just abstract, which really doesn't gel with me. However, If i'm halfway through a piece and i'm struggling to make a melody and harmony work, then it can be helpful to maybe ask myself what my notes are really doing and what my options are, and the experience is far more beneficial because i can apply my learning right there and then.

 

To begin with, you can't easily come up with a direction for a piece unless you listen to the music that fascinates you and pay attention to the composition, arrangement, sound design and production in said music. That will raise questions in your head. "Why does that lead sound soar so well?", "Why does that melody over that chord change give me butterflies?", "How is that kick drum so punchy?". This will start your process, even if it's simply Youtubing "How to make dank kicks yo?" (Disclaimer: I can't make dank kicks).

Doing this will eventually open up a rabbit hole of resources and learning; the tricky bit is trying not to fall too far into it otherwise you'll get distracted and the project will get shelved in "that folder". You know the one, with the 50 other projects you never finished that makes your stomach sink when you think about it. I think we all have that folder. So make sure you only go as far as you need to in order to fulfill the project. The next project will reinforce and build your learning further as you'll already have that base experience that you'll be applying and can afford to dig a little deeper. Don't right off the bat think "Fuck! I need to know sidechain compression! I'll never be able to do a proper music without it! All those popular people like Skrawlex and Ziggy Dog Dog use it!". Yes it's useful, but not using it doesn't make your mix unlistenable, and not every genre requires it. Unless you're trying to make a dance music-esque "pump" then the mix benefits of sidechaining are subtle and only necessary on something that repeats a lot e.g kick and bass as it's really just automatic amplitude automation. Don't think i'm understating the benefits of sidechaining though, it does make a noticeable difference that's worth it when you get a better ear for mixing. But before worrying about "mix tricks" like that, i'd say it's more important to understand general mixing practice and balancing of levels, then enhance that understanding with sidechaining. This will make you more assertive and justified in your choice of using sidechaining, rather than just doing it because other people do and you think it's helping (I'm saying all this because you mentioned sidechaning in your post above).

 

By the end of a project you probably won't remember everything you've learned, but something i do is to just have a small notepad on my desk for "Session Notes", stick the date at the top and any time you learn something or discover something that could be important, just jot it down quickly. For example, i learned when doing my last remix that the tom drums in my plugin needed to have their release times turned down to almost zilch because they were overlapping and creating a lot of mud and resonance. I wouldn't have been able to pinpoint the toms as the "bad mix culprit" without painstakingly soloing EVERYTHING, but now i don't have to do that again and i'll have a note on how to set up my drums next time. I still don't have notes on how to make a perfect snare drum, but i have some notes here and there. Over time i'll have more and i'll start to realise what it is i actually like in a snare sound, and then crafting what i like in the future will become second nature. By the end you'll have a pile of these notes and you can flick through them to remind yourself of small things. Eventually you'll have so many you'll want to consolidate them, and by this point you will have been through a fair few projects so it'll be easier to know which notes were valuable to you in the long run. Maybe by this point you'll have experience in mixing an entire drum kit and not just the kick, for example. Why not use your compiled notes to write a mix strategy for drums and pin that shit on your wall?

 

What i'm trying to get at is that it's more important to just "do". The learning comes with the doing. I can vouch for it as i've been doing this for a few years now and this is the first time i'm reading back a post and feeling like an actual human who kinda knows what he's talking about. Sitting, paralysed with anxiety over what i should be learning didn't get me anywhere. I'm assuming from your OP that you know a fair bit of piano. Well when i started i was just putting my fingers in random places, but it was enough to get SOMETHING down (I also cared a lot less back then). Over time i'd just hit a wall and start to ask myself "Right, how the hell do i make Major and minor chords, because this shit just ain't working for me anymore", and that was my learning motivation. When Major and minor chords weren't doing it for me anymore i started adding some 7ths etc. Simple example, but you see what i mean. The "doing" part is daunting, but not necessarily difficult. The hardest part for me personally is coming up with a defined style in the first place, which is where listening to already existing elements of your favourite tracks comes in handy. The best starting point for anyone in my opinion is to take elements you like from the genres you like and try to mash them together and see what happens. That's your ruleset established and your necessary learning narrowed down and from there you can refine your style. That's how i made my frankenstein of a debut track on OCR. I mean, I'd love to learn how to write beautifully composed scores on a piece of manuscript and conduct a symphony orchestra, but that'll only come after i learn how to make a song out of mic feedback and guitars processed through 12 synthesizers while i play with my feet! This is how you make a Doom 2016 soundtrack and change the game, guys!

 

Mastery comes with repetition. Don't listen to the voice in the back of your head telling you you're doing it wrong, or you should be learning this or that. You can't do it wrong, and i believe it's an impossibility to somehow lose progress and get worse over time. Just keep doing shit. As @Rozovian said to me when i made a similar post some time ago...

"Keep making pancakes."

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15 hours ago, DarkEco said:

I'm starting to find that having more of a "leap before you look" approach to things helps. Come up with a project idea and then try to fulfill it to its full potential. You will naturally do all the learning you need along the way because your curiosities will guide you. Theory books do nothing for me unless i need them for a specific purpose. Reading through a few consecutive chapters about chords, scales, modes, cadences, circle of fifths etc just overwhelms me, because i can't possibly apply all that to the next thing i write and still have a natural flow of ideas or any amount of FUN, and without application all those concepts are just abstract, which really doesn't gel with me. However, If i'm halfway through a piece and i'm struggling to make a melody and harmony work, then it can be helpful to maybe ask myself what my notes are really doing and what my options are, and the experience is far more beneficial because i can apply my learning right there and then.

To begin with, you can't easily come up with a direction for a piece unless you listen to the music that fascinates you and pay attention to the composition, arrangement, sound design and production in said music. That will raise questions in your head. "Why does that lead sound soar so well?", "Why does that melody over that chord change give me butterflies?", "How is that kick drum so punchy?". This will start your process, even if it's simply Youtubing "How to make dank kicks yo?" (Disclaimer: I can't make dank kicks).

Doing this will eventually open up a rabbit hole of resources and learning; the tricky bit is trying not to fall too far into it otherwise you'll get distracted and the project will get shelved in "that folder".

By the end of a project you probably won't remember everything you've learned, but something i do is to just have a small notepad on my desk for "Session Notes", stick the date at the top and any time you learn something or discover something that could be important, just jot it down quickly.

What i'm trying to get at is that it's more important to just "do". The learning comes with the doing. I can vouch for it as i've been doing this for a few years now and this is the first time i'm reading back a post and feeling like an actual human who kinda knows what he's talking about. Sitting, paralysed with anxiety over what i should be learning didn't get me anywhere. I'm assuming from your OP that you know a fair bit of piano. Well when i started i was just putting my fingers in random places, but it was enough to get SOMETHING down (I also cared a lot less back then). Over time i'd just hit a wall and start to ask myself "Right, how the hell do i make Major and minor chords, because this shit just ain't working for me anymore", and that was my learning motivation. When Major and minor chords weren't doing it for me anymore i started adding some 7ths etc.

Mastery comes with repetition. Don't listen to the voice in the back of your head telling you you're doing it wrong, or you should be learning this or that. You can't do it wrong, and i believe it's an impossibility to somehow lose progress and get worse over time.@Rozovian

 

My experience so far has been somewhat similar to yours. I just started playing around on the piano, gradually "discovering" more things like chords, 8th notes and what have you. And then after having made the so many-th song using just whole note chords I figured its time to move on to something more interesting. I did simultaneously dive into music theory using the website with the same name. I understand perfectly what you're saying and I think the "just do it" approach does work well enough most of the time. I do personally benefit from a bit of  theoretical approach because I had zero knowledge when I started. I need those basic building blocks or I'll stay paralyzed.  Usually I'll take whatever I learned and work that into a new piece. Things that are yet too difficult I just drop and forget for the moment.
I mainly learn by literally seeing how something is done (I'm more of a visual learner I think) even if something simple like seeing my piano teacher do the circle of fifths. That's why I found one OCR member's video on EQ-ing profoundly helpful. I can see what he's doing and hear the result of what he's doing at the same time. I need that connection between the theory and the practice or it won't stick, and if I do, it will stick amazingly well.

Your comments on those questions that arise in your brain when you're listening to music ("Why does this and that sound do this or that to me?") are very helpful. You may think "Well, doesn't everyone have that?", but ever since I got my diagnosis (Asperger's) I learned that I don't do a lot of things that other people do naturally. Consciously asking myself such questions is one of those things. But once I am aware of such principles, I can start applying them anyway, so thanks for bringing it to my attention :).

In general, I do have a good feel for where I want my musical piece to go, but the difficulty finishing has more to do with stamina, discipline and dedication than with creativity per say. To draw a parallel with painting: it is easy to come up with an idea for a picture, drawing up the lines and putting down the broad strokes. But when it comes down to the details and those tiny strokes, that's where I tend to break down.
That's when the motivation starts dropping and the discouragement kicks in.

Like you, I do keep a list of things I learned. And I do experience that joy when I realize my next mix is better than the first was. I need those encouragements or I'll feel like I'm not getting anywhere. My piano teacher would agree with your statement "Don't listen to the voice in the back of your head..."

Thanks for your detailed response!

 

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2 hours ago, BloomingLate said:

Your comments on those questions that arise in your brain when you're listening to music ("Why does this and that sound do this or that to me?") are very helpful. You may think "Well, doesn't everyone have that?", but ever since I got my diagnosis (Asperger's) I learned that I don't do a lot of things that other people do naturally. Consciously asking myself such questions is one of those things. But once I am aware of such principles, I can start applying them anyway, so thanks for bringing it to my attention :).

I won't pretend to have any valuable experience to offer in your situation, but if i was to advise something, it would be not to establish your self limitations too early. It takes a while for ANYBODY to naturally start asking those questions. Just being able to isolate and analyse a single sound out of an ensemble with only your ear is a skill in itself. I'm a few years in and it's only now that i'm really thinking about music, because frankly if i had been too analytical too early then the passion would have worn out (in fact it did for a while). Years ago, I bought a theory book and began writing out fake lessons (they were planned for YouTube, because obviously YouTube needs MORE videos explaining what a major chord is haha), and i was abosrbing all this new information while doing so. I ended up with about 12 pages before stopping and i felt like i hadn't even scratched the surface.

 

What did i retain from doing that? Mainly the formulae to build scales and chords because that was the one thing that was ALWAYS useful, but that's about it. I consistently have to remind myself how modes work, despite using them all the time, and who actually gives a fuck what a subdominant and submediant are. I can hear when notes work together and when they don't. On paper, i was getting it, but the time spent writing this stuff out was time not spent on just working towards what i was hearing in my head, which was much easier to realise by simply placing my hands on a piano or guitar. I would feel forced to apply something just for the sake of memory retention and frankly was uninspired by the whole thing, and i wouldn't even feel like i was learning how to utilise it properly. Theory rarely ever tells you how to actually apply all this jargon you're learning unless you have a good teacher right there with you, and the application is the most important part! However when i just sat down and played something that resonated with me, i would WANT to find out the theory. For example, i discovered that i naturally, in almost ever scenario, gravitate towards the Mixolydian mode when playing. It would always come through in my music, and from this i began to notice how much of the old video game music i used to listen to as a kid was also Mixolydian. Just making that personal connection was a thousand times for satisfying than learning the Circle of Fifths.

 

Nowadays i definitely spend more time (not a lot though) reading about the "why" more than the "how". Sometimes i'll find something helpful, sometimes i won't. But asking "why" allows me to pursue the "right theory", which severly narrows the learning required, and you can gradually allow the not-so-important stuff to come together naturally over time. Patience is important in this, and i notice you mentioned impatience in a previous post. We're definitely not so different as people. Overthinking is creativity-cancer and i've been a long time victim myself. Overall when it comes to learning music, I believe that listening to what you like and imitating is the most important thing and i stand by that. That way when you're brainstorming your own ideas, you'll be applying more complex theory that they used without even realising it, and you don't have to worry about the analytics of it all until you're ready to. And you will never be completely imitating other peoples work because something will always happen mid way through the process that sets you apart, usually some form of happy accident. The key is to turn it into a happy not-accident :)

 

As for your comment about motivation dwindling when it comes to the "tiny strokes", i don't know a single person who doesn't go through this. I don't believe it's possible to love a project from start to finish. Just because you care about something immensely doesn't mean you love it, or love sitting in front of it for hours every day. The two main points i've found to be consistently stressful are the halfway mark and the final stretch. The halfway mark is where you will most likely be lost for where to go next and also start obsessively fiddling with the material you already have. The final stretch is due to the fact a project is NEVER FINISHED. Perfection is impossible and even if you feel amazing satisfaction on the day you call a project finished, you'll listen to it a week later and want to change things. For example, i just submitted an OCR that i was immensely happy with. Listened to it a week later and wondered how the hell i didn't realise the rhythm guitars were too loud. Now i'm hoping they ask for me to resubmit it so i can fix it. It's natural and everybody goes through it, and i still struggle with it as much as i did when i started, maybe even more so now that i have a lot more knowledge rattling around in my head. My goal to eventually overcome this is again, consistency. Repetition breeds confidence, of which i have very little, but i do believe gaining confidence over time will make the process less stressful and the quesitons in my head easier to answer.

 

EDIT: Btw i appreciate you creating this thread, as it's not only helped you but given me a good outlet to really sift through my thoughts and read back to myself just how i feel about these things. I've never said this stuff "out loud" to myself or really pinpointed my feelings this way. It's quite therapeutic.

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31 minutes ago, DarkEco said:

I won't pretend to have any valuable experience to offer in your situation, but if i was to advise something, it would be not to establish your self limitations too early. It takes a while for ANYBODY to naturally start asking those questions. Just being able to isolate and analyse a single sound out of an ensemble with only your ear is a skill in itself. I'm a few years in and it's only now that i'm really thinking about music, because frankly if i had been too analytical too early then the passion would have worn out (in fact it did for a while).

You're right, thanks for pointing that out. After just a few years of piano lessons I found out I could do a lot more than I would have ever dreamed of. So who knows what I'll be able to do with more time, practice and patience. Too much on the analytical can be not so helpful, yes. I definitely need to go against the very fiber of my being when my teacher tells me to "stop thinking and feel the music". It is much more rewarding when I play a piece imperfectly but with feeling in it, than when I play it perfectly with no feeling in it. The analytical emphasis comes from my desire to discover patterns and laws/rules that always apply (which gives a level of security), but I recently found out that the theoretical principles don't always have to apply.

32 minutes ago, DarkEco said:

Theory rarely ever tells you how to actually apply all this jargon you're learning unless you have a good teacher right there with you, and the application is the most important part! However when i just sat down and played something that resonated with me, i would WANT to find out the theory. For example, i discovered that i naturally, in almost ever scenario, gravitate towards the Mixolydian mode when playing. It would always come through in my music, and from this i began to notice how much of the old video game music i used to listen to as a kid was also Mixolydian. Just making that personal connection was a thousand times for satisfying than learning the Circle of Fifths.

That's cool! I can imagine how you must have felt when you found that out.

I only recently learned of those Greek  sounding names for... what, scales?,  and the way teachers present it online is just utterly useless for me (so I decided not to bother with it yet). You're right, knowing the jargon doesn't help if you can't apply it. I don't want to give the impression that I'm just looking for the theory as information. I am interested in the application obviously.

33 minutes ago, DarkEco said:

Overthinking is creativity-cancer and i've been a long time victim myself. Overall when it comes to learning music, I believe that listening to what you like and imitating is the most important thing and i stand by that. That way when you're brainstorming your own ideas, you'll be applying more complex theory that they used without even realising it, and you don't have to worry about the analytics of it all until you're ready to.

Other people have said the same thing, so maybe you're on to something there. OCRemix has definitely been an amazing source of inspiration with so many different styles and genres being applied to the same source material. I also like to take my old favorite tracks and then try to reproduce them on the piano or in Musescore with just simple instruments. That way you can learn a lot of cool things and you practice your ear while at it.

33 minutes ago, DarkEco said:

EDIT: Btw i appreciate you creating this thread, as it's not only helped you but given me a good outlet to really sift through my thoughts and read back to myself just how i feel about these things. I've never said this stuff "out loud" to myself or really pinpointed my feelings this way. It's quite therapeutic.

I'm glad it was beneficial to the both of us :)

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16 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

I definitely need to go against the very fiber of my being when my teacher tells me to "stop thinking and feel the music".

Your teacher sounds amazing!

 

16 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

I only recently learned of those Greek  sounding names for... what, scales?

Names of the scale degrees. I prefer to just say numbers like a normal human being. I'll often use the term Tonic and Dominant as you tend to hear them a lot more, but between that its just second degree, third degree etc. I call the 7th degree the Leading Tone because it has so much pull towards the Tonic. You don't really land on a 7th unless you want to go to the 1st afterwards, so the name makes a lot of sense. I never actively learned this, i just stumbled upon it one day, probably when i was supposed to be doing something more important.

 

23 minutes ago, BloomingLate said:

OCRemix has definitely been an amazing source of inspiration with so many different styles and genres being applied to the same source material

This community and their work is the reason I changed my my career prospects.

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These past few days have been a good experience for me. Taking some time away (even just a few days) has helped me to overcome some of the discouragement. Having found some helpful YouTube channels that deliver their teachings in a style that works for me has been good too. The whole thing doesn't feel so overwhelming anymore. I see I can learn new things step by step.

I drew up a list for myself detailing how I would like my attitude to be towards the whole learning process. I can refer back to it whenever I feel overwhelmed or discouraged again.

Thanks again everyone for your input!

PS: As I suggested in this post I am considering investing in non-free libraries. I just need to get over that psychological barrier and accept the fact that some products are expensive because a lot of people put a lot of effort in them (as the Bible says "The worker deserves his wages"). I also need to convince my wife that it is worth our money :D [I keep a mental list of things I want to buy when my wife passes away too...whichever comes first :P ]

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