I’m slowly (and tentatively) trying to wean myself away from spending all my time writing tools and into writing actual songs.
In summary, I’m finding it really difficult.
I like the soulful/upflifting/funky house type of music (think Hed Kandi, Fierce Angels et. al.) and this is what I would like to make (hah!).
I understand that a lot of that type of music depends on ‘feel’ and ‘groove’. I also understand that a lot of it is actual recordings of instruments.
I can write reasonable drum loops within renoise and I can get some groove going. However, when it comes to adding instruments I seem to get ‘distracted’.
I can hum some nice riffs to myself, but when I try to put them in the sequencer everything grinds to a halt. I have tried programming them in, I have tried step sequencing and I have tried live midi recording.
As soon as I have a small riff recorded, my mind instantly switches back into ‘engineer’ mode and wants to get deep into the techie stuff again (tweaking parameters, synth settings, unnecessary song ‘optimisations’, etc.). Then I seem to lose all focus.
I’ve read the various ‘writers block’ threads on this forum and elsewhere but I don’t think this is the issue as I can usually create a reasonable riff in my head.
Essentially, I get stuck in the logical, analytical mindset, and I can’t escape.
As there are surely other technically-minded people on this forum. Does anyone have any general advice for this or how they overcame the same issue?
The trick might be, to prepare all instruments you want to use before actually going on
with composing your actual music. Tried approaching it by first laying out most (if not all) your instruments
with some basic melody/bassline/drumtrack, tweaking their sound until it’s mostly there. And then go
on with creating more nifty melodies and arranging?
One thing that works for me is to force myself to work fast. Give yourself no more than a day to build up a basic track, then mess around later with tweaking and mixing. This forces you to make choices on the fly, and by default be more creative. Too much time, too many options, and too much leisure can work against you, in my opinion. It’s also fun!
If you’re interested in feel and groove, you could do a lot worse than begging / borrowing / stealing / buying a cheap bass guitar and fumbling through a few basic riffs. A lot of uplifting, funky house music incorporates live bass for its rubbery organic feel and when you’re feeling stuck in a rut nothing beats getting outside your comfort zone.
I’ve been playing guitar for 20 years but I’m amazed how much I’ve learnt and been inspired in different ways to approach my guitar playing while manipulating my riffs and melodic ideas in renoise for the last 2 years or so, rather than constantly staring at the fretboard (or other familiar space) where I assume the magic should be happening.
If writing tools is what you prefer to writing music, why to fight that? Music writers need tool writers that they can write music for, tool writers need musicians that they can write tools for.
Think of what you want to do.
Think how you could get that done.
Music is not just humming riffs. Tell the story. You have no direction, you are lost in the forest of possibilities that pose no meaning to you. Draw your path and walk it. Ambition, that is what you need.
I had the same problem working with Max Msp and Reaktor… endless possibilities i made a lot of nice tools but never focused on creating a structure for a track
so i decided to take a break from programming… i went out more with friends and my girlfriend and free up my mind a little bit
then i realized that what i wanted to achieve was something else than just programming and the music is the right way to express myself but my inner lazyness was taking too much importance causing my frustration
In the end i started to look at things (music, movies, relationships) for the feelings they give to me and not for the “way something is done”
Right now i go back constantly to my tools and sounds made during programming time but i look at them as feelings and intentions and not as combinations of techniques
when that happens to me I focus on not thinking and not judging until i dont need to focus on that.
judging comes from thinking, thinking is rational therefore thinking is blockin creativity. censor is very bad with everything that involves creativity.
a simple trick I use is to abstract things into simpler pieces like “what is this actualy about?” and with the result again, “what is that about?”. repeated 3-4 times I end up with a few things which are very simple, reflect the “big” idea in nature and can be easily relyed on. most time it will return to the main idea by itself without me falling back into “technical thinking”. works very well when coding stuff (like C or java) too.
using alcohol or ganja helps not thinking technically too
I found that I end up using a lot of time sound designing, perfecting every separate sound over and over again always working on creating instruments and dsp chains to get sounds of a calibre that I don’t really need. And in the end I never work on the actual compositions. Often I don’t even get a real loop done, only a group of instruments and chains that sound crisp and clean together before I burn out on a track and stop working on it. So my current project to get out of this pattern is to make a template file that has everything prepared (instruments, dsp chains, no. of channels) so all I can do is compose the song, and use this template for ALL compositions for a month or so trying to make as different tunes as possible with it. I plan on going on with this workflow for the rest of the year. I hope it works. >__<
this is good advice imo. try to guess and get down as much as much as possible before you start looping it… less easy to grow tired of it. also, it’s often the whole that makes it tick, not what the ear picks out as the main part.
trying to set up a arrangement of the whole tune is also good! this is why i love the aliased slots… enables you to flesh out large parts quickly initially before you get down to the variations for each part.
After reading through the replies, having a think and some discussion on IRC, I believe I have found the main issue:
I was too busy trying to do things ‘right’ rather than concentrate on what’s most important (having fun!).
Essentially, a number of years ago I had much less knowledge on the audio engineering / technical side and so I would always do whatever ‘sounded good’ / ‘felt good’.
I think that as my knowledge increased I ‘lost my way’ and was following the technical side much too closely (I had a period of time where I couldn’t make music, so I read about making music). I became hyper-aware of things that really didn’t matter as in actual fact they were quite insignificant (for the level I am at).
So beware! It’s fine to read up on the recording / synth programming / audio theory, but make sure that it doesn’t become the be all and end all of the process.
Just relax and have fun! That’s what I’m going to do. If I feel like coding today, I will. If I feel like doing some djing, I will. If I feel like writing a song, I will.
NB: I understand the irony of analysing it this way
No, no, no. The solution is to stay in the analytical mode and give up the creative aspirations. More specifically, the solution is that you keep developing those sweet tools of yours for the benefit of my creativity!