Making Music
March 18, 2015 1:51 PM   Subscribe

This book is a collection of solutions to common roadblocks in the creative process, with a specific emphasis on solving musical problems, making progress, and (most importantly) finishing what you start.
posted by Sokka shot first (23 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
 
(I’m aware that as this is a book being sold for money, this post could seem Pepsi Blue-ish. However, given how substantial the web preview is, and how fascinatingly applicable its contents are outside of electronic music production, I decided posting it was worth a try.)
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:52 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, thanks !
posted by nicolin at 2:57 PM on March 18, 2015


Nah, even if it's technically a book being sold, it's great -- and I think anything that helps musicians overcome roadblocks is a REALLY good thing. You would not believe how many emails I get from aspiring game composers / chiptune people who just CANNOT get past writer's block.

The advice I usually give is along the lines of: Forget about writing catchy melodies right now -- first thing to worry about is developing a thick skin, so you can put your sucky n00b skills out on display without feeling shitty about it, and take criticism and praise without it destroying your confidence or unduly inflating your ego. The thing that helped me most of all was just joining communities, sharing works in progress and finished work freely, and getting my ass handed to me by people who were better, and willing to share their technical insights.

My own problem is no longer coming up with ideas, or the creative process in general. It's finding ANY semblance of quality-of-life outside of work. At some point in the last decade I figured out how to come up with musical ideas rapidly, and now: I have to compose and mix over an hour of orchestral music before Friday afternoon. Looking at maybe 4 hours of sleep in the next 2 days, and aside from MeFi and IRC, no human interaction. Figure I have maybe a few years left before I just keel over and die. I'm sure other freelancers of all types can relate; if you ever make your hobby into a career, the creative process itself can quickly become the least of your worries.

The Muse is kind of a capricious asshole, and has no concept of personal space. Once she finally glomps onto you, she doesn't let go. It can drive a person mad.. (eye twitches slightly)
posted by jake at 2:58 PM on March 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


I agree. It is a good post. Though it is selling a book the 24 topics it covers are substantial. Thanks!
posted by spock at 3:07 PM on March 18, 2015


Bio of the book's author Dennis DeSantis.
posted by spock at 3:13 PM on March 18, 2015


Jake? Carve out a vacation. Something. Before you go crazy. Seriously. You sound like someone on the edge of burnout. (Also, I've been listening to your stuff intermittently since the days of Mono, nice to see you de-lurk around here.)

This is definitely a pretty neat book, with a lot of stuff applicable outside of music. Most of the advice it gives for the broader problems has direct correspondences with the way I make comics, and read other peoples' comics. A close reading of the stuff that's more specifically About Music might give me interesting ideas for ways to try organizing other things - I've already been thinking along a musical metaphor for my current project and its multiple parallel stories.
posted by egypturnash at 3:48 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, Jake: If you didn't see it, check out the very real health consequences of what you are talking about playing out in Japan.
posted by spock at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2015


[…] if you ever make your hobby into a career, the creative process itself can quickly become the least of your worries.

Growing up I wanted to be a professional writer. I wrote a book for fun and used to write short stories all the time. I wrote poems, book and disc reviews, short stories, and pretty much always banged out words during my spare time. All because I enjoyed it. Some I sold, most I didn't.

Out of college I got a job freelance writing and was making as much money doing that as I was making during my 40 a week Borders job, but I was writing biographical swill. It was basically blogging before blogs were popular (I had a weekly writing gig for AOL). I hated it. It turned what I did for fun into a job. I tried quitting. They upped how much they were paying me. I tried quitting again, and again they upped their pay. It was ridiculous money for what I was being asked to do, but I stopped doing any writing for fun. It was impossible to do fun writing when I knew I had paid stuff due. Eventually I quit, but they offered me a "content producer's" contract. Those were the kind of contracts they gave to small companies with staffs to produce content. I turned them down. It took me another 5 years before my income level matched what they had offered, and another 5 years after that before I started writing for fun again.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I hated it. It turned what I did for fun into a job.

Same boat here, I went to school for painting and switched to graphic design for my major because ooh! Something I love doing, but in steady job form! And wow, does that ever just suck the joy out of it for me. I think the core of the problem is that when you're working for an employer or client, you're kiiind of still doing the creative work you love, but you're scrambling to scratch the creative itch when and where you can in an assignment while the bulk of the assignment is done on someone else's terms.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:00 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I currently have around 20 or so files in Logic named some derivation of "b minor vamp scratch track" or "acoustic thing" , each a motif or idea I recorded with guitars, bass, drums.... just sitting there. I tried naming these ideas so they at least *appear* to be songs - "Rainy Morning" or something equally insipid. That didn't work.

There they sit, an ever growing folder full of song orphans.

I've been writing and recording for nearly 20 years now and can probably point to one, maybe two, songs I've actually completely finished.

I've come to learn that I actually enjoy the dabbling process so, so much more than the (to me) perfunctory verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus song assembly process. It's like having a wood shop full of gorgeous two legged stools, and I'm ok with that.
posted by remlapm at 5:02 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I currently have around 20 or so files in Logic named some derivation of "b minor vamp scratch track" or "acoustic thing" , each a motif or idea I recorded with guitars, bass, drums.... just sitting there. I tried naming these ideas so they at least *appear* to be songs - "Rainy Morning" or something equally insipid. That didn't work.

For a while I was giving my files onomatopoeic names based on some part of the song: dundunduhduhDAH.als, bwahbwaBWAAA.als, etc. Completely impossible to find a song I'm looking for, but it briefly amused me.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:11 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Carve out a vacation.

From reading various biographies of The old-fashioned Great Composers, it seems that much of their best work was created at the cottage or vacationing out in the countryside. But then again, the rest of their time was probably rehearsing, performing, or scrabbling after gigs. (or getting drunk;)
posted by ovvl at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2015


I love this. Every successful song I've written, it happens because I've been jamming with others and suddenly am touched by the muse and the whole thing comes out more or less complete in about 30 minutes. When I don't have a group of people with whom to percolate creative ideas, the song writing process is a total mystery to me. Now that I'm older and busier and not playing out as much (at all really), I feel like I have something to say but have no idea how to say it. As mentioned above, I have dozens of half assed Logic tracks that are awful and go nowhere. Everything I've read in this link makes sense and I can't wait to sit down and work some of these ideas.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:20 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jake? Carve out a vacation. Something. Before you go crazy. Seriously. You sound like someone on the edge of burnout.

Y'know, it's weird. Maybe it's the huge variety of projects helping me avoid mental burnout, but I've been working at this horrifying pace nonstop for 10 years, and yet music-as-a-hobby hasn't lost any of its shine, it still feels completely incredible all the time. Like, even just thinking about it right now, I want to start on 10 different bizarre ideas and just laugh all night.

But yeah, I already have some serious health issues and they're getting steadily worse. So here's hoping my near future contains fewer jobs that pay better :D

(Also, I've been listening to your stuff intermittently since the days of Mono, nice to see you de-lurk around here.)

Yay!!! (hugs) Still making chiptunes erryday, and trying to make a difference in music education in my own small way (mostly via weekly live streams, both the "watch me work on a song, start to finish, as I explain what I'm doing" kind, and the "intro to synthesis / harmony / orchestration / mixing / whatever else" kind! Lot of people watch just to see how someone with a bit more experience gets through the challenges we all face. Maybe I should post to Projects about these, hmmm.)

Anyway, that's why I find stuff like this book so great. I believe there's latent musical ability in just about everyone, so it's super important to teach and reach as many people as possible, because DAMN, what a great hobby music making is. Any of us doing it proficiently ought to be sharing our knowledge!
posted by jake at 10:59 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Muse is kind of a capricious asshole, and has no concept of personal space. Once she finally glomps onto you, she doesn't let go. It can drive a person mad..

IDEAS IN ABUNDANCE
posted by weston at 1:05 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's too bad this book isn't available at Amazon as a hard copy or I would have ordered it.

I'm 44. I have a video/audio prosumer-level studio in the basement (so I can make puppet videos). I eventually want to get into creating the music beds that go into my videos. I got keyboard lessons for Christmas (so now I just have to take them), and I have a frustrating relationship to music. I love it, but I can't tell one note from another or understand timing and such.

I used to play around creating sound backdrops for spoken word pieces, but no one in their right mind would call it music. I'd actually like to get to a point where I could write simple songs, like the kind of sing-along songs you would hear on Mr. Rodgers. I'd be fine with it being a bit more electronic.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:07 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


FYI: I decided to order it off the Ableton site, but it's sold out now.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:35 AM on March 19, 2015


I'd actually like to get to a point where I could write simple songs, like the kind of sing-along songs you would hear on Mr. Rodgers.

You should consider this guitar course.

The serious point of this is that if you want to write, the most basic level of technical proficiency will let you do something simple. It might not be brilliant, or even generally regarded as good, but if it's done with love then other people who like that sort of thing will like it well enough. I am a very limited guitarist, and an essentially nonexistent keyboard player, but I sometimes make things that I and a few other people are happy I made.

That's not to say don't work on technique. It is clear that proficiency opens up all kinds of new possibilities and improves the final product in the vast majority of cases. But don't wait until you're "good enough" to not be embarrassed. Most of the best songwriters in the world have written and released some embarrassing rubbish in their time, and their are people who tell you that even works of genius to be shit. Whatever you do will be loved by some and loathed by others, but if you are glad you did it, then it was definitely worthwhile.
posted by howfar at 12:52 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I ordered this! I'm a big fan of Desantis from his work with the Ableton Live manuals - seriously, the world of music software documentation has very little good writing in it so it's a breath of fresh air.
posted by mmoncur at 6:25 PM on March 19, 2015


I'd actually like to get to a point where I could write simple songs, like the kind of sing-along songs you would hear on Mr. Rodgers.

If you think the songs that Fred Rogers composed were "simple sing-along songs", then you're entirely mistaken.

Rogers had a BA in music composition, and the songs he created easily stack up next to classic Tin Pan Alley songs in their musical complexity and earworm-ness as anything out of the Classic American Songbook. Lots of jazz influenced chord progressions, truly gifted melodies that sound effortless and universal but which can easily be learned after one or two listens, lyrics that are straightforward in language but not in substance... I have a lot of respect for Fred Rogers for any number of reasons, but his musical compositions are very high on that list.

The current landscape of pop music with most of what I hear on "NOW Radio" sounds like playground jumprope chants instead of actual melodies... THOSE are simple songs (with a fuckton of production underneath them to make the "nya-nya nya nya NYA nya" taunting non-melodies sounds like there is actually a song happening). What Rogers created were well-crafted songs, all around. Not lyrically on-par with, say, Cole Porter (who is, really?), but certainly melodically as brilliant, and his arrangements (I used to own a piano book of his songs taken from his original sheets) show that there is much more going on than a casual listen might reveal.

But then, "more going on than a casual listen might reveal" is often, IMO, the sign of songwriting genius.
posted by hippybear at 12:36 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


For a while I was giving my files onomatopoeic names based on some part of the song: dundunduhduhDAH.als, bwahbwaBWAAA.als, etc

Mine tend to be gratuitously obscene or scatalogical references to the genre. ie StickitupyourbumStep. ShitHouse, BigfatbumandBass, etc.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:06 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not sure if anyone is still reading this thread, but a book I found absolutely essential in transforming my songwriting was The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles.

You need a very basic understanding of music theory, but no more than the major scale and the diatonic chords that are constructed from it (I ii iii IV V vi viio).

Though Lennon and McCartney had no formal training in composition, what they *did* have were incredibly gifted ears and senses of melody and voice leading. They stole (borrowed? Adapted?) a tremendous amount of chord progressions from skiffle, doo-wop, blues and previous era "hits" and put it in a very listenable pop context.

As an example, the famous vocal crescendo harmonies of "Twist and Shout", the frenetic bit right before going back in to "Oh shake it now baby!", it's the arpeggiated notes of the dominant 7th chord before crashing back to the tonic:

- ahhhhhhhh (root)
- aHaHAhH (third)
- AHHAaaaHhh (fifth)
- AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! (Lennon screaming the flat 7th)

The book goes from there to more advanced concepts, but all very digestible, and if you love the Beatles, it's a must read.
posted by remlapm at 7:08 AM on March 20, 2015


The crescendo in the Beatles version of Twist and Shout is utterly fantastic, but it is worth noting that also in the Isley Brothers' version, of which the Beatles' version is essentially a straight cover.
posted by howfar at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


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