Ever since starting to make computer-based music, developing a smooth workflow has been a huge challenge for me. Controlling and playing different devices while drumming is not exactly a walk in the park.
Before this I had no idea how to organize my instruments or samples into my setup so that each device I’m using would have it’s own dedicated purpose.
I had been trying out pretty much every kind of sounds with each device I had, which ended up making playing really damn complicated, as you can see from this very elaborative demonstration.
To reach another eureka moment I had to apply a trick that actually had more to do with mixing and sound design rather than workflow. The original purpose of the tip was aimed at improving the overall sound of the music from 2D’ish feeling of flatness to something more richer and interesting to listen to.
The tip comes from the book Making Music, which is my bible and probably favorite book of all time (Seriously, get it if you’re interested in these things!).
The trick here is to listen to the audio in layers in order to figure out the foreground, middle ground and background elements of the entirety – just like you would do when taking a picture.
Getting the big picture
For instance, in this picture (from the sampling post) the green coke glass in front is the eye-catching foreground layer, the corner of the room represents the background layer and middle ground layer covers everything in between them (light, plants, table etc.).
When applying this method to audio, I found that the best way to separate audio layers by ear was the pitch of the sounds. High pitched, short sounds felt like a good foreground element, because they grab the attention of the listener more easily. Meanwhile, medium and low pitched instruments like keyboard, bass and drum sounds tend to fall back into the middle and backgrounds, which create a nice framework for the music.
Locking into a setup (finally!)
Once figuring out the parts that different pitches play in the whole mix, I realized that I could use that logic to organize them into my setup.
The high pitched sounds, which become lead melodies (foreground), could be played by drumming the drum pad in front of me. The lead melody will, as a result, grab the attention when both watching and listening to my playing.
The middle and background sounds will be left to my controller device and drums, which will fill up the remaining gaps in the overall mix. The controller will also handle all the loops that consist of these kind of sounds.
So now, every time I start on a new idea, not only do I know what kind of sounds I’m looking for, but also I can immediately put them into their right place and device.
This way I’m going to save a lot of time and effort when composing, and ultimately develop a routine to my music making process, as well as playing the finished pieces more effortlessly.
And also, now I know pretty much know what to do when my tracks sound a bit too 2D!