Headspace

Getting back into creative headspace is extremely tough. The struggle towards the breakthrough, though, is a great opportunity to learn how to be more productive than ever.

”Creative time is short, and you have to move fast.” (taken from Making music)

Well, I thought this moment would come sooner or later anyway.

The classic case of ”writer’s block”

I had laid down a theme melody for the track. I even had a track structure that I made in the previous post. Unfortunately I had nothing to say or add to the original part. Every new note or sound felt shitty and didn’t lead me any further with the composition process.

It was as if I had build an empty house. I had the foundations, the walls and roof in place, but didn’t know how to decorate the insides.

This went on for a whole week and the pressure cooker (also known as my head) started to boil over, as you can see in this very informative GIF:

giphy.gif

After already struggling for a week with unproductivity, getting back to the project over and over again felt intimidating and uncomfortable. I can only describe it as… Well, imagine if you asked Frodo to go back to get the ring from Mordor.

I had to let out some steam by confessing the issue and seek help.

Step 1: Letting out the steam

A promising place for an outlet (and help) seemed to be the IDMforums, which I had joined at the beginning of this project. It’s a community of electronic music makers that I’ve found to be really helpful and inspiring during my (yet) short membership period.

After seeking advice from other members, it became clear that this kind of creative block was a pretty common problem for most music makers. And happily enough, by putting up a thread about my issue, I found out some really helpful tactics to stay productive in my project:

”I usually find what works best is to loop the part I already have and then just try out different sounds / instruments and play along with it without any expectations and see where that takes me..and it usually leads me on to the next step in the project..something clicks or sounds cool and then I focus on that part and begin the process all over again.”
by Ambient Mechanics

In addition to receiving practical advice to power through the creative blocks in music making process, I also got a great advice on how to avoid them in the future more effectively!

”Consistantly working on something to do with your music—better yet scheduling it at the same days/times—will make it easier for you and your brain to get into that writing mode. It isn’t easy to do and I’m not good at it, but with out consistancy and/or a schedule your brain will have to do much more warming up.
by relic

Step 2: Taking a break

Something that came up repeatedly in my thread was that it’s important to not worry too much.

So it was time to take a deep breath and sleep one more night to clear my head.

(zZz..)

Step 3: Wait for it…

The next day I got back to the task at hand. I sat down and opened the project file again. I took Ambient Mechanics’ advice of patiently browsing, searching and trying different sounds that were at my reach.

And then the right sound came by.

Step 4: Ka-ching!

Once I hit the first notes of that sound, I was lit. This was the much needed fuel to my creative gasoline.

In a literal outburst of ideas that lasted for 5-10 minutes, I came up with several new harmonies that not only suited the theme melody, but also were perfect transitions to new sections!

Multiple layers of goodies! You will hear them soon enough… 😉

How to avoid blocks in future?

I learned that once those golden, creative moments come along, it’s important to seize them by capturing every sound, note, rhythm, hit and noise I make then and there.

And I’m actually glad that I struggled because it was a great opportunity for me to learn how to be more productive.

I’m now more aware of what environment works for me the best, how to practice creativity and how to organize my daily schedule to support my music making or blog writing processes.

I can see the finishing line

Hey! Thanks to overcoming this struggle, I’m now closer than ever to finishing my own music project.

Next step is to get back to the drum kit and practice the new parts, and finally start practicing the damn thing live!

Cover photo by Samppa Fjäder.

Get graphic, son!

Creating a good sounding theme melody for a track is a win in itself. But one melody isn’t enough to make the whole track. So how can I grow that one part into a complete, finished track?

After coming up with my first melody in the previous post, I was so excited that I couldn’t contain myself from going back to the drums and try playing along it in reality.

I loaded the drum pad with basic bass note samples that match the melody, put up a microphone and this happened (click here if the video doesn’t work).

Playing along that one melody part was fine enough at this point, but I found it hard to continue the track with anything that sounded exciting. And I can’t really play just that one part for three or more minutes and call it a song. That’s boring as hell, right?

Something interesting and notably different has to happen. The problem was, I had no idea what that could be.

I was stuck.

Help is on it’s way

It was time to grab the holy book, Making music, to help this poor bastard out. And it didn’t take long until it provided me with the help I needed right now.

The solution for my of lack of inspiration was to listen carefully to a track that inspires me. The objective is to make a list of different elements I heard in it.

Those could be things like what kind of sounds and instruments are being used and – more importantly for me – at what point are they being used?

I chose Bonobo’s track ”Ten Tigers –  Bengal Edit” for this experiment. I listened to it over and over again paying close attention to:

What instruments are being played?
When are they being played?
How long is the intro?
How many other song parts are there besides intro? How long are they?

However, as I was listening to the track countless times, I felt I needed to go further than making a simple list.

Get graphic, son!

To get the big picture of the track I was listening to, I started drawing a visual arrangement of the elements I was hearing:

The result was a ”start to finish” timeline view of the track. This way I got a sense on how many song parts and instruments the track contains.

D2FA8459-8562-41C7-A75B-BDCF0882A0FB
Bonobo’s Ten Tigers – Bengal edit (as I heard it) and a quick Finnish lesson!

I then draw a similar ”map” for my own track using Bonobo’s track as a reference. It’s a timelime of sounds and elements that should be enough to make my track sound interesting as well.

And here’s a structure for my track!

This map helps me stay focused on the composition process by giving clear boundaries on the track structure and elements.

Better yet, when I play the track on drums, the map should help me focus on playing the pre-recorded clips in correct order and not get distracted by being uncertain of what part to play next.

The most important thing, though, is that I have a clear vision of what I need (and create) in order to finish this track.

What next?

So from now on things are getting really interesting. Next time I’m posting I should have a ready structure for the track, which means I’m ready to play it live on the drums from start to finish! Yikes!!

Go home, you’re blank! Part 2/2

So the big question remains: How to start a track? There are millions of ways to begin.

Prompted by other people’s experiences and strategies I found out in Part 1, and listening to music that inspires me, I found new clues that could lead towards the inspiration I was looking for.

Since I have been lately listening to Bonobo a lot, I took it as my beacon of interest.

I discovered that the things I enjoyed the most in Bonobo’s music are a result of some really skilled and creative “sampling”.

Inspired by this finding, I set in orientating myself into the topic of sampling. I found this article, written by Cristofer Odqvist, to be very useful in my research. It discusses the legality and plagiarism matters that revolve around the use of samples.

(Suddenly I pictured myself sitting in a jail cell and didn’t like what I saw.)

The article provided me with good tips on how to approach sampling in a creative and legal way.

The “Get out of jail” card

I decided to purchase ready-made music samples from Samplephonics. They are perfectly sufficient for composing a short melody for this purpose. Also, this way I’m avoiding any copyright infringements.

So now that peace of mind was restored, I put together a short clip of music using different instruments from the samples I downloaded.

I then, encouraged by Odqvist’s article, modified the sample by reversing and transposing it.

Slice it up!

I found a cool way to re-organize the melody I compiled. It’s a function, which allows me to slice the whole music clip into little pieces.

There you go, all chopped.

Playing the sample like this turned the airy ambient sound into a nice rhythmic pulse, once I added some effects into it. It actually felt like drumming!

The best part, though, was that this technique makes the end result sound like something I created, even when the original file consisted of ready-made melodies. Check it out:

Back on track

I found sampling to be the best way to find inspiration in my situation. It feels like a fun and familiar way to create a melodic foundation for my track.

And after all, I wasn’t far out from my comfort zone with “drumming” the chopped melody! 

I’m now able to make great progress with my track and soon return back to jamming in the practice room! Yay!

Go home, you’re blank! Part 1/2

It’s back to the drawing board -time. Before I can return to the drum kit, I have to solve a problem. And it’s a big one: What do I want to sound like?

So when I double-clicked to open Ableton Live and set about creating stuff, I was treated with the most terrifying sight I can think of.

A completely blank project file. I’m staring at an endless void of possibilities.

blank
Pure horror.

Into the void

Having endless possibilities sounds like a good thing. But in a situation like this, where I need to draw creative inspiration out of nowhere, it’s actually stressful.

Being a drummer in different bands, I never had to provide much melodic input. Other musicians were responsible for that, while I was able to concentrate on bringing the beat.

Considering melodies lead me to more questions.

What tempo should I go with?
Which instruments do I want to use?
What effects should I apply with them?

There’s exactly 52 197 691 different options to each question. Should I just go through all of them?

Ain’t nobody got time for that!

To combat this nightmare, I have acquired a book called 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers, written by Dennis DeSantis. It offers practical and concise strategies to help a music maker power through a creation process in a software environment.

I’m going to utilize this book probably through the entire process, it’s my favorite book of all time right now.

I also consulted other electronic music makers through Reddit and IDMforums for fresh thoughts about incorporating drums into electronic music. I got some really inspiring comments there, thank you to the people who shared their experiences!

“Usually, I’ll come up with a cool melody, bassline, or chord progression on the keys, then I’ll drum along to it a bunch of times until I settle into a good beat.” (PattycakeMills in Reddit)

In addition to this, I had a helpful suggestion from my bandmate Jussi of Haraamo. He encouraged me to just start creating the song without thinking too much about the sounds. The fine-tuning will come later.

Time to get cracking

With all of the above in mind, I set about trying different approaches to figuring out a good sounding foundation for the track.

Find out what I came up with in Part 2 tomorrow (Sunday)! It contains the first audio samples of my project.

Stay tuned!

There and back again

What is the difference between composing a piece of electronic music compared to a rock song? I found it out the hard way in my first playing session.

I was sitting behind my drums, about to start jamming with myself (if that’s a thing?). But looking at my weapons of choice, I discovered a problem. I had imagined the creative process completely wrong way around.

Here’s what I learned today:

Weapons of choice

As the platform for all composing, recording and any digital noodling, I’m using a software called Ableton Live 9 through my computer.

What about the hardware, then? Using my computer keyboard as an instrument doesn’t really strike me as a worthy solution. Imagine how strange that would look in a stage? You couldn’t tell if I was playing music or watching Netflix.

To partner the drums with some exotic strangers, I’ve summoned my Ableton Push (left) and Alesis Samplepad Pro (right). I planted them in midst of my kit so I can reach them when sitting behind the drums.

Now I’m able to reach the sweet loving union of electronic and acoustic sounds! And that means, it’s….

…time to jam!

So now that the gear was all set, I was able to start jamming! But I soon discovered that jamming in a digital environment doesn’t really work the same as in a traditional band environment. Loading up sounds into the computer wasn’t exactly the same as plugging a guitar or a bass into an amp.

And also, what sounds? I hadn’t thought this part through at all. The software has a great bank of default sounds in it, but I didn’t have time to go through and audition every single sound and instrument. There’s like a thousand of them.

It was clear from the first minutes that I was unprepared.

At the pad
Am I playing music or watching How I Met Your Mother S07E18 ?

A New Hope

(Can you tell I’m a Star Wars fan?)

I would have to prepare the entire song structure, create melodies and suitable chords to play before I can go play the drums. When that is in order, I am able to actually perform the track.

So I ended up in concentrating on getting the setup right this time. Now I would find out if my idea could actually work in practice.

Even though I didn’t have great sounds to play with, I was able to perform pretty well with my weapons of choice. I left the practice room feeling that I can totally do this! However, the real work is just about to begin.

So it’s back to the drawing board, then! I’ll be back in couple of days with another post about how I’m getting into creative mode at home.

Just a man and his drum kit

It all started some time ago with an urge.

The Urge

I started playing drums at the age of 10 and took few drum lessons at that time to get started. So it feels safe to say that I’ve got the basics of drumming pretty much down, but I don’t really have any music theory background – I am 95 % self-taught as a player.

My will to develop as a player has always been driven by the sheer passion towards playing and creating music in my own terms rather than practicing to be really technically accomplished. Now, 17 years later, I’m still left with an indescribable need to create more.

I have played drums in a number of music releases in my bands, but I never published my own music. That’s mostly because the past few years I have spent all my time filling that urge by playing in bands with my good friends. And I still intend to keep on doing it. Another – and admittedly the real – reason is that I have felt really insecure about my skills and talents as a composer, since I’ve never really had to do it in the bands that I’ve played in.

Still I’ve kept an idea hatching in my brain, that someday I would like to try make my own music and see how far I can go in doing everything myself. It seems now that this inner artist of mine won’t give me any more rope in sliding away from it. The urge to just release this idea out of my head and into practice has grown unbearable, no matter how bad or good an idea it could be.

By writing this blog, I will hope to overcome the insecure feelings and obstacles that occur to me by writing and reflecting openly and honestly on them.

Ideally by doing it, I will be able to reach my goal.

The Goal

(Cue heroic music.)

My goal is to create, record and release a song that I can perform all by myself without compromise, using my drum kit and a bunch of electronic music gadgets that I’ve come to own. No other people, band members or producers involved.

Just a man and his drum kit – plus some other shit he’s got laying around at his apartment.

(The music stops abruptly.)

Suddenly there’s an orchestra of alarm clocks starting their chaotic symphony inside my head:

The Challenge

How the hell can a drummer like me, who…

  • has basically no music education background
  • doesn’t play any melodic instrument at all
  • has only two hands and two feet to spare

…create and perform his own music? That’s impossible! You need to grow more limbs, dude.

And that’s what intend to do! Figuratively speaking anyway.