Song two from Andrew Huang’s Monthly course done! Here it is. Some retro drum ‘n’ bass action. The theme of the second part of the course is sampling. No drums samples were used in the production of this track. All the percussion are sounds from my kitchen. Some of them have been pitched and tweaked. The bell sound and bass at the beginning also come out of the kitchen. There’s some synths in the middle.
The initial idea for this track came together quite a bit faster than the first one. Turning my microwave into a fuzzy bass is definitely a thing. But it was still a slog in places. I didn’t have nearly as much energy or motivation this week. And the time constraint was a bit shorter. So, I’m really pleased that I managed to get this into the finished the state I have.
Now we’re on to part three, looking at lyric writing, and having a vocal-lead song. I did all the arranging and mixing on the Deluge for track two (only sample chopping and mastering it in Logic), but for this one I expect I’m going to be more on the computer because of the editing involved when working with vocals.
Track one done! And I’m pleased with this. I’ve learnt a lot about how to put the pieces together into a usable workflow.
Don’t begin, Finish by starting
I spent a lot of hours working on this track. Having the timebox and peer commitment really helped with my follow-through. Almost every time I’ve sat down to write without a collaborator the track has died at the ideation stage. Looking back, this is the first 10-20% of the process. And I didn’t see how those first ideas would fit together into a coherent song until I was about half the way through. I played Sophia what I had about half the way through and she said it could work. At that point all I could hear was what was wrong and what needed working on.
It was only at 70-80% through that I started to like what I had again. And those final touches, mixing and mastering made a huge difference. Even though the song as a whole was done and recognisable at that point. One of my review peers started a new song half way through. I was tempted, but I saw this was a trap. They had a song, but it was quite raw after that lost time.
When this is over, I’m going to have to practice this focus without external constraints. I now know that if I don’t like what I have it merely shows that I need to put more hours into it.
On My Process
Almost all the songwriting, sound design and arranging was done on the Synthstrom Deluge. Which was really tactile and hands on. It also limited me to one synth engine and 600MB of samples to choose from. Presets were starting points, but I did tweak things and use the internal effects. This removed a lot of potential distractions. The tools are good enough.
I then bounced things a track at a time into Logic. This ended up with my drums mostly pre-mixed, and some reverb, delay and distortion printed on some tracks. I had to fix volume levels between sections before mixing proper. Printing effects wasn’t ideal, but meant I didn’t spend time redoing the sound design I’d done during writing. I added a tiny bit more percussion, the filter automation in the middle section, as well as the rain samples.
Adding effects was pretty minimal; one track had another delay on it, another distortion. Other than that is was EQ, compression and stereo imaging. I used a couple plugins I had for the master fader, but everything else was bundled with Logic.
Time for games
Despite spending the time songwriting around work, I still found the time to catch-up with friends and family. I found the threshold of enough. By focusing on the craft hard, taking the time to detach was both needed and available. I spent a few evening on group chats this week. They always seem to come in waves. It was a really nice balance to find
Lately we’ve been playing Letter Tycoon on Board Game Arena with family. The patent buying mechanic is like Monopoly without the bad blood or grind. And the word building is like Scrabble without the frustration over the state of the board (but sometimes your hand of all vowels). It’s gone down well. We’ve had a physical copy for ages, so good to see it having a wider audience.
I’ve introduced a couple friends to untap.in and we’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering there. Everything you need is free, but the feature-set is stripped down compared to the MTGO. You need to do everything manually, which is quite a lot like playing on paper. Playing over voice chat works well for complex stuff. No idea what playing with randoms is like.
None of us have played MtG in a while, so it’s been nice to get some casual play in. My friends have started building decks again, so I can see us doing more of this in the future. So far I’ve only used online decks listings, and done draft.
I think I’ve found a new staple food. It’s not quick, but it’s simple. It can go into long rotation of things to make when I don’t have time to make something with lots of hands on time.
Kitchari is a mix of two things, typically rice and lentils or beans. In Ayurvedic health it’s often used as a mono-food for cleansing. I tried it for its simplicity alone. The recipe I followed is based on this one.
1 part rice, 2 parts mung beans, 12 parts water
Coriander and cumin seeds, turmeric, ginger
Veggies to taste
Wash the rice and beans, add the water and boil. Yes, that’s a lot of water but the beans need it. Simmer until it’s mush. The recipe above says 20 minutes, but it took me a lot longer since I didn’t add enough water at the start. Cook the veggies for an addition 10 minutes.
Separately, fry the spices and stir them in at the end. Serve as-is, or with yoghurt.
I’m a week into Andrew Huang’s Monthly Course, which is a songwriting/producing workshop. Over 30 days, we’re writing three songs. Which means at this point, I should be most of the way to having having the first song. I think I am, but I’ve been pushing on the “everything sucks” phase.
Thinking back, it’s been a while since I last spent a solid week looking at a single song. Simply having pacing and a comparison from the course has been useful. It’s been an opportunity to look critically at process.
The course so far is good. There’s a lot of material, and Andrew moves quite quickly. I find myself nodding along quite a bit. I do know this. Best I actually do it too. It would be a lot for a new producer to take in at once. The guideline is 1-2 hours of producing a day, which seems about right but I’ve found myself spending more when I feel stuck and having fun. But it really depends on how fast you work, and what your learning objectives are. There’s lots to try out and think with.
The course also says there’s about 15 minutes of video a day. On average, maybe. Day 5 dropped 3 hours of videos. The averages belie the details here!
Andrew steps through many examples, all in the context of the one song. The process is highly iterative. He jumps from notes, to sound design, to interplay between instruments and the bigger picture regularly. Showing how many variations on an idea he goes through, he’ll settle on something good enough and move on.
While the details will fade, and the confidence of familiarity will grow slowly, here’s the lesson worth taking so far. Many previous attempts at songwriting have focused on getting all the notes in, then getting all the sounds, then working on the transitions. Mostly, in a linear fashion. Here, we’re being shown everything is provisional. We need to be happy enough to commit, but there’s always an opportunity to revisit.
Move fast. Move on. Revisit.
Back when writing Brave New World, I would bounce ideas off my writing partner. This naturally lead to stopping and reorienting. When I did FAWM, the time pressure meant that demos were often made in one writing session. Which forced moving fast, and accepting good enough. I’ve found it harder without these constraints to keep enough structure to keep momentum.
At each moment, what we have should sound like half a song. Not, half the parts of a song.
Having had a solid twelve days off has been really nice. I haven’t had the opportunity to chill and sleep in like that for a while. Spent plenty of time reading, playing games and catching up with people. As well as doing nothing in particular!
New Years Eve was spent playing games online with a few friends, and dropping in on a larger group on a different Discord server. It’s nice to have been able to do that. Not the same as doing it in person. At least I didn’t have to be split between two cities.
Back to work today, somewhat refreshed. Nights and mornings have slowly been getting later. So I’ve counter-acted that with a couple early mornings and a cup of coffee. We tidied up a bunch of loose ends before Christmas, which was nice. Time to get back on with the re-platform project.
I’ve signed up to Andrew Huang’s Monthly course, which I’ll report back on. I didn’t spend as much time as I thought I might making music over the break. But, knowing this was coming I spent a chunk of time rearranging the keyboard and music area upstairs. With luck, everything I need will be in arms reach and ready to go.
We’ve sunk hours into Quern (which is still on sale on Steam and GOG). It’s a first-person puzzle game in the tradition of Myst. The game takes place on a single world, and the areas are slowly revealed. There’s a good level of item reuse and holding items for a while. Some head-scratching for where to go next, but the puzzles do make sense. Overall, thumbs-up if you like that type of game.
There’s always the question of why the world-builders made their worlds like that. If you were living there, would you really hide doors behind a puzzle where you have to bounce a beam of light five times or counter-balance three sets of weights? Quern’s backstory has a nice solve for this, at least with my reading of it. The guiding narrator was just so damn bored. Quern is a world without time. One of the later puzzles is set up like a roulette wheel, because… what else are you going to do with infinite time? You have to entertain your guests.