Would doing "a song a day" help me speed up the composition process or just result in frustration?

Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by SimonCharlesHanna, May 13, 2018.

  1. douggibson

    douggibson Senior Member

    Jan 9, 2016
    I highly recommend thinking of "writing" as distinct from "producing" or anything with your computer.

    Many a lesson I have had a very talented student come in and when I ask how they went with the writing assignment
    and out comes "XYZ crashed, had to rebuild template" or "I spend all my time trying out samples and sounds"

    For example, you can write a 32/64 measure composition that essentially looks like a lead sheet. Just melody.

    You can write one a day for a week. The next week, spend 2-3 days orchestrating them. Then the rest of the week
    with the computer.

    Your work flow will speed up considerably if you are writing orchestral music without synths etc.

    That said...... once you can "knock out" a bunch of pieces it is no longer going to be a stretch for you to continue, thus at that point you might decide to work on a bigger more detailed compositions.

    Beethoven took years to write some of his pieces.
  2. AlexRuger

    AlexRuger Senior Member

    Counter: merge together "writing" and "production" (as well as "orchestration," "mixing," "sound design," etc) and make it one process, and learn your tools well enough that they will never be an excuse.
  3. douggibson

    douggibson Senior Member

    Jan 9, 2016
    One should begin with the end in mind and work back from there. It matters what kind of composer one wants to be.

    . We are in a very "Meta" zeitgeist at the moment.

    What you wrote, sounds great, and will certainly help you make a career/living from music. No denying that.

    There is a difference between "Having it all" and "Having it all at once". Master one area. Then move on.

    You simply can't be in two places at one time.

    Very, very few who take the route you outline will ever learn to orchestrate like Ravel.

    There are already hundreds of thread lamenting the decline in the art of orchestral composing for media so I feel no need to add on.

    Here is the real issue:

    Thinking in music vs. thinking about music in language. To work in software kills "Audiation".
    (You can google the term)

    The only ones that can work around this are highly skilled piano players.
    However they would have spent years focusing on only the piano.

    As a professional orchestrator...... I am glad....... it gets me hired.
    PaulBrimstone likes this.
  4. ThomasNL

    ThomasNL Thomas van der Burg

    So i assume you do this? How do you decide what you're making and when it is finished? things like, how long, what style etc. Composing/Producing when it is for an assignment is no problem for me. It is when I just do it for practice when I can't seem to find the discipline to finish it.

    well, that's the easy part. Actually pushing yourself to make something out of it is what takes discipline and energy.
    Last edited: May 15, 2018
  5. OP

    SimonCharlesHanna Senior Member

    Feb 3, 2012
    This is exactly what I have been pondering. I am actually planning on trying this out tonight. I've tried this in the past but I have this problem where until I hear something mocked up, I can't be sure I like it.
  6. I think Alex Ruger has some great advice in this thread. Maybe the broader question isn't really "should I write every day?" it's "how do I get out of a creative rut?" For me forcing it never seems to work, though sometimes the ass in the seat is the only way. Going outside for a hike or a swim, being okay with taking a little time off (if possible), seeing friends etc. can really help me when I'm going through a creative dry spell. Being disciplined is great until it takes all the enjoyment out of something that is supposed to be play.
    SimonCharlesHanna likes this.
  7. AlexRuger

    AlexRuger Senior Member

    I highly disagree.

    Those who attain orchestration skills like Ravel must understand that their tool, the orchestra, requires mastery to use effectively. So, they seek mastery.

    Many of us, myself included, make orchestral music that is, specifically, recorded. Orchestration is just one tool in the toolbox now. Those who reach great heights with synths, processing, mixing, sound design, etc do so via the same route as the orchestrators: seeking mastery.

    "From one thing, learn one thousand things." Take that approach, and all these different topics don't seem so different.
    halfwalk, SimonCharlesHanna and Saxer like this.
  8. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 Senior Member

    Feb 8, 2016
    I don't know if you can read or what level your music education is at so I can only generalise, but apart from sensible advice given above, have you considered seriously coming to grips with your flaws (assuming you have them given the nature of the OP:)) and being honest about your weaknesses? Start there and develop a plan to improve upon said flaws, little by little and bit by bit. An example.."I can't seem to write a good theme". Well ok then.
    Great themes have an inevitability about them but writing one is often hard won because sometimes one can try too hard when simplicity is needed, or through a lack of technical focus/ability, not able to feel ones way out of the hands down mentality and find inner implications of an idea (which is a big contributor to inevitability).
    A great theme's inevitability comes from (stepping aside from other factors) its shape, climactic ark, intervallic/motivic manipulation and phrasing. Clearly harmony, genre context and other factors come into play, especially (if writing for orchestra) appropriate scoring and instrument selection. But generally speaking, one can glean a lot of know-how from just looking at the theme itself.
    ( As an aside, the ideal is to be thinking in terms of colours as you write and if you know your instrumentation well enough, that will also inform your creativity in the way you write for the instrument - think JW and Star Wars trumpets or The bassoon solo in the Bourne films, both are musically and psychologically appropriate timbres).

    These technical aspects of a theme can be studied and assimilated but don't expect it to happen quickly. One needs to apply and commit to regular (everyday) focused work much the way one practises scales and arpeggios when learning an instrument.
    So yes, something everyday, but what that something is can only come from an honest appraisal of what you are missing at present and a willingness to get your head down for a prolonged period.
    I hope this didn't go to far off the mark for you.
    Last edited: May 16, 2018
    SimonCharlesHanna and douggibson like this.
  9. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires Senior Member

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach
    Don’t force yourself to finish it. Just put it away.

    Once you get hit with a deadline, you work with what you started and work like crazy to knock out the music to meet the deadline. That is when you finish.
  10. douggibson

    douggibson Senior Member

    Jan 9, 2016

    If I may directly comment towards you.
    I recall about a year ago you posted two short pieces, and I gave feedback on them.
    They were really imaginative and wonderfully executed. If I recall correctly, at that time, you were struggling with
    extending the works beyond 2 minutes. Thus, development was an issue. (That's common...you're normal !)

    If I also recall correctly they were sort of (I just made up this term) "Film Music Impressionism". Nice clear melodies with an abundance of orchestral color.

    Also, if I remember right, you make high end animation or graphics for films/media ?

    Basically, you already know how to use a computer. You are not some drooling retard calling tech support because the instructions tell you to hit the "any key", or like someone on my all time favorite youtube video.

    I would echo Mikeh x 100

    Does it really matter how hard you are working if you are heading in the wrong direction ?

    Learning to use your "inner ear" unlocks your great musical imagination even further. The imagination is already there.

    As wonderful as all the computer tech is let's remember it's purpose is mainly to let people hear what a end result will be without musical imagination. That's where the need for this arouse. Composers for decades would write at the piano and sketch out the orchestration. The directors or others involved with no musical training could not, and thus "mock-ups" were born.

    Learning to use pencil (pen) and paper and piano basically means you are open to following with your work-flow:

    Sketching, demo's/blueprints, non-linear thinking, and lastly......developing your musical mind.

    I am taking the time to write you as I have a feeling you are looking at the same mirage I was looking at years ago.

    This quote says it all:

    I totally get that. What I found out for myself, and of course you have to discover what works for you, was at the very core..... the one thing that really created a night/day difference, or before/after like those stupid "get ripped in 12 weeks" ads.

    Training your mind to move at the speed of music.

    This will NEVER happen scrolling thru menus, or even using keyboard shortcuts.

    I think three areas are lacking right now: Improvisation, Ear Training/Solfege/ transcription, and sight reading.
    If I was in Vegas, I would wager money on it. I can feel it from a 1000 miles away.

    If you think about it, today the musical composition bar is actually pretty low. Mozart wrote this in a morning
    (just think of what Bach wrote in a week)

    I am sure you know who Mike Verta is. Does great mock-ups, knows his stuff. Let me quote him here:

    "just a tip because I see this happen a lot...... A lot of people are spending hours and hours orchestrating stuff that isn't ready yet, and this is super depressing for everybody involved because we know how much work it is, and it has to be completely torn down to be fixed.

    Orchestration does not fix underlying harmonic or structural problems. If our piece does not work/cannot be represented by two-handed playable piano, it has a problem.

    This restriction forces us to prioritize what truly matters at any given moment."

    I added in the italics and underline. As an metaphor: Have you ever seen people go to the gym, hook up their phone, get on a bike or treadmill with dozens of Tv's in front of them, and the really annoying ones also get a newspaper. Almost always they show little progress.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger literally would go out into the forrest and lift tree (big ones) and rocks. No apps.

    Map out a work flow. Let yourself demo. Get a birds eyes view. Use you imagination, and have the computer follow your mind.....not the other way around.

    Listen to these two recordings (not my work)

    The piece is composed and it's all there in the first minute you hear. This is more like the sounds of yesteryear when a composer would present to a director. The problem was the director had no idea how it would translate on the recording stage.

    (anyone reading this:Please don't be an asshole and write about the "industry" and the need for mock-ups in response)

    The 2nd minute is the full realization.

    For about two days I'll leave this up. Here is a demo of a song I orchestrated. The composition is all there in the demo. Of course it's going to go through a process for reaching the final result.

    Lastly, as far as "writing" ...forget about the "style" but watch this. People like him and Keith Jarrett are head and shoulders above so many of us mortals. They have a single minded focus on one thing for a really long period of time. How long would it take most people to write a fugue on a theme like in this video. (jump to 1:35 ish)

  11. Nesciochamp

    Nesciochamp https://soundcloud.com/nipduif

    Aug 30, 2017
    Forcing yourself into creating compositions sounds indeed like labor instead of fun.

    I'm 100% with @AlexRuger on this one; Take your time, focus on quality.
  12. OP

    SimonCharlesHanna Senior Member

    Feb 3, 2012
    haha close (it's Simon btw). I am not a high end animator or anything like that.

    I do remember you commenting on piece of mine but as to the exact ones I cant recall sorry.

    Development is still something I am working on.

    I must say I've read your post over a few times now. As you said: you know and you're completely correct where my skills are lacking.

    Those tracks you posted are pretty incredible to listen to. The differences are just...larger than I could have imagined.

    FYI I've started my next track going through these steps. The last thing I want to do is continue how I have been: Throwing crap at the wall and seeing what stick....well not entirely, but often it feels like that; stitching together ideas until it resembles a song, rather than having the blueprints to work from.

    Thanks to everyone else who's commented. It's really interesting to hear many different opinions.
  13. Alex Fraser

    Alex Fraser Senior Member

    Jun 21, 2017
    To answer the original question.
    I've done the one/two/three tracks a day. I don't think it will help your compositions in the long run. Speed writing becomes more about refining the production *process* and workflow rather than the music itself. So, it'll teach you to work quicker but you (might) find yourself getting into a rut in other ways: Using the same sounds and plugins as a crutch for example. Efficiency is important, but it's one part.

    I'm with Alex and others. You can't really compartmentalise all the different skills. It's a process with overlaps.

    My advice would be to put a cap on investigating/buying more stuff, clear your headspace (maybe ignore this forum for a while) and just write. Trying to structure the process is simply another form of resistance to actually writing.
    Actually, I should probably follow my own advice. Best of luck!
    Last edited: May 17, 2018
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  14. JEPA

    JEPA Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2018
    Nice thread! I go often after feelings (coming from theater music). The first i do is: i define the goal of the track, what it should transmit to the listener. If i have that feeling defined the rest is eaten bread, i am then free to express this feeling with a bongo, a balalaika, metal guitars, synths or orchestra.
    SimonCharlesHanna likes this.
  15. OP

    SimonCharlesHanna Senior Member

    Feb 3, 2012
    For anyone who's interested, this track took me about 2 weeks (35-40ish hours) to compose/orchestrate

    Contrary to many opinions here, I found that taking the step by step approach really helped me focus. Not compartmentalizing, composing by feeling and not structure - these things just aren't working for me because it appears my brain is like a child on hyper ADHD.
  16. douggibson

    douggibson Senior Member

    Jan 9, 2016
    Bravo !!

    Nice composition.

    I don't know if you keep a composition journal or anything like that, but it could be really worthwhile to write a
    entry to yourself about what worked and what did not. So of a if X then Y. Or X went to Z and that sucked, so Y was a backup etc.

    Taking a little time to reflect and digest/internalize the learnings is time well spent.

    Of course after that, please share with us your insights.

    Wishing you all the best
    SimonCharlesHanna likes this.

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