Did you know that J.K. Rowling took 5 years to create and develop every last detail of the Harry Potter world?
THEN she actually sat and started writing.
If you want to easily create tracks, you gotta listen to Abraham Lincoln:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Going to a new place without setting the GPS or taking a map seems adventurous at best and more likely dangerous or irresponsible…Yet it’s often what we do when we start a new track.
There’s the spark, the drive to create and we just go for it without planning.
Sometimes it works and it’s beautiful (the creative genius, right?) but other times, we end up stuck in the middle and drop the project.
We’ll see Abe’s wise words can save us hours of torment and help us easily create tracks (and kill Writer’s Block in the process).
What could possibly go wrong?
Before going into how to make your life as a creator easier by sharpening your ax, I want to share a story where I didn’t 🙂
(in this article I can’t decide between the ax and map metaphor but you’re a clever audience and I’m sure you’ll understand: both represent initial preparation)
I had secured a deal for a Muslim R’n’B track for children (!!), the client had sent me a few examples and I jumped into it immediately.
I had a few ideas of what R’n’B is (Destiny’s Child and TLC…) but they were outdated and here’s what I came up with (I’m not proud of it):
The client didn’t like it (unsurprisingly).
Instead of pausing and redoing my map as I should have, I persisted and done some minor adjustment, still based on an outdated vision of what R’n’B is:
Maybe slightly better (at least it reminds of Coolio which is less far from R’n’B than the picked bass of the first version) but still pretty bad.
The client was about to leave, so I finally took the time to redo everything and change a crucial element. The client loved the result and we made a deal:
I have the full version where I play the R’n’B singer, if you want to receive it and be able to make fun of me forever, subscribe below (you’ll get more cool stuff later as a subscriber like the technique I used to score AAA games and tour Europe with a no-name band).
What did I do wrong initially?
- I had an old map of R’n’B: Just like the GPS, if your map is 10 years old, the routes have changed since.
- I tried to be original at all cost: I should have studied more closely the example sent by the client and STICK TO IT
Often for commercial deals, trying to be original isn’t the right thing to do (no matter what the client say).
- I try to force R’n’B into a non-R’n’B HARMONY: that’s the crucial element I finally changed.
All of this could have been avoided if I had thought of Abe and sharpen my ax.
How to sharpen your ax like a Vampire Killer (allegedly)
He needs a sharp ax. We need a precise plan.
The first step for a solid plan is defining the elements.
Tim Ferriss uses the acronym DiSSS in his book the 4-hour chef about accelerated learning.
The D stands for Deconstruction: turn a complex skill into its components.
E.g. Longboarding means standing+pushing+braking+turning+balance+tricks+dancing,
Tim deconstructs to accelerate learning, we deconstruct to accelerate creation.
The elements of a track
It might seem basic and you might think ‘ well I already know that, why should I read?’
Because that’s the apprentice approach.
The master reaction, when confronted with something he already knows, is: ‘great! a reminder of something important, thanks”.
A track can be deconstructed into these elements:
- time signature
- instruments & sounds used (instrumentation or orchestration)
vertical elements, piled upon each other
- bass lines
- rhythmic sections
Each Section of the track has its own variation of those elements.
So both the Verse and the Chorus will have those 4 elements but one or several of them will vary. It can be the melody, the harmony, the bass, the rhythm or all of them.
- track structure
[su_box title=”Can you really encompass all music with those elements?” style=”soft” box_color=”#3e69dc” radius=”6″]I think so.
This definition should include any piece of music from a Dance track to Tribal Chants to Beethoven’s symphony or a Bob Dylan song.
There’s always a tempo, time signature and set of instruments to set the piece vertical elements to define the music a horizontal treatment to put the music in time.
If you find a music which doesn’t enter this definition, be sure to let me know in the comments! [/su_box]
So what do we do with those elements?
Limit the elements to easily create tracks
Understanding the elements of a track is already a great way to get unstuck or remove Writer block because you can now pinpoint the exact problem:
- Maybe the sound isn’t to your liking,
- or the structure doesn’t help the emotions to flow,
- perhaps it’s the tempo that doesn’t bring the right energy.
It’s way better than to just be ‘stuck’ on a track without knowing why.
But the real trick is to use positive Constraints to limit the elements and their use.
Out of the millions of possibilities, we limit ourselves in order to get things done in an easy and peaceful way.
Here are 3 ways to accomplish that.
3 ways to easily create tracks
The easiest route: Pick a genre
If you want to easily create tracks in a specific genre, half the work is done.
The genre defines most of the elements of the track including tempo, instrumentation, harmony (don’t miss this one like I did in the example above), or structure.
Producing the track becomes as easy as googling how to make a [genre] track and putting the time to actually make it.
This page breaks down Hip-hop and gives precise instructions on tempo, instrumentation, structure:
This one goes as far as telling you which chord progression you should follow to make Stock Music:
You can only use this kind of article if you have a clear understanding of the building block of a track (cf above), hence the importance of solid basis (aka sharp ax).Be clear on which genre you want to compose before you start the track. Then stick to the formula. You'll save time, nerve and your public will get it. Click To Tweet
Practical use: Game Jam
A game jam is a game makers meeting with one goal: create a game within 48 hrs. A few years back, I participated in one on a game called Winston on Stage. We decided to go for the story of a theater lover at several stages of his life (age 5, 15, 25, 35 and 45). Every stage was to be represented by special graphics…and music.
Due to the time constraint, I used genres to increase my production speed. I defined a core theme and followed genre limitation for each stage:
Menu (initial theme)
5 yo – I kept only the harmony and put a ‘glockenspiel’ type to evoke childhood
45 yo – I used jazzy instruments and lower tempo. Note that the harmony and melody haven’t changed.
Arcade mode – my favorite. Again same melody and harmony, I simply change the instrumentation. I also limit myself to themes I already used in other tracks
If you want to compose for music libraries, video games, ad’ or produce a vast amount of tracks quickly, that’s the way to go (again, customers say they want originality but really they don’t).
But what if you just want to create something new, inventive and away from specific genres?
Freeform – one not always want to follow a genre
I like you.
I think the future of music is into research, experimentation and avoiding (or expanding) genre.
Sounds libraries are more realistic every day (I mean listen to that ) and robots composer improve at light speed.
My bet is that cliché, formulaic music is going to be automatized for economic and quality reasons.
Humans will still be needed…for their mistakes, for their originality, their weird stuff.
In other words for their humanity (yay)!
So I think it’s a good investment next to your regular production, to go wild and experiment.
If you want to easily create tracks outside of genre, go back to the element list and choose a few that you will limit strictly. This positive constraint will make the whole composition easier: your ax is sharpened.
Examples from the past
Dodecaphonism is a composition technic from the early 20th century. To go out of the harmony supremacy, the technic declares that all 12 tones are equal. In other words, it limits the use of tones by maximizing it: you have to use everything. Here’s how it sounds:
The fugue is another technic, most known for its baroque usage. Its limitation of melodic elements is extreme and feels more like a math problem to solve than music creation…a great way to kill writer block: follow the formula. Here’s a wonderful example by Glenn Gould:
Crossover & Writer block’s killer
The 3rd way is somewhere between the first 2: it takes elements of one or several genres and is less extreme than free form.
Personally, it’s the category I tend to fall in the most: I start with this idea (often based on what I heard in or out of my head), along the way I get distracted and so appears new music.
It’s another definition of Peaceful Creativity: falling into a state of Flow. And as long as it flows, perfect.
But if I get stuck and get a bad case of writer’s block, I can pause in the middle of the trip and use this technique: it’s never too late to look at the map!
Here are questions I ask myself to get out of writer’s block:
- Which genre do I want to take from?
- Which elements aren’t up to my expectations?
- What kind of positive constraints can I apply to get unstuck?
And if you get stuck from the start, stick to the formula and read on.
How to easily create tracks (and kill Writer’s Block)
[su_box title=”Key take-Away” style=”soft” box_color=”#3e69dc” radius=”6″]
- choose a framework: genre, free-form or crossover
- be super strict on the elements you use/don’t use and how you use them based on the framework you chose
- let creativity flow
- if stuck, pause and go back to the element list and the framework
Having a clear path toward completion can ensure you a more peaceful creative process, whether you start in freeform or want to complete a certain genre from the start. It shouldn’t be an obstacle to your creativity, but a helping crutch when you’re lost (or a trigger to get you started)
You can dramatically improve your workflow this way, reducing creation time from days to hours…and enjoy it manyfold
If you want more technics to easily create tracks, I’m preparing 2 more articles:
- The right way to use templates to improve workflow (with a twist)
- How using your left hand only can help you complete tracks peacefully
Lemme know in the comment which one you’re the most excited about and don’t forget to subscribe to tell me what I should write about!