A note on music creation
Music creation is very individual, as are the type of music that appeals to you and what music you find yourself disliking.
As for my view of music creation, it is a process that I need to go through. But it always contains some or all of the categories below:
- Rhythm – preferably complementing
- Tension between sounds
- Movement and direction – preferably opposite
- The baseline (not to be mistaken for the bassline)
- Dynamics – intensifying and decreasing the energy
- Flow of energy and intentional focus
- Add or subtract? The perfect balance (not as in L/R)
Sounds easy and crystal clear?
Before you continue, let’s just introduce a term that I will use frequently in my explanations below. Element.
An element can be a sound, a melody, a rhythm, basically any component in the song or track that is a unique entity. For example, a melody played on a piano can be one element, and even if using the same piano sound playing chords, that could be another element. Drums could be seen as one element, or various elements, depending on how you want to use them. In my mind, there are no restrictions or strict definition as to what an element is, even so, I break down everything in my songs are divided into elements, one way or another.
Now, let me break it down.
Rhythm – preferably complementing
Rhythm, what is it about? To me it is the position of the note or sound, in comparison to the other surrounding notes or sounds. If the beat goes 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and each sound or note is put on either 1, 2, 3 or 4, it will both get crowded on those positions, and probably feel a little stiff. To me, it is important that each part of each element (see above explanation if you missed it) gets its own space within the rhythm, to separate the elements from each other and make use each element through out the track, it needs to (in my opinion) gets its own space in time. And rhythm is just placing things (elements) in (or perhaps on) a timeline. Now, naturally, there are multiple times in each track that elements will occupy the same space, it is inevitable (yes, you may take it as a challenge!) to do so, but not all the time, and to me it is important to intentionally create differences between elements rhythmically, to enjoy the benefits of each element and create a tension between them (read more about tension below).
Tension between sounds
To me, it’s important and essential to create tension in a track. Another way to put it is to create friction. One sound or element meeting and interacting with another sound or element. Creating magic between the two, this can be done in several ways, the two most obvious is of course by using harmony or rhythm. But it can also be by using filters (equalizer) making sure that the elements meet in the same frequency space, or meet with a deliberate distance between them. It can also be created by various FX’s, like putting two elements in the same room (by using reverb) or let them be in different rooms. Or let them bounce off of each other with delays perhaps?
Movement and direction – preferably opposite
An element probably has a direction, upwards, downwards, forward, backwards, inwards, towards the background our out in your face. If all elements move the same way, I find it to be hard to control the force of combined elements, they tend to go their own way and leave me a bystander, often feeling overrun by the force. So I’d like to take time to design the movements in opposite directions to get the track to move the way I want it to move (yes, I confess, I am a little control freak in this way). Occasionally it can be fun to let an element or two create unintended forces in directions I did not foresee, but if that happens, I tend to balance it with some other element, to keep it not spinning out of control.
The baseline (not to be mistaken for the bassline)
The baseline. As stated above, not to be confused with the bassline, or the drums, both which are often used as baseline. To me, the baseline of a track is the thing every other element uses to bounce off of, to get a point of reference so you can feel the movement and/or create tension. This can of course be done without a baseline, but to me it is much easier to have a baseline though out the track. Now, in all honesty, the baseline can change, but I tend to use the same element or combination of elements throughout a track.
Harmony. I mean this from two different perspectives. Harmony as in creating chords, happy or sad, and harmony as in coexist in harmony. To create harmony (chords) it is common to do it with one instrument, like piano or guitar, but it can also be created between different sounds playing one note each, building a harmony. Which ever way you want to create harmony (both perspectives) each individual note needs to coexist with the other individual notes, to form the unity of the harmony. This is true in the case where the harmony is created with a single instrument or with several instruments or sounds. And a harmony does not necessarily need to create a chord that is either happy or sad, it can create a balance between two notes, and a third element, let’s say a melody, can decide if the harmony is neutral, sad or happy. Or it can alternate and in one passage of the track create one harmony, and in another passage create a different harmony, with a little change in the melody. To put it blunt, you can use both C major and C minor in the same song, depending on what you want to communicate.
Dynamics – intensifying and decreasing the energy
Talking dynamics in music, most people tend to think about compression. But this is a completely different dynamic I am after. To create more energy in a track, it is easy to add element after element, to intensify the melody, or increase the number of notes played. It is as easy to decrease the energy by removing elements. My goal, as I often work with few elements is to get the increase and decrease within the elements and using the various elements to complement each other. Just adding a or subtracting one or a few elements to get the desired dynamic changes I want to communicate throughout the track.
Flow of energy and intentional focus
The entire dynamics of a track, that I addressed above, is to get a flow of energy through the track. And I also like to use this as an excuse to put intentional focus on a specific element. If I add a melody, the mind and ears are easily focused on the newly introduced element, moving the other already ongoing elements a bit to the back of the attention span. Not necessarily in the sound landscape, just the attention span. While one element is in focus, it is easy to remove one of the elements in “the back” to decrease the energy flow keeping focus on just the elements you want to use to build the particular part of the track.
Add or subtract? The perfect balance (not as in L/R)
This raises the question. Add or subtract? To me, just adding elements and stack ‘em on top of each other easily clutters the track. And I do not like clutter. I want to keep each track as clean as possible, giving space to each element and to keep it balanced. Each element I introduce in a track needs to have a purpose, needs to have a dedicated space and needs to add value. Both by introducing it in the track, and by removing it. Giving elements place in the sound landscape can be done in various ways, rhythmical, harmony wise, panning to left or right, filtering it (using equalizer, cutting frequencies out or emphasize a particular frequency). But it can also be accomplished by removing elements that occupy the same space on the timeline. Or, of course, by adjusting the volume with automations to the faders. Or in a million other ways, limited only by our imagination.
My point to all of the above is to intentionally introduce sounds and elements, and allow each element to have its own purpose and space in the track. Good luck in your music creation and remember to have fun and stay curious!