Tracking and Demoscene discussion.

What's your method

What's your method

Postby drye » Fri Apr 07, 2006 4:45 am

90% of my 'songs' end up unfinished. I create a pattern or two, and i get caught in a production circle. I try to make that pattern sound perfect, which is time consuming. Finally i lose interest.

It helps, if i force my self to keep adding new patterns. I try not to lose focus of the melodies i have in my head. But it's hard :)

Do you have the same problems? What's your method to getting songs done?
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Postby Harmony » Fri Apr 07, 2006 6:00 am

I used to have the exact same problem until I read something from Zen & the art of Tracking that changed my whole tracking philosophy, the gist of it was - when you start a track make a committment to the track to finish it. I know that sounds a bit airy fairy but it really works, after I read that I changed the way I tracked.

I used to load up my tracker and have 50 works-in-progress waiting, so I'd pick one and track a few patterns until I got bored, or I'd start yet another new track to add to the WIP collection. What I do now, which pretty much guarentees I finish what I start, is I'll start writing something and if after a few hours work it still doesn't have much promise I delete it. But, if it's sounding good, I make that my main track and I don't work on anything else until it's done. I cleaned out my WIP directory so now there's only ever one (two tops) tracks in there, and my rule is I have to finish those before I start on something new.

These days when I load up my tracker I've got one, sometimes two, tracks in my WIP directory and that's it. My job then is to pick one and work on it, or delete one and start something new, and deleting a track is a lot harder than just starting another one so I tend to work a bit harder to finish my existing tracks. Everytime I've got an hour or so to track I work on that piece, and within a few weeks it's generally finished and I'm happy to have a finished piece that I like, and then I move onto something new.

As for more specific stuff, I try and write my main melody and chord structure first, and do one variation on that to see if it works. If it does it's pretty easy to then add the rest of the track around that. It's tempting to write each pattern to perfection but it's generally easier to finish a track if you write it all first without worrying about making it perfect, and then make it perfect at the end. That way you can also give yourself a day or two's break, gain some perspective on the track, and then enjoy the process of mastering everything.

That's my process for finishing stuff anyway, hope it helps :)
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Postby drye » Fri Apr 07, 2006 7:30 am

Hm... All that makes sense. I'll try your method, i have nothing to lose.
Thanks for your advice!
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Postby sagosen » Fri Apr 07, 2006 7:57 am

Giggedy giggedy. "Kill your darlings", hm? :)

Not so sure I'd go for that approach myself, but I'll read the article you linked and see what I can learn. I'm sure it'll be informative!

Anyway, what I do (and I'm not a master of finishing traxx) is, unless I have a clear idea on a previous track, sit down and start something new. Just as a warm-up if you will. Then, if it ends up sucky, I skip and delete it. Or, mute different patterns and see what works and start from there with something totally new again. If I am a good boy and sit down a couple of hours every day the tracking is at my fingertips and I can skip the warm-up all together. I haven't been too focused lately, so..

But anywya, once you have something going, keep making a sequence. Do weird and unexpected things, keep adding things. If nothing works, take a short break and DO NOT listen to other music! Take a walk, play a game WITHOUT music on, focus on something else. Maybe it will come to you then.

Also, keeping lots of unfinished songs in a folder is not necessarily a bad thing, you can pick it up and start over from a short part you like, add some different elements etc. I've had some tunes laying there for years and picked them up, works for me. :)
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Postby Sonicade » Fri Apr 07, 2006 9:01 am

I suffer from the same start-a-perfect-song syndrome that Drye described above. I don't know if I have the discipline that Harmony Steel has but I do think that the methods she is using are profound. I have not 1 but 3 WIP folders (ordered historically) in addition to my main WIP folder, it's bad I know. I've realized (a couple times..) that I will never achieve the skill I want to finish all these WIP without actually finishing songs on a regular basis.

On one hand it is good to start something new because you need that freshness to peak your interest. But on the other hand if you don't keep up your enthusiasm for that track it's very likely to end up in the WIP abyss of doom. I think it's good to have a selection of WIP to choose from if you feel like resuming work on something. What's more important though is to have and keep the commitment to finish that track instead of abandoning it which just makes for more WIP. If these WIP pile up and you continue to abandon tracks then it can be bad for your motivation to have so many abandoned tracks around.

So I have been adopting an approach similar to Harmony Steel with my WIP collection quietly lurking nearby. While I'm working on a song (in my WIP folder) I concentrate all my effort on only that song and don't access any of my other WIP. When finally that song is finished the option is open to resume a WIP which I can browse and listen to, or start a brand new tune. If I start a brand new tune the option is still open until I feel like I have something I like. I think everyone has tracked to the point where they feel "ohh I'm starting to like this, this has some potential." That's where, if I feel it's right, I make my commitment and lock my efforts onto that song until it's done.

In addition to that, I've also started trying to flesh out the entire song instead of perfecting the first 30 seconds like I have done countless times in the past. This is new to me and feels a little strange but I'm hoping it will pay off in terms of getting better at structuring and actually finishing songs. I realized that I can't really improve or improvement is really slow when you don't structure and finish the entire song.

It really boils down to a self discipline and commitment issue and everyone has to come up with their own custom system that works best for them. Ideally I think we want to get to the point where we can maintain a WIP collection but also have the disciplin and sense to complete the tracks that we feel are worthwhile.

Anyway, thats my experience. :)
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Postby organic io » Fri Apr 07, 2006 9:18 am

a lot of times i get really lazy about drumtracks and not adding enough variation.

a problem i have had with tracks is that i get overwhelmed and i don't even know where to start next, because there are so many different elements to a song.
so one thing that has helped me finish up tracks is setting goals for them. open up notepad and just type out goals for the track... a typical one for me might look like this:

"write chord progression & bassline
write intro
basic drum track
add synth pads
transition into chorus
chorus section
"
and then when i am closer to the end it will be stuff like

"set levels
add variation to the drums
EQ the lead synth
outro"..

it has helped me quite a bit in the past year. also it has helped me (although maybe not my songs) to set a time-limit for them. it's like the old days of the 60 minute or 2 hour compos... except by myself. if it is 12am and i want to have a new song done by myself to listen to in the morning... i will sometimes be like "OK, i'm gonna have a 1 hour compo, with myself!" and then i just have 1 hour to do a COMPLETE song ... it always ends up rough around the edges, but it helps me force quick decisions about where to take the song next, and helps me learn how to put song structures together better. none of these songs have been anything other than "for internal use only", but i think it helps my songwriting technique overall
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Postby aged » Fri Apr 07, 2006 1:37 pm

i just discovered a new way of finishing tracks :)

1. I'm writing a sweet ballad.
2. My brain hurts, no good ideas... nothing.
3. I pick some trashmetal album.
4. I play it for few songs
5. I get back to tracking

So try listening something completely different and get back to work after doing that :)

works for me at least ( ... and I'm THE WIP CHAMPION ! )
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Postby imode » Fri Apr 07, 2006 2:01 pm

Seems like all us Soundev old timers suffer from the perfection syndrome.

I might spend more time layering a single pattern than I do a melody, which is really sad.

I usually need to sing out melodies out loud, which really sucks because I was forced to track while at work (points to slavedriver sonicade). I'm really famous for this though...

Sonicade can confirm it. Aged has nothing on me when it comes to 'works in progress' tracks. I've got a folder absolutely bursting with them dating back to 2000.
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Postby Harmony » Sat Apr 08, 2006 12:19 am

It really boils down to a self discipline and commitment issue and everyone has to come up with their own custom system that works best for them.


My thoughts exactly, people's methods will vary but it's ongoing committment that's the kicker. Something I've learnt over the years which I find particularly useful with tracking is - a little bit goes a long way, ie: even if you can only put in an hour or two every few days, or a good stint every few weekends, it all adds up and enables you to produce quality finished work in the end. It can be an annoying concept to work with sometimes because we like results quickly, but as the tortoise said, slow and steady wins the race :)

"OK, i'm gonna have a 1 hour compo, with myself!" and then i just have 1 hour to do a COMPLETE song ... it always ends up rough around the edges, but it helps me force quick decisions about where to take the song next, and helps me learn how to put song structures together better. none of these songs have been anything other than "for internal use only", but i think it helps my songwriting technique overall


I think that's a very smart way to track and keep in practice! I draw/paint a lot when I'm not tracking and regular speedpainting is one of the best ways to stay good and get better and I'd guess the same applies for tracking. Plus it seems the more you do something the more you enjoy it and keep it up.

Now where did I put my time machine...
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Postby hcys » Sat Apr 08, 2006 4:37 am

I remember saying on #trax once that I had a hard time keeping track of everything when the instrumentation went beyond a certain point (i.e. I too suffered from 'must have a perfect pattern first' syndrome), and basehead commented that he didn't have too much of a problem with that.

I didn't really get an explanation then, but if you start at the outmost level, and first create a foundation with bass, drums, harmony and melody, you will have that no matter what you do. And that will probably keep you at work more than if it were just a pattern or two that were perfect in some sense, but hadn't been grounded in a structure. Most of the patterns I've made are in free orbit somewhere.

A few of them, I still see a lot of potential in, but getting back into it, and trying to find out what made them work, months or years after they were made, isn't usually what I want to do when I first get to sit down with Renoise.

With basehead, I guess he had more of an overview than I did at that point, from experience. His later ITs contained A LOT of stuff, and it's obvious to me that he was a lot more relaxed when it came to laying down broad strokes, and editing himself.

The way I do it now, though I might skip ahead and back, is:

Consider first the rhytm, melody/harmony and progression (I often start with a drum track or chords. Seldom with a melody).
Then a preliminary adjustment levels, pan and EQ.
Then, when you have most of that, go on to refine the expression of each instrument, with automation, filters and effects.
Then, readjust levels, pan and EQ (and automation, filters and effects as necessary).

In between all that, will be more work on rhytm, melody/harmony and progression. I.e. focusing on the underlying structure and interplay between those all the way through. When I can't get the envisioned sound with any of that, I'll start to change instruments, but I try to be kind of rigid, and not have 20 different versions just because the lead instrument is different. But when I feel there's a large shift in where the song is going, I save (in steps), just to be on the safe side.

When you get as good as Necros, basehead, etc were, then you can go back and forth more without being overwhelmed. You'll know more what to look for, what is and isn't working in your track, why it's there or isn't in the first place, etc.
....
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Postby groovyone » Tue May 16, 2006 12:16 pm

Check my ass to see if anything lingers.
If it does, use the fingers
and keep pulling for dear life
to see how much will come out!.

Nah, It really depends on the track but for most part Rhythm + Bass to create the foundation.

A melody and chord progression will usually follow. Once I get that refined I go back over the rhythm and bass to tie everything in together.

Then it's just content and direction. I tend to start writing from the middle out rather than from the beginning. Actually, it's more like 3/8ths of the way in.

Now with Renoise extra steps are added.

1. Craft the sound I want from the instruments
2. Make the bass + rhythm
3. Get some sort of melody + chord/backing
4. Do quick mix.
5. Take a break (by this time I have about 3-4 patterns)
6. Evaluate my mess and then proceed to write the song.
6.5 : SLEEP
7. Go back and make the beginning.
8. Try to make an ending ending
9. Clean up mistakes + add variation
10. Final Mix
11. Master
12. Worry that I've not done something as good as I could.
13. ReMaster
14. Coffee.. ok leave it alone!!

Sleep is important. I find I need to sleep on music. I have a much better objective take on it and my subconcious has time to process it and come up with new ideas.

This %90 business of not finishing a tune I've been very guilty of that in the past - that's why I like compos.

Motivation to finish. I'm not writing for the compo, I'm writing a piece of music for myself but the compo give me a good reason to write and finish it.

I need a goal to provide momentum and drive. For me it's usually deadlines at work or that I want to write a piece to show case something to someone or myself. Without a goal the music has no meaning.

ie some goals may be:
Write something medieval about standing on a cliff waving a sword (ie Highlander)

Or

Try to write something 2 mintues long to prove I can write something like a song I hear or a style I particularly like.

ie I did one after watching the movie "Serenity". I loved that Space Western sound and wanted to see if I could write it.
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Postby organic io » Tue May 16, 2006 2:01 pm

groovyone wrote:Try to write something 2 mintues long to prove I can write something like a song I hear or a style I particularly like.


sometimes i have had "compos with myself" where i just take a night and write a song of a specific genre in an hour or two hours and it HAS to be finished by the end of the deadline... not a lot of great songs are coming out of that method, but it helps me learn how to focus the goals of the song during the tracking process for more serious works
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Postby dilvie » Tue May 16, 2006 2:51 pm

I used to enter every compo that came up on IRC.

I miss that.
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Postby groovyone » Tue May 16, 2006 2:53 pm

dilvie wrote:I used to enter every compo that came up on IRC.

I miss that.


You compo slut you! :)
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Postby dilvie » Tue May 16, 2006 3:02 pm

I was, once. This is the first online compo I've entered in years, though.
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