Heading Off In A Slightly New Direction

Heading Off In A Slightly New Direction

The times they are a-changin.  What I mean is that I’ve focused all of my creative energies this year into one main direction, learning how to write music for TV/Film.  I thought I’d take a second and catch you up on how this change in direction has been going.

Writing Music for TV/Film

I don’t really buy into New Year’s resolutions but the one main goal I had for myself this year was to focus on writing music for media, specifically TV/Film.  I knew this would be a major undertaking so I didn’t put any time expectations on it.  I simply committed myself to learning how to write and record music specifically for use in TV/Film.

What brought this about?  Well, some of the most common feedback I get from people that hear my music is that it sounds like “film music”.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

  • I write instrumental music.
  • My music tends to be electronic, dark and ambient which is a genre that is used quite often in popular TV shows like CSI, How To Get Away With Murder, Mr. Robot, etc…
  • My music tends to evoke very specific moods and feelings in the listener.  Again, something that successful TV/Film music should excel at.

After hearing this type of feedback for years on end I decided that this was the year I would bite the bullet and seriously pursue a part-time career as a TV/Film composer.  I’ll be sharing my experiences here on this blog.  I hope you enjoy the journey!

My #1 Computer Troubleshooting Solution

My #1 Computer Troubleshooting Tip - SoundSavant.com

Sometimes we humans just make things more difficult on ourselves than we need to.  An example of this weird phenomenon that I see every day in my classroom is computer troubleshooting.

Of course, we’ve all had those moments when our computer/software just didn’t react the way we thought it should.  It happens to me too so I understand how frustrating this can be.

However, it’s the way we react to these moments of frustration that separates the experienced/savvy computer user from the novice.

Luckily, I have a quick and simple fix for you.  So, in the hopes of saving you from hours of frustration, here’s my #1 solution to 90% of your computer issues:

When In Doubt, Re-Start

Wow, that was a little anti-climactic wasn’t it?  Unfortunately, I’m not kidding.  The simple act of re-booting your computer will fix about 90% of your computer troubles.

I can’t give you the technical reason why this works because it will be different for each of you.  All I can I tell you is that 9 times out of 10 this will fix whatever issue you were experiencing.  And here is where your mindset is going to come into play.

Just Get Out Of Your Own Way

The only way this is really going to work for you on a consistent basis is if you are able to quit obsessing over the details.  Here’s what I mean by this.

Based on my 15+ years of teaching experience, computer users break down into two main groups:

  • Those that feel like they need to understand every single technical thing involved in using their computer system, no matter how small or random it may be.
  • Those that just want to get stuff done.

It’s the people in the first group that tend to waste a huge amount of their time trying to understand why they get a certain error message or why something isn’t working the way they think it should.  They’ll often spend as much as half an hour or more trying to “beat a dead horse” when they could have simply re-started their computer and been up and running again in 2-3 minutes.

The people in the second group tend to be focused on finishing tasks.  Because of this, they don’t bother wasting the extra mental energy needed to figure out why something went wrong.  They simply re-start and move on.  Problem solved.

In other words, they stay out of their own way.  You need to find a way to join this second group.

What About The Other 10%

At this point there’s probably a few of you asking, “What about when re-starting doesn’t fix my problem”?  As I mentioned before, about 10% of the time you’ll find that re-starting your computer won’t fix your problem.

This is when you’ll have to dig a little deeper for a solution.  Check out your owner’s manual, surf Google or the forums.  If this still fails you may need to call tech support.

However, if you do resort to calling tech support be prepared for one of the first questions they ask you to be something like, “Well, have you tried re-starting your computer?”  And that’s the moment when I hope you remember this tip and say to yourself, “Man, Bill really does know what he’s talking about!” 🙂

Best of luck on your computer troubleshooting and, as always, feel free to “drop me a line” here with any questions or comments.

Making Music On My iPad – My Top 3 Favorite iPad Music Apps

My Top 7 iPad Music Apps - SoundSavant.com

A colleague of mind asked me the other day, “What are your top 3 favorite iPad music apps?”  I don’t remember exactly what I said but I’m sure I ran down a list of the some of the music apps I’ve been using lately.  For some reason, the question stuck with me.

I’ll confess that I was an early adopter.  From the moment I bought it, I’ve been intrigued by the music-making possibilities offered by my iPad.  Because of the touch-screen interface, it instantly felt more like an instrument than my computer.

As I continued to ponder my colleague’s question I realized that my iPad has become an integral part of my music-making process.  Of course, I figured you, my fellow “SoundSavants”, are probably doing the same and would be interested in hearing what I use.  So, here is a list of 3 of my favorite iPad music apps.

1 – Beatwave

Screenshot of a Beatwave sessionBeatwave was the very first iPad app I actually used to make music and I’m pretty sure it’s design was based on the very influential Tenori-on electronic music instrument by Yamaha.

Basically it’s a 16-step sequencer with built-in sounds.  The horizontal axis defines time and the vertical axis defines pitch.  You can see it in action here.

My favorite feature in Beatwave is the Grid Morpher.  This allows you to add a certain amount of randomization to your sequences.  I’ve found that if you use the Grid Morpher the right way it turns Beatwave into an algorhythmic composition tool.

In fact, this is what I use Beatwave for now.  I type in a simple sequence, turn on the Grid Morpher, hit record and just let the app percolate away.  Invariably, I end up with something I can use in a future piece.  In other words, Beatwave is my secret composition starter.

Beatwave is a free app, with an upgrade to BeatwavePro available as an in-app purchase.  The upgrade give you some new sounds.

You can hear some loops that I’ve created with Beatwave here.

2 – Stochastik Drum Machine

Obviously, this is a drum machine app, but it takes the concept of a drum machine a step further by allowing you to set the probability that a note will trigger for each step in your sequence.  Sounds complicated but it’s not. Take a look.

I use Stochatik to give me a bunch of variations on the same drum loop.  Basically, I program a 1-bar loop and “seed” it with some variables.  Then I just have Stochastik export 8 or 16 variations of that loop.

I can then use those variations to add excitement and variety to my music because there’s nothing as boring as a 1-bar drum loop that repeats through an entire song.

Stochastik comes with a bunch of very useful drum sounds.  It will also allow you to import your own samples.

I’m trying to give you an honest explanation of what Stochastik does but it’s very hard to curb my enthusiasm.  Since buying Stochastik, I really haven’t used any other program or app for my drum programming.  It’s that good.  You owe it to yourself to try it out.

3 – Animoog

Animoog isn’t just a cool iPad synth.  It’s a flat-out monster sound design machine!  It’s also difficult to describe with words so take a look at this demo video:

As you watch the video, pay attention to how the use of touch gestures allow you to instantly create sounds that are far more organic than most keyboard-based synths. That’s the thing that struck me as soon as I started messing around with this synth.

I still haven’t touched 10% of what this thing can do.  I’m just amazed at how they were able to create such a sophisticated and expressive synth for the iPad.

Here’s one  example of how I’ve been using Animoog in my musical productions.  The first synth part you hear is the Echopluck preset from Animoog.

What Are Your Top 3 iPad Music Apps?

So those were my top 3 favorite iPad music apps of the moment.  I say, “of the moment” because I just bought the Thor app by Propellerheads last night and I expect to be enjoying messing with that for a very long time.

What are you using to make music with your iPad?  I’d love to hear about it.  Just let me know right here.

Tension-Filled Hits – Using Musical Sound Design to Write Suspenseful Music

SoundSavant - Tension-Filled Hits

I’ve talked previously about writing “suspenseful music“.  I want to revisit this idea because it’s not an easy thing to pull off and I have another example I’d like to share with you.

One of the biggest problems I have when writing suspenseful music is trying not to sound too cliched.

Things like dissonant chord progressions or the “Psycho” strings work great at building suspense but, in my opinion, they are way over-used.  We hear that stuff every night on network TV.

I want my music to stand out from everything else so I like to use other techniques to build tension and suspense.  One of the best ways I’ve found to achieve this is through incorporating elements of Sound Design into my music.

Take a listen to this short piece I wrote titled, “Tension-Filled Hits”:

Sound Design As Music

This piece is a good example of what I call “Musical Sound Design”.  What I mean is that, as a whole, this is a piece of music, but within it there are elements that are much more sound design in nature than musical.  The two obvious examples being the metallic hits and the automation of the reverb on the piano.

Build The Tension, Then Release…Or Not

At its most basic, most music can be described as a series of tensions and releases.  This short piece is no different.

It starts off with a very simple ostinato played on the piano.  By themselves, ostinati are very effective at creating a hypnotic effect in the listener.  Repeating something over and over again lulls our brain into thinking it knows what to expect.  I deliberately counteract that effect in this piece by automating the amount of reverb on the piano.

Go back and listen again.  Do you notice how the amount of reverb on the piano part gradually lessens?  This creates a sense in the listener of being drawn into the scene.  If we visualize the music it isn’t hard to image that we are walking towards the piano.  The closer we get, the less reverb there is in the room.

All of this “movement” adds to the tension of the piece.  As a listener, we feel like we are on a journey and we are anxious to find out what the destination is.

Sound designers have understood for decades that automating effects levels is a great way to add character, excitement and suspense to an otherwise static or “run-of-the-mill” sound.  If you need an example go check out Ben Burtt’s work in any of the Star Wars movies.

Things That Go Bang In The Night

The second element of sound design that pops up in this piece is the metallic bangs and clangs.  I can’t tell you why but I am just drawn to metallic sounds, and I don’t mean cymbals.  I’m talking about dirty, nasty, organic bangs, scrapes and smashes.

I love collecting them on my Zoom H4n when I go off on my Sound Harvesting journeys.  In fact, some of the sounds you hear in that video made it into this piece of music.

In this particular piece, I’m using the metallic hits to jar the listener.  They’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the piano ostinato so I wanted to wake them up.

Sure, I could have just banged on a couple of cymbals and probably achieved the same type of effect.  That would have been the most efficient, easy way to do things.  However, as I mentioned earlier, I want my music to stand out so I like to go the extra mile and create some of my own sounds.  This instantly separates my music from everyone else’s because I’m using “one-of-a-kind” sounds.

Go Make Some Noise

So, how can you incorporate some unique sound design into your music?  Really think about it.

Don’t know where to start?  Take a walk around your neighborhood and record some random sounds on your phone.  Import those sounds into your DAW and see what inspires you.

I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is to add unique elements of sound design to your music and how doing so instantly makes your music stand out from everything else out there.