When you post music on YouTube, sometimes (most of the time) you have the thought go through your head that it may not be good enough to be posting. I always just post anyway, but recently, with the last video I posted, I got a lot of feedback (you can hear it here – it’s an original) and wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise, if I hadn’t posted up the track initially to YouTube. I also went to the Video Game Academy facebook group for help as well, and every piece of advice I got was great help both for this track, and for composing originals in the future.
When I first was writing this, I had one thing in mind: I knew the vibe I was going for (haunted forest area in a video game) and I found the chord progression that I really liked while noodling around on the piano one night that I just recorded. After that though, I really didn’t have any other structure in mind for the thing – which, you can probably tell from the melody. I knew the first few chords of melody I wanted, but the rest I 100 percent did improv for. Not bad, but needed work. I wasn’t aware of how much work until getting this general feedback:
Needed a more concrete melody, strings were a bit off tempo, add more dynamics. That last one, I asked VGM Academy how to make the track more dynamic, because this first draft of the song, I liked, but when I asked myself “Would I buy this if I saw it somewhere?” my answer was “Hrmm nah, it’s nice but missing something” and I wasn’t sure what that something was until posting it on YouTube.
I could have just taken the advice I got and taken it to another track, but I don’t really learn very much by doing that, plus I’m a perfectionist at heart, so went back to working on this one! I’ve got to say, actually planning out and working on this full on took a lot more work and structure than I was expecting. Was it hard? No, but I was tapping into a ton of different skills I wasn’t aware I needed to use, or even had! A good example of this, was keeping on tempo with my chord progression, which was a major thing I was struggling with. I looked up different tips and tricks, and completely restructured the strings so they had a bit more movement in them, and if for some reason they went off tempo for a bit it wasn’t as noticeable. On VGM Academy, I was told to add some vocals to add to the atmosphere, and from another friend I was told to add an extra harmony and some bass in the later sections. I moved the pizzicato strings to harps, and only had them play in the second half of the song for more dynamic movement (another note I got was to either have the track crescendo, or completely fade away to only have piano and I decided for the former) and, in the end, I wound up with this:
I can’t even tell that this was the same track! I love hearing it and the first version of it side by side: This one is so much more polished and sounds like it actually would be looping in a video game to me, which is what I was going for. For me, the sign of a good track is when you can’t get it out of your head, and there are parts of this that I just can’t stop hearing in my brain. Before, I was asking myself if I should sell this track, but now I know for sure I’m going to: It’s just a matter of if I want to wait and make more instrumental tracks to go with it or release it as a single. I’m leaning towards making it an EP of a few original semi-instrumental tracks haha. Does it count as an instrumental track if it has vocals in it? Either way, I realized that adding vocals to my tracks is just my style, I’m a lot more comfortable making an “instrumental” track when it has vocals in it, it’s a lot easier to arrange that way for me. As soon as I got the tip to add vocals and did so, I was like why didn’t I think of this before? I was so dead set on making a purely instrumental track, that I totally forgot my musical aesthetic has always been this sparse, atmospheric acoustic new agey stuff. I keep on having to tell myself to embrace that every time I arrange something new, but it’ll get drilled into my head eventually!
I learned so much from redoing this track, I’m so happy I did it. As my final thoughts, I’m going to list the things I learned while re-composing this, because I learned a lot from not only the arranging side, but the technology side as well!
- First thing: My computers latency is decently slow in comparison to when I hit the key on my keyboard, to when the midi is sent to my DAW. So I have to listen to my keyboard, and my reference track and ignore the lag on the midi because when I try and record by listening to the midi it’s always laggy. My new system is to have one side of my headphones off, so I can hear both the piano without the latency issues, and my reference track/the midi playing so I have a clearer picture of what I’m playing and adding to the track.
- Don’t be afraid to not have something in your mix at first! I kept the violin all throughout the track, but getting rid of the pizzicato strings and only having them halfway through the track added so much to the track. Experiment more with that sort of arranging!
- Don’t be afraid to embrace my musical stylings. Going into this, I was thinking it’d sound more like a NieR track. Turns out it wound up sounding more like an Ori and the Blind Forest track, to me at least haha. My style is very indi, I realize, and even if I’m working towards making a track sound like it’s from a video game, I can use that style for VGM composition as well. TL;DR: Embrace my musical style full on instead of halfway!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mean, I’ll be posting this redone on YouTube later, but at the same time I’m also kicking myself for posting the first version too. I wouldn’t have gotten all the feedback I got without posting it on YouTube, so I guess I really shouldn’t complain 😄
Everything else I learned, I covered I think. Overall, I learned that composing an original song is a lot different than making a cover. Both go through the same steps, but having a pre-existing track to build on is a lot easier than coming up with all of your concepts from scratch. In the end though, it’s really just me messing around on my keyboard til I find something I like, which I do on both arrangement styles.
Best thing I can take away from this, is to not rush the composition phase. It doesn’t have to take forever, but at the same time it doesn’t have to be a rushed job. I wasn’t sure where to go with this track at first, but now knowing what I know it all seems so obvious to me haha. I’m really excited to start my next original, and see how the concepts I learned from here carry over to that. Like I said earlier, so happy I redid this track!
What do you think, which version do you like better? I have a hard time choosing between the two!