Getting “Nothing Done” Isn’t Always UnProductive

I just finished up a recording session on the piano, so with my instruments instead of recording vocals, and got seemingly absolutely nothing done.  I say seemingly, because a lot of us creatives think that if you’ve recorded nothing, written nothing, drawn nothing, in a session of creativity, you think you’ve done absolutely nothing and it was a waste of time.  It’s discouraging, and sometimes it makes you want to give up on whatever you’re working on and get frustrated.
I thought it was important to write this experience, and this post for other creatives, because in “getting nothing done” this recording session, I hashed out some arrangement plans. In fact, I figured out what I wanted to do for the track wasn’t working at all, and that the other idea I had for it was far better for the entirety of the track.  I originally wanted to start out with a capella vocals, then bring in some slight strings and have other vocal layers as a choral sort of thing for this.  Trying to record strings for it, it just wasn’t working, and I decided to just go fully a cappella with this track like the good old days of me arranging things XD but in hashing that out, I realized that maybe I’ll do all my Christmas covers as a cappella arrangements, because I’ve never done that before!  I’m confident in that choice, and now am re-energized, re-motivated, and already getting so many ideas bouncing around in my head and am thinking of other Christmas songs to do, perhaps make a series of a cappella Christmas for this year.

 

And I would have never come to that conclusion, if not for “botching” recording the strings for my original arrangement plans.

 

I have another arrangement I’m working on that just wasn’t coming together, and instead of trying to push it, I decided to move on to making my Christmas tracks, and push the release date of the album I was working on to January so it can truly make it the best I can before release.  Same with the Christmas tracks:  I want to polish them, and make them the best they possibly can for release, and wouldn’t have figured out how to do so without a few sessions of trying to figure out how I initially wanted to arrange this, which for me is brainstorming sessions – which, once again, I wouldn’t have realized that’s how I brainstorm if I didn’t just sit down and try things at my keyboard!
Like I said, I’m writing this because I think it’s an important lessons for us creatives to learn.  Sure, sometimes we’ll get discouraged with our music, with our blogs, with whatever we do, but it’s important to take something away from your creative sessions – even if it’s “This isn’t working, how can I fix it so it does”.  People are such crazy perfectionists nowadays, I’m also very guilty of perfectionism stopping me from taking steps forward every now and again, but it’s so so so so important to know  how to problem solve yurself out of slumps like that:  Maybe you need to add more chords to a section of music?  Maybe add an extra scene to the post or story you’re writing.  You’ll never realize that unless you initially try to do something and figure out the way you’re doing it isn’t working.
So don’t let bad creative sessions get you down, go out there and create!  Whether it’s good or bad, it’s something you can learn and grow from, and be a better artist for it!  I for one, can’t wait to get to re-arranging said track I was working on today, and mix my first a cappella tracks in Reaper:  It’s going to be loads of fun!

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Forest Harmony – New Original!

I’m going to make an active effort to start posting more frequently on here because the fact that I was so consistent  with posting for years and just sort of fell off the past few months has been bothering me.  I usually write up my posts in a word document then copy/paste them, but I literally have a few posts waiting in the wings I just haven’t posted so that system hasn’t been working for me lately it seems.  So instead, going to try just writing straight In WordPress, and hope that not having to take the extra step to post something will motivate me to post more frequently again!

 

I was planning to post something else more talky, but I spontaneously decided to just make a quick stock footage video for an original I made a few weeks ago.  I finally got to one of the melodies I liked a lot from that 21 Days of Video Game Music composing challenge in July, and finally sat down to work on another original!  Gotta say, it’s been nice to write something original again, even though I do love making covers.  Not gonna lie either:  I think this is probably the best original I’ve done!  This is also teh first thing I’ve fully mixed in Reaper, and you can be the judge of this, but I really do think something as small as mixing with better stock plug ins that Reaper has makes a huge difference in the quality of my tracks.  It’s also really nice to be able to monitor my effects going on in realtime without the program crashing on me all the time, because that was a chronic problem in audacity for me.

 

Going to go into more detail about my Reaper journey so far, and other music updates in another post, but until then, enjoy this original track!

 

Going to Try and Write a Lot of Music in November!

I did my first mix in Reaper, and it was really easy!  I had a few learning curve things to deal with along the way (automation and fading out the track were interesting to deal with) and I still have a long way to go before being 100 percent comfortable with using Reaper, but overall it was a harmless experience.  It helps that I’ve been reteaching myself mixing terms, and that I have always kept up with knowing how to mix things whether or not I could do them in audacity, but it’s just so interesting to not have to record my midi in Reaper, export it as a wav then do everything in laggy audacity.  I’m loving how customizable Reaper is, and how easy it is to organize tracks, add effects, and just the workflow I’m able to have in Reaper is making my mixes a lot funner to mess with.  I feel like I’ve been able to be a loooot more creative with my mixing, because I don’t have to be afraid of something messing up the tracks and not being able to fix it.
That being said, having this new workflow of both mixing and recording in Reaper has gotten me majorly motivated to make music again.  I didn’t realize how much my previous workflow was stifling my creativity, until I got to the point where I really didn’t want to record something because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of the process I outlined in the previous chapter.  Audacity isn’t very nice when you have about 20 or more tracks in it either, so it was majorly annoying having to apply reverb, and go do something else for like 20 minutes because audacity just took THAT LONG to render out effects.  With Reaper, just put the reverb plug on, and tweak parameters  in realtime with no lag!  It’s so nice~

 

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for audacity.  Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to mix for the past four years.  At the same time, I’m glad that I can take this step into more advanced music production because of some amazing devs who made NVDA scripts for Reaper to work well with a screen reader.

 

The first thing I mixed in Reaper was an all instrumental track, from an idea that I first came up with during that 21 days of VGM challenge I did back in July.  I’ll be posting it soon probably, but making it in Reaper, and Reaper alone was so easy!  I used the metronome for it, which as bad as it sounds I rarely do haha.  Just wanted to see the difference between using it and not using it, and I feel like I’ll be going bac and forth between using it and not, because there are times when I want to use a metronome and times when I do.
That tangent aside, I really want to work on making a decent amount of music in November!  I’m already working on another Final Fantasy track, because I really want to try and get an EP out before the year of all of my Final Fantasy tracks.  I’ll come out with it regardless, but I want to push myself to get it out soon, because I only have to add 2 more tracks to get it to EP length!  I went through all of my ideas from the 21 Day VGM Challenge and forgot there were a few I really wanted to flesh out and just never got to, so I want to get at least 2 of those done in November as well.  Then there’s Christmas songs I want to work on, as well, so I’m going to really push myself to work on music as much as I can next month, and not lose the motivation working in Reaper has given me.  Ugh, it’s just so nice to be able to do everything in one program, I didn’t realize what I was missing out on!

 

 

Wish me luck on this musical endeavor, I really hope I can pull it off!

Arranging a Cover From the Ground up

I’ve talked about making a cover of a song your own before, but can we talk about how difficult it is to do so at times?  Why am I asking:  We’re going to talk about it in this post!

 

I’ve been working on a track for another Pixel Mixers album, my usual fair of adding lyrics and making the track folksy.  But, I sent a not so great version of it to the person who runs the album making and low and behold, there’s a new feedback committee that lets you know what you can fix in the track to make it better, and what you need to fix in the track to get it done for the album!  It came out of the blue, but honestly it was a nice surprise because I took a little bit of everyone’s notes and made the track, what I think, is a lot better than before and something I really enjoy listening to now, instead of the first draft where I was like “This is garbage, but what else am I supposed to do with this ugh”.  It made me realize how valuable getting feedback is – I needed that as a reminder, in all honesty, and made me realize another thing.

 

If you’re going to make a cover your own, you’re literally going to have to build it from the ground up.  There will probably be one, or two chord progressions  from the original that are majorly iconic, like Corridors of Time and Schala’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, but other than the main chord progression that is the driving force of the song, if you want to do something drastically different, it might as well be like writing an original track.

 

For this track in particular, I couldn’t figure out what else to add to the track as a whole.  I knew there was something missing, but just couldn’t figure out what until I got feedback, and tips on what instruments to add.  It made me see how far I have to go before I make something polished, that I enjoy, and how inexperienced I am with using actual instruments for arranging things.  But, in doing so, I found a really good trick for my composing workflow!

 

When I told my friend I was having a hard time finding a progression, they said something to me along the lines of “You need something that compliments the vocal, like think of it like adding vocal harmonies”.

 

And that got me thinking, why not literally just sing the chord progressions I want to add first?  Since I’m used to hearing an acappella arrangement since that’s how I used to do things before I had access to all these instruments, I went back to my roots and sang the chord progression I wanted to add with my flute VST.  After I did that, it just all clicked!  I usually try to find a progression by playing things on the piano, and that doesn’t always mesh well with what I’m making.  But, going back to a song writing tip I read a really long time ago, your voice is your best instrument to make music with.  If you have to sing a chord progression to make sure it fits, then do it!  I found this really works for me, and I’m going to make an effort to go to vocal harmonizing first for when I get stumped – because I was stumped pretty hard on this one!

 

Arranging this track reminded me of when I was majorly changing up that Final Fantasy battle theme in the beginning of the year (still need to release that ugh).  It’s just such a different process making a cover the way you want to hear it, and not just making a cover that sounds like the original – which I’ll never get, why are you going to watch a cover that sounds exactly like the original?  I’m going to listen to the original for that experience!

 

I guess the third thing I took away from this IS I have a lot to learn still.  I kept on telling myself “I Wish I knew more about music theory, it would make this so much easier” but in retrospect, I honestly don’t think that’s the case – I really just need to write more music, more consistently so I can practice and master skills.  I really think this was one of the more challenging things I’ve done, and it’s more rewarding at the finish line because of it.

 

I need to keep on writing music, but more than that:  I need to stretch myself with my arrangements, and in doing so teach myself new things.  I recently forgot I had some pretty cool electronic sinth instruments!  So I think I’m going to challenge myself and make an all-electronic VGM themed track.  I’m going to go more in detail on this in another post, but I’m so excited that I’ve found a more fleshed out screen reader script for Reaper – a far more advanced mixing program than audacity, and I can finally learn how to use it!  So I’ve been teaching myself the basics the past few days, and I’m amazed at how easily my brain is clicking with Reaper this time around.  There were abandonware  scripts for a really old version of Reaper that I used to use but I could never wrap my head around doing more than just recording tracks with it, so this is majorly exciting!  I don’t know if it’s because my audio brain has evolved or something, but it’s just really easy for me to grasp the concepts now – in part thanks to some awesome tutorials that weren’t around a year ago!

 

But like I said, that topic is for another post.  I’ve learned a lot from fixing up, and writing this cover in general.  I hope your journeys, musical or otherwise are going well!

21 Day VGM Challenge, Final Day is Tomorrow! What I learned wrap up

Tomorrow is the final day of my 21 day VGM Challenge and I was debating waiting until next week to do the wrap up post or just doing it  day before it was over.  But I figure, what I learned during the challenge isn’t going to change overnight so I’ll just do a post about the things I learned during these past 21 days in a nice bullet list format!

 

  • Biggest thing I learned was no matter what, if you want to write something, just sit down and write.  This doesn’t just go for music, it goes for anything:  If you want to write a novel or fanfic, or blog, just sit down and write.  You’re not going to like the first thing you churn out, but you’ll have something to grow and learn from, and you’ll get your brain working in a creative way so you can actually be in the proper mindset to work on the piece.
  • For music, don’t be afraid of hitting a road block!  There were so many times during this challenge I hit a snag while making a melody or chord progression, but instead of getting frustrated, I stopped and said what I had was going to be my bars for that day.  A few times, the next day I came up with something I could use for the thing the day before, so just stopping and taking a breather instead of banging my head against the wall helped loads.
    • This is a huuuge one that I see a lot of musicians and creators struggle with, and it’s a constant battle for us but honestly don’t be a perfectionist.  There were a few times I made a mistake, and it made something even better than I was trying to get because instead of giving up because it wasn’t “perfect” I forged forward in spite of   the “imperfections”.  Especially in music, flaws show character, and can make something great out of something you may have thought was garbage.  So really try and check your perfectionism at the door, and just get out there and create!
  • I was getting burnt out halfway through the challenge, but I forced myself to keep on moving forward.  I know people think that creativity should be some sort of muse, or flash on inspiration, but it’s really a muscle you need to flex so it can get developed enough to come up with ideas. Whenever you need to.  If you want to make this your profession, then making music when you’re not “inspired” is a must have skill.
  • I’m slowly learning how to develop better melodies and figuring out how to make things more dynamic, and I wouldn’t have known that without this challenge.  I also wouldn’t have figured out the sorts of VSTs I want to buy for the type of music I make without it either, and wouldn’t have figured out writing for different styles isn’t as hard as I thought.  I put off doing a few other projects to keep my momentum going for this challenge, so I will probably do this sort of thing every so often to get a lot of ideas for songs.
    • As it stands, I’m going to work on some collabs, some other covers, and also work on fleshing the ideas I got from this challenge out (I already have at least three things I know where I want to go woo).  I’m really happy I did this because as you see, I learned a lot from it, and enjoyed it a lot and defs will do it again!

 

If you want to check out the ideas I came up with during the challenge, you can check out the playlist I made for them here!

21 Day VGM Challenge, The Halfway Point!

Today is day 11 of the 21 day music challenge I’m doing, and it’s been decently smooth sailing.  I had a problem coming up with something last night so I just made something up really quick, but that was the only time I really had issues with jotting something down.  I went back and listened to my stuff up to this point, and gotta say I’m really happy with what I can do with everything!  I heard a few parts I think I can put together to sound like a decent track, a few that I can easily flesh out into a full piece, and some that are just really nice chord progressions that remind me of techniques I want to practice more.  The runner of the event has been sending out tips, and I had to use a few of them to get my creative juices flowing again:  but all of them are really good tips that helped loads. A few good ones are using a drum loop to start and building from that, just using your voice and recording something down, and looking at genres of music from other countries to get inspiration.  I especially liked that last one because of how heavily I’m into Celtic and Japanese music, but I never think of composing from those angles unless I’m doing something lyrical.  It honestly was nice to have that little stumped moment last night because I was forced to write something no matter what to have done something for yesterday and it showed me that even if you don’t like it, you can just get something done, relisten when you’re in a better mood, and see if you can do anything with it later or if it really is just meh – I relistened this morning and went “Hm, yeah, I think I can do something with this” which also isn’t something I would think of doing before this challenge.  Before I’d be like, “This is garbage, next!” so that mindset change was nice, and unexpected!

 

One thing I’ve taken away from this that isn’t something I can suuuper change though, I need more VSTs!  I have a few freebies, but my 2 paid ones are honestly the best sounding ones (with good reason, they were expensive)  but ugh not having the money to buy some good woodwinds or something is driving me nuts.  I know I’m probably  going to have to buy instruments in bits and pieces, even though that will cost more than buying a full pack of orchestra instruments because I don’t think I’ll be able to save enough to get the sort of pack I would want anyway, so might as well get more Sonivox stuff that I really like (I’m eyeing you woodwinds and brass).

 

In other news, I got a really nice YouTube comment today!  And a new subscriber.  But they found my Radical Dreamers cover, said they were glad they stumbled across it, and subscribed.  Then went on to say they liked my Final Fantasy and Xenosaga stuff!  I know I don’t have a big subscriber count, but the quality of my subscribers always amazes me. That comment made my day, because they liked all the ones that I put a lot of effort into and aaah this is why I make music, I can’t describe how happy it made me they liked all of those covers!

 

That’s all I have to say about the challenge today!  By next week it’ll be over dun dun dun.  I’ll do another update post plus wrap up, and then start working on making these musical sketches into full blown tracks!

If you want to hear what I have so far, you can check out a playlist of my challenge pieces here!

The 21 Day VGM Challenge has Begun!

And it’s been loads of fun!

 

If you haven’t seen me mention it before, the 21 Day VGM Challenge is an event put on by Video Game Music Academy, a blog and facebook group that specializes in helping people improve their composing skills, specifically for composing in video games.  This month, a challenge was set forth to create music for 21 days.  It has to be 2 to 4 bars, and the entire thing is designed to get into the habit of making music every day, to get your composer juices flowing.
And I gotta say, it’s working super well for me, in more ways than one!  Not only is it helping me come up with ideas, but it’s helping me learn how to play on piano in different ways.  It’s also stretching my brain to look for different chord progressions, melodic structures, and ways to play both on the piano.  I hadn’t realized how much of a practicing piano slump I had gotten into, until I started this challenge.  I still play daily, but I was having a hard time finding things to teach myself that I hadn’t already figured out.  With this challenge however, I’m doing things like mirroring left and right hand playing, looking for different chord voicings, figuring out how to do a different tempo in one hand as opposed to the other, and overall just striving to teach myself things I wasn’t really thinking of, because I wasn’t stretching my brain to think outside of the box.  I’m much more of a teach yourself something when you need it type of person, so this write a melody or chord sketch a day process is working extraordinarily well for me!
On the Facebook group, people are sharing what they’re coming up with, and it’s really cool, and inspiring!  It’s interesting to see how people are approaching the challenge differently:  some people are doing simple piano sketches like me, other full blown tracks.  Some people made a theme the first day, and are building upon said theme with the rest of the bars they’re making throughout the challenge – a great idea that got me thinking, I’ll see if any of my ideas can merge together after the challenge is done in such a way – and that’s the cool thing, too.  Seeing everyone else’s compositions is giving me so many ideas just by listening to them.  The crazy thing too, is we’re only four days in!  There are so many pieces of music to listen to, the event is going awesome so far!

 

That’s basically been my experience thus far.  I’ll write a wrap up post when this is all over, talking about what I learned and enjoyed and sniz in this little adventure.  But honestly, I know I’m going to be doing this again on my own.  It’s an awesome experience already, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

If you’d like to hear the musical sketches I’ve come up with, I’ve made a playlist for them you can listen to here.  Fingers crossed I don’t run out of time on my soundcloud before the event is up XD