Working on my Music Skills: Redoing The Witching Hour, Results and Thoughts

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:

 

The Witching Hour Revised

 

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!

The Witching Hour (Original) Smile Bomb! And General Music Update

The Witching Hour [Original Instrumental] – YouTube

 

Smile Bomb!  – YouTube

 

A few musical updates today!  There was one more collaboration I could have linked but I really don’t like how it came out and it deserves a post all its own if I ever wind up posting it to be completely honest.  Not a bad experience, just an annoying one lol.  But, This collab is another story!  I met Chris through seeing a friend of mine link her collab with him.  I commented on the video, he emailed me and asked if we could do something together and my answer is always “Yes!”.  After that, we got talking, and we get along really well!  He’s really nice to work with, and I definitely am happy to have a new friendship with him (an working relationship, as well!) it’s really nice to have people to talk to about all this music youtube business who’s into it too, I’ve already gotten loads of help and support from him, and doing this collab was amazing.  Yu Yu Hakusho is an anime I loved from my childhood, and when I saw Smile Bomb on the list of suggestions he had I was like “I love that song, let’s do it!”.  Overall, I just feel really open about talking to Chris, and working on improving our channels together, and this collab is hopefully the first in many more collabs with him!
This is another huge milestone, because it’s the first thing I’ve done that’s on iTunes and Spotify and other music distribution sites EEE!  I couldn’t stop myself from listening to the preview over and over again on iTunes, it’s so cool to see it there!  I can’t wait to see more of my stuff go on those stores as well, it’s a dream come true!
On that note, I got all of the distribution stuff situated for my next cover.  I had to get a bit aggressive with Soundrop, because I emailed them three times before they responded – and they only responded when I tweeted at them about my problem (which was pretty entertaining to see, I must admit hahaa).  They fixed it yesterday, and my next cover is now in the process of being listed on stores!  So after that’s done, I’ll be posting my Terra cover on YouTube (finally!  I’ve been working on this for so long).  They said it could take up to a week to get it to stores but I’ve seen other friends have a turnaround of a day or so, so the cover will be going up next week, woo!

 

Because Terra’s theme wasn’t ready yet, I opted to post the other video linked above.  I mentioned working on this track a while ago, and got my awesome animator friend to make an animation for me.  The first custom one he’s done, yay!  (Side note:  If you want him to be able to do this a lot more, consider supporting me on Patreon – he also made my album art for Terra’s theme).  I put this together a few weeks ago probably, just in a 3 hour span of time.  Figured out all of the melodies just by noodling on the keyboard.  I figured out the piano background first and was like “Oo this sounds spooky, what else can I add to it” and just kept on building on it until I got this.  I half improv, half made the main melody.  Not sure if I could even redo it haha but I really liked how it came out for my first attempt at an all instrumental track!  Let me know what you think J

 

It sort of just happened this month, but I really liked the amount of content I released!  I got one original track, one cover with backtrack, and one VGM/anime cover arrangement done.  I’m not going to concrete say I must stick to this schedule, but at the same time I kind of want to.  If the licensing goes smoothly, it really wouldn’t be a major hassle because this is all I do for an…attempted living 😄 I’d love to try and get a video out a week, but I don’t think I could do that with music all the time so may look at doing some how it’s made behind the scenes stuff, who knows.  Either way, I’m really happy this month of music is over, because hoo boy was it stressful haha.
That also was a lot longer of a post than I expected, but like I said a lot has been going on!  Hope you enjoy these videos, more will be coming soon!

The Overwelmingly Exciting World of Midi and Music Production

Now that I have my computer back, I’ve been able to start working on music to full capacity again.  On my Mom’s computer, it would crash as soon as I tried to add reverb, so I just did some basic mixes for the holidays on it.  But now, I can install some virtual instruments I bought on sale during the holidays, which I  was really excited for.  My track record with downloading, and being able to use virtual instruments is very slim:  I always download something as a demo to see if it’s accessible first, but this particular plug in was on sale for 1 dollar so I was like “I don’t care if it’s accessible or not, I’ll make it work!” I got to on a sale like this, so tried them both.  One is called Xpand 2:  An overall virtual instrument, with 2300 instruments and sounds to choose from.  I downloaded it, opened the VST window and…nothing happened dun dun dun! So I got bummed, and went to regroup.

 

Then a thought struck me.  I went “Wait a minute, I got this to try and use with my keyboard to see if it will work, so let me plug in my keyboard as a midi controller to see if it plays” and low and behold, that worked!  I was, and still am, so stoked!  I can use a virtual instrument now, when I’ve never been able to because the menus were un-navigatable!  I tried this with all of my other virtual instruments, and it works for everything!  Well, everything but a drum one, but I haven’t activated that yet so I’m guessing that’s why it refuses to work, and I haven’t committed time to sorting that out yet.
The other VST I got from that 1 dollar sale was an orchestra strings set, with 7 GB of string samples.  That one, I haven’t been able to try yet, but not because of anything midi related:  It’s because the dang thing doesn’t load, and crashes Reaper whenever I try to load it, and I can’t figure out why!  So I’m trying to sort that out also, but Xpand 2 is more than enough to hold me over until then.

 

When I was playing my keyboard, and actually recording its internal sound, I realized something:  My keyboard sounds like basic midi garbage when I record it rotfl.  I was like nuuuuu!!!  So, I did some research, and downloaded a VST called Pianissimo, which apparently   is the most well-known, and well used piano virtual instrument out there.  I’m not surprised, because it sounds amazing!  It’s a breeze to mix, and I love going through all of the different piano sounds.  If you need something to record piano with, I’d highly recommend this for your virtual instrument option:  it can also be used super easily with my keyboard as a midi controller, and plays right out the box.  I have it as a 14 day free trial right now, so I’m just playing as many arrangements as I can think of wanting to cover with it, then saving them as .wav before my trial is up haha.  It’s price point is really good for its quality, only 68 USD, so when my trial is up, I’m going to definitely pick up a copy!  I mean, I could probably get it for free through some…wink wink channels, but I really want all of my music production software to be legit, and 68 dollars isn’t a bad price point at all for what you’re getting in that package.

 

Speaking of price, did I mention the two plug ins I got for 1 dollar have a market price of 100 USD?  I was shocked to find that out too, and when I first saw the sale I was convinced that I somehow would be charged some super high extra fee but nope:  it just was a 1 dollar sale.  I got it from Plugin Boutique, which is a really good site to buy any plug in or VST you could be looking for.  Activating, and downloading the software is really easy, and they have a page of deals they are offering (which are all fantastic if you have the money).  Real talk:  I was told about the 1 dollar sale on the strings VST by a fellow VGM musician on Twitter, and that’s the only reason I gave this site a chance.  So glad I did, because I love the site so much, and definitely will be using it for any VST needs I have in the future!

 

Back to the midi controller, though.  My only complaint with it is, I don’t have a visual display of what instruments are where.  Xpand 2 has categories, but the manual doesn’t list any categories’, so I’m just stuck arrowing through every instrument one by one on my keyboards keypad until I find something I want to use.  From what I’ve heard from other blind musicians, this is the norm for using a virtual instrument with a midi controller, and I’m blessed that I can use the VST at all with this extra hardware so I just have to get used to the process.  I figured my plan will be to play the section I want, then go through the VST after recording and pick the sound I want to save time and streamline my production process.
I love using my keyboard as a midi controller!  It’s so easy to lay down sections, and I don’t have to worry about lining up instruments:  I just play them in the right tempo, and I’m good to go.  It’s both exciting, and overwhelming:  overwhelming because now I’m afraid once I release something with instruments in it, it won’t be good enough, or sound too scarce or something.  But, pushing those negative thoughts away and just working on things, as is my tendency~

 

Speaking of working on things, I have my first piece done!  Well, it’s a cover, not an original work.  But either way, it’s going to be a number of firsts for me.  The first time I’m playing my piano in a cover (I’m terrified to post it because of that) and the first time I’m recording video for a cover that will be on my channel (doubly terrified because of that, am so tempted to back out of doing it but no no push through Crystal rawr!).  Like I mentioned above, I’m so scared that this arrangement is too bare bones:  it’s just me playing piano and vocals, and at times I feel like it’s bland but I did my best in the mix to set it up to sound more rounded.  When I listen to it, I like it, but in the back of my mind I’m like “Is this good enough to post?”.  Whether it is or not, I’m going to post it.  After all, can’t improve unless you put yourself out there!

 

OK, I’m done with this rambly post.  Had a lot of exciting things I wanted to talk about, so that’s why I bounce all over the place in this 😄
But what about you guys, have any exciting news lately?

Piano Playing Progress – Two Weeks

I thought it would be fun to keep a log of my keyboard/piano progress, because what else is a blog for if not for doing something like that?  I’ll be updating with this little feature every 2 weeks, or every month, haven’t decided yet.

 

Surprisingly, it’s a lot easier to play than I expected!  Like learning the chord progressions I’ve got down for the most part, at least in the major scale.  I’m still working on training my fingers to play minor, inverted, and diminished cords, and getting the layout of the keyboard memorized a bit more.  Like, sometimes I hit the right cord, and sometimes I jump down to half a step more than I was expected.  I think that’s mainly because I start thinking about where my fingers should be:  Instead of letting my hands take over and sort of have my brain check out.  When I over think, is when I start to trip up, so I need to get more out of my head.

 

What’s been frustrating me (and I know it shouldn’t since I’ve only been playing for 2 weeks) is hand coordination.  I want to be able to play with both hands already!  I’ve been focusing on training my hands to play together, because I saw this really helpful tip about doing that where your hands really aren’t playing different things, you’re using the same fingers to play the cords, just on different spots on the keyboard.  And, that trick has helped me a lot!  I’ve been doing this warm up where I use my right hand to play a descending  progression, while my left does the harmony cords.  I can do it fine fast, but when I slow down for some reason it’s harder for me to keep both hands going.  But once again, I’m being too hard on myself and hand coordination is something that will grow over time.

 

I’ve been hashing out some song melodies and stuff too, which has been fun.  A few have gone well and a few…not so well, but I feel like I need to read up more on song writing and music theory just to refresh my memory.  It’s annoying when you have a melody in your head and try to play it on piano and just can’t though grrr.  I’m trying not to get overly frustrated, because I honestly think I’ve made a lot of good progress over the two weeks I’ve been playing, and the things I’ve been trying that I’ve failed at have been some decently advanced stuff.

 

But yeah, that has been my progress so far!  I’m excited to use my keyboard in a cover, I’ve been practicing some patterns for two or three covers that I need to just record.  Am excited and nervous to have my lacking keyboard skills be shown in a video 😄

A Musical Update

I’m having one of those awesome weeks where stuff is starting to come together, and I don’t think I’ve done a straight up music update in a while, so here we go!

 

I’ve been working on a few collabs the past few months, and I got to hear the one I was most looking forward to hearing a few hours ago.  It’s from a Final Fantasy game, and is going to be on a Final Fantasy album for next year, and ugh I am just so excited to be able to hear it completed but now I’m like aruuuug I can’t share it with you guys until the album is released and it’s killing me.  I will say, everyone involved put in their A game, the track is so amazing.  It’s my favorite track from that particular Final Fantasy, and it’s a very different take on the original track.
It’s doubly exciting, because I provided both vocals, and lyrics for it!  I told the person mixing it that they could use takes with lyrics or with just straight up ooos for the melody, so I was super excite to hear the lyrical takes on the tracks.  I wrote a lot more verses than were used in this version of the track, so I may do another version on my YouTube Channel with all four verses I did for this certain track.

 

I’m also working on a duet with someone that’s coming out great so far!  I haven’t done my parts, but their parts sound really good and I’m excited to get to work on that once I learn the song.  I also finally got a few instruments recently!  I picked up some shakers and a really nice tambourine, and I know for sure I’ll be getting um, something pretty musical for Christmas I can’t wait to start learning how to play.  I also picked up a recorder, so once I learn how to play that, it’s going to be sooo much fun making covers.  But I’m the most excited to start learning to play my Christmas gift 😄

 

My main focus for next year and the end of this year, is going to be music.  I got side track this year by a lot of side projects, and silly insecurities, so I’m going to make it a point to not have that be the case for next year.  I’m so happy that I’ve decided to tackle some things I wouldn’t normally do (like doing all of these collaborations, for one) and I feel like my music is going in a great direction.  Here’s hoping it stays that way!

I Learned Something Today

I don’t know how this epiphany  came about – I think I was listening to one of my favorite youtube artists (if not my favorite) and who I hadn’t heard in a long time.  She initially inspired me to write my own lyrics, after listening to  originals of hers, and inspires the style of music that I’ve always wanted to make.  She makes covers of video game and anime music in a medieval style, and plays all of her own instruments.  It’s something I strive to do eventually, and is part of the reason why I want to buy things to make my own mini one woman band.  But as the title of this post says, I learned something today

 

I want it to be easy.

 

Let me break this down:  I don’t mean I want the process to not have road bumps, I know that’s impossible.  But I want to do this with instruments that are easy to learn, like a recorder, tambourine, hand drum, shakers etc etc.  I love arranging music, and singing, and I want instruments that are easy to learn so I can spend less time learning how to play those, and more time arranging my pieces with them.  Sure they’re simple to learn, but hard to master:  and that, to me is a lot more fun than spending a ton of time having to learn an instrument.  The fun to me, is taking something simple, and figuring out how to make it sound intricate and well thought out with it in an arrangement.  That’s what the fun of music is to me, and I need to learn that it’s completely fine to do that, and there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to learn how to play a 12 string guitar or something.  I realized that my strength as a musician, and a person, is being adaptable, and making things work for me that most people wouldn’t necessarily make work for them, and that’s a strength I never quite realized I had until now.  So, I’m going to take that adaptability, get simple instruments to learn, and make the best damn covers that I can with them!

 

I hope I don’t relapse into my typical “Oh, I need all this intense stuff to do ___” mindset, I’m going to try not to.  This is definitely an important step for me as far as my music is concerned, and I really, really need to drill into my head that this style that I want to use to make music  is fine, that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do it this way.  I don’t know why I have in my head that I need to do some structured, perfect way of making music, because honestly it’s the most flexible art form around.
So yeah, here’s to keeping my new music mindset!  😄

Limit Yourself Kinda Sucks

For some reason with everything else I am like “Limiting yourself in ___ is stupid I will do whatever!” but with music I am like “I can’t do this, because I am rooted in ___ style of music” and yes, that’s somewhat true, but like, I don’t get why I’m so dead-set  against experimenting with different musical styles, when I really don’t have to.  I’ve been thinking I really want to tinker with making some EDM, or covering some rock or pop but my brain is always like “You can’t, you only sing Celtic or video game stuff!” and I just want to be like duuuude it really doesn’t matter, it’s my channel and I can post whatever I want as long as it’s music.  So right now, I’m trying to just get over that and start working on different genres of music, and see what happens.

 

It’s a really bad mindset though, because my brain keeps on saying anything I write in another genre isn’t good enough, and when I just look at any lyrics I write I’m like eww.  But I’m going to try and just get over that by recording, and like I said see what happens with experimentation.  I mean, worst case scenario is…nothing?  You always learn something from stuff you do I think, so I just really need to get out of this mindset when it comes to music.
So time to cross my fingers, force myself to record, and see what comes of it!  Wish me luck 😄