The music creation process has often been seen as daunting by the novice musician yet ask any professional musician and they’ll tell you that feeling barely goes away with time! This is because every project is different and requires a whole new mind-set each and every time. Sure you will begin to work faster and improve your workflow but every record is a new learning experience. Below is a typical song making process used by modern day professionals. Opinions and methods differ so don’t think this guide is cast in stone but it is rather there to point you in the right direction. One of the best things you can do when making music is to experiment…be it in the composing, song writing, mixing, or mastering stages. Creativity is a must.
Now you might be wondering why so much music sounds alike today and above it states experiment. This is because you want to take your musical risks wisely. Over the centuries music listeners have subconsciously become accustomed to music that follows a general pattern. Note it says “general” because there are many hit songs that have broken the “rules”. Typically you will hear a song with an intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. Also notice how during the chorus you will likely hear the “hook” which is the part of the song you’re likely to hum or catch onto first. Most songs are made or broken by their hooks so when it comes to building one make sure it stands out!
There can be many or few stages to making music depending on your preferred workflow. Below is a tried and tested method used by many today.
Stage 1: Composing, Arranging
For music making, it is generally necessary to have a keyboard to input your music if you aren’t going to be recording every instrument live. It is important to learn an instrument as it’ll be indispensable to a music maker unless you are a sample based producer or maybe rely on session musicians to translate your musical ideas into the computer. Using a midi-keyboard for creating music is great because it gives it that live/human feel that doesn’t make a record sound so mechanical!
These days, people typically start off with the beat, finish it off, send it off to the singer and then re-work it when the singer sends back the vocals…what a process!..but if done write it can be very rewarding.
Before you start off, you want to have general idea of what you are about to make. Ask yourself; is it a dance, sad, smooth song? Will it centre on dark musical themes associated with genres such as hip-hop or will it gravitate towards the lighter pop sound? Start with a song name in mind and a general storyline (not lyrics) of the song. This will later on help make the song more exciting as you can use a subtle instrument for touching parts and then a full on wall of sound banging on the speakers for an intense part. However, it is not rare to start a song with one idea and then end up with a totally different one! Just as long as the end result is something that you know you love.
Typically you want to start off the composition with your songs “main attraction”…this can be a killer drum pattern, piano or instrumental melody. This will allow you to build your song around what makes it great and not have to begin figuring out what makes it great when you finish the beat. Usually starting off with a mediocre sound will give you a mediocre track! Starting with the chorus can yield some amazing results though it can be long and tedious trying to find that right melody!…but once it’s done right, the rest of the song feels like it’s just falling nicely into place. The instruments you choose for this stage are very important…you have to decide whether you want powerful kicks that won’t require too much support from a bass guitar/sound or maybe if the vocals shall later on take 90% of the attention of your chorus/hook and the instrumentation becomes very simplistic for that part. Try some combinations that work best for the song the song.
After the “main attraction” you can now build the rest of your song…some songs these days don’t differ too much between sections meaning that building the rest of the song will be easy whilst some songs have a lot of different sections to keep you interested. Typical commercial dance music has a lot of variety in it. This is mainly because you have a lot of “space” to work with. If the average length of songs is between 3.30 to 4.30 minutes and a dance song is at 120bpm, this means that they can get in 30bars of music for every minute of music as compared to a slow n steady hip-hop song at 60bpm that will only get 15 bars to work with in that same minute. Of course you can spice things up in the 60bpm one but the 120bpm song will give you better options to work with.
After completing the beat, you then send it to an artist usually who can song-write and sing as well. This process of writing lyrics and figuring out the write vocal melody for the song can be so much fun as you’ll discover a whole new dimension to your song. For the song-writing, just remember that something catchy and yet original will make for the best song. Repetition used wisely can really make a song stick into the listeners mind…but use it too much like that song “Lose Control” by LL Cool J for the lines “zzzzzz” and you’ll have your listeners shunning the lack of creativity
This process begins when the final vocals from the singer are sent back to the producer. Put the vocal tracks and their backing tracks in to the song and begin to mess around with its structure. Some songs sound best when the chorus hits you from second 1 and yet some sound best after a nice gradual build up to the climax. Arranging is often overlooked as an important process but it is essential to a good song. Knowing where to place the sections in your song will help highlight the crucial parts and create some nice crescendos to parts of the song.
During the arranging process, play around with the instruments in your beat…do they sound right with the voice?…are there any clashing notes between the lead instrument and the lead vocal? Some songs don’t gel together with the beat because an outstanding beat would have been put underneath and outstanding vocal! You need to decide which parts of the song will have the beat shining and which parts will have the vocals shining…this should keep things interesting and provide a balance in the mix. Playing around with not velocities here may help as well as provide a human feel to the song but usually the delete button works best. Some music makers hate deleting the parts they’ve created and may end up with too many instruments in 1 section of the song…don’t even think about falling into that trap.
After this you will be ready to track out your song to prepare it for stage 2 which is the mixing process. Mixing is actually challenging and usually requires a professional to get the best out of your song.