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Thoughts on song structure

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merlin
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Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 01:23 PM Reply

So I have a dilema. I've reluctantly been growing into a full fledged adult. I started becoming more aware about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I'm not superman with music to say the least. I'm sure everyone at some point comes to this self awareness, when you realize that the Pros really are the same as you, but just better at it, probably because it makes more sense to them.

I've been steering away from music production because it intimidates me. But I'm constantly thinking about it... tearing apart songs, and seeing how they did what, and thinking to myself "I can do that too!" But every time I sit down at my workspace, I instantly start thinking it sounds like shit. I listen to my NG "hits" if you can call them that, and I feel like every single person who's listened/reviewed any of my songs as a 5 or 10 is a moron.

I know you're probably thinking I'm just being insecure and it'll pass, but it's not that at all. I want to push myself, because I've been lazy.

Let's skip all the pleasantries of "There is no right or wrong way" to compose a song, but I would like to have a discussion about how songs are mixed. I'd like to try and steer away from EQ/Mastering as much as possible, because those are topics I struggle with, and want to build a stronger foundation of composing before I take on the technical aspects of my weakness.

What I've been discovering lately is that my songs have way too much going on. But to me, if I take it away, it feels too boring/generic. I need some guidance finding that sweet spot that gives me the best of both worlds. I'm talking about song structure.

I don't care if it's opinions, facts, generalizations, or assumptions, I want to hear what the people of this community think about when they go to tackling a song idea.

The method I've been using is a pretty old school one that I learned when I was 9, and first started playing bass guitar. A good mentor of mine told me the old human body makeup technique, where the drums come first, and are the skeleton, then the bass is the muscle, then the rhythm is the blood, and the melody is the skin. That tends to be the order of which I create my patterns, but where do I go from there?

Over the years, I've accumulated a good 150 or so song files that are just patters or instruments I've created. Has anyone of you EVER had success in establishing a new song, then incorporating something from your past, and actually having it sound good? If so, how the hell do you do that?!

When do you think too much is too much? I tend to do the whole progressive deal, and it seems I always end up with too much going on at the end, but I feel if I take anything out, it sounds like a step backwards.

What do you do to create that big POP in a song. When the beat drops, and everyone has their :-O face on. When do you let it happen? Why do you do it the way you do?

What makes you decide if your song needs a breakdown, or a buildup?

Any protips, like "Absolutely never have an accordion and a bass line play the same notes together"

Why do you do these things the way that you do them?

I hope to god I didn't come across as an ass, so I'll try and use an analogy to sum up what I'm asking for. I'm lost in a pitch black cave, and all I need is a group discussion to sort of point me in the direction of the exit.

I'm not asking for specific criticism on my songs. But if you want to, by all means, feel free to tear me apart. It's what I'm looking for.


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jarrydn
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 01:28 PM Reply

if you want to produce fire, you *have* to have funk

jarrydn
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 01:31 PM Reply

in addendum, i feel that maybe you are writing music for approval from others. you can definitely do this, but i wouldn't go there until you can satisfy yourself first.

merlin
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 01:49 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 01:31 PM, jarrydn wrote: in addendum, i feel that maybe you are writing music for approval from others. you can definitely do this, but i wouldn't go there until you can satisfy yourself first.

I agree with your statement. I'm trying to compose for myself now, but it's still an intimidating beast. In hind sight, I probably could have gotten my question across if I just made a thread called "Parts in songs you can't stand: NG AP edition!"


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amplefied
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 01:55 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 01:23 PM, merlin wrote: Wall of text
Has anyone of you EVER had success in establishing a new song, then incorporating something from your past, and actually having it sound good? If so, how the hell do you do that?!

I don't think that's how it works, I have plenty of abandoned projects lying around, the only way to view them is practice. If there is something that is catchy about that one thing then it's better off remembered and redone where it will fit.

I think the biggest problem is figuring out what you want to express, most of the time it just falls into place as the project progresses.

as far as structures go, I think that it depends on what kind of music you want to make. Every genre and style has certain things that work in the context of that music, yet fall completely in others. Or just end up really weird.

I know things that I like in music and just try to incorporate that, fuck everything else.

SineRider
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 02:03 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 01:49 PM, merlin wrote: I agree with your statement. I'm trying to compose for myself now, but it's still an intimidating beast.

Just think of it like taking on an ancient wyrm

merlin
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 02:07 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 02:03 PM, SineRider wrote:
At 1/15/12 01:49 PM, merlin wrote: I agree with your statement. I'm trying to compose for myself now, but it's still an intimidating beast.
Just think of it like taking on an ancient wyrm

D:

Thoughts on song structure


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Solisio
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 02:11 PM Reply

I think this post sums up all the angst of* every composer ever. Sorry, I am nab at typing plx.

eatmeatleet
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 03:39 PM Reply

Here is basic structure of every popular 140bpm club song.
For starters, drop can be just a filter quieting down the song and the breakdown can be 8 kicks at fast speed. I probably now look super retarded for posting this because everyone knows this, right?

Thoughts on song structure


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eatmeatleet
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joshhunsaker
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 03:54 PM Reply

Here's the thing, songs that are on the radio or famous or whatever have a lot of very specific things going for them. Here's a few points I've noticed that tend to escape people in terms of how insanely vital they are even though they seem obvious after you break them down.

One is going to be the quality of the actual recording takes that were done for the song. Let's face it, a $10k mic/pre combo in a world-class studio is just going to seriously out-class a Blue Yeti going straight to your computer. Ask yourself - is it easier to get a good take with a very very expensive hardware vocal chain and ample high-end monitoring options or a single cheap dynamic running into a $100 interface with limited monitoring options while listening on headphones that barely produce intelligible sound? I shouldn't really have to answer that, but then consider which situation also tends to lend to more creative and constructive mix decisions - pissing time away correcting recording issues and deficiencies or throwing down effortless takes with the aid of top-notch equipment that makes it hard to sound bad? So, we see here you have what is essentially a money problem.

Another thing that people forget is the quality of the instrument you use is also going to seriously influence your ability to be creative. Some people will say "naw dude, that's not even true I can write just as fantastic music on a crap GM sound bank as on a Roland Fantom G8". That's an idea you could refer to as being "total bullshit". Try sitting down at a horribly out of tune Baldwin spinet piano and writing music. Done? Now try the same exercise sitting at a properly maintained 8 ft. Steinway concert grand piano. I don't think I should need to expand that example. The quality of the sample-banks/instruments/hardware you are using DOES matter. In fact, it matters A LOT. Why is it that people like expensive gear? Is it because it's a status symbol and looks prettier than your current stuff and the light-up buttons provide a nice warm glow in a dark studio room? No, it's because higher-end equipment is literally just more fun to use. I have yet to sit down at a $2k keyboard at guitar center and then be like "gawd, I sure do miss my POS Yamaha PSR-225 and it's 3mb of onboard garbage AWM synthesis whatever". If I could plug notes into FL Studio and have it literally sound the same as having the San Francisco Symphony in my room you better believe I'm going to immediately start writing some insane Hans-Zimmer-on-music-cocaine quality sh*t right that moment. I would probably then very seriously consider taking drugs so I could write music for as long as humanly possible before collapsing. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for my body) I don't have a sample bank that sounds like that so I really don't get the same feeling about wanting to write orchestral music that I do when considering the possibility of having gorgeous women get involved in jello-wrestling competitions to see who gets to be the first person to make me a sammich. If this sounds like familiar territory (the overall point of the paragraph, not the jello wrestling bit) it's because we're looking at <gasp!> another issue related to money and hence the quality of the equipment.

Another issue is the quality of the mix environment. How accurately is your song going to translate after your done? How many times have you written a song, thought it sounded "phenomenal" or some other superlative description and then heard it on some other stereo and it was... sucky? Wow, well - funny... cause this really happens ALL THE TIME with project studio setups. Do you think that might just have some tiny impact on how intent you are on writing music in general? It certainly does, after realizing that the song you've just spent 50 hours writing and producing is actually UNLIKELY to even sound good to other people because you mixed it on an inaccurate system you bet your ass it's going to subconsciously affect your ability to compose serious music. Being able to throw down or orchestrate a piece and be absolutely confident of how that will then sound to anyone and everyone else goes a pretty damn long way in changing the way someone writes music. Really, if you're confident enough that what you're writing is going to sound just tits on any system it's very very likely to affect how much effort and work you put into what you're doing. Of course, this situation typically boils down into yet another money problem.

Maybe this sounds like I'm saying you simply can't make incredible music without lots of money. You'd be wrong of course. There's always going to be the xKore's of the world who seem to have the staggering ability to orchestrate immensely powerful works of art with likely a very modest reference setup and minimal hardware. Such an area (however) has already inherently avoided 2 of the major problems I described. First, most stuff like that has no singing or very few live instruments. Second - software synthesizers now are able to side-step a pretty major portion of that second issue I described if you stay mostly within that realm of instrumentation. Third, some people just have a sense for how to make something sound "right" without necessarily having the most accurate setup available. Voila! You have an approach that affords some pretty formidable demo worthy pieces without the investment of too much money. xKore (as well as a great deal many other artists on this site) follow this recipe.

I'm sure for every other situation this probably sounds like I'm trying to equate expenditure of money to how creative your music can be. And to that, I would say "abso-fucking-lutely". The music I write now is not better than my old stuff because I'm magically more talented now than I was years ago (I'm not). It's because I have equipment and software that is light-years beyond the meager crap I was using before. Were you to tell me I have to write music from now on using the GM sound banks I used to use 10 years ago and I would literally just not write music anymore. Seriously, I wouldn't. Because it would suck and I would know better. If I had $10k right now that I could blow on anything... do you know what it would be? Audio engineering equipment, every last fricken dime of it.

Xyresic
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 05:13 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 03:54 PM, joshhunsaker wrote: lulz

You heard it here first folks, either be xKore or be willing to spend all your money on top notch audio equipment and you can make it big!


bork bork bork

jpbear
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 05:32 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 03:54 PM, joshhunsaker wrote:
Third, some people just have a sense for how to make something sound "right" without necessarily having the most accurate setup available.

So you actually have to be born with some natural skill?!?!!!

OMG YOUR SO MEAN JOSHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

merlin
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 05:38 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 03:54 PM, joshhunsaker wrote: a whole lot of stuff that I actually took the time to read

Sadly, I feel if I were one of those people who really did have it figured out, it would have happened by now.

I've never really considered how much effort I would be willing to put into music. Sure, fame and bitches are always a fun thing to daydream about, but I suppose I'm at that point in my life where I have to decide whether music will be a hobby or something more to me.

All I know is that I'm tired of hating my songs, but I'm not entirely prepared to invest all of my earnings into something I consider "just a hobby". Don't get me wrong. I'm not quitting music, and as I make more money throughout my life, I'm sure I'll invest in higher end stuff. As it stands, I have about 2.5~3 k USD invested in all of my instruments/equipment. Thats exactly how much I would get if I sold my car... But at the same time, that's nowhere near enough to get a truly professional sound, and I suppose I've just been in denial about that.

I really do appreciate your time to post this, and I'm not entirely sure if the part about live recordings was targeted to me, but it absolutely does apply. I've once or twice patted myself on the back for being one of the few here on NG that record things themselves to incorporate them into their works.


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joshhunsaker
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 06:02 PM Reply

At 1/15/12 05:13 PM, Xyresic wrote:
At 1/15/12 03:54 PM, joshhunsaker wrote: lulz
You heard it here first folks, either be xKore or be willing to spend all your money on top notch audio equipment and you can make it big!

lol, also not what I was saying... I don't have really expensive equipment - but the gear I do have is rather accurate. I was never able to mix music like xKore honestly without the aid of smartly arranged reference equipment.

Honestly it took me like 10 years of mixing to realize what types of mixing mistakes I was making originally. Some people just seem to have an ear for it right off the bat. I certainly didn't.

joshhunsaker
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 06:10 PM Reply

I hate to do this... but as an example let's look at people who have either made it big or are in the process of making it big. Do their studios or setups typically have less than $1k invested... or more? I think we've all seen the pictures.

I'm not saying you can't make it if you don't have money. But just be prepared to - A. Have incredible/serious/ruthless amounts of skill to compensate for an inaccurate mix environment that will never quite translate right - B. Get enough money to at least buy real studio time - C. Get incredibly effing lucky with a whole slew of mix decisions somehow (pretty much totally unlikely)

Seriously, if you don't have money, those are your options. I'm sorry.

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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 06:20 PM Reply

Here's a real-life example of what I'm talking about. I'm sure you all know Rig. He's a pretty ridiculously talented guy who knows what he's doing. But (of course) Rig is looking to go somewhere with all this audio stuff. So he did what anyone would (and has to do) if they wish to get anywhere in this game of production and built himself a proper studio.

That takes (you guessed it): $$$ CASH-MONAY $$$

And look, he's been making money from his music for a ways now (due mostly I'm sure to cold-hard skill which I mentioned was an option but I'm sure he also had a decently accurate setup to mix on). I'm sure now he'll make a SIGNIFICANT amount more. You can see below this guy isn't messing around. His clients will see that too.

Thoughts on song structure

blackattackbitch
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 08:38 PM Reply

Okay, for those who don't have cash money to blow on their studios, here's what I did:

I've spent years searching for the perfect sample banks and soundfonts to use. You read that right. Years. (if I remember right, there should be a link in my signature where you can download all those soundfonts at once, but it's been a while since I've posted here.) My point is that if you want a certain sound, you had better work for it either by applying some creative editing to what you have or finding some different samples or synths. That said, what Josh said is right. Some things just can't be achieved with a crappy soundset, and I've been forced to confront that time and time again. Sometimes you have to settle for what you have and work around it.

Now I also noticed a lot of hate for your own music, and something that really struck me. You mentioned that those who rated your music as good were wrong. No, they weren't. As far as composing for an audience goes, if your audience likes it, then it's good. What you're dealing with is that your music doesn't measure up to your own standards. Here's my recommendation: Start a whole new song. Declare this song the best song you will ever make. Do whatever it takes to make this the best song ever. If you need to backtrack and rework major sections to get the song right, do it. Do whatever it takes to make that song match your standards, but most importantly, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want those standards to be. You say your songs sound too full, yet when you try to fix that, it sounds empty, right? There's easy ways to fix that, either through layering, thicker reverb, EQ work, etc. Listen to songs that sound the way you want them to sound and figure out exactly why they sound that way.

jarrydn
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 10:25 PM Reply

merlin, don't sweat, it's not as hard as everyone is making it out to be. all you have to do is persevere (this is the part where most people fall down)

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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 10:55 PM Reply

To have a lot of things going on, there are a few conditions that must be met:

- The shuffle must meet up. Quite simply, if you want to have funk, you have to make sure that things aren't effectively getting off-beat within the shuffle effect.

- The mixing must be good. Work on signal flow, chaining, EQ, compression, maximization, and the like.

- You must have a good ear for designing your sounds.

- The sounds must musically be kosher. Your notes should match up nicely within their scale, and sound good. It's best to let the music flow freely, usually.

- You have to build your ear.

- You have to build up an ear for your music.

- You should design most of your sounds.

- You must build up an ear for your music, and understand your software confidently.

Yes, I emphasize simply building up an ear, which comes with understanding your studio completely.

Best of luck to you. Although it's not really luck; you just need to keep pushing.


"It's only metal and bolts; Holding up the walls. But you're talking God and cocking hip." -Melon by Home Video

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Adam-Beilgard
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 15th, 2012 @ 11:48 PM Reply

You know what you want.

Now.

Practice.

And don't be afraid to fail.

Look up Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.


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Some mellow jazz

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eatmeatleet
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 04:44 AM Reply

Maybe it's just the case that Xkore spends more time actually working something than ranting on forums or buying equipment. There was this poto on his twitter for a while where he had massive bags under his eyes, lol


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jarrydn
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 05:03 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 04:44 AM, eatmeatleet wrote: Maybe it's just the case that Xkore spends more time actually working something than ranting on forums or buying equipment. There was this poto on his twitter for a while where he had massive bags under his eyes, lol

This is the case, usually 100% of the time. You also get a lot of inspiration from hooking up with local musicians and producers, and staring community/scene projects. I tend to observe that angsty musicians tend to have other distractions in their life, like family/university/video games/partying/tv/procrastination etc. I've see people juggle these things really well, but in general humans are not good multi-taskers.

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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 06:53 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 05:03 AM, jarrydn wrote: other distractions in their life, like video games/procrastination etc.

I won't lie, if it weren't for these two things, I like to think I would be famous by now... But that really could be said for anyone who doesn't spend every waking moment working on their music.

I remember I got some advice from a guy on youtube who works as a studio guitarist... In half the time I've been writing music, he got to the point where he was running guitar clinics and making a living off his music...
Thing is... He literally practiced 16 hours a day for a couple years...
Even if I have 16 hours of a day available, I have other hobbies that like to grab my attention... and even if I didn't, I don't have the focus to sit doing one thing for 16 hours straight.


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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 06:56 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 06:53 AM, Back-From-Purgatory wrote: Even if I have 16 hours of a day available, I have other hobbies that like to grab my attention... and even if I didn't, I don't have the focus to sit doing one thing for 16 hours straight.

that's it my friend, it all comes down to how much you want it.

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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 07:09 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 06:56 AM, jarrydn wrote:
At 1/16/12 06:53 AM, Back-From-Purgatory wrote: Even if I have 16 hours of a day available, I have other hobbies that like to grab my attention... and even if I didn't, I don't have the focus to sit doing one thing for 16 hours straight.
that's it my friend, it all comes down to how much you want it.

Man, if I had that kind of determination, I would've been a millionaire before I hit 20, then I would've been able to just hire famous guitarists as tutors.

Unfortunately, I don't. Being an eternal pessimist probably doesn't help either (But at least I admit to it!)


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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 07:20 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 07:09 AM, Back-From-Purgatory wrote: Man, if I had that kind of determination, I would've been a millionaire before I hit 20, then I would've been able to just hire famous guitarists as tutors.

Unfortunately, I don't. Being an eternal pessimist probably doesn't help either (But at least I admit to it!)

I'd say I'm in kind of the same boat. I once heard an interview of Aphex Twin, and how he claims he just wants to make music all the time (which can be quite evident while listening to some of his more *ahem* experimental tracks), which I found pretty surprising. After cranking out one song, my body goes into a creativity coma, and I have to wait at least a few weeks before I can make something else even remotely palateable.
I also don't really have that kind of drive. It gets difficult for me sometimes, because I'm the kind of person who isn't very good at understanding their own emotions. I mean, I'm pretty sure I enjoy making music, but I have no idea if I have the kind of passion or motivation to make music all the time. To some people this probably sounds silly, like, isn't it obvious whether you're passionate about something? Well no, not for me it isn't. And If you don't know if you really love doing something, where does the motivation come from?

Probably the most consistently repeated piece of advice I could give any musician, even with my own limited experience, is that you have to love what you do. If you're truly passionate about music, and you persevere, then there isn't much stopping you from going where you want to go in the music world.
Unless a) you have absolutely no talent or b) your goals are way out of your league.
Goals are what should achieve on your way to dreams. Make them realistic.

end rant/advice/block of text/pouring out of emotions

bork bork bork

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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 07:46 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 07:20 AM, Xyresic wrote: (Snip)
I mean, I'm pretty sure I enjoy making music, but I have no idea if I have the kind of passion or motivation to make music all the time.
(More Snip)

Birds of a feather you and I.

And I spent like 20 min writing out a small essay elaborating on the subject... However, when I find something pathetic, it's better if it never sees the light of day... So I deleted it and you get this instead.

And thus my deep, dark secret remains hidden.
Moving on!

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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 07:51 AM Reply

At 1/16/12 07:46 AM, Back-From-Purgatory wrote: And I spent like 20 min writing out a small essay elaborating on the subject... However, when I find something pathetic, it's better if it never sees the light of day... So I deleted it and you get this instead.

That happens to me all too frequently... I'll draft an amazingly in-depth repsonse to some random comment somewhere before realising I don't care and going back to lurking.


bork bork bork

Chris-V2
Chris-V2
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Response to Thoughts on song structure Jan. 16th, 2012 @ 08:27 AM Reply

Most of Adele's new album was basicly her, a U87, the plugins that come with Pro Tools 9 and some extra software instruments. They might have mic'd the piano too, C414's? Anyway, we're not talking Neve Pre-Amps or Moog Voyagers. Standard fair equipment for the modern medium sized studio.

Michael Jackson was often found of an SM7B - a 300 dollar dynamic mic. Bruce Swedian didn't use any compressors on Jackson's albums. Sure, analouge EQ's and pre's were used - it was the 70's - but the sound came from really well arranged work played well. Bruce didn't come up with a bassline, Jackson sang what he felt would fit. And he had a good ear so they usualy did.

I don't really know if the budget is what makes the production, it's definitely about the source. The challange in modern music is trying to get the production good without loosing focus on the songwriting. A well made arrangement played by good musicians should sound really, really good in the room. Capture that and you're off to a good start.

As for song structures, it depends what you aim for. The constantly adding and a big EVERYONE ALL TOGETHER at the end structure is very hard to innovate with as we're quite used to it. Same with ABABCBB' with B changing key at the end usualy. The typical I-IV-vi-V verse, chorus, verse with a white noise build and an autotune female vocal is going to be hard to really change. Your best off finding your own corner.

Interesting stuff to use within structures is things like pre-echoing an idea before it comes in and varying how you seperate different sections - is it through texture? Dynamics? Melody? Harmony? All of the above? Will you reharmonise parts or turn what was a plain verse into a call-and-response section? Will you add a countermelody? Will you repeat the intro at another stage within the song?

All limits within music, ultimately, are self imposed.