Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

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Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

Postby hudkins » Mon Jun 27, 2016 7:10 am

So I have this issue.

I will come up with some catchy lyrics or a good beat, sit down in my studio and start hammering it out. The problem is I get distracted. I'll come up with a nice beat, start working on melodies and I get lost in the land of patches and I make my own as well. What materializes is almost always garbage and far and away from what I was trying to accomplish. I know music is usually a fluid process and what I end up with will not necessarily be what's in my head when I start but what do you do to keep from getting lost?

My other major issue is transitions. I'm working on some Industrial and EDM tunes. I'll get a good intro going and a good first several bars but when it's time to switch things up, instrumentally and/or vocally I just hit a wall. Any suggestions on how to get past it? I have a lot of one-minute songs I'd like to make longer.

These might be weird questions but they're my biggest problems. Any suggestions or what you do to deal with these issues is much appreciated.

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Re: Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

Postby barbouze » Mon Jun 27, 2016 9:23 am


I too have problems with staying on track and something that mitigates that is planning, working under constraints and iterations.
Planning will give you a roadmap to stick to. What tools do you need? How and when to use them? What goal to achieve?
Constraints are imho what sparks creativity and focus. You can't get lost if there are walls on each side of your path so instead of looking around you just concentrate on where you're going.
Iterative work helps to move forward too. Cycling between different parts of your work help to keep a fresh mind.

You have some catchy lyrics or a good beat so this is a good way to start.
What else do you need in your track? Probably a bass and some fillers. And a structure to glue things together.
Create quickly a "good enough" bass sound to lay down its melodic line. Don't look for something definitive, just something that would be a taste of it. Done? Gather some samples to give ambiance and soul. Now, each part is not sounding good but at least you can work with it. At this stage, don't come back trying to improve aspects of what you already get but instead fire up your DAW and lay out the general structure of your track. How long will it be? What is its general structure? If you can come up with something like this, it'll be good enough. Now you can go back to rework each part. Don't stay too long on the same spot. just reach "good enough+". Rince and repeat. You won't come up with a perfect track but at least this one will be finished. Check what worked, what didn't, where you need improvements, how to get them. Basically, create a set of rules for your new track, start with it and stick to it until the end. And again and again :D

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Re: Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

Postby tnovelli » Mon Jun 27, 2016 3:14 pm

Yeah, iteration works for me. I never come up with good stuff through hours of meticulous planning and follow-though (and I've tried). It's always the 20-minute improv sessions that end up as winners. Usually I'll have a rough idea before I fire up the DAW, but I'll just play what comes to mind. Then I'll attempt a few do-overs with invariably worse results. But at least I've got a recording. Month/years later, the answer will hit me out of the blue.

Few weeks ago I tried to finish a catchy 4-bar fragment from 2-3 years ago. Added a transition... the transition inspired a very cool 2nd part... but it feels forced; disjointed. So now I have 2 unfinished songs. :lol:

Structure is overrated, IMHO. Multiple parts and intros and transitions can easily ruin a song. A lot of respected 20th century classical music, and prog-rock and metal, is just a bunch of random riffs strung together. That stuff puts me to sleep. My favorite songs are mostly little two-part 12 or 16 bar pieces, or even one 8-bar part, only 1-2 minutes for a few reps, 3-4 mins with verses and solos. Most pop/rock/blues hits are like that. All the old dance music too.

Oh, another thing that helps: find a few good sounds and stick with them. It could be part of your signature.

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Re: Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

Postby briandc » Tue Jun 28, 2016 6:41 am

I like this thread! :)
I've faced the same 2 problems too: how to not get distracted, and how to transition. (And I wanted to elaborate on tnovelli's post in this way: if you think that you have to write music in the same way that others do, you might get stuck. Why be like other people? If what you produce is what you are happy with, stick with it, even if it's not "normal." "Normal" is often boring anyway, and just doing what other people want to hear rather than being yourself and offering something new and inventive. ;) And, if people criticize your music, it is probably because they are trying to compare it with something else they are familiar with (which is wrong to begin with). Unless of course, you're trying to do things like someone else.)

So, my 2c:

getting stuck. Getting "stuck" is really your experience of sensing that you're going in a direction that is not your style.
As tnovelli mentioned: it's often the short sessions where "out-of-the-blue" stuff happens that's interesting. If things are getting complicated, step back and take a different, "lighter" approach. Be yourself, and love what you produce. (And then others will, too.) Sometimes that hardest thing to do is to be ourselves.

Transitions: in the past, I got stumped often with transitions. In reality, I was trying too hard to do something that was not natural. Today, it's one of the most creative areas. Transitions can be even just one note held down! Or a special effect. Or adding a new rhythm. Or changing key. (Some very successful songs do nothing other than change key or repeat the first part while adding a new instrument on top. Simple, and yet it creates a sense of movement rather than stagnation.)

If you've gotten this far with my rant, I'll add one more thing: sometimes my problem in the area of workflow is not with making music, but how to put it together easily on the computer. I use Audacity almost entirely, as I prefer to make audio tracks rather than midi tracks. Midi does have certain advantages, but depending on what you want to do, it may or may not be the most useful (=handiest) option.

Have your PC your way: use linux!
My sound synthesis biome:

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Re: Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

Postby hudkins » Mon Jul 04, 2016 1:29 am

Thanks to all of you for the great advice!

From what I've read my biggest issue is that I'm not iterating. I've been working on an iterative approach and things are going a little better.

Believe me I've taken all this advice to heart and it's helped me in my music. I manages to turn a one minute song into a 3 minute song so far. It's not quite where I want it to be but it's getting there.

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Re: Keeping focus while writing/composing, transitions

Postby ufug » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:26 pm

Really great advice here. I have the same problem and have been trying really hard to up my productivity in there very limited amount of time I have to work with. Plus I'm old and lazy. A couple other things I've found that are worth trying:

1. I found that the Pomodoro Technique is pretty well-suited to songwriting. Basically you write down your task (maybe a title or a song fragment, for example), and using a timer, work on it for 25 minutes followed by a mandatory five minute break. A great way to pump out some songs.

2. Oblique Strategies can be a very effective tool as well for getting unstuck and regaining or gaining perspective.

There are free Android apps to assist with both of these things. Not required but handy.

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