Let's Talk Concept [revised April 2018]

If you've studied in a formal way an art-form like music, sculpture, painting, photography, whatever you may have been asked by your instructor to keep a of journal. You write down ideas. You keep track of how a piece of art went from conception to research to implementation to realisation.

Take a look at the video here titled "AIR G2". After that, you can read the process of how the song was created. It's a great insight into the process of coming up with inspiration for a song and developing it into a product. Here's the comments of our Super Rock School songwriter on the process:

I happened to be with an associate who visited his friend to check out his home studio. My associate asked his friend if he could write some music to go with footage that he had on his business website. Something along the lines of an AC/DC style instrumental piece was agreed on. Honestly, I kinda cringed but said nothing. I had seen the website but the other person hadn't. I felt it strange to offer a sound to match visuals without seeing the visuals first.

A few weeks later I was hit by inspiration. I thought, 'I'm going to write something and just give it as a demo of my work to the guy who wanted a song written.' His website is for teaching people how to air-brush (hence the title of the track). So now visualise in your head what you are seeing in an air-brush workspace - room(s) full equipment, air hoses, canisters, frames, panels, colour splashes, chemicals, car hoods, and so on. Students dressed in casual clothing working on their projects and being instructed. It all looked very industrial. A track along the lines of AC/DC might work, but it's probably not the best concept. A tune along those lines would present a limited demographic and appeal to a specific target audience.

A choice to write something digital would give a contemporary feel to the visuals and provide a good energy across a broader scope of audience. A hard rock track would be too intense, not ambient enough, and let's face it - less arty. Something industrial.

I quickly made the choice to try something electronica (despite being a rock player). I had some software, kinda old. So I did an internet search for free drum samples so that I could at least achieve a modern sound. These are the guys I got my samples off - TriSamples. I went with the 808 pack.

On the demo track I can't say which particular samples I already had vs these new ones. I'm pretty sure I used a combination of both. 

To build the song the first thing I needed was a kick drum. So I listened to each sample before deciding on the kick I wanted. Then possibly hats. Snare sounds next. I found a snare I liked. But when I made a basic beat there was something missing. Now, the rock part of me kicked in - drummers get more than one sound out of their snare drum. So I found a second snare sample and let the two snares work together. There's no complicated snare work, just some tasty interplay.

I found a highly processed crash hit (pretty sure that came from the 808 pack) and used that as more an effect, panned way out. Then repeated the process with another similar sound panned out the other side.

Originally, I didn't want to include toms feeling it could get a little too cliche. Well, the track needed them. So I added some low pitched toms, just two of them. This type of track also needed some tambourine to give it a driving energy. I couldn't find one I liked and settled for a shaker. In the mix I didn't particularly like it either but brought the shaker down and panned it out wide. That worked out.

As for the silence in the mix - the result of a stupid error! I had accidentally deleted one of my loop sections. By the time I realised it I didn't have enough undo's left to recover it. So I listened and thought, "awesome! It actually works great." Little bit of tweaking of the dead space and problem solved. 

Notice also how much echo many of the beat samples have. It conjures up the idea of space - like a drummer banging away in a huge empty factory surrounded by metal and machinery. Perfect. Whilst I carefully chose each sound it wasn't until listening back 2 days later that I realised why I had subconsciously chosen instruments with lots of echo.

I play a 5-string bass, so I knew exactly the what I wanted from the bass. A fat, low D note. Perfect. It's a virtual bass here, not a real one. The only problem came is how long can the song ride that D note before it gets boring? So created a small area of modulation shifting to a G note and then pulsing an A note for two bars. As major chords are implied, that makes the song in the key of D major. Throughout the song the bass plays with fifths and octaves here and there. Little inflections like these make the song more interesting which ties in with the interesting visuals -people are creating with their art. Like flashes of creative inspiration." Remember, the demo video here is not the final product, it was a way to show that the mix of song and video would work.

thinking about song writing


"Working out a guitar part was actually kinda tricky - that's from someone who's been playing guitar for over 25 years! Drawing on my tiny bit of knowledge of AC/DC rhythm styles I created dirty diad hits in D. Again, they are sparse thoughout the song but give a nice rawness to the piece and make it slightly less digital (albiet, it's a virtual guitar, not a real one). This is good because the art students are creating art with physical equipment. It's not digital art so using a traditional rock instrument invokes using your hands and tools to create something.

Lastly the synths. I knew I wanted synth, but my software was limited in how much control I had (or probably my capability). Anyway, I put in some typical string pads but could never find the timing I wanted. So I reduced them in the mix. Mostly the pads are just a D note. The shift to an implied G Major chord is achieved by adding a G note on top of the D (1st and 5th, but inverted). The A Major diad is 3rd and 5th (again inverted) with the choice of 3rd note included to give some sort of colour to the song! It can't all be 5ths and octaves." 

So, there you go. Some comments on the creative process of building that one and a half minute demo piece. If you get a chance to write for someone else (or yourself) maybe there's some thought processes you can borrow from to help you to create. We're not just talking theory here, we're talking over-all concept. The only thing we can add is that the footage* was about 55 seconds so we needed to time stretch it to match the demo length of 1:55. As you can see it ended up with some pixelation but that suited the whole piece. Another happy accident. 

If you want scores more awesome ideas for writing songs why not take our Songwriting Course. We show you how we built over 20 original songs across a broad range of styles. You're guaranteed to find new inspiration and cool ideas.

Happy Jamming!

*footage sourced from pixabay.com.