One year ago, on December 6th, 2020, I published my first "full length" song to YouTube, called Jesus Pizza. (I put "full length" in quotes because it's only a minute long.) I had dabbled in music a little bit in the months leading up to that, but Jesus Pizza was when I decided to start dedicating some more time to the hobby. Granted, I didn't start actually producing things regularly until February, but I still consider this as the true start.
With that said, I figured I'd make a post about some of the things that I've noticed and did during this time, because why not?
When I first started back in December-February, there were two main tools that I was using: LMMS and FamiTracker. LMMS was fine and dandy, but something about it always just felt slightly clunky, and I could never tell what it was. It has the huge advantage of being FOSS though, so I think it's a great tool to start out on. As for FamiTracker, I still enjoy the ease of workflow I can get using a tracker, and I enjoy the sounds of the NES, but I've stopped using it over the past few months, as I felt that the sounds that I wanted were getting harder and harder to achieve. I've been considering finding another tracker to use for more diverse chiptune, as that's still something I would like to make going forward.
Now I've more or less switched over to Ableton Live. I really like Ableton because it feels like most stuff just kind of works the way I need it to. Here's the thing, though: I really only chose Ableton because I got the Lite edition for free at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. The big limitation that the Lite edition brings is that you can only have a maximum of 8 tracks. Luckily this hasn't been an issue, but in the event that it does, I'll have to seriously consider what I want to do if I'm going to end up buying music software. I ought to try out the FL demo again sometime to see how it works, but for now I'll stick with Ableton.
Stuff I've Learned
Probably the most valuable skill I've learned (and am still continuing to develop) is how to create my own synth sounds using Vital. While I'm still not good enough at it to get precisely the sounds I'm looking for every time, I really like the sense of control over my own work that doing it myself gives me.
However, I've also learned that there's a lot of value to be had in using presets. As said before, I can't get precisely the sound I'm looking for, but the fact that I'm doing it DIY means my sounds end up being very synthy most of the time, which isn't something I necessarily want in everything I make. For that reason, I'm trying to rediscover the magic of presets. That brings me to my next topic...
When I look back on Jesus Pizza and compare it to what I make now, I've definitely improved, which is awesome. However, sometimes it just feels like I've stagnated, and that I haven't made anything that truly pushes my limits in a while. One of the big strategies I'm starting to realize that I need to employ is that I need to get outside prompts. It seems like my songs that I feel are most unique are inspired by or based off of something else. Cases in point: Salami, Blue Cavern, and Scrapped Bumper Music. I'm extremely proud of what I did in all of these songs, and they were all directly inspired by some other piece of media.
On that similar note: as much as comparing myself to others all the time is an unhealthy mindset, it's also where I can get the drive to improve so I can make some cool shit. Just this weekend, I replayed the game OneShot, and it really reminded me why I want to keep improving everything I do. It's so unique, inventive, and polished, it made me think "God, I want to make something that amazing." Like this track, for example. It conveys so much emotion and atmosphere! That's the level where I want to be at, not just with my music, but with my programming efforts as well.
As of now, I think the stuff I make is alright, but it's nowhere near that level. Of course, the bitter truth is that I won't just be able to pull a track like that out of my ass tomorrow. But hopefully as I keep working at this music hobby, I'll be able to get to a level where I can do that. With that said...
Things That I Feel Like I Should Be Good At By Now But Am Not
- Mixing: For some reason, I still haven't felt like I've gotten the hang of mixing stuff at all. It feels like something's always either too quiet or too loud or clipping or maybe the whole song is clipping! Hell, I still don't even really know what mastering is. Are those topics even related? I should probably start looking into that, huh...
- Dynamic-y things: What do I mean by that? Well, so far I feel like my songs aren't super dynamic. Hardly climactic swells or particularly quiet moments are to be found, and I feel like that's probably something I need to at least try.
I honestly felt like this post would be a lot more carefully structured than it ended up being, but it ended up being a bit of a thought dump about my current creative process, which I suppose is alright. In any case, I hope this gave you an interesting insight into the mind of a teenage amateur musician. This was probably more valuable as a self-reflection exercise for me than it was a blog post for general consumption, but regardless, if you have any thoughts about what I've written here, let me know!
Thanks for reading! (assuming anyone actually read down this far hehe)