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Blitzkrieg Writing Challenge
Old 15th April 2020
  #1
Blitzkrieg Writing Challenge

Hey all,

I'm posing myself a writing challenge. I thought I'd ask for some production advice, welcome others to do the challenge too, and get some feedback on the challenge parameters before beginning... and hold myself accountable publicly to actually do some writing

The motivations are pretty simple. It's been a while since I've done a serious amount of writing. I'm not content with just sound design. And on top of that, I thought it was finally time to learn how to write dance music.

I'm going to restrict the number of genres I attempt so that I don't spread myself too thin. I'm not entirely sure which would be best, as I don't have much background in this type of music. I was thinking House and/or Techno for starters. Thoughts? Reference track suggestions?

Here are the proposed challenge parameters:

********************************
Blitzkrieg Writing Challenge
********************************


GOALS
----------------------------------
1. Reestablish a daily habit of composition
2. Create efficient work habits and workflow
3. Gain comfort/knowledge of more commercial genres
4. Have a body of finished electronic music

CHALLENGE PARAMETERS
------------------------------------------
Restriction to lighter production. Emphasis is on writing quickly and finishing tracks, not on tricky sound design, quantity of elements, or highly refined mixing/mastering. Vocals are allowed, but no lyric writing or song-style tracks. Restrict to short, one or two word SFX/Ambience rather than song.

Writing will be based around reference tracks. Structure should ideally follow references, but generic models may be used:

Intro - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Bridge - Chorus - Outro
or
Intro - Verse - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Outro
or
Intro - Breakdown - Build - Drop - Breakdown - Build - Drop - Outro

Use short interludes/transition as necessary (no more than 8 bars). Favor short track lengths.

Sections should be worked out in groups of 4, 8, 16, or 32 bars in 4/4 time. They can be constructed as follows:
aaab
aaba
abac
abca
abcd

Do not waste time on elaborate melody or modulation schemes. Focus on simplicity and groove.

For sounds, favor presets. Don't get slowed down by sound design. For drums in particular, stick to a template.

Separate composition from mixing (note/example: consider compression tricks such as sidechain compression as composition, not mixing).

TIMELINE
---------------
Start with 1 track per week for 2 weeks. Use this time to identify and iron out workflow kinks, and ensure all reference tracks have been chosen.

Next, move on to 2 tracks per week for 4 weeks. Build up momentum, refine ability to produce quickly.

Last, finish 3 tracks per week for 2 weeks.

By the end of 8 weeks, 16 total tracks will be completed.

********************
END
********************


When tracks are finished, I plan to post them in this thread (unless there is a more appropriate place to post??).

Anyway, back to setting up templates... Thanks for any/all feedback!

Last edited by KBSoundSmith; 10th May 2020 at 05:24 AM.. Reason: Tidiness
Old 20th April 2020
  #2
I've decided on several reference tracks and my templates are set up, so the only thing left is to begin writing, starting tomorrow. If anyone else would like to take up the challenge too, you can borrow from the list below (use your own if you want, of course), and by all means post your tracks.

Anyway, the references are (found and categorized via Ishkur's guide btw):

Detroit Techno - 2
------------------
Derek Carr - 678 (2008)
Jam City - How we relate to the body (2012)

Chicago House - 1
-----------------
Burnski & Manik - You know what it's like (2012)

Electrohouse - 2
----------------
Rex Ronan - Beyond (2013)
Mord Fustang - Drivel (2015)

Tech House - 8
--------------
Andre Galluzzi & Dana Ruh - Voyage (2012)
Nice7 - Do It (2013)
Christian Smith - Rave Alert (2013)
Frits Wentink - Mouse (2013)
Scott Grooves - Another 500 (2014)
Dark Science - Rust (2014)
Dusky - Yoohoo (2014)
Valentino Khan - Deep Down Low (2015)

Deep House - 3
--------------
Poolside - Do you believe (cosmic kids mix) (2010)
Downtown Party Network - Get a life (2011)
Andres - New For U (2012)

I have a few substitutions on hand. So if I find that something seems unrealistic for whatever reason or I suddenly start hating a track, I won't be left scrambling to find something else. Not a problem to use the same reference track more than once, should a separate but related idea emerge to be pursued.

Happy writing.

Last edited by KBSoundSmith; 20th April 2020 at 02:35 AM.. Reason: Copy&Paste/Grammar error
Old 28th April 2020
  #3
The first track is done (in a manner of speaking ). But I'll link first, talk second:



There are plenty of imperfections with the track, but overall I'm happy with the result, especially given it's my first attempt ever at a dance track.

I used "Burnski & Manik - You know what it's like (2012)" as the reference track. I tried to mirror its structure (and therefore length) closely. But to keep future tracks more manageable, I probably won't adhere to the same length as the reference tracks. I think I may have gotten a better result if the writing didn't take me as long as was needed to match the reference. We'll see.

Odds are, the next track will be delayed due to some family obligations which will likely prevent me from being able to write this week. But I figure that will give me time to analyze the good/bad/ugly with this track (creative and technical) and try to do better on the next. I'll post some thoughts later this week, hopefully they prove useful, both to me or anyone else who happens to stumble upon them.
Old 28th April 2020
  #4
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Barfunkel's Avatar
 

I know it's just the first track of this kind, but it nicely demonstrates how difficult dance music is actually, getting the fine details right. The original has much more bounce, groove and oomph to it, it makes the head nod to the beat. I know you said getting the mix perfect isn't your goal here, but in dance music a good mix is often what saves an otherwise mediocre track (which the original is, to me at least).

One could also say that in a track of this type, the groove IS the track. If it doesn't groove and bounce well, most DJ's browsing Beatport and such would give the track about 2 seconds worth of their time, before moving on to the next one.

Copying the arrangement alone isn't usually enough, you gotta analyse what makes that particular track work. It's a good exercise of course, just don't give it too much value.


I'm actually in the process of doing something similar with another GS member. Copy the arrangement directly from a good commercial release, to learn better arranging and other things that separate amateurs like me from the pros.
Old 28th April 2020
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by Barfunkel View Post
I know it's just the first track of this kind, but it nicely demonstrates how difficult dance music is actually, getting the fine details right. The original has much more bounce, groove and oomph to it, it makes the head nod to the beat. I know you said getting the mix perfect isn't your goal here, but in dance music a good mix is often what saves an otherwise mediocre track (which the original is, to me at least).

One could also say that in a track of this type, the groove IS the track. If it doesn't groove and bounce well, most DJ's browsing Beatport and such would give the track about 2 seconds worth of their time, before moving on to the next one.

Copying the arrangement alone isn't usually enough, you gotta analyse what makes that particular track work. It's a good exercise of course, just don't give it too much value.


I'm actually in the process of doing something similar with another GS member. Copy the arrangement directly from a good commercial release, to learn better arranging and other things that separate amateurs like me from the pros.
Thanks for the feedback, appreciate it.

Yeah, I agree with a lot of what you said. Some of these things became apparent as I was working on it -- actually, quite a few things became very apparent the more I worked on the track and listened to the reference. There just wasn't time to fix things before the week-deadline was up

For example, the reference has a bunch of different hi-hats and other percussion that come in and out of the track at various points to provide variation, all on the more subtle end of the scale. I simply didn't notice them on early listens, and once writing began, I didn't have enough sounds on hand to emulate the reference track.

Similarly, my parallel minor-3rds line was more elaborate than in the reference track. This ended up being problematic when trying to emulate the reference track section where noise builds up while random colorful chord stabs create a buildup of tension. I didn't really leave room for those to develop naturally, everything I tried conflicted, so I had to leave those out and go in a different direction (never came to a satisfying result on this, IMO).

Another thing was some mixing issues. I thought I went light on compression, I did up to 3db gain-reduction on buses, but I feel like that may have been too heavy-handed, the percussion felt like the life was sucked out of them, particularly in busier sections.

As for the quality of the reference track... honestly, I know very little about dance genres. I have no idea who or what is considered good or bad. I took a selection from what I came across and figured I'd learn as I wrote.

Anyway, overall I think this process has been really educational so far. Hopefully the next track will be better.
Old 28th April 2020
  #6
Lives for gear
 
loujudson's Avatar
I challenge your use of "blitzkrieg" as a name for this excercise. It is like calling it "Holocaust" which woud be even more inappropriate.

"A blitzkrieg is an intense and brutal military campaign. ... The noun blitzkrieg means a very quick, particularly violent and intimidating attack by one armed force against an enemy, but it almost always refers specifically to the German military offensive during World War II."

Call it marathon or great race or something less controversial. Do you remember World War II? If you are too young, study some history... maybe you didn't get that in your school...
Old 29th April 2020
  #7
IEC
Gear Nut
 
IEC's Avatar
 

from Blitz ["lightning"] + Krieg ["war"]

According to David Reynolds, "Hitler himself called the term Blitzkrieg 'A completely idiotic word'

I challenge your use of the term holocaust
Old 12th May 2020
  #8
Second track is in.



I decided to mirror the structure again, and this time I spent more time trying to experiment with technical things than in the last track. Some hits, some misses, but overall instructive. Here's the reference for comparison:

Reference: Nice7 - Do It
https://bit.ly/2WoGp16
Old 23rd May 2020
  #9
Just a few notes regarding things I've learned so far. It's very general and incomplete, so I don't have to post a novel. I've left off most of the stylistic things I've learned from tracks, mainly focusing on the process of making tracks instead.

*****************************

GENERAL
^^^^^^^
-Reference Tracks
*more or less process oriented, but very square structure and very predictable
*consider moving to much higher quality references; while the techniques used were clear and easy to emulate, does not enrich musicianship and stylistic knowledge beyond the earliest efforts
*think of ways other than mere structural mirroring -- a reference for eq, for use of reverb, for handling of low end, etc
*be clear what you wish to learn from the reference, so that the choice isn't as arbitrary -- some of the references don't teach enough new things one from the other to justify their inclusion in my list

CREATIVE
^^^^^^^^
-Melody
*elaborate melody difficult if rhythm group or harmony are complex or are the foreground of the style
*still important to give direction and develop new interest as time passes; cannot merely repeat

-Bass
*Ostinato length, activity, and harmonic implications are profound, don't write self into corner
*consider ways an ostinato can be developed, rather than endless direct repetition

-Harmony
*Speed of the track is important -- harmony can become fussy and bog things down if too frequent change, become boring if too infrequent
*Harmonic ostinato not particularly interesting
*in the modeled tracks, harmony more color and ambience than a driving structural force

-Drums
*processing of drums surprisingly important... basically sound terrible without a lot of work. Muh samples sound like ****.
*swing makes/breaks a style or groove
*need more variety of sounds than initially realized... think in layers, of the main elements as skeleton, then of other elements as color and ambience
*important to establish the main groove and get it right early... composition made more difficult due to rearranging already worked material, substituting in new sounds, etc.
*may be best to start with just the basic pattern, copy/paste galore, then work on fills and variations later, once melodic/harmonic ideas are established and structural points become clear, and/or coordinate the fills and variations with other elements

-Vocals
*make clear distinction between vocals that are "sfx" vs "actual" vocals... don't leave ambiguity to the listener. Either crisp or deliberately unintelligible
*spend more time carving space via EQ if meant to be "actual" vocal, plus any other editing needed for clarity

-Synths
*blending multiple presets to make "one" sound very fruitful... consider designing "modular" sounds for easier blending
*can be very expressive, but require a lot of finesse... the wrong sound can make a good idea sound terrible, completely undermining everything. Do not take starting sounds for granted. Get the sounds as close to "right" from the beginning as possible.
*good sounds help generate good ideas. Don't write in a vacuum.

-Presets vs Custom
*became clear that the preference for user-made presets, 3rd party presets, or custom project presets isn't clear -- can be a waste of time to find a preset, but cycling through can help spur on ideas or direction for a custom preset. Or a preset can be just what's needed.
*became clear that I need more "bread and butter" presets, limited palette
*"sound design/sfx" presets are more abundant, but often hard to find one appropriate for a project

-FX
*Reverb note: it was interesting to see how reverb with the HH on track two functioned. It not only made the hihat sound more full, but almost served as an additional percussion instrument to fill in space. In that instance, it could be considered a fundamental part of the groove. Consider usage like this (and delay) earlier in the project
*Bounced vs live-processed. The hihat reverb was bounced and then edited by hand on its own track. While the side-chain compression would have been better than hand editing in this instance, the principle of bouncing the reverb/fx and then treating them on their own track could be a very promising technique for creativity and/or CPU conservation, generally.
*get delay into the process much earlier, for creative purposes. One of the happy accidents was the chord's Tape delay wow/flutter coming to the middle-ground after limiting... it sounded quite beautiful, and that could have been bounced separately as its own element, used in other areas of the track, etc
*Filter sweeps, panning modulation, volume fade in/out, splashes and risers, etc... these had a surprisingly profound impact on the musical result. Thinking of track two in particular, the basic melodic/harmonic/rhythmic musical materials are repeated without variation over and over (like the reference)... but these other techniques managed to provide something to lead the ear and carry the track forward. Now, marry that to actual variation in primary musical materials, and a solid musical result can be had.

-Other
*One major point of confusion has been the intros/endings of tracks. I've worked off of the assumption that DJs are supposed to be given ample "nothing really happening" time to work with, to fade in/out or whatever they do. I've only mirrored exactly what was in the references. Yet this has been among the most criticized things I've encountered when showing the track to others. So I may have to try to get in touch with actual DJs and ask. I get the impression that the people scolding me are actually wanna-be songwriters who are imposing song-writing structural values on to dance tracks. I don't know what is right/wrong in this instance, so I'll have to explore this.

TECHNICAL
^^^^^^^^^
-Mixing
*make check lists. Stereo imaging, for example, was an afterthought in both tracks. Rather than imaging the entire track as a whole on the mixbus, spend time on individual tracks as well.
*Give thought to creating good stems (research this). Both dry tracks and FX. Considering this practice may also lead to better creative decisions earlier in the chain.
*Gain staging. I don't think I did a bad job, but now that I have a good metering plugin, get it nailed into the workflow for even better results. Remember, gain staging and basic fader levels are the bedrock upon which to build.
*Give careful thought to inline bouncing and mid-project bouncing. Not just for CPU conservation, but also so that bounced audio can be used creatively. Try not to have everything as MIDI data until the end. Not only to be decisive creatively, but also to free up CPU for better mixing practices. Also, imprudent in-line bouncing led to some awkward track management mid-project. Take care.
*Study mixing setups. How do pros setup their mixers during creative phases, and during mixing phases? What are best practices for things like AUX, Buses, etc?
*Consider trying Top-Down mixing. I very much had a bottom-up approach in both of these tracks. While the second track in particular sounded a whole lot better, there were enough clear flaws that perhaps wouldn't have occurred with a top-down approach (perhaps especially true if sound sources chosen/processed carefully?).

-Compression
*have more intention as to WHY you are or aren't compressing. Some things simply don't need to be compressed, other things definitely do. And give thought as to how transparent or colored you want the compression to be. Even if you love a certain compressor, a different compressor may do the job just as well, do it with better CPU efficiency for the specific task, etc.
*Do not default to compression. Try to get everything as good as possible without them, then decide whether or not to use one.
*If the faintest hint of "this isn't making it sound good" hits the subconscious, remove the compressor from the chain
*Try to make quick decisions, especially with drums. It seemed very easy to get tired fast, resulting in bad decisions -- it seemed like even five minutes was enough to completely lose objectivity. Listen with fresh ears or don't touch the compressor.

-EQ
*Spend FAR more time here. Just for practice, I've played around with the Masters and made small EQ adjustments that bring the tracks to far better places than they were posted to the forums. Leave time for ears to refresh and approach EQ several more times -- this truly seems like the most important process of all, aside from setting basic fader levels.
*Clearing up low-end, resonances, etc I think I did a decent job with, especially given the allotted time. However, creating space is something I need to experiment with more.
*think of EQ in several stages: Cleaning, Balance and Space, Polish. Be very clear about which you are doing, have a clear objective as to why you are pulling up an EQ.

-Reverb and Delay
*experiment with single track vs bus vs sends. The Aether manual has a number of interesting approaches mentioned within, worth reading through it to get a better idea on how to handle this for better results
*don't marry the reference. The second track was more wet than I likely would have chosen on my own, if I wasn't trying to emulate what I thought I heard in the reference so much. Judge the project independently.
*Consider Delay vs Reverb, especially for foreground elements. Delay has generally been an afterthought.

-Limiting
*listen on different headphones and sound systems. Some things I've checked later on have revealed more destruction than I thought was in some of my audio. On that note...
*Try to get the volume of a track as tight as possible WITHOUT a limiter.
*Check out some tutorials, this is an area I'm somewhat winging it at the moment. Clearly easy to do more harm than good.
Old 23rd May 2020
  #10
Separately, after reflecting on the results of the first two tracks, I'm making a change of direction in this writing challenge. After all, the goal is to learn, not just to mirror tracks and write against a clock (although that's a great skill to learn in the process). Ultimately, this change is a matter of emphasizing what is to be learned.

There is an amazing amount of work that goes into making a track. So, I'm going to use the next few tracks to consolidate the lessons that have been learned, rather than plowing ahead to discover greater quantities of techniques, etc. I don't want to merely mirror tracks over and over, the process I have used as the means of analyzing what's happening in a track. Not only does this not let me use my own imagination much, the play-by-play mirroring has also led to long track lengths.

Now that I have a better idea of some techniques to use and some stylistic tendencies, I think it would be more helpful to choose a handful of them to use in much shorter tracks for the sake of consolidating and driving home what I've learned so far. These tracks, to be clear, will be viewed very much like writing a 4-part chorale when learning harmony, rather than making "real" music (to be clear, I don't consider tracks one or two as "real" music either... they are 100% akin to a painter going to a museum and copying what they see to learn techniques... I don't really consider them "my" tracks).

The musical results may be a bit stilted as a result -- I don't particularly care. I can worry about that when I get to writing a real track, rather than exercises. I think it will also be more helpful to anyone who might bother to review my work... in places I've shown the tracks, people don't seem to understand what I'm doing. I think it will be easier to say "this was an exercise, this is the specific thing I worked on. Just listen for that." In the off-chance anyone is actually reading anything I post, perhaps this will be more useful to them as well, especially if they are trying to learn anything themselves.

Anyway, there's the update. I am making a parting gift for a musician who is moving away soon, so I've temporarily been on pause with this challenge, but I'll pick it back up once I've completed my other work, which shouldn't be too much longer.
Old 24th May 2020
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KBSoundSmith View Post
Second track is in.



I decided to mirror the structure again, and this time I spent more time trying to experiment with technical things than in the last track. Some hits, some misses, but overall instructive. Here's the reference for comparison:

Reference: Nice7 - Do It
https://bit.ly/2WoGp16
Good work. I think you're doing really well on these.

If I can make one comment - The first thing I picked up on the ref was the call and response between the downbeat elements (Stabs/Vox) and the bassline. This kind of thing is mega important in less dense tracks where multiple instruments are acting together as the "main thing" if that makes sense.

Mute the first few notes on your bassline, it'll give you the call+response. It's also just that bit too busy for the ear to grab onto. Easily solved

Non instrumental songs are so dominated by the vocal it's less of an issue figuring out the musical "interest" in each section. It's always the vocal. For you think about creating space, deciding what should shine in each section and arranging everything around that.


A good A&R will pick up on these but maybe use less conventional terms.
Old 30th May 2020
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by mat1 View Post
Good work. I think you're doing really well on these.

If I can make one comment - The first thing I picked up on the ref was the call and response between the downbeat elements (Stabs/Vox) and the bassline. This kind of thing is mega important in less dense tracks where multiple instruments are acting together as the "main thing" if that makes sense.

Mute the first few notes on your bassline, it'll give you the call+response. It's also just that bit too busy for the ear to grab onto. Easily solved

Non instrumental songs are so dominated by the vocal it's less of an issue figuring out the musical "interest" in each section. It's always the vocal. For you think about creating space, deciding what should shine in each section and arranging everything around that.


A good A&R will pick up on these but maybe use less conventional terms.
Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. Haven't been on in a few days, sorry it took me a bit to notice. I have a project I'm finishing up which has forced my attention elsewhere, but I'm in the final stages of it and can return to my writing challenge hopefully in the next few days.

I'll keep what you wrote in mind for the next track -- the business of the bass in particular. While mirroring both the structure and musical ideas of the reference tracks, I found myself wanting to see what would happen if my basic materials were more elaborate than the reference, while still sticking to their structure and development. Mixed results, I think, but instructive.
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