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Running out of ideas
Old 1 week ago
  #1
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Running out of ideas

I come up with a bass line im happy with, I come up with some chords , with some melodies that I am content with , but when it comes time to arrange and actually turn it into a song , I go completely blank , especially with build ups and breakdowns and intros/outros

Anyone else have this issue ?

Its like I'm stuck with a 8 bar loop and can't take it much further than that
Old 1 week ago
  #2
Gear Head
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rainbow Jeremy ➡️
I come up with a bass line im happy with, I come up with some chords , with some melodies that I am content with , but when it comes time to arrange and actually turn it into a song , I go completely blank , especially with build ups and breakdowns and intros/outros

Anyone else have this issue ?

Its like I'm stuck with a 8 bar loop and can't take it much further than that
YMMV but when I am making house or techno I build the full arrangement out of just drums, bass and a main synth sound or sample of some kind. I try to make the whole song as interesting as possible just using those three elements (which could include fx, automation etc).
Old 1 week ago
  #3
Gear Maniac
There's an invisible line where the creative magic turns into work. It needs practice just like playing your instruments. My favorite method is to split the track into two separate segments, work on them separately and then try to bridge them.
Old 1 week ago
  #4
Gear Addict
 
Transistores's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Post a primer of what you're calling an unfinished work. You can't come up with chords for your bassline and when you come up with chords you can't come up with bassline? It's not very clear. If that's how I described, then make a couple of cover versions - it will teach you a lot about how different elements relate to each other (ie which notes to use for bass when you have chords containing so and so notes and vice versa).

If you have no trouble making a full loop (with drums, bass, chords and melody), but have trouble expanding on it, then the next time when you'll come up with something, put it into the same project next to what you've already wrote - same instruments will gel parts of the song together and if not, you'll come up with something more fitting or edit what you programmed to fit it.
Old 1 week ago
  #5
Take a break and recharge. Listen to other people's music for a while.

Do additive approach: start putting together what you already have and add new elements in the parallel tracks.
Old 1 week ago
  #6
Gear Nut
 
Look at the chords you're playing and watch a few online videos about augmented and diminished chords for some variation (can also be used to bridge to another section as Mike West has pointed out)

Maybe try a simple transpose (up or down) and see if you hear anything nice to follow on with

Finally it doesn't have to be melodic, some sections may just be rhythm or effects/ambience

No rules, just feel the force luke
Old 1 week ago
  #7
Yes, some sections may be rhythm/effects, and cowbell. More cowbell!
Old 1 week ago
  #8
Lives for gear
 
trick fall's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Everyone runs into these kinds of issues, at least I know I do. If you haven't, try doing something simple. Mute everything in your eight bar loop except one element. Then fade in different elements at different times, make it a performance. Throw some rhythmic elements on sends to a bus with a synched delay and fade that in and out. Have a section where the bass line, or chord progression are played on a different patch.
Old 1 week ago
  #9
Lives for gear
 
7Wave's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
The way you finish a song will vary to some degree by genre, because of the work flow involved and where the idea starts. If I'm doing industrial music, big beat, or some other kind of EDM, usually it starts as a jam and I come up with different phrase ideas and sounds by playing with it and spitballing it a while. Then the song takes form and gets finished as I rehearse and play around with it through live remixing, whether in Maschine, Reason, on the MC909, RS7000, etc. That's where I'll come up with the breakdowns and build ups, etc. -- by jamming and trying things, 80% of which ends up getting tossed. It's that 20% that you have to pan for like gold.

I've always thought the main difficulty in producing good EDM is the fact that it's so easy to start with a nice sounding drum rhythm and bass line. But taking it further than that takes a lot more work and thinking outside the box.

One good way to get things moving is to STOP adding synth parts once you've got a bass line, drums, and maybe a pad or arpeggiated synth part, keep it minimal, and start adding vocal parts, acoustic sounds, samples, etc. It turns out that a lot of the most interesting and timeless EDM isn't very heavy on tonal synth parts -- at least not as heavy as we often imagine it. Many of the best EDM songs are based on a simple catchy riff or bass line. Find your riff (that's what I usually do as I'm programming new patches or changing existing ones) and make it the centerpiece of a song. But don't overuse it.

Make sure every song has something interesting or musically pleasing that you only do once.

In other cases you can build an entire nice sounding EDM song by starting with an arpeggiated part that has an interesting harmony and geometry to it, drop it during the verse, bring it back during the chorus, etc., and the song starts to write itself. The arpeggiated part ends up being your climax or build up in the chorus.

If I'm doing something prog / experimental / psychedelic, it's usually a laborious process of building it phrase by phrase with all the changes by section. Sometimes I'll start with a structure in mind (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, fading chorus, or whatever) and then the format changes as I hear what's working and what's not. This is also true when I'm producing someone else. If it's a song that you really care about, you might get 16 or 32 bars done in an entire studio session, sleep on it a bit, and come back to it. I tend to keep writing in my head while I'm sleeping or driving, time when I'm out of the studio and the song is knocking around in my head. Complex songs can take a week of work on their own to finish. Sometimes I'll come back to a song after 3-6 months of letting it sit there halfway finished (if it's my own baby and nobody else is waiting around for it to be finished), and suddenly it's all clear how it needs to proceed.

If it's an orchestral / scoring type piece, then the process of constructing it is sort of similar to prog in that I have a structure worked out in my head initially through chord progressions and it evolves from there. Usually melody comes to me somewhere in the middle of the process, only rarely in the beginning.

But here's one thing I can say about getting something from an 8 bar loop to a song: FORCE the song structure on it, and let it sound like sh1t in the beginning. Even if it initially amounts to monotonous phrases, do them anyway just so there's a discernible change from verse to chorus, so that it has some kind of elongated structure. Thanks to DAWs and nonlinear cut and paste workflow you can always change, edit, replace, and scrap things as needed later on.

My point is, you can actually force an 8 or 16 bar phrase to become a song, albeit a sh1tty one initially. But that at least gives you the chance to operate on it surgically later on, since it now has a structure you can hang things on. It's similar to how scholars and authors overcome writer's block.

In some cases when I'm recording and constructing a song I'll do dozens of extra takes and instrumental parts that don't end up in the final version of a song. One useful approach is to look at song construction as exploratory. Create lots of extra tracks, then mute them for consideration later on. Then after you've got a dozen or so different byways, pick and choose the parts that work and past them together. Leave the rest.

We usually get into habits of thought that basically kill any chance of making something new and fresh sounding. Once you become aware of your habits, force yourself to NOT do that. Initially it'll be difficult, even painful, but you'll often come up with fresher ideas you would have never found otherwise. Old habits yield repetitive uninteresting results, and it's hard to find one's way out of that.

As for melody in orchestral music, it's interesting that sometimes melody just sort of appears as the result of how you construct harmonies, whether playing chords with strings or piano, etc. The inversions you use end up putting certain notes in the higher range where your ear registers them as melody. Sometimes beautiful melodies appear by accident. Often, in fact.

When working in R&B and soul, particularly when I'd write for and produce other artists, if it was a ballad it all came out of playing rich chords with an EP. This was true even if the finished song didn't feature EP prominently. EP was just my 'composer's instrument' the way the piano-forte is for classical music. Everybody has their comfort zone where they feel fluent when fleshing out a song idea and structure. EP is one of mine, as is the acoustic piano and string section for orchestral music.

If it's upbeat soul or hip hop, I usually take the Teddy Riley 'ear candy' approach and start with a chord progression and imposed it over a rhythm and bass line.
Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #10
Lives for gear
 
Sapro's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by 7Wave ➡️
The way you finish a song will vary to some degree by genre, because of the work flow involved and where the idea starts. If I'm doing industrial music, big beat, or some other kind of EDM, usually it starts as a jam and I come up with different phrase ideas and sounds by playing with it and spitballing it a while. Then the song takes form and gets finished as I rehearse and play around with it through live remixing, whether in Maschine, Reason, on the MC909, RS7000, etc. That's where I'll come up with the breakdowns and build ups, etc. -- by jamming and trying things, 80% of which ends up getting tossed. It's that 20% that you have to pan for like gold.

I've always thought the main difficulty in producing good EDM is the fact that it's so easy to start with a nice sounding drum rhythm and bass line. But taking it further than that takes a lot more work and thinking outside the box.

One good way to get things moving is to STOP adding synth parts once you've got a bass line, drums, and maybe a pad or arpeggiated synth part, keep it minimal, and start adding vocal parts, acoustic sounds, samples, etc. It turns out that a lot of the most interesting and timeless EDM isn't very heavy on tonal synth parts -- at least not as heavy as we often imagine it. Many of the best EDM songs are based on a simple catchy riff or bass line. Find your riff (that's what I usually do as I'm programming new patches or changing existing ones) and make it the centerpiece of a song. But don't overuse it.

Make sure every song has something interesting or musically pleasing that you only do once.

In other cases you can build an entire nice sounding EDM song by starting with an arpeggiated part that has an interesting harmony and geometry to it, drop it during the verse, bring it back during the chorus, etc., and the song starts to write itself. The arpeggiated part ends up being your climax or build up in the chorus.

If I'm doing something prog / experimental / psychedelic, it's usually a laborious process of building it phrase by phrase with all the changes by section. Sometimes I'll start with a structure in mind (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, fading chorus, or whatever) and then the format changes as I hear what's working and what's not. This is also true when I'm producing someone else. If it's a song that you really care about, you might get 16 or 32 bars done in an entire studio session, sleep on it a bit, and come back to it. I tend to keep writing in my head while I'm sleeping or driving, time when I'm out of the studio and the song is knocking around in my head. Complex songs can take a week of work on their own to finish. Sometimes I'll come back to a song after 3-6 months of letting it sit there halfway finished (if it's my own baby and nobody else is waiting around for it to be finished), and suddenly it's all clear how it needs to proceed.

If it's an orchestral / scoring type piece, then the process of constructing it is sort of similar to prog in that I have a structure worked out in my head initially through chord progressions and it evolves from there. Usually melody comes to me somewhere in the middle of the process, only rarely in the beginning.

But here's one thing I can say about getting something from an 8 bar loop to a song: FORCE the song structure on it, and let it sound like sh1t in the beginning. Even if it initially amounts to monotonous phrases, do them anyway just so there's a discernible change from verse to chorus, so that it has some kind of elongated structure. Thanks to DAWs and nonlinear cut and paste workflow you can always change, edit, replace, and scrap things as needed later on.

My point is, you can actually force an 8 or 16 bar phrase to become a song, albeit a sh1tty one initially. But that at least gives you the chance to operate on it surgically later on, since it now has a structure you can hang things on. It's similar to how scholars and authors overcome writer's block.

In some cases when I'm recording and constructing a song I'll do dozens of extra takes and instrumental parts that don't end up in the final version of a song. One useful approach is to look at song construction as exploratory. Create lots of extra tracks, then mute them for consideration later on. Then after you've got a dozen or so different byways, pick and choose the parts that work and past them together. Leave the rest.

We usually get into habits of thought that basically kill any chance of making something new and fresh sounding. Once you become aware of your habits, force yourself to NOT do that. Initially it'll be difficult, even painful, but you'll often come up with fresher ideas you would have never found otherwise. Old habits yield repetitive uninteresting results, and it's hard to find one's way out of that.

As for melody in orchestral music, it's interesting that sometimes melody just sort of appears as the result of how you construct harmonies, whether playing chords with strings or piano, etc. The inversions you use end up putting certain notes in the higher range where your ear registers them as melody. Sometimes beautiful melodies appear by accident. Often, in fact.

When working in R&B and soul, particularly when I'd write for and produce other artists, if it was a ballad it all came out of playing rich chords with an EP. This was true even if the finished song didn't feature EP prominently. EP was just my 'composer's instrument' the way the piano-forte is for classical music. Everybody has their comfort zone where they feel fluent when fleshing out a song idea and structure. EP is one of mine, as is the acoustic piano and string section for orchestral music.

If it's upbeat soul or hip hop, I usually take the Teddy Riley 'ear candy' approach and start with a chord progression and imposed it over a rhythm and bass line.

Great answer. This, completely.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
Gear Guru
 
Jamie munro's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
buy an octatrack

no more droughts
Old 1 week ago
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Moonwhistle's Avatar
 
Don't be afraid to steal.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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lost_the_peace's Avatar
 
Become an influencer
Old 1 week ago
  #14
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iksrazal's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
You don't want to expand an idea but rather combine at least 4 different ideas: intro, verse, chorus, middle eight - then repeat the verse and maybe the chorus.

The only trick is to use the same scale, and divide the sections into roughly equal parts - like 16 steps in a sequencer.
Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #15
Lives for gear
 
gentleclockdivid's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by iksrazal ➡️
You don't want to expand an idea but rather combine at least 4 different ideas
Old 1 week ago
  #16
WDM
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WDM's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rainbow Jeremy ➡️
...
Anyone else have this issue ?

Its like I'm stuck with a 8 bar loop and can't take it much further than that
Probably because 8 bar loop is not an idea? It's rather implementation?

The idea starts with something, develops slowly, then ends...

Every melody line, bass, arpeggio, chord progression has to support that idea.
(That is why chord pack is evil, because it knocks-out your own ideas )

It's hard to explain, but it helps at least to try follow that route: idea -> implementation.
Old 1 week ago
  #17
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MixedSignals's Avatar
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
This is normal. Not everything we write/program is going to end up in composition. You kind of have to "force" yourself to keep working. It IS work, after all. Gratifying work.
When I run out of ideas, I go back to my sound sources- programming patches, sampling. The sounds inspire how they are arranged, and most of us require a large pool to draw from.
Old 1 week ago
  #18
Gear Nut
Try this. Start with your first element. Drums, synth, whatever it is. add instruments until you feel its complete, maybe even a lead part, as well. copy that section & strip it down to an intro part. Then maybe a rythm part as well. Usually somewhere in there you'll start getting ideas for changes. MAybe different drum ideas. Maybe a whole new sequence.

I work in my Ensoniq sequencers & end up with 4-8 sequences. Somewhere in there i build those into a song. Then refine it. I'll track it out when its complete & add my live tracks.

We all have to find way, stylistically. A method that works for you, as well. If i'm working in a machine, I've really found my method in ensoniq sequencers. I write guitar music, as well. & I've used sequencing software. Every method has its nuances & differences. Sofware opened up the blank slate style of writing. It was great for writing entire compsitions/ideas that are in the head. It wasn't great for developing on small ideas. & that's where you need to find your comfort spot. When you have that, things come a lot easier.
Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #19
Lives for gear
 
iksrazal's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by gentleclockdivid ➡️
snip
Looks like Bela Lugosi with a plastic trumpet?

I get a lot of sun and that dude looks as pale as a ghost.
Old 1 week ago
  #20
Lives for gear
 
horseface's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
It honestly sounds like you never really had ideas and only have executions. Maybe on some level you might now realize this and are on your way to being able to free and correct yourself?
Old 1 week ago
  #21
Lives for gear
 
First my mom, then Roland with the Verselab, now you people. Everyone's always pushing for finished songs with different parts. It's like when I wanted a different damper pedal, because the old one was biting my socks. Instead, they told me to start wearing fancy pants, so I'd have to wear the thin tight socks - problem solved. But ever since the 80s, you could point to Michael Jackson or Don Johnson, and say, "That's not really true anymore, is it? The pants don't have to dictate the socks, or any socks at all!" They're only trying to help.

And then they asked for lyrics, like, do you know what you're asking for? Okay, it's both call and response, and also sung in the round, like row row row your boat. The first part, chanted in sync with this noise's beat, goes "Go daddy daddy go - go daddy giddit". Got it? Now, in certain parts that changes a little, but we'll get there. The next motif, in sync with this noise's beat, is "We got - neighborhood goons". But in some areas where the beat implies 3-4 instead of 2-4, your line is "You got to - label your food". And, where it's 1-4, you chant "We - label your boots". And sometimes you combine bits of all three, and ad lib. All the while, the counter-melody of "Go daddy daddy go - go daddy giddit" is being developed like a tongue twister in the background, and that usually stops them from asking for lyrics. As far as how to stop your loved ones (and roland...) from pushing for better "finished" songs involving discreet identifiable parts and a bunch of tedious editing and 808s and hi-hat rolls, well I haven't figured that out yet.

Probably you're in this pickle because you're trying to get the OK for another synth, and they're like, "Well, how about you finish some songs first?" and you're like, "****. Maybe someone on gearslutz knows what to do."

I guess you could try copying the structure of a classic electronic music song like "Around the World" by Daft Punk.



1. Take some of your patterns, and interlock them until funky. For extra credit, supply constant funky novelty to the patterns, individual sound hits, or both. But, apparently that's not strictly necessary.
2. Then, when it's time to record, introduce the parts one at a time, with some volume and filter swells as they join the fray.
3. After everything's up and running and you haven't ****ed up the timing, every once in a while, press the "fill in" or "scatter" button (EDIT: which i heard roland removed from Verselab even tho it's on the MCs, WTF roland).

I've been struggling with the last 2 steps. I figure, once there, I can think about more complex song structure for the next one. But then you worry about ending up like Daft Punk - a bunch of quitters - so it's like, damned if you do, damned if you don't, know what I mean?
Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #22
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Moonwhistle ➡️
Don't be afraid to steal.
Exactly !

although you don't have to consciously do that, inadvertently every melody/chord you play has been done before, we have no choice but to copy
Old 1 week ago
  #23
Gear Nut
 
You need to actually go to the effort of arranging in a DAW. Might sound obvious but just build up your elements one at a time. 8 bars of kick and so on. Simple volume and filter automation, bringing in a synth pad. Only when the bare bones structure is in place is really when you can see where to go next.

Arpeggiate, effects. Your 8 bar loops themselves could probably be drawn out into a minimalist masterpiece if you pay them enough attention. Don't fall into the trap of continually making lots of different 8 bar loops because it is fun. Force yourself to flesh out one or two of your best programs. Once you do this is is actually a different kind of fun, it's more satisfying but yes more like "work".

What you have is a collection of money shots. Now you got to go back and do the foreplay
Old 1 week ago
  #24
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NawSon's Avatar
 
If you are doing loopy styles of music, the whole fun is how to tease that **** into a track that gives it some kind of a narrative feel. There are plenty of tricks you can do but also just generally it helps if you are a DJ who plays music like that. You can just feel the music like as if you were djing and it should give u some idea of “what should happen next and when”.
Old 1 week ago
  #25
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NawSon's Avatar
 
Moodymann is one of the best ever in terms of taking loops and crafting tracks that feel like more than that.







Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #26
eb7
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eb7's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by NawSon ➡️
If you are doing loopy styles of music, the whole fun is how to tease that **** into a track that gives it some kind of a narrative feel. There are plenty of tricks you can do but also just generally it helps if you are a DJ who plays music like that. You can just feel the music like as if you were djing and it should give u some idea of “what should happen next and when”.
Right, with the operative word being feel. Every now and then I find myself in a position like the OP, where I've got some tracks laid out in the DAW that go together well enough but can't figure out how to copy/paste/edit it into an actual song. The best solution I've found it to copy the most important parts into a few hardware sequencers, maybe patch in a few effects, and just jam the thing out live. Record a few demos that way and get a feel for what is actually interesting about what you've created. Beats the hell out of applying various formulae and trying to calculate what the song should be.
Old 1 week ago
  #27
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xanderbeanz's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
My advice is always to “learn to play 100’s of other people’s songs”, with a focus on your genre(s) of interest, but also learn crazy sh*t way out of your usual scope, maybe that influence will creep in in some way, and make for a cool direction.

If your genre(s) of interest feature little actual focus on instrumental skills (though natch, learning a bunch of pop songs on piano is sure to teach you a lot about “general” songwriting and composition) then listen to a load of your favourite tracks and make notes. What is happening every few seconds?

And then take that structure and apply it to your own work. Analyse sh*t.

It’s basic groundwork, and I think it’s something that some producers try to avoid for some reason...and to someone who actually knows what they’re doing and can intuit music transparently, that avoidance shows itself easily.
Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #28
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NawSon's Avatar
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eb7 ➡️
Right, with the operative word being feel. Every now and then I find myself in a position like the OP, where I've got some tracks laid out in the DAW that go together well enough but can't figure out how to copy/paste/edit it into an actual song. The best solution I've found it to copy the most important parts into a few hardware sequencers, maybe patch in a few effects, and just jam the thing out live. Record a few demos that way and get a feel for what is actually interesting about what you've created. Beats the hell out of applying various formulae and trying to calculate what the song should be.
I make music in this vein and all my arrangements are live off hardware and a mixing desk, just using mutes, faders, and turning tracks off and on via the sequencer. I’ll occasionally play some small parts in live as well. Usually do a couple passes but if the first one turns out hot I keep it. I also just try to work fast and not overthink things.
Old 1 week ago
  #29
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enossified's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
You are overthinking this. Here's a way to understand how simple arrangements can actually be, starting with a basic loop. The following won't work for a pop song, but for a minimalist dance track it will start sounding like a song...WVTG alluded to this concept earlier:

1. Load up your 8 bar loop

2. Mute everything but kick drum.

3. Start playback

4. Wait 8 bars, then unmute each element of the mix one by one every 4-8 bars

5. Randomly re-mute different parts every 4-8 bars (including drums) while messing with filters and effects and one-shot sound FX (zaps, filter bubbles, wobbles, etc.)

6. Mute everything but kick and one other part....that's your breakdown

7. After 8 bars, bring other parts back in (optional: insert a riser at the end of the 8 bars)

8. Rinse and repeat until it's 8 minutes long, then mute parts one by one until it's just the kick at the end

Now go listen to some minimalist dance tracks and notice how many don't do much more than that. The next level of sophistication to attain is developing variations on your basic loop...bridges and choruses. Use your ears and listen carefully to songs you like and jot down how many bars the various sections are, what changes in the mix from section to section, etc., like creating a map.

Check this classic out (count out the bars and numbers of repetitions), it's really simple:

Old 1 week ago | Show parent
  #30
Quote:
Originally Posted by MixedSignals ➡️
When I run out of ideas, I go back to my sound sources- programming patches, sampling. The sounds inspire how they are arranged, and most of us require a large pool to draw from.
Oh you reminded me that I do exactly the same thing in this situation.
New patches, new sounds often bring new ideas. Plus it's a good asset for a future work.
I have just rediscovered some patches I did a while ago. And they immediately gave me inspiration and helped to finish something I was struggling with for a couple of days lately...
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