For many artists, nothing inspires more existential terror than actually making art. The fear that we’re not good enough or that we don’t know enough results in untold numbers of creative crises and potential masterpieces that never get realized.
Electronic musicians used to be able to hide behind clunky, emerging technology as an excuse for inaction. But musicians today live in a golden age of tools and technology. A ninety-nine-cent smartphone app can give you the functionality of a million-dollar recording studio. A new song can be shared with the world as soon as it’s finished. Tutorials for every sound design or music production technique can be found through a Google search. All of these developments have served to level the playing field for musicians, making it possible for a bedroom producer to create music at a level that used to be possible only for major-label artists.
But despite all of this, making music is still hard. Why?
Making Music was written both to answer this question and to offer ways to make it easier. It presents a systematic, concrete set of patterns that you can use when making music in order to move forward.
Each pattern is presented in the following way:
If you make original music using computers and you’ve ever found yourself struggling to complete your musical projects, Making Music was written for you. While many of the patterns discussed here can probably be modified or directly applied to other types of music-making (such as composing for rock bands or string quartets), the goal of this book is to solve the specific problems that people have when working with machines, rather than with instruments or other people.
While no prior skills are really necessary to make use of this book, I’ve written it assuming you have a basic understanding of at least one digital audio workstation (DAW) or similar music production environment. No specific tool is required, and the problems and solutions discussed aren’t specific to the workflow of any particular piece of technology. A basic understanding of the fundamentals of music—chords, scales, and concepts of rhythm—is useful but not a prerequisite.
Although it may not always be obvious, the patterns are all general enough that they can be used by musicians working with any genre of electronic music, from commercial dance music to the avant- garde. Although some of the explanations used refer to actual genres or even specific examples of music, I encourage you to read “around” these descriptions in order to get at the essence of the pattern so that you can apply it to your own work.
I am a musician with a background in a variety of different worlds. I studied classical composition, music theory, and percussion, although these days I primarily write electronic music in the direction of house and techno. I grew up just outside of Detroit, and all of the amazing music that came from and through that city was a big influence in my early musical development. Although this book aims to be as genre-neutral as possible, it’s very much written from my personal perspective—the things I talk about here are a reflection of things I actually think about and employ in my own music.
Think of Making Music as something like a travel guide. There’s no explicit order to the patterns, although things tend to be loosely grouped by concept. You can read and experiment with the various patterns as you need them in order to solve particular problems as they come up in your own work. Sometimes the patterns will explicitly relate to others, and I often refer to other patterns to help clarify the current one. So while it’s not necessary to read the whole book cover to cover, doing so will probably help you to find relationships between the various patterns and to see them as a system, rather than as isolated examples.
The patterns themselves are grouped into sections based on where in the writing process a particular musical problem is likely to occur. These are:
There are already many ways—books, classes, video tutorials, software documentation, private teachers—to learn about music technology and music production. I’m a strong supporter of all of this, and I encourage anyone who’s interested in this book to also take advantage of these resources. But almost all of them focus on the second half of the equation—technology or production— rather than the first half: music. Making Music is an attempt to help people who are comfortable with the basics of music production at a technical level but who still find music-making to be a difficult process (which I suspect is all of us!).
This book will not teach you how to use a compressor, program a synthesizer, or make a great-sounding kick drum. Those aspects of music-making are already well covered. What it will teach you is how to make music using those tools, with a specific emphasis on solving musical problems, making progress, and (most importantly) finishing what you start.
While I hope you find Making Music inspiring, I hope even more that what inspires you is the music you make using these patterns. Making Music is not a collection of vague aphorisms. Instead, it combines motivational ideas about the philosophy and psychology of music-making with hands-on tools and techniques that musicians of all kinds can use to really get work done.