Let's Talk Concept

If you've studied art-form like music, sculpture, painting, photography, whatever you may have been asked by your instructor to keep some sort of journal or diary. In it you write down ideas, and keep track of how a piece of art went from conception to research to implementation to realisation. Oftentimes students studying art at an institution may be required to do this as an assignment.

Take a look at the video then we'll discuss how this came about. [waits patiently]. So here's how the songwriter describes the process.

I happened to be with an associate who visited a 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 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 and thought, 'I'm going to write something and just give it as a sample.' The website is for was teaching people how to air-brush (hence the title of the track). So now visualise in your head what you are seeing - room(s) full equipment, air hoses, canisters, frames, panels, colour splashes, chemicals, car hoods, and so on. Students dressed in casual clothing working on painted art and being instructed. It all looked very industrial. Something AC/DCish might work, but it's probably not the best soundtrack concept. And a tune along those lines would present a limited demographic understanding and appeal to a smaller 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.

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 it's 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 use that as more an effect, panned way out. Then repeated the process with another similar style 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 down and panned it out wide. That worked out.

As for the dead space in the mix - the result of a stupid error! I had accidentally deleted on 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! I 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 phat 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.

5-string bass guitar

Working out a guitar part was actually kinda tricky - that's from someone who's been playing guitar for over 25 year! 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 work 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 style 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 inversed). The A Major diad is 3rd and 5th (again inversed) 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. We ended up with some pixelation but that also 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.