As I’ve discussed before, I’m using MAGIX Music Maker Premium 2014, and I am not a fan of the software. I realize this probably comes off as kind of silly. How can I be picky about music programs? I’ve only used one! It’s like a 16 year old kid who just got their license suddenly talking about how a car feels, like he thinks he’s Jeremy Clarkson. But MMM is really getting on my nerves.
I’m sort of torn now. Do I try another music program? These things are expensive and I’m not knowledgeable enough to sort the good from the bad by just reading product descriptions. Or should I just put up with MMM until I get used to its quirks?
The trick here is that – unlike programming development environments – music environments use proprietary formats. That’s to be expected, but it does mean you need to choose your platform well. Sure, I can export my music to MP3 or OGG, but the source – the editable file where I can change instruments, toy with volume levels, and move notes around – is married to whatever platform I used to make it. The longer I stick with MMM, the more of my musical source will be stuck there as well. If I am going to jump ship, then the sooner the better.
On the other hand, this whole music thing is probably just a passing fancy and I shouldn’t sink too much money or concern into something I won’t care about next month.
In the meantime, let’s compare two pieces of music like we did last time. First up is a plastic facsimile of music:
Here is what the project file looks like. Every box represents a sound file or a group of notes:
“Wow Shamus, you certainly put a lot of effort into this song!”
Except, no. Here are the parts I composed myself:
But even that is overselling the effort I put into it, because a lot of those boxes have the exact same sequences of notes in them, copy & pasted all over the place so I’d have the same sequence played by many different instruments. It works like this: I have a long note played by an “angelic choir” type instrument that swells in the middle of the note. I also have the same note played by some kind of echo-y thing that starts abruptly and then fades out. Then another instrument trills quickly, like someone sawing away at a violinIs it called sawing? Yeah. No need to look it up. It’s probably called sawing.. The result is this complex sonic avalanche, all arising from one stupid note.
What I’m getting at is that despite how complex this project might look or sound, the sheet music for it could probably fit on one side of a piece of paper, with enough room left over for a grocery list. This required very little effort on my part. I just shoved a few simple notes together, copy & pasted them, and then added dozens and dozens of sound files to round things out.
Is it good? I honestly don’t know. It’s kind of disconcerting that so little knowledge and effort can make so much music.
Now let’s consider another thing I made:
For contrast, that project looks like this:
It looks ridiculously simple compared to Joypuke. And it is. I’m using half as many instrument channels, and instead of blasting the listener with all of them at once I usually limit things to three or four instruments at a time. Also, this isn’t a jumble of random sound files and canned music. This has distinct parts designed for specific instrumentsPiano, electric guitar, bass guitar, and a synthesizer. Also violins and cellos, for some reason.. I mapped out the whole song a note at a timeThe only canned part is the orange boxes. Those play a reverse cymbal sound to cover up the fact that I still don’t know how to write a proper transition between parts.. I even made my own drums, and I never bother with those.
The song is simpler. Or at least, less cluttered. But it represents an order of magnitude more effort on my part.
The two are the result of very different approaches to making music. Since Joypuke uses canned loops, it can’t stick with any one idea for too long. The loops are only a few seconds long, which means you can only repeat them a couple of times before they get really irritating. So you keep swapping out groups of loops. We’ll play A. Now A and B. Now B and C. Now A and C. Okay, now we’ll go through some big drum transition and start over with a fresh set of loops.
In contrast, Storm has long musical… er. My musical vocabulary fails me here. Phrases? Like, the piano comes in and does a good 20 seconds of stuff, but it’s not looping. It has a deliberate structure with a beginning and an end, and if you cut it in half or looped part of it things probably wouldn’t make sense. Instead of throwing down four chords and calling it a day, I have to map out hundreds of notes.
Here is the interesting thing: I can’t say for sure that one is objectively better than the other. I suppose the comparison would be more useful if I had more experience or talent, but both approaches produce stuff I’d listen to. It’s the fast food problem: One takes hours to prepare and the other takes a few minutes, but both taste good and get the job done with regards to filling your belly with the calories needed to stave off death.
Then again, maybe I’m overlooking a lot of the work that went into Joypuke. Sure, all I had to do was mash samples together and call it a day, but someone else made those samples. So it’s probably not fair to say that making goodLet’s not argue over what THAT means. music doesn’t require effort. It’s just that it’s possible to outsource the nuts and bolts of composition to someone else and leave you to do the easy, fun part of assembling those musical samples to make the final whole.
I guess this doesn’t count as a “musical lesson”. Not even a bad and wrong one. Still, it’s a strange thing to be able to make a song as easily as you can build a Lego set.
 Is it called sawing? Yeah. No need to look it up. It’s probably called sawing.
 Piano, electric guitar, bass guitar, and a synthesizer. Also violins and cellos, for some reason.
 The only canned part is the orange boxes. Those play a reverse cymbal sound to cover up the fact that I still don’t know how to write a proper transition between parts.
 Let’s not argue over what THAT means.
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