Music Class Part 2: My Tracks

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 19, 2019

Filed under: Music 68 comments

Like I said in the previous entry, this 30-day course involved doing 3 different projects. Each project taught a few ideas and required students to create a track that incorporated those ideas. So now it’s time for me to show my work.

Actually, it’s time for me to go on a series of meandering digressions about creativity and music, but I’ll post my work somewhere in the middle of it all.

Extreme Introspection

I used to share my music tracks on a regular basis. This was fun at the start of my musical adventure. I’d post something, and get a pat on the head from the public because I was doing okay for a beginner. But as time went on, two things happened:

  1. As I spent more time with it, I could no longer justify amateurish work with the excuse that I was new.
  2. I raised my expectations and thus became increasingly critical of my work.

I’ve had several fits of frustration over the last couple of years where I very nearly purged my Soundcloud account to delete all of my early tracks. My inability to improve has created this perverse hatred for my early stuff, as if the only way to get better is to bring up the overall average quality by destroying the worst bits. Yes, I realize this impulse is horribly vain.

(Strangely enough, Soundcloud seems to have solved this problem for me. Their shifting pricing plans led me to drop my subscription, which means my account reverted to a free account, which means I’m over budget in terms of upload time, which means that a lot of my early tracks are disabled.)

I have this terrible self-indulgent cycle I go through where I get frustrated with my work because I don’t sound like Armin Van Buuren or Deadmau5. Then I realize it’s completely unreasonable to expect to be able to create on the level of superstar artists, and even more unreasonable – bordering on delusional – to expect to be able to work on that level when you’ve only been composing for five years. And only part time. And you don’t even play an instrument. And your musical diet is fairly narrow. So then I give up for a few months. Then I hear something that tickles my brain and makes me want to try again. I’ve got sky-high expectations and rock-bottom skills, which isn’t really a good recipe for a healthy and rewarding hobby.

Track 1: What’s So Funny?

This project was a sort of catch-all introduction to the course. It started with the basic theory surrounding chords and chord progressions and then dove into sampling.

The project had two stages: The first was to just come up with a chord progression and pick out some instruments to make a basic loop. The second stage was to round up random audio samples and incorporate them into your song. It seems to be a pretty big jump to go from “here is what a chord is” to “take disparate audio samples and make them fit within the framework of a full track.” But whatever. It seemed to work out.

This course was taught by Andrew Huang. He’s a master at using audio samples and it’s a big part of his YouTube channel. He spends a lot of time making music with non-musical sounds.  As part of the lectures for this first project, he produced a track. I wish the track was available in public so I can show you what he was doing, but right now it’s stuck behind the Monthly paywall. He took a ton of completely random samples and packed them together around the more musical parts of the song. He calls these sorts of injected samples “ear candy”, although I don’t know if that’s an accepted musical term. It seems like it would be a recipe for chaos and dissonance, but he knows how to make these random sounds make rhythmic and melodic sense. Pop Culture by Madeon is the most well known(?) example of this technique that I can think of, except Huang’s track used random non-musical samples rather than iconic bursts from popular music. An older and more obscure example might be Lesson 6 – The Lecture by Jurassic 5, which is a really interesting track if you’re not into the whole dance-ability thing.

I got to the second half of the project and I realized I have no idea how to do this. I watched Huang do it, in real time, over the course of two hour-long lectures. You can teach the technique, but you can’t teach the intuition that guides the process. That comes with experience. (Talent doesn’t hurt either.)

While Huang is fascinated by sampling, I’m obsessed with oscillators. My favorite part of producing a track is building my own sounds out of various filters and sine wave generators. My favorite OSC these days is Helm, which looks like this:

I’d already constructed most of the oscillator-based track when we got to the “adding random samples” stage. I really struggled with making this work and I couldn’t figure out why mine sounded so terrible. It was pretty late in the project when I realized that adding samples is easier when you’ve left some room in the mix. Like usual, I had managed to fill up the track with notes and I didn’t have any breathing room where you could drop in extra bits. I spent a lot of time fiddling with it in frustration. I eventually ran out of time and was forced to post what I had. If not for the class, this track would have been abandoned in some sub-folder of my hard drive and never heard again.

In the end, I just had some random laugh sounds sprinkled around without any sense of purpose. It… doesn’t work:

I guess I like the intro, and the bassline might be worth swiping for a future project, but the rest of the track is fairly dull, repetitive, and not mixed particularly well.

It was the easiest assignment in the course, but I struggled with it more than any of the others. Looking back, I think it would have been better to throw most of the track away and start over when we got to the sampling stuff.

Track 2: Veloscillator

I’ve talked before about trust in the storyteller. That’s where a writer will – accidentally or on purpose – introduce an element that doesn’t quite fit with what we’ve already been shown. If we trust the storyteller, then we assume this tension is deliberate and the pieces will fall into place later. If we don’t trust the storyteller then we assume the writer is a lazy screwup who can’t keep track of their plot elements.

Over the years I’ve realized that this same idea applies to a lot of art. If the audience trusts you, then you can use that trust to create additional tension and make the work even better.

Imagine a movie that opens up with the camera peeking under a garage door that’s opened to shin height. We see the feet of two characters through the gap and they have a conversation. The camera holds this frustrating position for the entire exchange, never taking us inside or showing us who is talking.

If we’re watching a Spielberg movie – and if we know we’re watching a Spielberg movie – then most people will trust that this shot exists for a purpose. This is a setup for a coming reveal or punchline. Maybe we have two men planning a murder, and when the conversation ends they open the garage door and we see that they’re both preists or police officers. Or maybe we realize one of them is a famous actor playing against type. Or they’re dressed as sports mascots. Or they kiss and we suddenly realize these two are a couple. Whatever. The frustrating shot existed to get the audience curious and thus lead to a bigger payoff when the reveal happens and the conversation takes on a new dimension.

On the other hand, if we’re watching a student film with atrocious production values then the under-the-door shot will just be annoying. The audience won’t assume this is a setup for something clever, they’ll assume the filmmaker is trying to be “artistic” in the most pretentious way. Or they’ll assume the weird shot just exists to hide scenery and lighting problems.

I ran into this problem while making this track. Deadmau5 is a big fan of using rhythmic tension through the use of polymeters. You play two different parts in a way that makes it feel like they aren’t keeping proper time with each other. They seem to get out of sync and everything feels a little off-kilter. You can hear this in the track Brazil starting at the two minute mark. The song spends just under a minute in this unstable state where there’s no drum to help you feel the pulse of the song.

Like the garage door shot, this creates tension. If the audience trusts you, then they know they’re being set up for a moment of resolution when the beats align and everything falls into place. If you’re Deadmau5, then you can leverage that trust to make the tension last even longer, and you can make the resolution stronger by having the rhythms get even more disjointed. The same is true for really slow sections. In the context of dance music, a long, plodding intro might create tension or it might frustrate the audience, depending on whether or not they trust you’re going to reward with something really good. You can see Deadmau5 use both of these techniques in the track Strobe. That track spends a full three minutes floating along in a dreamlike state, and then it spends two more stuttering through polyrhythms before it finally settles into the meat of the track at the five minute mark. All by itself, the build-up section of Strobe is longer than most tracks!

But you can’t get away with those sorts of musical shenanigans if the audience doesn’t trust you. Specifically, a lot of people are not open to being challenged by a class project from an amateur composer. Instead of feeling like the music is building up to something cool, they’ll worry they just clicked on some pretentious avant-garde arhythmic nonsense.

Other students were going to hear my song in the context of a feed filled with dozens of amateur tracks. Since this class included some beginners, several of these tracks were quite rough. It stands to reason that people working their way through this feed weren’t going to be open to long buildups with unresolved rhythms.

I was painfully aware of this – perhaps even too aware of it – when I made this track. I originally had a minute-long build up at the start where I slowly introduced the parts and used changing timbreUse sweeping filters and messing with the release time and delay effects. to make you wonder what was going to happen next. Then I started to worry that this would come off as a bit too showy and self-indulgent in the context of a music class. So I hacked it down to the bare bones. in the end it takes just 11 seconds for the music to solidify in a rhythmic and harmonic sense.

Looking back, this was a terrible over-correction. The song basically resolves the tension before the listener even feels it.

I suppose I could always make an extended remix later.

Track 3: Lovell’s Journey

Link (YouTube)

(Above YouTube video is barely related to the topic at hand, but I’m posting it because I feel like Henry Rollins is calling me out. Warning: Contains naughty language and Henry Rollins.)

I knew at the start of the course that I probably wasn’t going to do the third project, which was focused on writing and performing traditional pop song with lyrics and singing.

I’ve said before that I use music as a concentration tool. You know how your brain will suddenly ambush you with annoying crap?

Remember how you let your friend down that one time? Oh, you do? Okay. Just checking.


Wow. You sure are behind on your work / bill paying. There will probably be consequences for that. Maybe you should stop what you’re doing and worry about it right now.


Hey, remember that really embarrassing thing that happened when you were 12? Wasn’t that just THE WORST?

My brain does this to me constantly when I try to write, and I have no idea why. It doesn’t happen when I’m (say) in the shower or trying to fall asleep at the end of the day. During those times, I can concentrate on work just fine. But when I’m actually at the computer and trying to do work, the Larry David part of my brain becomes active and starts making me feel awkward, anxious, and inadequate.

I’ve found that music is really useful for taming that annoying part of my brain. If I have music on, I can concentrate more or less normally. The trick is, it only works if the music is instrumental. I can’t write / code if there’s vocals going onRepeated out-of-context sound samples are fine.. My brain stalls out and gets stuck thinking about the lyrics. This means that even though I love They Might Be Giants, I never listen to them as background music when I’m working because it’s literally too interesting and my brain fixates on it.

(Oddly enough, this lyrics business seems to be a problem that I developed in my 30s. Back in the 90s, I remember coding while listening to lyrical music with no problem.)

So these days I favor non-lyrical electronic music. I knew I wasn’t going to write lyrics or sing for this track, but I did add some voice-based content in an effort to sort of loosely acknowledge the intended project. I have snippets of an interview with Jim LovellHe’s probably best-known as the commander of Apollo 13. and some synth voices singing “Ooh” in the background.

I’m generally happy with how it turned out. The track could stand to be longer and do more different things. A key change here or there might be nice. In any case, this is probably the most solid track I produced in the course.

Anyway. So that’s what I did with October. I might have one more follow-up post where I talk about some of the stuff I learned in the course. We’ll see.



[1] Use sweeping filters and messing with the release time and delay effects.

[2] Repeated out-of-context sound samples are fine.

[3] He’s probably best-known as the commander of Apollo 13.

From The Archives:

68 thoughts on “Music Class Part 2: My Tracks

  1. Daimbert says:

    Music is pretty much the only art form that I can, myself, actually fully appreciate, because I have specific issues with visual aesthetics and visualization. This makes most art, for example, generally boring for me because I can’t really appreciate what they’ve done beyond “Looks kinda nice”, and the more abstract it gets the less interesting it is for me. But I love music, even though I haven’t played an instrument in years — I played trumpet for a few years in high school and saxophone and classical guitar for one term — and so think about it a bit (although not in super-analytic terms).

    I’ve also been on a kick of watching a variety of horror movies for the past couple of years, mostly towards the amateur side but also some of the more mainstream ones, and have been commenting on them on my blog with a fairly detailed analysis (although not massively in-depth; they count as thoughts, not as full-on essays generally). The reason is that I found some horror movies really, really cheap, started watching them and commenting on them, and decided that it was kinda fun to comment on them (and often more fun than WATCHING them). So I’ve been recently thinking about those sorts of things as well.

    So, anyway, that preamble leads to this comment:

    Imagine a movie that opens up with the camera peeking under a garage door that’s opened to shin height. We see the feet of two characters through the gap and they have a conversation. The camera holds this frustrating position for the entire exchange, never taking us inside or showing us who is talking.

    If we’re watching a Spielberg movie – and if we know we’re watching a Spielberg movie – then most people will trust that this shot exists for a purpose … On the other hand, if we’re watching a student film with atrocious production values then the under-the-door shot will just be annoying. The audience won’t assume this is a setup for something clever, they’ll assume the filmmaker is trying to be “artistic” in the most pretentious way. Or they’ll assume the weird shot just exists to hide scenery and lighting problems.

    I don’t think this is generally true, and it’s certainly not true for me. Whether or not we see it as that is going to come from how it fits into the rest of the work. Right from the beginning, we are going to assume, it seems to me, in both cases that there’s some reason for doing this, and it’s only if it doesn’t pay off by the time we expect it to that we’ll come to that conclusion. And if it happens in the middle of the work it’s going to rely on how the rest of the work has played out for us to feel that way. Better production values will get us feeling more sympathetic to it being deliberate, but then worse production values will also get us forgiving that sort of thing if, again, the scene is shot in a good way that de-emphasizes the things that they simply don’t have the budget to do (instead of making scenes that make it obvious that they have no budget, like one movie I watched where they didn’t have snow on the ground but insisted that the snow meant the victims couldn’t walk out and needed to drive a snow machine out, and also later added monsters that were completely unbelievable but focused on them). If you’re thinking that something was done by Spielberg or by an amateur director and trying to form impressions based on that the movie has already failed, as it’s pulled you out of the movie world and back into the real world.

    So, I listened to the two tracks, and I didn’t manage to get through Strobe, but again I don’t think it’s trust that manages that and think that that was the problem with the track, at least for me. In order to get through those sorts of odd cases in music, it’s not trust in the musician that you need, but FAMILIARITY. While I found the interjections in the first five minutes often annoying, the pattern from the beginning that I liked was still there and, if done well, can carry through and even blend with the pattern that seems out of whack so that when things combine fully at the end you do get some sort of sense of completion. But Strobe dropped that part-way through and tried to bring it back in sporadically, but at that point the part I liked was mostly gone and I didn’t find the new part all that interesting. So, again, it’s not trust that matters, but how everything gets assembled. And this holds for movies and for music: bringing it all together at the end can be very fulfilling, but if you fail to do so then it leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s/listener’s mouth.

    My brain does this to me constantly when I try to write, and I have no idea why. It doesn’t happen when I’m (say) in the shower or trying to fall asleep at the end of the day. During those times, I can concentrate on work just fine. But when I’m actually at the computer and trying to do work, the Larry David part of my brain becomes active and starts making me feel awkward, anxious, and inadequate.

    Interestingly, this isn’t really an issue for me in any way, and I can listen to vocals and instrumentals while working on code or doing almost anything else. But on the flip side I am constantly thinking about lots and lots and lots of things, and so actually had a sort of insomnia where I often couldn’t fall asleep at the end of the day because my mind wouldn’t shut up, which I fixed by shutting everything down — TV, lights, etc — and lying on the sofa until I fall asleep, and then getting up and going to bed.

    I’ve found that for myself game soundtracks are excellent for that sort of music that I want to run in the background but don’t want to be distracted by.

    1. Lino says:

      I’ve played classical guitar for a little over 12 years (as a hobby, I’m not a musician), and I have a deep appreciation for music. I listen to all kinds of music – both by established artists, and by complete amateurs, and I’ve got absolutely nothing against long and disjointed intros, as long as they’re made well.
      Unfortunately, these genres are probably the only type of music that doesn’t really do it for me, so I can’t speak for the quality of any of Dedmau5’s tracks (all of the ones you linked are very mediocre in my opinion – I couldn’t even get through half of Strobe). However, I think your tracks have improved tremendously over the years – a trend you can see in these three tracks as well, since each one sounds better than the last.
      My advice to you, Shamus, is to just keep at it – I’m sure that in time you’ll improve even more, and you might just reach the very unreasonable standards you hold yourself to :)

      1. Radkatsu says:

        Just an FYI: electronic music normally has the long intro because it’s made to be mixed and requires that extra time at the start and end to allow such. Normally you can find radio edits that get straight to the meat of the work, though I think they’re probably rarer these days.

    2. Syal says:

      I think it might make a difference if the shot looks bad on its own; if a Spielberg film opens with an off-center shaky-cam artistic shot I’ll think “the story is introducing the character holding the camera as an amateur”, while a student film gets “this film sucks”.

      But Spielberg would still need to reveal it quickly; purposefully poor is still poor and reputation only buys you a few seconds of leeway.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Maybe, but then there’s the flip side where you might be more forgiving of the amateur movie looking a bit amateur because it’s supposed to be that way and then if you discover that they did that deliberately then you start to look at it better. After all, “The Blair Witch Project” (the first one) didn’t suffer from amateurish camera work and even spawned a host of imitators because it ultimately all worked. But a “real” movie before that became a thing would have suffered a lot from doing that.

        1. Syal says:

          Never saw Blair Witch so can’t much comment on its quality, but the opening starts with text explicitly stating the characters holding the cameras are all amateurs.

          (Now I’m thinking of Trollhunter. I should watch that again.)

          1. Daimbert says:

            Sure, but when it debuted it was an “independent” and so potentially amateur movie. By the trust logic, people could have seen that and been less forgiving of it because it would be seen as a way to cover up their own flaws. But that didn’t happen and it became a huge success because it all worked and the movie was structured in the right way to make that all make sense. So it seems to me that it’s an example where trust is far less important than making it all work in the moment.

    3. Nessus says:

      This. I replied to this effect last time Shamus mentioned his “trust” theory.

      I can see the logic he’s following in his head, but his conclusion is completely wrong. Trust in the artist has nothing to do with why people sit through these parts of a track or film. If the composer or filmmaker is doing it right, then people sit through it because that part is engaging in its own way, and/or because it telegraphs its purpose in the larger work.

      Trust in a specific artist is only the reason people sit through a work or part of a work if the artist has failed.

      Newbies who don’t have trust don’t have that safety net if they fail, but if/when they succeed they don’t need it: people will listen to it if it sounds good, regardless of whether they’re familiar with the artist. If this wasn’t true, those “trusted” artists would have never been allowed the opportunity to earn said trust in the first place.

      Moreover, if other parts of your work are sufficiently good, people will extend trust on credit even if they’ve never heard of you before. This happens all the damn time. This is normal. How many times have you seen or heard of a film or song by a fledgling new artist, and people will couple their criticisms to an overall opinion that it was good and really interesting and they’re totally into seeing where this person goes next? How many times have you yourself had that reaction to a track or a film or a game?

      Sorry for all the strident-looking bold/italic bits, but I really, really hate to see how Shamus is talking himself out of practicing exactly the stuff he wants to learn by investing in this bad theory. It’s planted him firmly at in intersect between “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, and “practice makes perfect”, ensuring that he can never learn it regardless of whether he has it in him or not.

      Like, speaking as a depressive person, he’s actually done a creepily good impression of how depressive people will preemptively “logic” themselves out of doing or trying things.

      1. Guest says:

        That’s a bit of a reach. A lot of people with a lot of media on their hands are thinking exactly the way Shamus is. I have a finite amount of time, and if I’m just giving you a chance to see what comes of it, my patience is limited. One of my favourite songs ever is 14 minutes long, but the prior relationship built by the rest of the album made me trust the artist’s vision. But if you give me a 14 minute song off the bat, I will skip through it, giving it a brief chance, and if nothing grabs me I’m out. Now, that’s not the fairest way to treat music, but we’ve all got limited time.

        Same thing with film, if I have an idea of a creator’s previous work, I can trust that its going somewhere deliberately. Delaying that payoff is the hard thing: if nobody “trusts” you yet, you have a very limited window, yet the delay MAKES the payoff. That’s what’s difficult, and Shamus articulated it perfectly, that’s the difficult line you have to walk.

        I don’t think you are giving good advice either-one of the most profoubdly depressing things you can do is put a lot of work into a longer piece, constantly weigh up how self insulgent that intro is, decide to leave it in, and then not get any listens or feedback, because your mate would rather send you the latest list of releases from his fave music site instead of giving your track a chance-and you realise how much higher the barrier is for strangers-and you’re just trying to share something that matters to you.

        Its the same frustration with YT and thr algorithm I see: Shamus doesn’t want to make his videos worse by including calls to action, and he wants to make quality videos-but that takes time and it does need to be seen at some point-that’s what its for. It doesn’t matter how satisfying he found those 5-10 minutes or so per episode to make, when people don’t see it, it is massively disheartening.

        Lastly, on the depressive side, that’s the reach. Its just an internal conversation, they aren’t inherently bad even when negative thoughts are expressed. You do need to consider whether your audience will stick with you through your song, video, game, whatever. Its called editing, its called maintaining a critical perspective, and it is vital to eventually finding exactly what you do want to make, and also avoiding making self indulgent tripe that doesn’t get anywhere. Shamus has the right perspective, do not talk yourself out of criticising your own work, or you will always make things you are unsatisfied with and you won’t be as fulfilled.

        Example, I wrote quite a long bridge to a song lately. Its a big change in tone and progression, and I need the audience to stay with me for it. The rhythm works with the lyrica and vocal melody, but the lead instrument isn’t right. I went through 3 different intro riffs, and about 9 or 10 lead melodies before I found one I was happy with. Now its the best thing I ever wrote and I’m enormously satisfied, because I followed that-if my bridge is this long, it needs a drastic, varied melody to sell it, and it needs something to make the transition, the constant tension of “I want this long bridge for the vocal part and the progression, but if I can’t make it fit, I will have to cut it” that critical eye doesn’t even mean cutting everything, playing it safe, or doing nothing.

        One of the most validating musical experiences I had was making a song I hated. I spent all night on it, relistened in the morning: I hated it. It was overlong, belaboured riffs, and the creative rhythmic ideas I thought justified parts, didn’t make sense, nor were they pleasant. I was ecstatic. I had made garbage, trying to make something good, and I still was able to view it critically from an outside perspective, and knowing what you don’t want to do is essential.

        This is not the same as depressive self talk. Its not me going “I’m having a bad day, so I can’t improve it by exerting effort in a positive direction” its all effort. Every tweak, every relisten, its all effort, it is not talking yourself out of happiness. It is vital to art. You won’t suddenly be happy if you indulge in a long intro (that you will start skimming in the production process) that drags out the length of your track abd makes it more intimidating, only to dump it on the third soundcloud alt you had to get to get around space limits for 25 listens. Depression is not going “I can do better” or even deleting old work. Its lying in bed and not even touching an instrument because you can’t summom the will to get up.

        1. Nessus says:

          Okay: first off, you wrote an entire screed based on a complete misreading of a single sentence. I did not assert that he was depressive: I said in this instance, he’s paralleled the kind of logic a depressive would use to justify not trying a thing, and that should be a red flag regardless of his own mood. His theory is made of stacked assumptions, and leads to a self-defeating premise.

          Also: trying to mansplain depression to a depressive. Wow. That was just bizarrely arrogant on top of missing the point. Don’t act like you’re an expert just because you red a thing on the internet once: it just makes you look foolish when you encounter the real thing.

          But more relevantly: everything else you said missed the point as well. Like Shamus, you’re framing these things as something you have to “sit through” to get to the good part.

          I’m saying if you’re thinking of a passage or a scene in those terms, the artist has already failed. Those parts should be enjoyable and worthwhile in their own right, even if they’re “just” a setup in the larger structure. Shamus should be focusing on what makes a long setup enjoyable or interesting, as opposed to thinking he needs to earn trust before he can even start. Counting on trust is expecting failure while neglecting what you actually need to succeed.

          If you’re skimming to the good part, that means that artist made a part that was not worth it’s time. If you start listening to something and it doesn’t “get to the point” quickly enough, of course you’re justified in walking away right then. But if you are enjoying yourself, it doesn’t matter if it’s 3 minutes or 15 if you’re enjoying it the whole time. The fact that you can turn it off whenever you want makes the “my time is precious” argument moot. Start a song, and let it run until it stops being worth it. Only time you’re risking is the 2 seconds it takes to switch tracks.

          When it comes to movies: nobody knew who Spielberg was before “Jaws”. That was his breakout film, yet it already had the stylistic hallmarks Shamus attributes to “trust”, and people went and saw it in droves. Name a favorite filmmaker of yours, then remember the first movie of there’s you saw. Did you see it because of them? No. You saw it because the trailer was good, or because a friend told you it was good, or because it had an actor you liked, some other reason that by definition had nothing to do with the name behind the camera. You came to trust them to do good things because you’d seen them do good things before. If you had to trust them before you’d let yourself see them do things at all, you’d never have seen them do things at all.

          When you try a new musical artist, it’s because it was crosslinked in a music app, or fed to you in a playlist, or because a friend showed to you, or even just because the background art caught your eye. And music comes in many flavors requiring different skills: just because someones good at short structures doesn’t mean they’ll know their hand from their arse making long ones. They’re different skills: you don’t learn how to do one by doing the other.

          He doesn’t have to publish everything he makes. Or make everything with the intent to publish. I’m saying if he convinces himself he needs “trust”, he’ll never reach “ready to start”. If you want to be good at something, the first step is to be DOING that thing. If he wants to be good at long build-ups, he should dive into practicing and experimenting with them, not putting it off. And there are no guarantees: as you yourself noted: you can’t predict what other people will like based on what you’re proud of. That’s always a leap. Even famous artists often have issues with the work they love being poorly received, and the work they’re “eh” about (or actively hate) being loved. It’s a bloody trope.

          So yeah, self criticize, and cull the stuff you judge as not good enough. Never did I say otherwise. Wherever that notion came from, it’s something you brought to the party, not me.

          I’m saying the idea that you should wait for “trust” in either practicing or releasing is a non-starter: publish what satisfies your standards for good enough, and either brace yourself or choose not to care. If it IS good, no-one who listens to it will care if they’d never heard of you before.

          1. Shamus says:

            “Also: trying to mansplain depression to a depressive. Wow. That was just bizarrely arrogant on top of missing the point. ”

            Mansplain? What does Guest’s gender have to do with anything? (Has Guest even identified as a man? I dunno.) If you’re going to have a conversation with someone, then it stands to reason that that person is going to want to explain their point of view, even if they’re a man.

            Also, “screed”? I don’t see any harsh or confrontational language in Guest’s post. He (I’m trusting your assertion regarding gender) was just giving his opinion.

            Guest has no way of knowing what your background is is what your experience with depression is. I don’t think it’s “arrogant” to explain your viewpoint in this context.

            In short: I have no idea why you’re (seemingly) angry about this. This is the third post on this topic where you’ve taken this aggressive tone, and I’m not sure why. This doesn’t seem like something people need to get worked up over.

            1. Taellosse says:

              I don’t have the larger context of the other posts you allude to, but I can kind of see where Nessus is coming from here. They’re using “mansplain” in the sense of, “I am neither an expert in a relevant field, nor a member of the subject group, but I nevertheless feel entitled to assert vast authority on this matter, up to and including telling you, who HAS identified yourself as an expert or member of the subject group, that you are wrong on this subject.” As originally coined, this was intended to refer to a man denigrating the expertise of women, in that specific way. Its entirely possible for someone who doesn’t identify as a man to have this particular kind of arrogance, but it’s REALLY common for us, hence the term.

              Having been on both sides of this dynamic, I can both see why Nessus displayed such irritation and why you might have been taken aback by the apparent vitriol. Even if it wasn’t the speaker’s intended message, an assertion of authority that is apparently unearned, over one’s own lived experience, feels extremely dismissive. When someone essentially tells you, “I know better than you do how you think and feel,” it’s a uniquely maddening experience. And when it’s something that happens A LOT (as it tends to for women), the example where they lose it and get openly angry is, for them, a last-straw situation. It’s not THIS guy, by himself – he’s just the latest in a long line of dismissive jerks (whether he really is or not doesn’t matter, he SOUNDS like one), and unlike the boss, father-in-law, coworker, or spouse, expressing that simmering frustration NOW doesn’t come with a huge social or professional cost.

        2. Daimbert says:

          Same thing with film, if I have an idea of a creator’s previous work, I can trust that its going somewhere deliberately. Delaying that payoff is the hard thing: if nobody “trusts” you yet, you have a very limited window, yet the delay MAKES the payoff. That’s what’s difficult, and Shamus articulated it perfectly, that’s the difficult line you have to walk.

          But this would make it either a trope if done generally or a signature if it’s only from that creator. So instead of simply trusting the creator, you instead see the set-up coming and thus already expect the outcome, which then leaves it open for a subversion, and so on and so forth.

          I pretty much agree with Nessus that if you’re actually thinking about who the creator is when trying to evaluate if you’re going to give it a chance to pay off or not, the work has already failed because it’s taken you back to the real world instead of the world of the work. The elements need to pay off on their own. In short, the trust has to be in-universe, not out-of-universe.

          1. Distec says:

            I guess in my ideal world, this is how assessments of “quality” would generally work out. But nothing is in a vacuum, and my interaction with a piece of art is inevitably colored by a multitude of preexisting influences, familiarities, moods, and whatever have you.

            My favorite director is David Lynch. I could argue that any one of his films stand on their own merits, but I’d have to admit I’m not sure that’s true since I find it difficult to separate my fascination with his filmography from the man himself. It’s difficult because his movies feel deeply personal and sprung from his own mind; that he’s one of the view filmmakers who has a deeply singular and inimitable vision that’s infused into every pore of his work. And the first time I saw an interview with the man, it actually did a lot of legwork in setting my expectations when approaching his movies. His tight-lipped, slow-paced, and mysterious (but sincere) demeanor arouses my intrigue in his work, whereas a director like Darren Aronofsky comes off as insufferable and therefore offputting as a result. For the purpose of an “objective” critique, this is totally unfair to both men and their films, but I don’t see any way to avoid it.
            Lynch is also an “old school” kinda guy. Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks invoke a lot of imagery of 50-70’s Americana that’s subverted and flipped to expose dark, seedy underbellies of rot. This works so effectively because I’m already familiar with that kind of iconography. I didn’t live through that era, but I’m familiar enough with what’s been stored in our cultural cache from that time; the Sadie Hawkins dance, “Going Steady With Your Lady”, the Date Night Burgers & Shakes, the Nuclear Family, the smiling face of President Reagan. Frankly, these are stereotypical enough for worldwide recognition. But if I lived in a world without these references, would the works be as strong? Is Lynch cheating when he deploys this kind of referential imagery as bedrock for the experience? If I don’t care one iota about 1950’s America, then is this all just wankery wasting my time? His characters also invoke older archetypes. Men are often violent, libidinous, and primordially driven. Women often function as virginal figures that have been corrupted, or are untouchable objects of obsession. Characters with special insights, abilities, or supernatural origins are marked by deformities and defects, clearly separating them from the rest of the “normal” looking characters and world. I think it works beautifully in his movies, but I’m sure you can guess that some would find that decidedly retrograde in 2019. So is it fair to judge?

            For a change of medium, I’ll also go to music. Autechre has been my favorite artist for probably the better half of a decade at this point. But I didn’t start liking them immediately. Back in the day when Napster was still a thing, and you’d spend hours randomly downloading ANYTHING from a given artist with no mind to year or album, I had to spend some time reconciling why I really liked this track from 1995 but I really hated this track from 2001, and my god are these really the same guys? Like, I kinda dig their first few albums, but I have no idea what drugs they took in the intervening years and turned them into something else entirely.
            But I eventually found great satisfaction in unlocking their appeal like a puzzle. Something would draw me back to give their latest albums another chance. They didn’t work for me on first listen, but surely there’s a reason I keep thinking about it? And it’s when I finally went through their albums chronologically and charted their “evolution” that everything made sense to me, and my ears were irrevocably altered. Some might argue that you shouldn’t treat music as a challenge to rise to, but the act of “figuring out” Autechre is the reason I like them so much, and I only have my satisfaction to show for it.

            And it’s strange. I have more of a preference of Lynch and Autechre’s later work than their earliest. But if you asked me if you should watch the latest Twin Peaks, my response would be “It’s absolutely brilliant! I… just wouldn’t start there”. Ditto for Autechre. And that’s precisely because I think these creators have had to earn trust to do their most affecting work IMO. If you jumped straight into the tail-end of their output, you may very well walk away thinking they’re pretentious failures and that their admirers have had to make various excuses for the creator’s failures.
            And then the fans (with perhaps some justification) will reply that “Nah, you just don’t get it”. /shrug

            1. Daimbert says:

              What useful is that I write the interface in a way that documents how it interacts. If things change, I change the interface which immediately flags everywhere it is used. Forcing me to evaluate the impact of the interface changes. It also useful for unit testing as in your test frameworks you can put test stubs if hardware or connections are not available in the test environment.

              But aren’t these things, themselves, really just signatures, as I pointed out? Is it really that you just like the two of them, but rather that you like the elements they bring and these familiar elements are present and so that’s what triggers the trust?

              Lynch is also an “old school” kinda guy. Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks invoke a lot of imagery of 50-70’s Americana that’s subverted and flipped to expose dark, seedy underbellies of rot. This works so effectively because I’m already familiar with that kind of iconography. I didn’t live through that era, but I’m familiar enough with what’s been stored in our cultural cache from that time; the Sadie Hawkins dance, “Going Steady With Your Lady”, the Date Night Burgers & Shakes, the Nuclear Family, the smiling face of President Reagan. Frankly, these are stereotypical enough for worldwide recognition. But if I lived in a world without these references, would the works be as strong?

              I’ve been watching Stephen King adaptations to analyze and noted this wrt “Stand By Me”: if you are interested in coming of age stories or grew up in that age, you’d get it and like it, but otherwise there’s little there. I’d say the same thing applies to Lynch in your description. But, again, it’s the elements in the work that drive things, and for you a big part of that would be that they’re familiar as he goes back to them again and again. Having to trigger that, though, by including the signature is why I say that it’s not trust … at least if you aren’t consciously thinking about it being them and deciding to watch on because you like them enough to expect it to get better, but then that’s already a bit of a failure in the work.

  2. Kathryn says:

    >>I’ve got sky-high expectations and rock-bottom skills, which isn’t really a good recipe for a healthy and rewarding hobby.

    Yep, I have the same problem. All I can see in my own work is the flaws. Sometimes I manage to be more objective and realize my work (painting, writing, whatever) is actually much better than the average person could produce, but the problem remains that I don’t want to be average.

    There is a quotation about this phenomenon I like, attributed to someone named Ira Glass:

    “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    1. Radkatsu says:

      It’s said that to hit a professional level of skill, you need to put in 10,000 hours. It’s absolutely true, too. For writers (I’m an author), it’s more like 1,000,000 words, but same basic deal. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t earn a lot of money from those million words, it just means they won’t be as good as the ‘next’ million ;p

      It took me several years of hardcore writing before I felt confident enough with my work to actually consider selling it.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        More recent research suggests that in most fields you can reduce that 10,000 hours significantly by a process of systematically identifying and working on your flaws.

        1. Retsam says:

          I believe the term for that is Deliberate Practice. And it certainly seems true (to a certain point, obvious) that not all forms of practice are going to be equal.

          Like, I think the classic example is golf: you can become an “expert” golfer by just playing golf for 10000 hours, but maybe much less time if just spend hundreds of hours putting, and then hundreds of hours hitting drives (and etc. for whatever other skills are involved in golfing).

          But it can be hard to apply to creative enterprises, because it’s much harder to systematically identify weaknesses and train them in isolation: anyone can identify someone who can’t putt in golf; but identifying exactly is “wrong” in a creative work is both subjective and may require even more mastery than it took to produce the work in the first place.

          And even if you can identify the problem, there might not be a straightforward way to train it in isolation: if I’m a writer and I know I’m bad at endings; I can’t just say “I’m going to sit down and write 1000 endings until I get better at it”.

          There’s still a huge value of identifying weaknesses and trying to specifically address them: but I do think that the “10000 hour ‘rule'” is much harder to “cheat” in creative endeavors than in other fields.

          1. Syal says:

            I can’t just say “I’m going to sit down and write 1000 endings until I get better at it”.

            Wondering now if it would help to start writing stories backward; start at the ending and Memento the whole thing until you get everyone to a good starting point.

            1. Retsam says:

              I know Sanderson talks about the idea of outlining backwards: he often starts with a big dramatic ending in mind, and then works backwards to figure out what things need to happen to make the ending happen, and then figuring out what needs to happen to make those things happen, etc.

              But even then there’s a ton of preparation needed, you need to have a general idea of what the characters, setting, premise and plot are going to be before you can come up with an idea of how to end it. You can’t just sit down and spit out “1000 endings” like you can a thousand golf putts.

              1. Syal says:

                you need to have a general idea of what the characters, setting, premise and plot are going to be before you can come up with an idea of how to end it.

                That’s the question, though; do you actually have to know the beginning to reach the end, or can you start with “The story ends with Jack throwing his empty gun and his wife’s locket in the river”, and use that to reverse engineer where and how the gun was used, why the locket gets thrown out, where the river is, how Jack got to the river, etc.

                Generally I hear bad endings are from letting the story and characters wander. But a beginning can afford to be a lot messier than an ending, so maybe you can turn a messy ending into a messy beginning and be better off.

                1. Daimbert says:

                  A lot of this is going to depend on the writer, as different people have different styles ranging from planning out everything before even beginning to write to pretty much winging it. It’s probably not a good idea to adopt a generic style that doesn’t work for how you write.

                  On this specifically, if you want something more structured you probably want to have a general idea of the plot beforehand and then fill in the blanks there. You say that a beginning can afford to be messier than an ending, but depending on the length that isn’t true. A messy or bad ending can make the work feel unsatisfying, but a messy or bad beginning can stop people from even reading or watching the thing. But more importantly, a messy beginning might make it really difficult to have a good ending, because it doesn’t set things up properly so that the ending can feel like the culmination of the work and the plot. In general, all of the parts need to work together to make the work good, and the risk of aiming for a good or dramatic ending first might run into the problem where the beginning and middle don’t support that kind of ending. Hence the advice to use a plot outline first instead of simply trying to write backwards from the ending.

                  That being said, that’s one of many approaches that can be a lot of fun. You can start from one simple premise and see where it leads you, or else start from an ending and see how to get there. I’m just not sure it works, in general, for most people, as a regular approach to writing.

        2. Cubic says:

          The original slogan is ‘10,000 hours of deliberate practice’, which, I believe is basically that. Not just playing golf for 10,000 hours or whatever.

  3. Radkatsu says:

    So you’re a fan of electronic stuff by the gods like Armin as well? Nice. Remind me to share some of my trance mixes with you ;p

    I had my formative young adult years during the golden age of electronic music/trance, mid to late 90s. Often wish I could go back to those simpler times ;_;

  4. pseudonym says:

    I just listened to the two deadmou5 tracks. I got bored. Then I listened to Velocillator. That one I listened through.

    I think the 12 second build-up is great and not an over correction at all. Personally I feel the build up is more like 40 second-ish. After that you introduce theme. Instead of repeating it, you explore some possibilities. Then there is a bridge, and you explore another theme. Then there is further theme exploration and the two theme’s mix together. After that there is further exploration. It is nice to listen to. A good track. I really like the variety. I like it much better than the two Deadmou5 tracks. For me they are too repetitive.

    You seem to be very hard on yourself because you feel you do not improve. I have experienced this as well. I have been playing the piano for over 16 years. Most of which I have been stuck in a rut, playing the same dang things over and over again. At some point I couldn’t bare to listen to my own play anymore. Then I got piano lessons, and now I am moving up again. My improvements over time have become much more apparent because of these lessons, and I enjoy playing a lot more now.
    Did taking the course also manage to accomplish this for you? (Or will you tell us in the coming post?). Maybe there is some public university/music school that teaches general music theory and composition lessons in your neighborhood as a follow-up?

    And because it can’t hurt to say it again: I really like Velocillator. I also enjoy the audio tracks you put at the end of the Tuesday video and the blog.

    This is the sort of theme exploration that really tickles my brain:

  5. default_ex says:

    The two points you mention are one I often try to get across to people I meet that are learning any instrument. As you learn, your ear gets better at picking apart pieces of the sound. Your skills however lag behind your ears so you need other people to tell you whether it sounds like your getting better or not. I learned to embrace little bridging pieces of dissonance because I found while it was offensive to my ears, people listening thought it was a nice break from the clear shift from note to note as long as it was quick and within the right note range for a bridge. One of the most awesome pieces I played around with on my guitar and I really wish I would have recorded it before my good effects rig pedal died was nothing like you expected to hear from a guitar. Instead it sounded like a detuned Cello with the intense pitch ring of a violin and has to be phased carefully with very slow, maybe 20-30bpm pacing of dual volume pedals to keep the two halves of the effect stable (it’ll break into static if left untended).

  6. TMC_Sherpa says:

    Here’s what I will say.

    You, yes you reading this, are a terrible judge of your own artistic work.

    We, the audience, have no idea now close the finished product is to the ideal version in your head.
    That’s baggage we don’t have, a comparison we can’t make.

    Here’s the other thing I will say.

    If you’re happy with your work, not your old stuff, not your middle period, the thing you just finished.
    You’re probably in trouble.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Deadmau5 and the long drawn out tracks seem to be more oriented toward trance than EDM. Have you tried doing a trance track? They are generally around 10-15 minutes long.

    2. ccesarano says:

      If you’re happy with your work, not your old stuff, not your middle period, the thing you just finished.
      You’re probably in trouble.

      Going to slightly disagree on this one. I’ve run the gamut of attempted creative projects, from drawing as a kid, to writing short stories, to trying to be a web comic artist, to doing the whole blogging and now YouTubing thing. Oh, and web development. Front-end, specifically.

      I think there’s a difference with being happy or satisfied enough with a work to “abandon” it into the world and thinking it’s complete. Just about everything I’ve ever worked on could be improved, but sometimes you look at something and realize you’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. Or, you get good enough at the early stages that you know how to pull it together in a fashion that you’re more likely to achieve success and not waste time. Is there room for improvement? Oh, always. I’ll always look back at a video I made, or an essay I wrote, or a drawing I’ve done or so on and so forth and think “I could have touched up here and there”.

      But to describe it as being unhappy with all work? Nah, I can’t jive with that, because there needs to be a point where the work itself brings satisfaction. Otherwise you’re just banging your head against the wall.

      Liken it to playing a difficult, challenging game. For some that would be a Soulsborne, for me it could be playing a Platinum action game like Bayonetta or Astral Chain or Capcom’s Devil May Cry 5 on a higher difficulty, or Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary, etc. etc., the point is something challenging. You bash your head against a boss over and over, but hey, you finally beat ’em. Maybe you beat ’em with 1/3rd of your health remaining, but hey, you beat ’em. But next time you go back, or next boss, you’ve learned enough that you can get by with 1/2 of your health, so on and so forth.

      Okay I think the analogy is failing but the point is you’re rarely ever going to be perfect at defeating someone really tough in a game. In fact, let’s say you DO spend a lot of time getting good at a single boss so you can beat them flawlessly. Think about all the other boss fights you neglected because you were trying to hard to perfect just this one.

      And now this metaphor sounds like a confirmation for being “just good enough” but hopefully you get my point. No work is perfect, and I think it’s valuable to look back and see where you have room to improve. However, I also think it’s vital to be satisfied with your work (eventually, at least) or else you’ll lose the drive and energy to keep pushing forward.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I can relate to this in my own varied works.

        For the most part, I always get the satisfaction of at least having finished it because that’s pretty much why I do those things: I think and think about them for so long that I finally just sit down to do it to finish it. But looking back on what I’ve done, there’s always the somewhat depressing note where I see that these things didn’t quite work or seem awkward or whatever. But in most of them there are moments where I say “But this part really worked”.

        If you don’t have that last part, even in your early works, you’re likely to get very discouraged unless you have a lot of positive feedback.

  7. krellen says:

    I just want to give a shout out to Steve Porter, because taking Henry Rollins’s mocking of techno and turning it into techno is a baller move.

  8. Geebs says:

    Honestly I think the best way to deal with musical composition is to fail early. If an idea grabs you, flesh it out; if not, chuck it. If I don’t have an idea, I don’t write music until one comes along.

    The other way round this is: collaborate. Some of the most fun I’ve had is with writing arrangements for another person’s work. It’s also much easier to get through the inevitable part of the process where you hate something you’ve written if there’s someone else to blame.

    You have to do this in meatspace, though. Look at any one of those youtuber musician “collaborations” for evidence, since they’re all complete drek.

    1. Guest says:

      100% this. When I’m writing, I go through a hundred permutations of a part before pen touches paper.

      Every thing I write, it was because I came up with a riff or lick and wanted to make it real. YT musos in general are churning out music. They need to make a track, they need to publish, and that comes out as forced ideas that weren’t good enough to justify their place.

      Its the opposite of the trust problem: people are willing to trust a youtuber who has become a part of their routine even when their work falters due to its forced nature.

  9. Borer says:

    As a musician myself I feel like taking about the songs for a bit and ignoring all the tasks and assignments of the course. And I have to say: Man, I really like these songs. Which is weird because I’m usually not so much into electronic stuff. A few highlights:
    – That bass line in What’s So Funny? starting at 0:30. Fantastic.
    – That electric-guitar-like synth in What’s So Funny? (1:37). In an actual production with money and everything I’d love to see that bit played by an actual guitar.
    – The melody in Veloscillator coming in at 0:55. Especially once the lead instument changes.
    – When the piano and kick drums come back in at 2:37 in Lovell’s Journey.
    – Still in Lovell’s Journey, the bass coming in immediately after at 2:52. Even though it’s fairly simple it adds so much. Why is it over in 15 seconds?

    On a more critical note: I do think You’re constricting Yourself when You think about audience buy-in, Shamus. All three songs are over way to soon: You have a breakdown in each of these songs and every time it came too soon. You’re rushing through stuff. In these three pieces I’m thinking You’re not exploring all the parts as well as You could (or maybe even should). You could keep pretty much every part running longer and the songs would be better for it; in my opinion anyway. And as I stated above: I don’t like many electronic songs.
    Now that I’ve said all that: I don’t know if You held Yourself back specifically because of the classroom environment or if You cut Yourself short in Your other songs as well, but if You do this regularly: stop it.

    In summary: I like the songs. More, please.

    Edit: I just noticed that the UL and LI html tags don’t work in the comments.

  10. Kathryn says:

    Extremely Important Question: How is Deadmau5 pronounced? Dead Maus, dead mau five, dead mau fünf…?

    Person who has actually said “Ke dollar sign ha” out loud

    1. Shamus says:

      Dead mouse, but run together like “deadmouse”.

      Now if someone could tell me how to pronounce “Da5id” from Snow Crash, I’d really appreciate it.

      1. Retsam says:

        “David Withafive”, clearly.

        … but apparently it’s just ‘David’, because 5 = V in Roman numerals.

        1. Cubic says:

          Aww, it coulda been ‘Daffyd’ if you squint a bit.

        2. Lars says:

          Could be Da-oioi-id, because 5 = 0101 in binary.

      2. Duoae says:

        I’m guessing with elongated vowels.

        Dafiveid becomes Dayyveed.

        But I’m extrapolating that from my simple understandings of Welsh/pseudo-Hungarian.

        Cubic’s Daffyd works as well.

        1. Syal says:


        2. Kathryn says:

          It’s Dafydd (roughly Day-vith). I am guessing you know this already, but for others, in Welsh, single F is pronounced like English V. A double F, as in porffor (purple), is pronounced like English F. (And double D is roughly like English th, and let’s not discuss double L.)

          (Meanwhile, in German, a single V is pronounced like English F, which makes studying these two languages at the same time confusing…)

          Anyway, I would have pronounced it Da Five Id just to be a dick (see above in re: Ke Dollar Sign Ha, also the Kia Cee Apostrophe D and the McLaren Em Pee Four Dash Twelve Cee). But I like the Da Da Da Da Da Id suggestion even better!

          1. Duoae says:

            I get all your stuff except for the first bit. How does the “iveid” become the “ydd” part? Or does he switch from Welsh to another language? To be fair, I have a Norwegian friend whose name is Eivind… which reminds me of the way the vowels and letters would go together to form the ydd part from that.

            ‘Cause otherwise, i’d still read it as Day-ee-vid (because there’s no “dd”). That’s why I was trying to combine two different languages across a single word.

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        Obviously it’s leetspeak, which means it’s either “Day-sid” or “Dassid”.

      4. tmtvl says:

        Clearly that’s Cantonese Pinyin, the lazy rising tone, if I’m not mistaking.

  11. germdove says:

    It feels incredibly aggressive for an embedded audio player to offer no volume controls. We had that same problem with SoundCloud too. I wound up having to manually adjust the volume through html to be able to get it at a comfortable level.

  12. ccesarano says:

    I’m going to add onto the “I’m not an electronic music fan most of the time, but I dug what you put together” dog pile. I think part of the reason is none of them felt like they over-stayed their welcome, though, which is typically my issue with the electronic music I’ve heard. However, I imagine there’s lot of stuff out there I’d probably like better if I heard it, I’m just not in a position to discover it.

    Oddly enough, I’ve found that writing in silence can often be the best for me. Perhaps because I don’t have enough chill music even when I listen to soundtracks. Typically, when I jump to game music, it’s some pumped up Nier: Automata jam, or some epic level Yoko Kanno, or some o’ that booty shakin’ Zelda remixing. Stuff that’s going to get me pumped and thus less pensive and contemplative over my word choice. Then again, some of the best pieces I’ve written have been to Hollow Knight’s soundtrack or the Legend of Mana soundtrack.

    Regardless, I’m largely in agreement with you about music with lyrics. It’s hard to concentrate when I’m listening to lyrical music under most circumstances. The exception is when I’m listening to something like Ne Obliviscaris, where the vocalist lingers on longer whole or quarter notes and has this sort of way of singing that I can’t understand the words anyway. Turns the vocals into just another instrument. I’ve found that album surprisingly impactful as writing music despite its energetic nature. However, if I were to, say, put on Blind Guardian’s Beyond the Red Mirror, then I’d be good until the words kicked in, as I can far more clearly understand what’s being spoken… and then I just want to sing along.

    I guess that’s when instrumental albums by folks like Widek or Intervals.

    …though really, looking at my chosen song selections here, I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t gravitate towards proper “chill” music, which maybe impacts why I see a lot of success writing in silence.

    1. Retsam says:

      Nit: Yoko Shimomura is the FFXV composer – most famously known as the composer of most of Kingdom Heart’s music. Yoko Kanno is mostly famous for her anime stuff like Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop.

      1. ccesarano says:

        D’oh! I’m usually so good at keeping those two correct. I slipped up! She does such good work. Most famous for Kingdom Hearts, maybe, but I’ve loved her work on Super Mario RPG and Legend of Mana as well.

  13. Retsam says:

    Out of sheer curiosity, have you (or anyone else who has the “can’t do lyrical music while working” tic) ever tried foreign-language (or nonsense lyric) music? Is it a mental process that is analyzing the actual lyrics themselves, or does just triggering the “language parsing” sections of the brain cause the effect?

    1. Shamus says:

      I’ve had mixed success with other-language music. Sometimes it works well and sometimes not. I haven’t really drilled down to figure out why.

    2. Ander says:

      I’ve gotten great results with REOL as a non-Japanese speaker. It’s pretty busy music, though.

    3. Duoae says:

      Any word-like speaking distracts my mind enough to pull me out of my thoughts. However, I can fall asleep to tv/ movies without a problem but a person talking in the next room will keep me awake.

      My guess is it’s a survival alertness thing.

    4. SeekerOfThePath says:

      I have noticed an effect: when other people speak quietly or whisper in a foreign language, I cannot understand them well. My hypothesis is that people can effortlessly intuit missing sounds or words only in their native language.

      I would be curious to ask a bilingual person to test my hypothesis – do they notice this difference between the two languages they learned in the first three years of their life and those they learned later?

      Anyway, I use this effect when listening to music. I never listen to it in my mother tongue as I automatically, immediately, and involuntarily think about the lyrics, because I understand them too easily. But as a not-a-native speaker of English, I can choose to focus a little and understand English lyrics, or I can zone out and the voice becomes just another instrument.

    5. ccesarano says:

      Yes and no. Sometimes I can put on a foreign-language jam and let it roll, but sometimes I just wanna belt out what I think the words are. I have no idea what this fellow is saying, but when he shouts “De rogue of notch(???)” I wanna join in. The Japanese bands I listen to tend to have a mixture of English and Japanese lyrics, so it really kind of tugs me both directions.

      Really, I should probably just start writing to the calm and chill Breath of the Wild soundtrack instead.

    6. Falcon02 says:

      I haven’t actively tried foreign language stuff, but I think my brain still tries to parse out words.

      Another issue is many streaming “instrumental” stations just have a bunch of instrumental versions of pop songs. So even though there are no lyrics in the music my brain tries to insert follow along with the words of the original version with lyrics…

      It is like trying to explain something to someone when a third person is speaking directly into your ear about a completely unrelated topic.

      Edit: in College the C&C soundtrack (and other video games sound tracks) and Bond (Modern Classical) were lifesavers for studying.

  14. Guest says:

    What you are describing at the start feels like writer’s block brought on by creative stagnation. When your diet of music is mostly the same things, its harder to find those things that tickle your mind and inspire you. That’s not helped working exclusively in a DAW, where your production can become calcified.

    The things that inspire me most are hearing new music, hearing melodic and structural ideas in other genres of music I want to interpret for my own, and even listening to music I hate. Nothing inspires me to make music like some garbage music, its an instant psych up-I hate listen to music because it gives me more drive.

    I find that periodically starting over in production helps-use different plugins to do the same thing. Especially if you’re brickwalling your composition and can’t fit new parts in-you need to spend a little more time with your EQ there, and creative uses of comp and timbre can bring out a part that was buried.

    The other thing I would suggest for getting around those blocks is learning an instrument, like using a midi keyboard, a bass guitar, whatever. Its relatively easy to get simple monophonic melodies out of those, and just sitting down and jamming through things will help develop nelody, and bake those ideas a little longer.

    I don’t mean to be rude, the critical bit is coming, you have a great way of making attractive melodies that vary over changes out of basic chords, and you’ve worked out how to get the bass to do something else underneath that still sounds good. But your songs are still very much defined by sticking to the chord for a couple of measures, in all the standard patterns, 1,1,1,1/ 2,1,1 /1,1,2, etc. That slows the music down, it makes it too easy to cotton on to the repetition. Before thinking about polyrhythms, I would consider looking at incorporating more riffs, and I think you’ll find that bars that cannot be characterised with one chord, will really help to break up those that can be. Polyrthms are nice, but its a bit cart before the horse.

  15. Dev Null says:

    “If the audience trusts you, then you can use that trust to create additional tension and make the work even better.”

    Totally different type of music, so maybe not your thing, but I love the way Leonard Cohen does this. He’s an absolute master at making you (or me, anyways) think you know what the next note, phrase, or line is, and then at the last minute replacing it with something slightly-but-meaningfully different. Repeated choruses where the last line changes; that sort of thing. And that tension, when your brain snaps from where it wanted the song to go to where it actually went, calls the differences into high relief.

  16. tmtvl says:

    I can listen to music with lyrics and concentrate as long as they aren’t strong headbangers. Speed metal and most black metal are fine, but a good power metal or heavy metal song (say… All Guns Blazing) are a mite distracting.

    Oh and I don’t listen to electro/techno/whatever, so I can’t really gauge your skill. Your music seems just as listenable to me as any of the tracks you cited.

    1. Geebs says:

      I seriously considered putting Slayer in the acknowledgements for my thesis; South of Heaven and Reign in Blood made entering several hundred thousand data points into a spreadsheet just about bearable.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Same for Show No Mercy. It seems like only ten seconds pass between Antichrist and Tormentor, but 15 minutes of work got done somehow. Now that’s real Black Magic.

    2. Zack says:

      It helps, and I say this as a metal fan, that most (extreme) metal lyrics are approximately nonsense.

      1. tmtvl says:

        It may help that I don’t understand Norwegian or Finnish.

  17. Syal says:

    Well I for one am not going to let a complete lack of musical knowledge stop me from giving advice.

    First track seemed fine, but the added laughing was really disruptive, especially the first one. Which probably means it didn’t teach…whatever adding sampling is supposed to teach.

    The two-beat opening to the second track felt shorter than the one-beat part, even though they were exactly the same length. Part of that was varying the two notes in a way the one note didn’t. I’d say the two-note should have gotten twice the time the one-note did. After that, the first half of the song has a lot of pauses in the peaks, but the lack of pauses in the baseline ruins the effect. It’s not a contrast between the note and the silence because there’s never actually silence, it just sounds like notes are getting dropped. Second half seemed fine.

    Really don’t like the last one. The opening three note beat is missing any kind of payoff, the interview is hard to understand and clashes with the baseline beat which is the opposite of what I think of for a space song, and the stretching the interview at the end was the worst bit.

    …of course my taste in music is questionable.

    (Remember that projects are infinitely repeatable, if you don’t like how one turned out then do it again.)

  18. Duoae says:

    My first version of this was eaten and marked as spam because I tried to fix a formatting error [b/] to [/b] but this is essentially an identical comment.

    I really enjoy you talking about the music you make and the process you use to come to it. It’s refreshing to see a different persoective on these things. Here’s my non-professional thoughts on the songs:

    What’s so funny:
    I actually don’t mind the laughing you inserted throughout, with the exception of the first “mwaauo”. I couldn’t quite get what the woman was saying and it put me off. I liked how you had ebbs and flows from the period of 0:12 to the laugh at 1:40 but felt that the laugh sample at 1:00 should have been pushed half-to-one second later as the mesh of the song and the laugh felt a bit premature because it came just before the chord change and the associated beat. The rest of the laughs actually aligned with the chord changes (the mwaao was a bit before but the laugh was on the note so didn’t detract from that).

    I liked the post 1:40 switch-up as it gave the song a different texture and didn’t tire the ears. I really liked the ending laugh – I thought that was a great touch!

    I loved the introduction and was ready for the song to become more melodically complicated but it never reached that point. I disliked the intense phasing(? I forget the technical terms for stuff) from 1:27 to 1:37, personally I was ready for a more drawn-out, dreamy sequence there with maybe that intensely-phased part at the end of it, pulling you back into the more thumping beat of the second section. However, I really liked the song overall – it had a jive-y groove to it that I could really see in a video game.

    Lovell’s Journey
    I was okay with Lovell’s Journey* – it’s not really my sort of music but it was okay in the background for me. However, I was jolted out of the song at 2:37, just after the “you suddenly get a different perspective of life and your position in life”, where the song just launched back into itself without any additional elements (except a bass line at 2:53).

    So I went back and re-listened to the song and I think you might have missed an opportunity with this track. Okay, this isn’t my forte so take everything I’m about to say as a completely unfounded personal opinion. (I’m more of a melodic vocal/instrumental person but I have no real idea how to produce a track. In fact, I look at the stuff I’ve recorded and it’s almost universally terrible ([though I could go back and fix it since I have all the original data, I just don’t have the skill yet]).

    My personal opinion is that you** can’t just shunt things into a song. For me, each song is about telling a story to the listener – you want the story to make sense. So, going back to the beginning of Lovell’s Journey, you*** renege a little on what you tell the listener in the title. For me, the amazing thing about the Lovell interview (and most astronaut interviews from the Apollo programme) is the collective realisation that we are a small, insignificant speck in the universe and we need to take care of the planet we have, cause there’s nothing else nearby for us to have as a plan B.

    But in my opinion you mixed up this message in the story of the song because the message is cut up in a funny way. Maybe that’s the sequence in the original interview, I didn’t listen to it… but for me, you have the realisation right up front, then dial it back with multiple less grandiose statements then finish with the continuation of the thought.

    “my world suddenly expanded to infinity”

    That, right there, should be the prelude to the “mind-expanding” star trek-esque stint at 3:37… which leads to the “Earth is a mere speck” quote – which is a fine ending.

    Personally, I would have built the music to a crescendo for the building realisation and then let it all collapse into the wash at 3:37 to 3:59… though I would have had that longer, to let the listener dwell on that profound statement “my world suddenly expanded to infinity”. It has a very drug-like vibe to it and the washy music accentuates that point perfectly with the listeners’ subconscious social programming.

    It’s like someone saying “Whoa, dude! I can see through my hand…”

    Instead the track is pretty flat in terms of intensity and build-up. But again, this is the way I would do it and I’m a different person and I like different things.

    *There’s a typo in the title of the track but not in the article
    **The general “you” not “you, Shamus, you”
    ***Shamus “you”, not general “you”

  19. RandomInternetCommenter says:

    Shamus, I really enjoyed all the tracks you made. Thank you for sharing them! I remember listening to your earlier attempts a few years ago, and you’ve improved so much.

  20. Mousazz says:

    Eh… I might have no taste in music, but I think even stuff like Phobos: Relive the Nightmare – Level 3 map theme is catchy and good.

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