As I’ve been getting used to my job, I’ve also had the opportunity to spend time on parts of me that have been lost to law school. While I use the blog to channel these outlets, it’s been tough to find time for any hobbies or interests outside my scheduled projects. The one thing that law school took from me that hurt the most was music.
Before law school, I was constantly listening to music. My Spotify averaged 6 hours a day. I knew all the new releases, the underground hits, and was known as the girl who could make a mean playlist. It’s was a part of my identity.
But since being in school, I’ve found that I couldn’t listen to music while doing my readings (back when I was an engineer math and music went hand-in-hand). By the time I finished work, I was fried. No time for any enjoyment.
Slowly, I started losing track of what was coming out. When I did have a chance to listen to anything new, I felt out of the loop because I didn’t know the context behind the song’s release. Older favorites seemed tainted with memories of when my friends were around. Every song reminded me of the person I first showed it too. After a while, the fun was gone.
Starting work has given me that sense of fun back. I’m listening to music at my desk, so I can passively listen to music and make new memories with it. It’s become exciting again.
Listening to music made me want to make some myself. One song I’ve really enjoyed lately is Sugar by Brockhampton. I thought I could get the basic beat in the background – using the same steps as I explained in my covering songs post. Here’s what I came up with:
It’s not great. Currently, it’s not a real guitar, but I plan on recording myself playing the guitar part. I also tried to add a bass, but for some reason I’ve always had trouble with 808s.
I’m just excited I actually made some music. This song especially sound lackluster without the vocals, but the weekend is close, so maybe once I’m off work I can fix this beat a little bit. I’ve got some ideas for how to make the guitar part a little different. Who knows, maybe I’ll record vocals too?
Anyway, that’s all for now. What do you think? Are there any songs that have resonated with you lately?
So you’re probably wondering how I’ve managed to crank out basic beats of covers with next to no experience. I just jumped in without explaining how I do it. Because I do want to create a source of how to cultivate things from scratch, allow me to explain. I understand that sometimes starting is the hardest part.
Now I do have experience making music, but I want to clarify: I am a beginner. If you have any knowledge at all, it’s easy to tell that I’m a level 1 music producer and I have a long journey ahead. That’s why I do believe this project is incredibly difficult to me – once I get the basic beats and chord structures, I struggle with polishing the sound. That being said, I am able to create beats the resemble the original.
Please note that this post requires knowledge in basic music theory, including but not limited to: reading music, identifying notes on a piano, understanding basic chords, etc. If you do not have experience with music at all, I’d highly recommend looking at some (free) lessons. I used this source when studying for the Monthly Match-up with Alex.
Find the Tempo of the Original Song
This is always my first step. Finding the tempo of a song is actually quite simple and there are many websites that provide this information. My favorite is tunebat. You get more info than just the tempo too (foreshadowing!).
The tempo is measured in bpm, or beats per minute. I always use this as a starting point for my beat. Here the bpm is 148, but I could also use 74 and make the notes twice as fast (quarter notes -> eighth notes and so on). However, I don’t recommend this because it does complicate things. But keep it in mind, because I’ll come back to this.
Determine the Main Chords Used in the Original
The chord progression is often played in the background of the song. Even if it’s not, you can use the chord progression to figure out which notes are in your melody. For example, if at a particular point in a melody, there’s a C major chord, it’s a good starting point to guess C, E, or G as a note within that melody at that part.
I like to get my chord progression from guitar tabs. As a guitar player myself, I frequent Ultimate-Guitar, which might be the biggest source of chords and tabs online. Search your song, then click on a chords page (if you can read tabs, that can also be beneficial, but not necessary). Note that rap songs sometimes do not appear on the website, because it might not be in demand to learn to play on a guitar.
Looking at chords page for a song looks like this:
Not only are you given chords, but you’re also given when to play the chords. This can give you a feel for how long the chords hold and which order they go in.
Great, now you can put some chords into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation: aka the program you use to make your beat. I personally use FL Studio, but LMMS is a great free alternative to absolute beginners.)
If the Original Song Has a Distinct Melody, Try Sheet Music
If your song has a really distinct melody, try googling for sheet music. This is copyrighted, so expect only a sample of the music. You probably will not find sheet music for the entire song. That being said, there’s often a one-page sample that you can see for free. This can get you started on the melody. It might not sound like much, but trust me, having something to start with is much easier than working from scratch.
Another hot pro tip: You can watch piano tutorial on Youtube. Even though they can be really difficult to catch which notes are being played, sometimes they link to their own arrangements in the description!
Look for Youtube Tutorials
Speaking of Youtube, it’s a great place to go to get a little bit more information about an artist or song. You can learn distinguishing qualities of the artist you’re trying to emulate. Maybe you hear a snare pattern that instantly reminds you of the song, you made it.
I have some search terms I always try that give me good results:
SONG fl studio: If there’s a straight tutorial for how to make the song, you’ll find it with this term. Don’t be afraid to watch videos that use other DAWs such as Ableton or Garageband – you’ll still see some familiar elements. Plus, google is your friend. If they mention a technique you want to try, look up how to do it in your DAW. This keyword works so well since FL Studio is really common that many people who make beats in other DAWs use it as a keyword anyway
ARTIST type beat: By listening to a type beat, you can get more of a feel for the sounds that give artists their x factor.
SONG karaoke/SONG instrumental: These can give you the beat without the vocals, which can make it easier to hear sounds you might not have heard clearly over vocals
Percussion Tip: Start with the Kick
Percussion is always a great way to personalize your beat. Changing the percussion often changes the mood of the song. Don’t be afraid to make your percussion by scratch, you’ll be surprised with how easy it is to create something unique.
But if you don’t know where you’re going with percussion, start with your kick. Kicks are often used primarily once a measure (try the third beat!) or every other beat. From there, play what you’ve got on loop and try mixing it up.
After you find a kick you like, add some more percs. I usually go for a snare and try and place them as far away from the kick as I can. Again, loop and change things. Don’t be afraid to change your kick again here. If you really like a pattern you have, copy it and mute it so you don’t lose your progress.
Change Things You Don’t Like
Don’t just change the percussion. Change anything and everything you want because this is your cover. You want a different chord progression: go for it. Change the melody? Sure. The sky’s the limit and go with what you like. Personalizing your experience makes it more enjoyable and you’ll end up learning much more.
That’s it. Those are my hot tips for making covers. Of course, there’s much more I have to say on the matter and even more that I have to learn. I’ll be sharing all my tips and tricks with you as I learn. I’ve been working on a juicy beat here recently, I hope to get something up to show you all soon!
Do you have any advice for making better music? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below!
I finally made music again! Oh, you thought I forgot? I’m back with another pop song – which is strange seeing as pop isn’t really what I listen to.
Anyway, I decided to take a stab at “The Way” by Ariana Grande and Mac Miller. It’s kind of a forgotten gem. There was also something about that piano I wanted to spice up. I found some beat remakes online and got the basic melody pretty quick.
Once I got it done, I added quick percussion just to get a little bit of a skeleton of the beat. Then I started playing with the piano to find another sound. Here’s what I came up with – towards the end I put in the piano so you can feel the difference in the mood:
This sound you’re hearing is an oscillator. Now I don’t know all that much about oscillators in audio engineering, but in a few electrical engineering and physics courses, I was using oscillators for labs. Oscillators emit waves. The oscillator I was using was a plug-in on FL Studio: 3x Oscillator.
And this is about where my knowledge ends. This is a pretty simple oscillator compared to some of the other ones in FL Studio. I have no idea what the knobs do and need to do some research to learn more.
While there’s a lot I like about this sound I made, there’s still a lot to fine tune. That slight static sound at the end of each note bothers me and I’d like to make the notes less staccato. But if there’s anything I learned my first time around, it’s that the fine tuning takes way more work than the general sound.
Originally I had the second oscillator as a triangle wave. It gave a nostalgic 8-bit sound, but there’s something about that video game sound that I’m wary about. While I really like it myself, part of me thinks it’s a phase. Artists use it to pump the 90’s kids full of nostalgia. So for that reason, I went with all sine waves. I did find a resource that was helpful for different types of waves and what they sound like: to read more try this link.
Altogether, I’ve got a long way to go with this entire journey and my progress has been painfully slow. In all honesty, I’m deterred by the new software. It’s a bit daunting since none of the shortcuts and techniques look the same on FL Studio. That being said, I take responsibility for my lack of progress and hope to get back in the saddle.
Okay, I know it’s been a full month since I’ve given an update on Project 3, and while I wish I had an excuse I don’t.
Where we last left off was that I was looking to get new software to make music. I think I had cold feet because of the price of the program (RIP $200). That and really, how often will I make music after this project?
I feel like that’s been a constant battle with me for the past year or two – I want to produce better music, but I also am afraid of getting the program and not putting it to good use.
But I finally bit the bullet and got FL Studio this morning.
FL Studio is similar enough to my old software, LMMS, so I’ve learned to produce music watching FL Studio tutorials. For that reason, I thought it’d be pretty quick for me to get started. And while it was easy to create my percussion and add some chords, I hit a wall when it came to editing those sounds.
I can’t find effects I’m looking for. I’m not sure how to use VSTs. I can’t seem to chop sound waves. And just like that, I went from confident to oh no, I have to go through the process of learning how to use software all over again.
But look at how similar they look! On the left is my project file for Roxanne in LMMS, and on the right is my project file for Roxanne in FL Studio. (Okay, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you’ve just got to trust me here.)
Anyway, because of these setbacks, my audio sounds even less like the song than my LMMS version did. I’ll have to read the user manual and watch lots of tutorials before I feel comfortable using the program.
But all hope is not lost! I think I might actually use both programs to build the album. Because of the simplicity of LMMS, I might use it to get all the basic pieces of a song in place: tempo, key, instruments, etc. Then once I’m comfortable, I’ll transfer it to FL Studio to make it sound good.
While I’ve been humble about my lack of effort on this project, it’s not like I’ve done entirely nothing. I’ve been keeping an ear to the ground on other songs I’d like to work on. Seeing as I probably will be working on them all concurrently, I came up with a list of songs I may attempt. Just to clarify, this isn’t the track list for the album, they’re just ideas:
Famous by Amir Obe: This song is fairly simple, but has really crispy snares. I know it’ll be much more difficult than I’d expect to get this to sound just right.
Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind: As a quasi-guitar player, this is a staple that I’ve been playing for years. On the guitar, I’ve really changed it up to make it my own and I’m confident I can do the vocals justice.
Truth Hurts by Lizzo: The beat is incredibly simple and the vocals are fun. I think I might try to reinvent the beat a little bit and give it a creative spin.
Small Worlds by Mac Miller: This will be such a pain to recreate, but I love, love, love this song. John Mayer has a really interesting cover of this song and I’d like to try this as an ultimate boss-level challenge.
Alien Boy by Oliver Tree: This is another favorite to play on guitar and it’s right in my range making it a fun one to reenvision.
Gracefully Facedown by The Devil Makes Three: Okay, so maybe I won’t recreate this song (although I can hear how I’d do it in my head), but I do want to reimagine a bluegrass song because why not?
Alkaline by Kota the Friend: I’m very confident in my ability to recreate this song. Plus, I love the vibe of this song: somewhere between a water level in Super Mario and a good old fashioned smoking song.
Call Me by Blondie: My voice caters well to this song, it’ll be fun to recreate some classic rock – plus I want to try some Billie Eilish elements to make it a little darker.
Hot Stuff by Donna Summer: C’mon, wouldn’t it be fun to do a disco cover?
Pineapple by Karol G: Reggaton is a huge part of who I am musically, so it’d be a misrepresentation of me not to include a little Spanish flare in the album. I’ve tried recreating this song before with a little bit of success, so I do think it’s possible.
I’ve always been across the board when it comes to the music I listen to and I want my album to reflect that. I don’t think digital music production has to be solely confined to hip-hop/rap/EDM. I’d like to give it my own spin no matter how difficult the road ahead might be.
The task of learning music theory has not been as easy as I had planned. I first started off by trying a few interactive tutorials for music theory, like Abelton. I found that these were not really what I was looking for in just learning pure music theory for the test at the end of this month. They felt like they were either trying to sell me on their product or teach me how to make the next pop song.
I have found YouTube videos have been quite helpful. I have this one channel (which I’m keeping secret) that does a great job at teaching music theory. The videos explain all the basics of music theory and create a really good foundation. Some of the annoying parts are that the videos can drag on for a while reiterating the same concept. While I will admit, it is helpful when learning, it can be frustrating when you are trying to absorb as much as you can as quickly as you can. So I will keep chugging along with those videos and channels at a consistent pace.
The most recent hurdle I have run into is not exactly having a keyboard. I have FL Studio which has built in keyboards, and visualization for all the notes. Though it is not the same to be trying to play a musical keyboard on a mechanical computer keyboard. Remembering that the ‘Q’ and ‘R’ buttons don’t correspond to keys isn’t as intuitive as having a real keyboard in front of you.
I think overall the progress is good. By the end of this month, I am confident that I will have a solid foundation of music theory which will hopefully be of use when I start making music again.
Even though this blog is only a month old, my aspirations of self-improvement and finding-myself-through-projects have a much longer history. By my side through all the craziest have been one of closest friends, Alex.
And as far as life transitions go, Alex is in the midst of one too. Having recently just moved back home out west, he’s recently left me across the country. Fresh out of college, he’s job hunting and exploring. The universe is letting him absorb whatever life has to show him right now.
And just like with Abbey, it made perfect sense that he take on a project with me. We’ve been tossing around ideas and finally have a good one. Since Alex doesn’t quite know how much time he might have to dedicate to something and neither of us have anything we’re particularly dying to try, we’ve decided to do mini month-long projects. – Oh, and while we we were at it, a competition too.
So how do our monthly match-ups work? Simple: we challenge each other to learn and explore different skills and after a month see who wins. We hope to pick ideas to give us a sample without fully committing to anything too large. Additionally, we’ll give updates on our progress and Alex will write guest pieces.
This month we will be learning music theory. We’ll have a month to absorb as much information as we can and at the end of the month we’ll each take a music theory test (written and curated by our resident trivia expert, Abbey – don’t worry, she’s qualified!). We’ll have no knowledge of what we’re walking into, just to see who can be the best.
We both have an interest in music theory, so it seems like a good place to start. Remember when I told the story of my albums? Alex was there by my side the entire time. Remember the part where I said one of my friends made his own album? That’d also be Alex. These albums were made by us scrapping little parts of theory together, but we both know we only scratched the surface.
Maybe I’ll get some inspiration for my cover album project. At the very least it’ll make it easier.
Anyway, as much as I love him I can’t wait to kick his ass. Let the competition begin.
Amidst my day of classes and napping for too many hours on my boyfriend’s couch, I figured today would be a good day to try starting my cover album. I decided that I wanted to do a variety of songs spanning a few genres, so I figured the best order for my tracks should be by technical difficulty.
So for my first song, I wanted to try out Roxanne by Arizona Zervas. It’s very catchy and has a simple, repeating beat. To do this, I plan on upgrading programs (or DAWs – digital audio workstation) that I use. Currently, I use LMMS, which is free and extremely limited in its capabilities. However, I was able to crank out dozens of songs using it, so it’s not impossible, just not ideal. Nevertheless, in the spirit of growing and pushing my comfort zone, I’ll be downloading FL Studio (the producer edition) soon. The interface operates similarly to LMMS and seeing as I learned mostly from FL Studio tutorials on YouTube, it should be a quick transition. It’s a pretty chunk of change so I’ll do that once I have the time to properly sit down and buy it.
One particular reason I picked Roxanne is for its simple guitar part. LMMS is not very versatile with string instruments to the point where you can’t get them to sound remotely real – or I can’t anyway. So when I upgrade to FL Studio, I’m hoping to learn how to play around with those features to get something that sounds almost authentic. If not, I’ll play the guitar part myself.
Anyway, between my class readings I spent about a half-hour today trying to imitate the song. Here’s where I got in that amount of time:
For 30 minutes, it sounds pretty good. Obviously all the instrument sounds will change once I switch over programs and I’ll definitely add vocals. All in all though, I was pretty surprised at how quickly the basic sound came together. Usually when I try to remake songs it takes much longer to get the beat going. I guess I estimated the difficulty correctly by picking such an easy song.
I’d like to add my own spin on it once I polish it, but for day one, I’ll take the win. Only 9999.5 hours to go until I’m an expert music producer… or something like that.
Okay, hear me out. I have made music before. Last year I dropped two albums. They were mostly just fun projects with friends, but I made some memories and almost good music.
But since they were just for fun, it was mostly about the process. The first album was made last fall because I had a friend visiting from out of town who had dropped out of school. We wanted to throw a party to surprise all of his friends and needed a way to get everyone to show up. So to encourage everyone to come, I made it an album release party. As merely a side-project-turned-double-dog-dare, I made an album.
From there, I had received requests to do another album with all of my friends offering to help. I had inspired a few to try making music on their own and had some people who didn’t know me reach out to introduce themselves. I wouldn’t call myself a campus celebrity, but enough people knew the story that even this semester – over a full year later – I did have a girl recognize me and ask if I was the one who made “those albums.”
With public outcry and an inflated ego, a few months later I took to album number two. Except this time, I was determined to do it in one day. I transformed my house into a studio and had a team with me to work. My friends became producers, rappers, aspiring artists, and cheerleaders that day. With a deadline to finish by 9pm that evening (for another album release party, of course) we did exactly that – dropped another album. I wouldn’t call that album musical genius, but it sure as hell was fun.
Anyway, fast forward over a year later and here I am. I’m not looking to bring back the golden days, but I am looking to explore producing. Even now, people still listen to my music, which is both flattering and a bit shocking. One of my closest friends dropped his own album earlier this month after being inspired by me. What started as a stupid idea to make a party more fun rippled into so much more.
Along the way I found a love for producing music, but not as much so with writing and performing. But with school, my hobby often falls to the wayside. Also, without an active project, it’s easy to open a program and have such musical writer’s block and nothing comes out. Creating a sound can sometimes be so beautifully simple, but on other days so violently degrading.