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.
Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and while I may try to generalize areas of the law, I am still a law student and am learning so I may make mistakes. Please do research of your own if you believe you may have a claim for copyright infringement.
Have you ever wondered where the line is drawn for music sampling and copyright infringement in the music industry? Why is Drake sampling Lauryn Hill sampling the Wu Tang Clan sampling Gladys Knight and the Pips not causing an uproar? It can’t just be because Nice for What is a summer hit, can it? How can John Fogerty get sued for copyright infringement of a John Fogerty song?
Of course it’s a little messy, but with my most recent legal writing case being about this very topic, I thought I’d take the opportunity to dive in a little deeper because it’s just genuinely interesting.
It’s pretty easy for someone to claim copyright infringement. It requires a valid copyright and proof that one of your copyright rights were infringed. The purpose of a copyright is to give the creator exclusive rights to the work. That means if someone else wants to use it or reproduce it, etc. they need permission.
So the original creator has brought the case to court, is that it? Do the alleged infringers just lose? Why wouldn’t they get permission?
All hope is not lost for the alleged infringers quite yet. If they can prove that their use was fair use, they’ve asserted an affirmative defense. Think of an affirmative defense as: “Yes, I infringed on your copyright, but I had permission to under fair use.” You’re affirming that you’ve done the thing, but you’re making it a defense, hence affirmative defense.
Fair Use is codified under 17 U.S. Code §107. Courts use four factors to determine whether a work infringed:
Purpose and Character of the Work: Is your use of the sample transformative? If you can prove transformation, courts look favorably upon a sample being used for fair use. A mere reproduction of a sample may be viewed as the same character of the original song.
Nature of the Work: Does your new song evoke the same essence as the original? In 2018, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled on whether Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines infringed on Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up. The moods of the two songs feel remarkably similar, yet how much was actually copied? The court found Pharell and Robin Thicke to be guilty of copyright infringement as they claimed the song as inspiration.
Amount and Substantially of the Portion Used: How much of the song are you using to sample? Just one instrument? The entire beat? The more that’s used, the less justifiable. Some courts take a “not more than necessary” approach, where using only what’s needed is preferable.
The Market Effect: Does your copyrighted sample harm the market of the original piece? Would your work be a completely separate audience?
Since these are factors, they are all weighed in relation to each other to determine if infringement has occurred. Nothing is cut and dry and everything is done on a case by case basis. That being said, to avoid infringement licensing a sample is always preferable.
As you may be aware, this week I decided to up the ante and work towards a 4.0. While I may not have had Rocky montage-levels of studying, I’ve felt a change. I’m more focused on getting my work done in the present (read also: do my readings before class and prepare the material). It’s been a lot of work during the week, but I do feel everything slowly beginning to come together.
I still have two papers to write for this week, so I expect some late nights. But after is spring break, so I anticipate an opportunity to catch up.
This has been my big project. I’m most definitely focusing the most time on it because, well honestly, I want to get it done to work on more exciting things. I’m picking at things bit by bit and my goal is to be done with this project by the end of the month. Ambitious, I know, but that’s what I hoping.
Here’s what I’ve gotten done since my last update:
Snapchat Memories: I just finished college, so I have a lot of memories. I’ve been trudging through them and have currently deleted 1,021 photos. This is just on a first pass-through, I’m not even watching any of the videos. Mostly I’m in shock that I have this many photos saved on Snapchat. This is content that I’m not really looking at, but if it were on my computer sorted in files I would be. I’ll export the remaining files. There’s just a lot of moments I didn’t realized were captured. As a very nostalgic person, this is a lot of emotional work.
Sorting Through Clothing: I’m like 90% of the way there. I have a few more items to try on and decide about, but I’ve really worked hard on this one. I even had my boyfriend give me some (at times, brutal) advice on outfits – don’t worry, he had whiskey so he was a happy helper. I’ve gotten rid of quite a lot and I’m not sure what to do with it, so I do need to make a decision on that.
Computer Bookmarks: It really shouldn’t be surprising that that’s a mess for me, seeing as how my brain is focused on a million things at once. Going through my bookmarks is both fun and a little bit like the Reddit 50/50 page. Last night I was organizing them and ended up on the Wikipedia page for The Turk – which if you don’t know was a chess-playing automaton hoax from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The “machine” beat both Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Learning FL Studio is difficult. Thankfully Alex knows how to use it, so I’ve been using him for help. With a bit of struggling, I’ve managed to make a semi-reasonably cover beat of Mayores by Becky G. I can fine tune it a bit more, but once I get the cover right, I’ll start adding my flare. I think I want to change up the chorus – maybe a fuller sound?
I’ve been slowly making progress on Atlas Shrugged. It’s pretty dense and I haven’t had much motivation to pick it up. To make matters worse, my boyfriend has continually told me how important this book is to him and how he so badly hopes I enjoy it. It’s a little bit of pressure. Anyway, I’ve been missing writing book reports, so I might pick up some smaller books in the interim. Keep an eye out for that.
We all dropped the ball on this one. Alex and I haven’t been doing much studying and I don’t think Abbey’s done with the test. That being said, the show must go on, so we’ll still be taking the test. Maybe music theory will make another appearance in upcoming months so we can do it justice.
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.
One week into learning music theory and I figured it was due time for an update.
While it’s been a very busy week, I’m not completely in the dark when it comes to music theory. I have experience in piano, violin, and guitar, so I do have intuitive theoretical knowledge. Going into this challenge, I’d consider myself a beginner-intermediate. I don’t struggle with reading music, I’m familiar with most scales, using a Circle of Fifths, and tapping rhythms. But when it comes to non-major/minor scales I don’t know formulas, I struggle with musical analysis, and time signatures put me in an early grave when playing them.
Nevertheless with my basic knowledge, I’ve spent the week looking at free online music theory lessons. I take notes where there’s something I don’t know or need to memorize.
I think my focus will be on taking those notes and synthesizing them throughout the month. Hopefully, I can turn it into a one-pager. I have a really strong photographic memory and creating one-pagers has always been my exam strategy. I can’t retain information at the ready for extended periods of time, but I can process and retain in order to perform.
Originally, I had planned to study music theory whenever I was working on Civil Procedure (an idea Alex borrowed from me!). However, this seems to be pretty ineffective for me, so I’m abandoning that plan. I think the new plan is to use mornings to study music theory. That way I force myself to do it if I get too busy with schoolwork later in the evening.
As much as I’d like to go into more specifics, there’s not much else to say. I haven’t learned anything groundbreaking yet and also Alex reads these posts. I can’t be giving my good ideas away until the end – and then I’ll use them as scare tactics to make him feel unprepared (I’m currently reading The Prince, can you tell? The end should definitely justifies the means here!)
In efforts to make the Monthly Match-Up more interesting, Alex will be a guest author every Wednesday documenting his progress.
I don’t actually know how to play any instruments. I never learned how to play the recorder in elementary school like everyone else. I played the cymbals in my high school drumline. Though cymbals only required you to listen to the rhythm and remember when to hit them together. A few years back I bought a ukulele in Hawaii and have only learned to play a few chords.
I helped Jacqueline make Natty Daddy, but by helped, I mean I wrote lyrics while she made the beat and N8M8 helped mix and master. I have never really learned how to play any instruments or had any musical training. So when I decided to make my own album, inspired by Jacqueline herself, I knew it was going to be a huge undertaking. Creating chords, and melodies that worked well together, and could be crafted into a hip-hop beat was technically difficult. It was then that I realized how important music theory is.
I had no clue what major scales were, what a progression really was, or how chords could build tension. I am not saying I am any good at them now, I am just not as clueless as before. I am excited to actually learn music theory, and really show off what I know at the end of February.
So my current approach to studying music theory is threefold:
The first fold will be by learning music theory interactively online. I found a few websites, like Ableton, that offer free little courses in music theory where you can actually interact with the site.
The second approach is YouTube. What can’t you find on YouTube? It’s how I learned to make my first album, and I am confident that it will carry me through learning music theory. I have found a few channels which specialize in teaching music theory, and hope those will be helpful.
My last approach is not so much focused on learning music theory but incentive. I am currently working on my own personal coding project that takes a new approach to how playlists are shuffled. Since both are music related, I am going to combine every time I work on my project, I am going to spend some time studying music theory.
I am hoping that this threefold approach will lead me to victory in this Monthly Match-up. I’ve got to start out strong with these monthly challenges, and give Jacqueline a good run for her money. I am also pumped that Abbey is writing these tests for us. This is a great first Monthly Match-Up! And now I am going to start studying music theory!
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.