This article covers Day 4 of my Song-Producing Marathon. I’m about halfway through the first song, titled “Lost in the Wind.”
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To catch up with me, check out yesterday’s work or go back to Day 1!
I’m actually writing this article from several days in the future. I got so caught up in the actual music production that I haven’t had the time to finish any blog posts, but I’ve been taking notes the whole time.
Here’s what I did on Day 4. Although it’s been less than a week, it feels almost like a lifetime. I’ve learned so much since then!
Tweaking Keyboard MIDI Data in the Intro
I started off the day easy and focused on the simplest part of the entire song - the piano intro. To get my hands wet, I started on some tweaks to the piano MIDI data, right down to the individual note timing and velocities.
I was trying to get the original performance “just perfect.” However, one lesson I learned is that the more you tweak a sound, the more tempted you are to keep tweaking. And more changes are definitely not the same as better changes.
I think the edits made the intro mostly better. Sill, I ran the risk of ruining the performance by making it feel too artificial. That’s a risk, at least.
I’ll have to get better at tweaking MIDI data over time. It’s a unique skill, with a unique set of challenges. But (speaking as a trained classical pianist) it is awesome what you can do with a good software piano these days.
More MIDI Edits and Adjustments to the Bridge
Now that I’d started dabbling in MIDI, I felt the urge to continue. So, I shifted my attention to the piano chords in the Bridge section.
These piano chords were improvised and as a result, there wasn’t much behind their rhythm. But, I didn’t want to re-record the whole track.
So, I did a fun bit of wizardry in MIDI editing to add some new rhythms to the chords. With only the smallest alterations to the harmonies themselves, I created new “block chords” that I could copy-paste in a more rhythmic arrangement.
Have no fear, this is not copy-paste music. I then went through the new chords and hand-adjusted the volume of almost every individual note to add emotion and humanity. The smallest changes to the note velocities led some tremendous differences in emotional result.
After this process, I was left with little doubt that I had still “hand-crafted” my sound.
The process is pretty wild, when you think about it all:
- Started with a classically-trained pianist…
- Playing a 15-year-old digital keyboard…
- Improvising a chord progression…
- Turned it into simple MIDI data…
- Edited the data into more complex rhythms, and finally…
- Adjusted individual note volumes.
And now the piano part in the Bridge is one of my low-key favorite parts of the song!
While I was in the area, I also made some small edits to the timing and dynamics of the Bridge electric keyboard part.
I feel like my MIDI-editing skills have gotten better because of tonight’s detailed work. I’m more aware of what’s possible and how to quickly accomplish it. What an incredibly powerful musical format.
Editing the MIDI Bassline
At this point, I was more confident about my MIDI-editing skills. So, I moved onto the bassline. This part was much more important and “bigger” than the piano intro. It’s responsible for the whole groove.
The general feel of the bass was already finished, but I needed to improve the tightness, interest and energy levels.
It turned about to be much harder than I thought - at least at first! In the end, it actually just turned out to be different than I expected… like so many other learning experiences.
The first thing I found out is it’s pretty annoying to edit the rhythms of the bassline in MIDI. It seems to be better to re-record the part with a human touch. If I’m changing dozens of notes in MIDI data, it basically becomes impossible to keep a good “human feel.”
On the other hand, it can be tough to play a part perfectly without dozens of hours of practice.
In the end a I used a blend of practice, live recordings, tiny MIDI tweaks like quantization to fix my noticeable human errors. This system worked well… I just had to stay patient.
I also spent some time trying out different sounds and patches for the bass synth itself.
By the way, check out this awesome video on the Philosophy of the Bass from Flea, the legendary bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers. It turned out to be much deeper and wiser than I was expecting, and helped me get in perfect psychological state to work on my basslines.
Sometimes it’s Better Not to Change
Here’s another important lesson I’m picking up on - sometimes it’s better not to change anything in a part.
Once an idea is recorded, it’s often too late to make an idea any better. In such cases, you’re only able to make things different.
Otherwise it’s easy to destroy the original artistic inspiration by painting over it.
For example, I actively decided not to change anything in the looping piano arpeggios that form the core of the instrumental sound in the choruses.
This piano sound was generated partially by hand-playing chords and partially by using the arpeggiator in Ableton Live. It creates a curious blend of mechanical exactitude and human dynamic voicing that I really liked.
When this track’s turn for edits came, I heard an inner voice speak to me and say “don’t mess with this part - you’ll regret it.” And I understood the wisdom in that voice, for once.
The sound of this part might not be perfect, but it is definitive. Any alteration to the sound would simply undermine the authenticity of the original creation.
So, I’m leaving it exactly as-is. There are plenty of other issues that need my attention.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Although today wasn’t my most productive day of the song-producing marathon, I still made progress and learned new skills.
At the end of the day, I felt more accomplished, skilled, and efficient with MIDI editing and other small tweaks to existing instrumental parts.
The song recording has also moved forward. And now with this article, I’m able to reflect on and share with you what I’ve learned today. Please leave a comment if anything was inspiring for you!
Read more! Click here to continue to the next day of music production, which focuses on finishing the Lyrics and Bass…
P.S. You can now listen to the finished song! Please leave a comment on the track; I want to know what you think of it.