Every now and then somebody asks me: ’how do you write a song?’. The way they usually ask is as if writing a song is some kind of strange alien alchemy so far removed from anything that not even Gandalf could begin to contemplate it. Well, of course that’s rubbish, it just takes knowledge that anyone can gather…
As some of you know due to me rattling on incessantly about it, I have just purchased a new Apple Mac Pro to further equip myself in my music/sound making/recording quest.. and this provoked a very similar question from a friend… He asked ‘How do you actually make music on a computer?’. And he actually sounded totally baffled… It seems that this can also be a point of bewilderment… So, I thought that I should talk a little about it just in case some one out there is interested in giving it a go but is a little intimidated…. For those of you that make music on a computer, this is all very, very basic but please do contribute in a comment if you feel like it….
Recording software works like traditional methods of recording similar to what the elder of you may have used with cassette tapes… You put something in, you mess around with it if you want, it comes out again…. You will need an audio-interface which is a posh sound card attached via USB (not actually that expensive). It has mic and instrument lead inputs plus connections for your speakers (aka monitors). You can then record these inputs into your software together or one at a time. This means that you can record a drum track, then a bass-line, then a guitar melody separately and then play them back complete as one. Magic eh. Choosing your kit and recording space is very important here and this comes with experience but you can get good results with a bit of thought.
‘But how do you get a drum-kit in your pokey flat..?’ Was my friend’s next question.
Well, I don’t need to do that…. I actually have some software that does that for me. Well, it doesn’t move an entire drum-kit into my flat exactly….! I use something called BFD2 and the people that made this took the time to record hundreds of drum hits on various different drums at many hit ‘strengths’ with different microphones placed in different places. You can control how far away these mics are from your ‘drum-kit’ by twiddling on-screen knobs. You can then ‘play’ these different drums using an electronic kit or by assigning different drums to different notes on your attached (musical) keyboard. As long as you understand how a drum-kit is used this is all pretty easy. The same goes for any software ‘instrument’ or synthesiser that you can get hold of… I’m looking to pack an orchestra into my computer soon…!
There are then other bits and pieces you can use to make all your different parts fit in together and sound clearer, or you can just use them to make things sound crazy! This is a large area and not necessary to get you started but if anybody wants me to talk about those in the future just ask…
One bit of kit that I find particularly cool is something that generates reverb (or echo). This enables you to make your recording sound like it is being played in a huge concert hall, a small broom cupboard and everything in-between. The best type is something called convolution reverb where actual spaces are sampled using a sound source and microphone, meaning you can use such real spaces as church catacombs! Some even allow you to sample your own spaces! You then twiddle knobs to put as little or as much of this effect on as you need to make it sound natural or fantastical.
Of course, it helps if you play an instrument or two but it isnt 100% necessary…. you can use pre-recorded samples, place notes graphically on your computer’s display or just record street sounds and manipulate them into music… If you can imagine it you can do it…. You need the right gear but basically, anyone can make music using a computer… Your work may not sound like Vivaldi but it is still very fun!
Well, this has been a very simple and basic introduction to computer music-making, and I’ve mentioned just a few of the things that you can do… If there is call for it I could always expand upon this post…
As a final thought, all I will say is that if music interests you, think of all sounds as music and all music as just sounds… With this in mind, you will have an endless supply of material and so-called musos will not intimidate you against giving it a go… There can be much snobbery with music-making…..