What I Have Learnt while Doing my Arts Award

My Silver Arts Award in music production is nearly over. This means that it’s time to review what fun things have been happening over the past year or so.

In the beginning, I wanted to create better basslines and melodies. I wanted to make my tunes stand out. I wanted to give a certain quality in my tunes to make them identifiable to me.

My Development of Musical Understanding and Inspiration:

When I first started really listen to electronic music in late 2011 and early 2012, I noticed how my early inspirations back then, which were artists like Skrillex and Knife Party, seemed to have particular qualities about their music which made them instantly recognisable. It is very easy to tell when a song is made by Skrillex – he uses particular bass sounds. At the time though, I had no idea what made the songs so recognisable.

I researched a lot into artists like these and their character sounds, and how many of them share the same conventions. For example, big brostep drops always have growly basses, otherwise, they’re just not effective. I also spent loads of time digging through the comments to videos of these songs on YouTube and learnt tonnes about peoples’ attitudes towards the scenes; I also came across haters and trolls.

All of this though was to successfully-become a well-rounded music fan who knows about many different genres, their characteristics and the scenes related to them.

Learning about these scenes of music opened up new ideas for inspiration. In early 2013, I discovered techno; I’d been listening to it a bit beforehand, but I didn’t really know what it was until I thought about the inspirations of the songs which I was listening to. Techno is a very experimental genre and I found it very hard to define at first, and I spent a lot of my time relating techno with house, as well as trying to compare many different other sub-genres with each other. I’d learnt in the early stages of my research that different sub-genres have different characteristics.

However, listening to more music made me realise that there are tonnes of cross-overs of genres for songs – a song doesn’t have to follow the outdated convention of being tied to one genre. For example, you can make techno song with an electro house bass in it.

This realisation that one should be able to combine genres lead me to create the song ‘Unexpectations’, which if you haven’t heard yet is below:

Even now, I can’t really give it a genre, despite me labelling it as techno because that is what the structure was originally based upon. It has a techno beat, an electro house bass and trancy leads and pads.

Being able to cross over genres has given me plenty of new inspiration and ideas. I’ve learnt now that you don’t have to follow conventions to make a song popular; in fact, going against conventions can help you to stand out.

I am now willing to accept inspiration from any electronic sub-genre. Deep house is my favourite sub-genre currently, but I will see what I can do to experiment with it.

In terms of musicality though, I still feel like I am unable to write a decent tune. A lot of my favourite house tracks have really sophisticated tunes and I just can’t work out how they are so catchy. I don’t do GCSE Music so I don’t know anything about musical elements and I’ve only done Grade 1 piano. Therefore, I wouldn’t describe myself as a real musician. I’ve seen YouTube masterclasses from producers like Avicii, who is able to come up with a good tune instantly on his keyboard – he is a real musician. I just don’t understand how he does it.

I guess that sometimes, all you need to do is try out random chords on the keyboard and see if they work, that way you can learn about effective musical construction.

How What I Have Learnt Fits In with My Arts Award:

I know that it will take me a long time to be able to work out how to construct an effective melody, but I feel that the work which I have done for the Arts Award so far is good enough. From now on, I’m not going to worry about getting a singer involved in a new tune, like I said I would do a while ago. I’m just going to create one last tune before deciding the final tracks for my EP. From the very positive feedback which I have received from my current work, I do not need to push myself any harder at this stage.

I think that instead of concentrating on the artistic side of music production, at the moment, I should look at how to create a track which is technically good, in other words using appropriate compression, EQing and any other mastering.

Thank goodness then that my tutor gave me some thorough rundowns of how to properly master a track, from using compression and EQ effects on each of the tracks in a song to make them sound properly created and blending well together… to doing master compression.

In this stage, I also learnt that it is not good to rely on headphones to master a track – doing it with proper studio monitors means that your ears can hear the compression in detail. I found that the songs which I had made on headphones sounded very over-compressed and so did my tutor.

There are plenty more technicalities of mastering which I could learn, but for now, I feel that I know enough to carry on with producing and self-teach myself using trial and error.

My first EP will be four the tracks which I have created as part of my Arts Award challenge – I will choose the best four. Then, I will release a second EP which, like the first one, will be self-released on SoundCloud. With the second one however, I will not release the tracks over a period of time. Instead, I will release them all at once, much like one would do in releasing a real EP. Once I do my first EP, then I will consider getting payment, or even sending it to a label. Labels which I think would be interested in my musical style include underground house labels, such as Moda Black, Black Butter Records and Food Music.

Conclusion:

The big question is for me: do I feel like I have fulfilled my Arts Award challenge? Well, sort of. For one, my EP is not finished; I shall get down to finishing one more track before my collection of songs can officially be called an EP.

In terms of learning from doing the Arts Award, I think that I have learnt enough in terms of gaining inspiration from different artists, about different musical genres and their conventions, about my creative abilities, and about mastering and making a track sound professionally made, in order to set me on the first footings of becoming a successful producer. I know that it is good to be different and random when choosing instrumentation and genres for a song, and that focusing on having a signature sound rather than feeling the need to fit genre conventions is what is needed to become an artist which many people will uniquely recognise.

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