This is quite a broad topic and could stretch into other areas so here's what I'm asking.
Recently I decided to create a full length album, I also decided that I would try and write it in a linear fashion, basically more or less finishing a track and then considering what should come after it in the next. This is not a strict rule but I though it might help make a clear, cohesive sound or, failing that, at least a reasonable progression throughout the body of work. So my questions are:
A) How do people like to write bodies of work (say 5 tracks or more in one style), do you write linearly? do you just write tracks and then try and order them or do you just simply compose an album out of tracks you have already written?
B) How do people keep a cohesive sound, one of my problems is I tend to do a couple of tracks in one style and then move onto something not totally different, but enough for the two styles to no really fit together. so you save a lot of presets you make and then reuse with a bit of tweaking or do you find yourself sinking into a pattern of work that keep a cohesive sound. This question relates both to composition and production, everything from those first chords to your final mix of each track.
A big question I know but hopefully it will spark some interesting discussion.
Well I haven't gone through the full process of an album, but right now I'm just writing tracks. W/o trying to sound pretentious I've been working for some years to develop a sound...but its been mostly subconscious to be honest...just over time I've figured out how to shape the textures I prefer and now its kind of second nature.
When writing my graduate thesis I didn't write the poems in order. When I more or less had 60 pages of final drafts I laid them out on the floor and moved stuff around until it felt right.
I just finished writing five cohesive tracks at the beginning of September. It took me roughly six months +/-. My plan was to write linearly. However it did not work out this way in the end. What I wound up doing was picking a theme and a feeling of how I wanted the album to come across. The record was to start in one place mood wise and progress through several stages along the way finally arriving at the different mood by the end of it.
My music is always in a constant state of change in the compositional phase. So I never know exactly how the track is going to be until it's finished. So I would make a track and if it didn't match what I wanted for, say, track one I'd move it to the slot that suited it best for the manner in which I wanted the album to progress. This method wound up working really well. My intention of starting at place x and moving to place y by the end was realized and I'm very happy with what I wound up with.
As far as the sound goes, stylistically, my album has many elements to it. There are elements of drum and bass, jungle, glitch, and ambient. But, I think, even with the contrast in styles it holds together well and works as a unit. That was another inintention I had, to make a work that worked as a whole when listened to from start to finish in a single listen.
I achieved this by having similar elements in all the tracks. I didn't use the exact same patches across the entire thing but all the sounds came from one another via heavy resampling throughout the work. There was one vocal element that is present across the entire thing that I think helped too.
Response to Question A) I've only released one album, and it was simply a bunch of my tracks with volume normalized and faded between them. Next I plan to choose 5 chapters of a story or something, and dedicate each chapter to a song. Then, it's the transitions you need to figure out. There are more things you can do, though. For example, you can prepend and append transitional patterns to your existing songs to make them mesh with whatever comes before and next. In other words, open the project file for each song and add 60 seconds of empty space at the beginning and ending and fill that in with patterns that are compatible with both the previous and current song.
Response to Question B) To keep a cohesive sound, try to recycle a few instruments between tracks. Maybe have a riff that occurs again in the next track, but in a modified form? Don't mix too many genres if you want it to sound cohesive -- and if you really want cohesion, just do the whole album one genre. Consider planning the whole album out like a journey from a story or something.
Good luck, and if you do end up making anything, send it my way!
I'm experimenting with an approach I loosely came up with as a solution to the same sort of concerns you brought up (lack of cohesion throughout a body of work). It involves two things.
The first is choosing a title and cover art first. It might seem silly or backwards, but I'm finding that it helps me to tune into the overall vision in a more direct, accessible way. I've always been highly influenced and inspired by visual artwork, so by adopting a specific image or, in my current case, a specific set of images (all by the same artist/graphic designer) I always have a reliable "return to source" mechanism. And choosing a title is tied directly into this. The title always comes to me first anyways, so this is a no-brainer. But when I'm settled on the title for the body of work I'm setting out to create, I'm able to imbue the artwork with all sorts of powerful emotional connotations before ever even writing the music. So as I'm writing I have this sort of mantra and mandala or title and cover art to keep me in a certain world with a specific, but ethereal and fleeting set of aesthetics.
The other thing has to do with the process of choosing and using sounds. I start writing, all the while experimenting with with the sounds until I've got the specific combination of synths, fx, etc that work for the song I'm writing. After I finish a song and move onto another one, I preserve something like 85% of the sounds, fx settings, etc. This 15% "wiggle room" allows me the creative liberty to experiment with sounds, but also grounds me in a way and keeps me afloat in a sonic aesthetic I only just began to explore with the first track, and now am being forced to pry open and dig even deeper into with the second one, and so on until eventually I have ten or twelve tracks that all sound related and apart of a contiguous process with an obvious focus placed on cohesion, but at the same time also stand apart.
The interesting thing, which is unlikely to work unless you really confined yourself to this parameter and made the album specifically about this process, is how the tracks would sound played in the order they were written. There would be a slow, organic evolution of soundscapes, each one a reaction to the one that came before it both trying to maintain a general mood and set of textures and colors as well as strive further along and away from the idea that initiated it.
Then of course there's the idea that albums are products of the subconscious working things out in slow and seemingly irrational ways until eventually, after having worked out whatever issues were plaguing you, you realize what sort of inner shit storm your ego was defending against and the whole thing becomes transparent and, in hindsight, almost intentional all along. In which case, its the part of you that currently thinks it doesn't know what its doing and that everything sounds incoherent that actually knows what its doing and operates according to a sub-textual coherence you won't even be keen to until at least several years after the fact.
I'm currently working on my very first album with set a goal of making it at least 20:00 minutes in length. I'm composing the entire thing from start to finish in a single project file, that way I can directly compare one type of sound to the other without having to open another project file. So far its running smoothly enough, but I'm pretty damn green to this whole thing so who knows how it will turn out :S
Start the cohesive thing as early in the production stage as possible. Kick drum tones, bass and low mid tones are key. For example, if it works, save VSTI (or entire channel strip) settings and tweak them for the next track as opposed to creating something radically different - not always feasible I know.
It's fairly easy to adjust the top end retrospectively, but getting the low and lower mids right is hard, and so easier sorted in the early stages. Also, where key things sit in the mix, such as vocals, snare, hi hat etc. Match them early on.
Another is reverb. Have reverbs similar amounts, texture, tone of reverbs across tracks. It's a nightmare when you have radically different sounding tracks to have to sit together at the mastering stage. It's not impossible, but you'll save yourself hours of fiddling if you can nail things earlier on.
Adding to what animalholograms said, it seems like you need to come up with an overall theme for the work. What are you trying to say with this album? I like the idea of coming up with the album title/cover art first, but perhaps your theme is something that can't be summed up by a picture and a few words...you will need to decide this for yourself. I would listen to some concept albums (by bands like Rush, Pink Floyd, etc.) and notice how they create songs relating to the central theme of their album.
Long story short, if you don't have a main idea, it is going to be a lot harder to write a "cohesive" album.
As far as production goes, saving presets should work well. Also, the mastering process will play a large role...not sure if you're planning on mastering yourself or hiring someone, but make sure that the perceived volume for all of the songs is the same, that the pauses (or lack thereof?) between tracks make sense, etc.
there is kinda of a theme but im playing pretty loose with it at the moment, got about an hour of material at the moment which is composed but not mixed or anything yet.
I after a couple of tracks I started to find sounds I use repeatedly and so I have made myself a project template for this album that I use to start each track with all the routing, buses and vst's that I am likely to use.
things are coming along nicely tho hopefully will have it mixed and ready for someone to master by about march.
B) How do people keep a cohesive sound, one of my problems is I tend to do a couple of tracks in one style and then move onto something not totally different, but enough for the two styles to no really fit together. so you save a lot of presets you make and then reuse with a bit of tweaking or do you find yourself sinking into a pattern of work that keep a cohesive sound.
how do you define "cohesive sound", aesthetically/stylistically/sound-design-wise? If you can list the rules for yourself, then you can check everything you've written against the list, and decide on tweaking material or taking it out altogether. It's difficult, but rewarding.
I'd vote against locking yourself into "designed" music too early, as it could hurt your process big time.
As others have said I usually find that an idea or central theme is what will tie a collection together.
I've had the experience of both defining this idea at the outset and going forth to make tracks that fit the concept as well as having a collection of random tracks then discovering or even creating a link between them at quite a late stage. The results can be equally rewarding.
It's kind of like naming a child or a new pet you want to let the 'right name' come naturally but you cant leave it unnamed too long.
i think forming,creating,evolving into a sound style come very organically over time naturally. Youll notice songs that start to match well up together, and youll just naturally use some of the same perc/synths/bass with tweaks. just roll with it. itll come