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Music Theory & Composition Questions & comments about composition, arrangement, and music theory. Music rules and how to follow or break them.

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Old 24-06-2016, 12:12 AM   #1
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Too much stuff going on?

I often find myself piling on sounds I like for a project and when I think I have enough start arranging things. What I always find the hardest is knowing when I have too many different motifs going on.

There are some clear cut considerations, such as filling the box and looking at the frequency spectrum different elements occupy, making sure you can hear each element and so on. However, I eventually end up in this grey zone where there aren't obvious criteria, things sound good together and you like the flow/groove, but I ponder multiple components. And it's not the obvious ones, but rather things like a tambourine here or that ride or clap. The extra FX here or there. They often add something, but it's subtle. You mute/unmute and it's hard to say.

Do any of you have similar troubles and how do you go about this?

I listen to genres that seem to warrant either approach. Cake it on or strip it down. Worse yet, I now have a project where several sounds are similar, yet subtly different and can play some nice subtle counterpoint within a similar spectrum. Do I pick one or do I use counterpoint?

I often think that having more ideas in a song avoids boredom, but I also recognized early on that too much change leaves the track an incoherent mess. I've been listening to a lot of my favourite songs that I think have a very nice and smooth structure and a noticeably well flowing build just to get an idea how they are structured. Do you follow some rough outline of how long a motif ought to be? I often think that 8-10 bars on a 4/4 signature is a decent rule of thumb, but perhaps that is still too short.

Some of it is probably down to artistic choice, but I'm sure there are at least some guide posts that offer a good start from which to elaborate. Any suggestions?

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Old 24-06-2016, 12:22 AM   #2
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

For dance music it is all about 16 or 32 bar progressions/sections. Maybe 64 bars. Im tending back towards this and it just works out nicely. With a lot of music like techno its much more about evovling textures of sounds than complex song writing. There are dub techno tunes that are basically a kick some hats and a chord or two, but the song is awesome for seven straight minutes. Especially using hardware live, it is easier for me to concentrate on evolving the texture of a simple structure than trying to write musically complex tracks. Youll pull your hair out trying to right even simple pop tunes on step sequencers. Well. I would anyway.

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Old 24-06-2016, 01:03 AM   #3
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

That was my sense as well, as far as evolving textures go. I had a sense that 8-10 bars was still a bit short. Things just sound too rushed.

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Old 24-06-2016, 01:13 AM   #4
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

I read somewhere that psytrance dudes do changes every 8 and 16 bars, even if it's just filters opening or whatever. Not sure how true that is tho.
I think it might be style dependant too tho, some industrial bands make tracks that fit a verse chorus type structure while others seem to have no rhyme or reason! I personally used to do too much I think, it's kinda easy in live to just make a ton of clips and just layer em into a giant mess!
Basically I am just going on here saying nothing cuz I realized I don't really know either! Sorry lol

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Old 24-06-2016, 01:36 AM   #5
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

Big fan of both genres. In fact I was just listening to a lot of Astral Projection, Transwace, Man with No Name, and Juno Reactor the other day. They certainly layer it on well. Mostly analog sounds and a no fuss 4x4 beat.

For industrial with vocals it does seem to be fitting to have a more traditional song structure as much of that genre is all centered around them. All that vague angst and doomsday fantasy needs to be conveyed properly, doesn't it?

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Old 24-06-2016, 01:42 AM   #6
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

consider the audience.

is this for long format mixing/club play or intended to be played from front to back, are you making techno? take your time, make long transitions and make the arrangement that is as time consuming as it needs. are you writing a pop song? 3 min in and out, feel free to "blow your load".

im clocking some new techno stuff at around 6 min a track and working on some song oriented stuff thats usually around 3-4 min.

different genres call for a different approach.

if this is about having too many parts my recommendation would be to look into some restraint, is that slow filter modulation w FM interesting because you figured out how to do it or is it interesting to an uninvolved party who has no clue what it takes to get that sound?

assume your audience has no clue what it takes to make a track and build it on that.

my 2 cents anyways.

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Old 24-06-2016, 02:22 AM   #7
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

Astral projection and Juno reactor were some of my favourites!

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Old 24-06-2016, 04:32 AM   #8
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

@dobs: Yeah, it's Techno. For me that's a given. It's never going to get played in a club, so much we can assume. And aside from forum members I doubt anyone except a few friends will listen to it. I am thinking I should really try to make a minimal track. I was quite impressed by Richie Hawtin's last release, so I've been listening to it quite a bit. Challenge is, I like way too many genres and am quite at ease with the sound of late 80s, early 90s rave/techno. Not exactly an era of restraint.

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Old 24-06-2016, 04:34 AM   #9
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

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Originally Posted by jbvdb493 View Post
Astral projection and Juno reactor were some of my favourites!
Astral Projection to me defined the genre. Really georgeous arrangements. Ionized and Flying into a Star are still some of my faves. Magnetic by Juno Reactor is also stunningly well crafted. I was fortunate to see them live. I was drunk as hell and don't remember much.

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Old 24-06-2016, 06:42 AM   #10
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

Hi there..

I'm just going to throw this out there.. you might be thinking into it a little too much. I speak from experience. I'm going to try to say all this without using to many cliches, but I'll at least start with one. There are no rules. No duh, eh? Well the reason I say that is, I think you will get further by developing your sensibilities than you will devolping a grand theory of how to make a great track.

What I mean by this is developing your ear, in a sense. In other words, developing the ability to say "stop" when something sounds good. IMO the best way to get good at this is by loosening up and shooting from the hip.. which is the opposite of conforming to some kind of blueprint you've come up with. The best producers I've kow personally (I've had the privelage of knowing some damn good ones), don't get hung up on details.. And if you ask them how they did certain things, they would have to sit and think about it before they answer. I think this is becasue they just trust their taste, and when it sounds good, they go with it.

So, I would reccomend that you actually spend less time on the type of decisions you were describing. Three similar sounds in the mix.. should you get rid of two or keep them all as a counterpoint.. Well, if it's not obvious at the moment, it can only be so important. Fuck it, move on. If you made the right choice you won't even have to think about it anymore, if you made the wrong choice you'll eventually realize and change it.

One more point, the reason I think it's so crucial to let go of these little deliberations quikckly is because they take your attention away from the big picture, which is in my opinion the most important thing. If you get your flow going and flesh out the bulk of a piece, you can always go back and worry about details later.

the other piece of the puzzle is just to make lots of tracks. they will just get better and better and more close to what you're after, whether you like it or not.

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Old 24-06-2016, 11:00 AM   #11
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

I totally get what you're saying. I'm also not expecting a cookie cutter blueprint or some rule to follow. It's more about how to know when enough is enough. What I hear you say is this: if it sounds good, it is good. That's a fair approach. Kind of what I'm doing. I've just started to ask more and more, does this track need this? Does it add to the feel or distract or even confuse.

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Old 24-06-2016, 03:37 PM   #12
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

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I totally get what you're saying. I'm also not expecting a cookie cutter blueprint or some rule to follow. It's more about how to know when enough is enough. What I hear you say is this: if it sounds good, it is good. That's a fair approach. Kind of what I'm doing. I've just started to ask more and more, does this track need this? Does it add to the feel or distract or even confuse.
totally. That is a completely legitimate element to consider. I think that sometimes, when your brain is starting to get curious about a particular element of producing, it can be good to take a few sessions that are purely devoted to studying and experimenting with a certain concept. I really think it's good to do this in sessions where the goal is not to actually make a track. Unknowingly conflating creating and practicing has been a source of some negative feelings for me.

Another approach is to just set some rules for your next piece, and really stick to them. Along the lines of what you are doing it could be "I will introduce a new element, change an existing element, or remove an element every 16 bars." Again, I would suggest not deliberating on it too hard, but really stick with the rule you come up with. You're only really going to know how it works til after you've finished your track.

I guess, what I'm saying here is, the way you will come to understand any of this is through experience. As long as you keep that at the front of your mind, you'll get where you want to be. So, whatever approach you take, keep making tracks, and liberally tweak your process if you get hung up on something. Just don't think yourself into a corner.

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Old 26-06-2016, 10:29 PM   #13
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

I was driving home from a concert last night and put on dancing galaxy and almost like clockwork, you could count 8 bars and something happens! Kinda funny now that I've noticed it.
Also if you like both pay trance and industrial I highly recommend this morn'omina they are really cool, kinda like if Juno reactor had kids with front line assembly

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Old 24-08-2016, 03:15 PM   #14
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It is always an available choice to change (sub-)genres or get out of the whole double bind of categorization. Sometimes that is enough to break the mental blocks.

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Old 24-08-2016, 05:43 PM   #15
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

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Originally Posted by liquid_air View Post
I often find myself piling on sounds I like for a project and when I think I have enough start arranging things. What I always find the hardest is knowing when I have too many different motifs going on.
This is something I often worry about as well, and what I've done is setup specific rules for myself in the way I compose arrangements. Perhaps it's because I write all my songs on guitar first, and arrange the tracks based on that or because I've become less and less concerned with how cool or impressive something is over time.

I think of arranging tracks in terms of rock music: Vocals, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Drums

It's just a little rule of thumb that I follow. No matter what other instruments I use, it either becomes one of those paths or harmonizes with one of them. If I need something to be more interesting, I have to change it on a fundamental level and continue from there.

YMMV, but it works alright for me.

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Old 28-08-2016, 05:21 AM   #16
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

never too much, if a song doesn't sound right, delete what doesn't sound right or just keep it, add more then label it as experimental...

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Old 28-08-2016, 09:07 AM   #17
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

A lot of people get drawn into adding one element at a time and their track build-ups become boring, predictable and tend to go on too long without really seeming to go anywhere.

You should try going back to all the elements in your build-up and start pairing them up and adding 2 or more elements at a time.

Figure out what goes together well and why. Does that shaker sound really get noticed over the hats? Should it be noticed or is it really just a subtle rhythmical element? What about if you add it to the pulse part and only play it when the hats are dropped out... and so on.

When this becomes predictable send your elements to a swingers party to switch partners and keep things interesting.

Also, Eat Static.

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Old 28-08-2016, 09:37 AM   #18
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

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Originally Posted by liquid_air View Post
I often find myself piling on sounds I like for a project and when I think I have enough start arranging things. What I always find the hardest is knowing when I have too many different motifs going on.

There are some clear cut considerations, such as filling the box and looking at the frequency spectrum different elements occupy, making sure you can hear each element and so on. However, I eventually end up in this grey zone where there aren't obvious criteria, things sound good together and you like the flow/groove, but I ponder multiple components. And it's not the obvious ones, but rather things like a tambourine here or that ride or clap. The extra FX here or there. They often add something, but it's subtle. You mute/unmute and it's hard to say.

Do any of you have similar troubles and how do you go about this?

I listen to genres that seem to warrant either approach. Cake it on or strip it down. Worse yet, I now have a project where several sounds are similar, yet subtly different and can play some nice subtle counterpoint within a similar spectrum. Do I pick one or do I use counterpoint?

I often think that having more ideas in a song avoids boredom, but I also recognized early on that too much change leaves the track an incoherent mess. I've been listening to a lot of my favourite songs that I think have a very nice and smooth structure and a noticeably well flowing build just to get an idea how they are structured. Do you follow some rough outline of how long a motif ought to be? I often think that 8-10 bars on a 4/4 signature is a decent rule of thumb, but perhaps that is still too short.

Some of it is probably down to artistic choice, but I'm sure there are at least some guide posts that offer a good start from which to elaborate. Any suggestions?
out of all of my producer/composer friends, i am most guilty of maximizing the sound space where it is overwhelming and I am overlayering.

honestly it's a constant inward battle. so many ideas, all the time, you could make this track 20 minutes long if you had it in you. the thing is, you have to pick the best ONE idea and develop that extensively... instead of just the old "copy/paste another 8 bars and now we find a new synth" technique. really if you listen to the most popular electronic music these days they really have stepped back quite a bit from the over-saturation and compression we were all complaining about 5-10 years ago. that was happening because producers just wanted so many things to happen in their tracks that they overshot their roper. layering new elements and struggling with EQing the mud out, hard limiting and having a track that looks like a plato brick made out of this morning's shit.

less is more. it's like cooking. yeah. food. once you're just tossing more than a few various plants into your marinade or rub, you're fucking it up dude. eliminate flagrantly pointless herbs, reduce to basics, and allow the meat's intrinsic flavor stand out. my entire music writing process in the last five years has been all about this. kind of a mind fuck.

eliminate pointlessness that adds zero substance to your sound. no one cares about what you can do and how many variations of it you can come up with. they only care about what it is that you're saying.

scratch that, people who like IDM only care about how you do it and give zero fucks about the message, so maybe you're not asking the right people.

Last edited by fidelium; 28-08-2016 at 12:49 PM..

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Old 05-09-2016, 06:02 PM   #19
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

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Big fan of both genres. In fact I was just listening to a lot of Astral Projection, Transwace, Man with No Name, and Juno Reactor the other day. They certainly layer it on well. Mostly analog sounds and a no fuss 4x4 beat.
If we take the gear list (probably noncomplete) of AP, and just look at synths, a fair few of them really are digital. (14/37) Digital, and a ludicrous collection of analog Roland, really. I am willing to assume that many other psy/goatrance acts of the same era as AP have fairly similar gear. Pretty sure the E-mus have found their way into quite a few intros.

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On a not of the music contents itself, Psy/Goa-trance is a tricky subject in general. The music needs to be complex enough that one can "drown" in it, but at the same time it needs to be simple enough to not divert your attention or break down the flow. There is probably a pretty big discrepancy between different people on what the comfort zone is.

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less is more. it's like cooking. yeah. food. once you're just tossing more than a few various plants into your marinade or rub, you're fucking it up dude. eliminate flagrantly pointless herbs, reduce to basics, and allow the meat's intrinsic flavor stand out. my entire music writing process in the last five years has been all about this. kind of a mind fuck.
Cooking is easier than music though.

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Old 05-09-2016, 06:45 PM   #20
jimmusician
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Re: Too much stuff going on?

Quote:
Originally Posted by liquid_air View Post
I often find myself piling on sounds I like for a project and when I think I have enough start arranging things. What I always find the hardest is knowing when I have too many different motifs going on.

There are some clear cut considerations, such as filling the box and looking at the frequency spectrum different elements occupy, making sure you can hear each element and so on. However, I eventually end up in this grey zone where there aren't obvious criteria, things sound good together and you like the flow/groove, but I ponder multiple components. And it's not the obvious ones, but rather things like a tambourine here or that ride or clap. The extra FX here or there. They often add something, but it's subtle. You mute/unmute and it's hard to say.

Do any of you have similar troubles and how do you go about this?

I listen to genres that seem to warrant either approach. Cake it on or strip it down. Worse yet, I now have a project where several sounds are similar, yet subtly different and can play some nice subtle counterpoint within a similar spectrum. Do I pick one or do I use counterpoint?

I often think that having more ideas in a song avoids boredom, but I also recognized early on that too much change leaves the track an incoherent mess. I've been listening to a lot of my favourite songs that I think have a very nice and smooth structure and a noticeably well flowing build just to get an idea how they are structured. Do you follow some rough outline of how long a motif ought to be? I often think that 8-10 bars on a 4/4 signature is a decent rule of thumb, but perhaps that is still too short.

Some of it is probably down to artistic choice, but I'm sure there are at least some guide posts that offer a good start from which to elaborate. Any suggestions?
This is why that thing notation is very important. You've just complexed yourself to a stop by not using it.

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