STUCK ON SONG STRUCTURE

I wanted to write about this because I see a lot of facebook comments about being totally stuck on song structure.

It totally sucks when "everybody else" is releasing records, but you have studio problems and money problems and gear problems and ADHD problems and hangovers and girlfriend problems and work problems,

and it's like all of life is taking time away from producing the tracks that you hear in your mind so clearly.

Right?

This morning I was listening to a new mix from last night and my brain said,

"Hey! Share your production process & describe the full picture of making a song."

So I'm just going to run through my personal system and give you an idea of the seven kinds of hell I usually go through,

on the way to get something that actually sounds good, feels right, and makes me want to play it for people.

Here's the track, listen to this so you know what I'm talking about.

SOUNDCLOUD LINK: https://soundcloud.com/mixitecture/pulsing-febwork...

WHAT IS IT?

This is the track from the live workshop "escape the 8bar loop", February 2018 edition.

This is a free live video workshop I do once a month, and you can sign up here:

Two weeks ago, this track was only a bunch of loops in Session View -- no song form, no mixdown.

After the workshop I had a rough version done, and I brought it to our local Ableton producer's meetup.

We meet once a month to share new tracks and get feedback.

I got a chance to listen to my rough mix in a nice studio, with a bunch of other people who never heard it before, and hear their reactions.

***OUCH****

People got uncomfortable after 2 mins.

I could feel it and I got uncomfortable too, and then I wanted to start apologizing and explaining what went wrong... GLAAAAAAHHH!!!

It was very obvious that the song form was not done yet, some parts were too long, and I needed something to introduce the changes better.

So I came back home and reworked it. Basically I cut out lots of layers and stripped it down.

Right now you're listening to the re-work.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

For my production process, here's what I do.

Day1: original session - make a bunch of loops. Creative explosion, no limits, add tons of sounds. A sound design orgy. (problem: no song form, no mixdown)

Day2: build the loops into song sections (problem: it's still all in session view, nothing in arrangement yet)

Day3: record the sections into Arrangement & export testmix #1. (problem: usually too long, unfocused climax, too many sounds at the same time, half-crap mixdown.)

Day4: this mix you're listening to now. I deleted the whole Day3 arrangement, edited my scenes in session view, and re-recorded the song form into Arrangement View.

Now it flows smoothly between sections, builds to a nice peak, and doesn't feel like there are too many ideas at the same time.

By the way, this did not actually happen 4 days in a row.

Each day is like a 6 hour block of Ableton studio time, plus listening the next day to hear what I did. It might be only one day per week that I work on my own creative music, it depends.

Usually a music session for me is like 7pm to 1am, something like that.

Maybe 6am to noon if I wake up early and do it on the weekend.

What I really want to express is that you have to go through it several times. 

Every time you open a session you might completely hate your song, but you have to keep going, re-work it, and let it sit overnight.

Don't give up, don't quit and leave it sitting on your computer for two years, and definitely don't delete the whole thing!  

WHAT'S NEXT?

Step 5 is Mastering.

I'm going to export a new mix with no compression or limiter on the master channel, and send it to a friend for analog mastering.

I'll probably do some final FX automation with a few knobs & filter-delays mapped on my controllers before I export the final version.

And of course, listen to it a few more times to make sure it has the right flow. 

My favorite is to put on headphones, lay on the floor and listen without watching the screen.  In the dark.  That's how to really feel if a track flows the right way or not.

YOU NEED A PRODUCTION SYSTEM

Making a track should not be a mysterious thing that might completely fail.  You don't have to guess or hope or wish or say your prayers to make it happen.

If you have a system to help you identify what needs work, you can really get a lot done in only a few studio sessions.

For anybody who's new, I recommend you do it like this:

sound design first: get some beats and synths that you like. Don't use too many presets - spend the time to tweak your sounds and make them really feel like your own. Add as many new sounds as you want, you can always mute them later.

song form second: put the sounds together in a form that leads to some kind of climax. This is the biggest monster you have to deal with.

mixdown third: don't waste time trying to mix until you have something that flows. Trust me, you will get it done a lot faster if you make a rough mix and leave it alone until the end.

QUICK MIX RECIPE

Solo the kick drum and turn your speakers up nice and loud.

Fade up the other channels around the kick drum until you can hear everything else, but keep the kick drum loudest.

Then stop and work on your song form.

No amount of mixdown is gonna help a track that has no focus.

Work on the peak and the climax, the mix will come later.

GET HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Remember, you should not expect to get a perfect song done in 1 day.

You really have to let your music sit overnight, and listen to it fresh the next day.

Give your ears a rest, listen to it again later after a break, and play it somewhere outside your studio.

Get some friends to hear it; they will tell you the truth when it's not working.

Even if they lie and say nice words, their body language will tell you what's wrong. Learn to read that because it will tell you how to vibe with a crowd when you're DJ'ing, secret secret secret.

If you intend to play this in a club for a real audience someday, you need real people to hear it -- so bring them into your production process and make them listen to your test mixes.

(this should feel exciting and terrifying at the same time)

NEVER release a track without playing it for real people first!

Got it?

JOIN THE LIVE WORKSHOP

I know you have some tracks in progress. 

I do a live workshop every month where I run through Ableton techniques to turn my loops into songs that build up, peak, and DROP BEATS.

Sign up here, it's free. 

I'll show you how to make a track in Session view, how to stop fighting against the composition process, and how to create transitions that feel really natural... and lead to a huge climax.

THE END

I wanted to express how long it can take to make a track -- it doesn't happen in one day. 

But also, it should not take 9 months!

(We're not making a baby here.)

It's not that hard if you just remember to break it up into stages.  Let your creativity explode like crazy, and then bring it back together with some technical mixing at the end.

Sign up for the workshop and pick out one of your tracks that you want to finish this month.

I think you'll be surprised at how much progress you make with just a few simple workflow hacks. 

-Steve Knots

Steve Knots

mixitecture, Pittsburgh, PA

Thanks for your visit! If you're new here, check out the session lessons. They're the most exciting new way to learn sound design, composition and mixdown techniques for electronic music production in Ableton Live. -Steve