Making My Music

A Frustrated Architect of Sound

I tend to make two types of music: what I call "Lego music," where I'll toss a bunch of commercial clips and loops into a blender and hope what comes out is worthwhile. If nothing else, every such tune is a learning experience. A perfect example of this is the track "Killing Time," which is nothing but a loop mashup.

Then there are what I'll call "pure" tunes, where I'm responsible for every note and sound you'll here. This is a lot closer to being a musician, but the difference is that I'm not a musician. Melodies are assembled one note at a time, percussion tracks from individual sound samples—some of which I've created myself. An example of this is "Probably Not." Eventually I hope to reach a point when I'm creating music entirely from sounds I have made.

I love a wide variety of styles, so my music covers a broad gamut. But I don't follow any conventional composition rules established by the music community at large—couldn't if I wanted to, for that matter. No "standard jazz chord progressions" or traditional structures like AABA (no, that's not ABBA, although I do like them). I just make what I hear in my head. Or not; much of my music is ad hoc, born while working on some other composition. For this, try "It's All Right Here."

Regardless, much of my music is considered to be rather strange. I don't mind; I'm strange anyway, so it follows, right?

Putting the Pieces Together

I've been a music junkie my entire life—I'm listening to something practically 24/7—and I've wanted to make my own music for nearly as long. But it was a challenge because I can't read music, and the only instrument I can play is the stereo. I tried a number of music-making applications, but they relied on being able to read music. Finally, in 2012, I found a program I could understand, since it's used for mixing and editing as opposed to composing.

The application I use to produce all of my music is Sony Acid Music Studio. I also use Sony Sound Forge for sound processing. With a few exceptions, all of the sounds I'm currently using are samples provided by Sony. I'm working towards making all of the sounds myself, so I'll have more compositional freedom and a greater sense of ownership of what I make.

Acid Music Studio is a professional tool I purchased several years ago together with a suite of other applications to support my occasional freelance audio/video engineering projects. It's a remarkable program that I intuitively knew how to use the moment I launched it for the first time, so I commend its designers. It does have some bugs and quirks, but that's to be expected.

Emulation Proclamation

The most efficient method of music production on a computer is using emulation software, which applies sound sampled from various instruments to keys on a music keyboard (example: Orange Tree). As I've said, however, I can neither read music nor play an instrument, so even if I had the money for the hardware and software required, it would do me no good.

So, how do I "perform" my music? Using free samples I've found online, I import the notes into Acid Music Studio, then select them individually, one at a time. It's even more tedious than it sounds, however, because I lack the ability to look at a letter and hear the corresponding tone in my head. Consequently, for each and every note in a composition, I sift through the samples searching for the note I want, then plug it into the track. It's good that I'm retired.

Incidentally, more and more I'm using percussion samples I've recorded myself. Banging a big plastic trash can. for instance, produces some sounds I've been using for some time—see the first practice track below.

Learning Curve

Practice is a universal skill-honing process. Here are some bonus tracks that resulted from my attempt to learn music-making; they demonstrate how far I've come.

Released 25 February 2012

Realized way back in 2012, the first track I ever made utilizes percussion sounds I recorded, but commercial tonal components. It's pretty embarrassing; I was just learning, and some of the tunings are rather odd. But hey, I was a handicapped newcomer. Although I had no musical style in mind when I tossed it together, I suppose "world beat" is about as close as it comes. The title should be self-explanatory.

Realized 8 September 2017

Here's another early experiment, included merely for historical (hysterical?) purposes. This was an exercise to see if I could use synthetic voices to make vocal tracks; I was also learning loops. The result is vaguely akin to early experimental music, or avant garde (think John Cage).

Realized 27 July 2020

This track is pretty brutal to listen to. It's a short exercise made in 2020 as I was re-learning the music application after not using it for nine years, as well as diving into the art of sound processing to produce tonal source material. The name stems from the fact that most of the tonal sounds began as pink noise. Stylistically, it has no genre, but is probably closest to techno, with hard edges.

Album Cover

I list my tracks online as though I'm producing an album, which isn't true but it makes things more fun. The play-pretend album cover art was done back in 2012; it's actually a photograph of a model train layout. I thought it made for a slightly otherworldly image.

Incidentally, the name Talented Amateur, as well as the font I used for it, come from the opening titles of the old British TV series The Avengers, and the album title was inspired by an old Italian movie, Magia Verde, which contains some music I desperately want to hear once more, but alas never will. The "title track" of my imaginary album is a sonic tribute, if you will, to the film.


Copyright © 2021 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved