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May 1, 2020

Inspiration, Tools and Free stuff

Last Monday, it was 10pm before I finally sat down to make music.  I didn’t feel creative, so I turned on my stage piano and started playing random, improvised stuff, even a piece I wrote 30 years ago. After about 15 minutes, I started capturing phrases into Ableton and I was having fun. 


This week's newsletter is a collection of resources and ideas to help get inspired and creative if you find yourself out of music making energy.






Finding a cool sounding chord progression can kick off new waves of creativity for me. I pick one and click through synth patches until I find 5-10 cool sounds and then it's game on. 


Here's a set of links from talking about chord progressions. 


“17 Chord Progressions That Might Just Change Your Life” This is a PDF file I found through Google and it outlines 21(17 + 4) chord progressions for easy playing.  (Note the link is not https, but you can download the pdf file.) 


“Creative Chord Progressions”  This article shares how to start and end chord progressions in interesting ways. I put one of the progressions from this page into Ableton Live and started a cool sounding track last night. 
“How to Imitate a Whole Lot of Hollywood Film Music In Four Easy Steps” Scott Murphy shows the chord progressions used by filmmakers to create moods. Fun, simple and 10 minutes long.  


“7 Chord Progressions That Work All the Time” This is a very straight forward summary, but also covers the judgey sounding concept named “Strong and Fragile chord progressions". 






Moving on to other "inspiration resources", last week I found a couple of quick "how to's" on Youtube that gave me new ideas to experiment with right away.

In his 1min 40sec video, "How to Make Rolling Basslines for Tech House", John Summit demonstrates how adding short pitch bends to a few notes can really bring life and personality to a simple bassline. Even if you don't make Tech House, this technique is so easy, it’s worth trying with other genres, and instruments.  

“Treat your own melodies as samples” is a quick 58 second tutorial where "Whudidthis" shares their technique of resampling and slicing up a track’s own melody for triggering with midi. I found this really useful because my brain flips to a different creative mode when I trigger samples using my keyboard or Push2. 

(Note: WHU is just starting this Youtube channel, share the love with a like and check out the channel for other quick tutorials.)

Arps are another source of inspiration for me. In this 6 minute tutorial called “A Legendary Trick Used In EDM For Years”,  Alex Rome turns to arps to keep a chord progression fresh. I get new ideas whenever I break out an arp and start futzing with notes and sequences. 





Low Ends on iPhone Speakers
I'm still learning to get my tracks to sound great across different devices. In his video, "My Best Advice on How to Make Banging 808s", AHEE covers his technique for creating 808's to play well on large sound systems AND iPhone speakers. The short answer is to amplify the second harmonic and add a sharp transient to the start of the 808.  Beyond 808's, I like his second harmonic trick for other low sounds. 


Mixing and Mastering Webinar
I'm still learning mixing and mastering. This week, I found a free fundamentals webinar where mastering engineer Streaky shares some of the lessons he's learned over a 25 year career. His notes on his basic 3 step mastering process were a great primer for how to set levels, what to do with EQ and building the eq->compressor->limiter mastering chain.  Here's the link to the sign up page for his pre-recorded webinar. 


Note: Streaky’s webinar is part of a "sales funnel" where he teaches stuff, then invites you to sign up for paid lessons. I didn't sign up because even though I need to improve, mastering is not my focus right now. Feel free to watch, learn and then decide what you want to do. I don't get a commission or any type of compensation from Streaky. I'm simply sharing because I found his free webinar useful, and free. 


Learning Sound Design
I spent time this week learning more about Sound Design. In this 15 minute video, “Sound Design and Synth Fundamentals”, Michael Wynn of "In The Mix" covers the fundamentals of sound design using various synths. Most of his time is spent in Serum because it gives great visual feedback when you make changes. 


This class is about the fundamentals and is super helpful whether you're just getting started or needing to tweak presents on a synth you don't know very well.  Michael covers it all; additive, subtractive, filters, unison mode, filters, envelopes and more. This is good stuff.  




“Sounds of rain and thunder from Costa Rica” by "Free To Use Sounds". 11 files, 34 minutes of samples. This requires Bandcamp account and you pick the price (even $0). 


"Citizen DJ" is a new simple “beat making” web page using audio and video from the Library of Congress. You can also download free clips for commercial use in your work. 


The CitizenDj interface is still in beta and a little rough to use, but it has potential. The best part though is all of the recording clips and samples available from the Library of Congress. There's spoken word, music, sound effects, animals and more. 


Native Instruments points us to 5 free vocal libraries. These are more like mini vocal libraries but still good and free. I think my favorite is the library by "Soundbetter Singers" or Ivy Audio's “Clare Solo” library.  I'm always on the lookout for free vocal libraries, even if they only have ohs, ahs and vowel sounds. Adding these types of sounds can really bring a "human" element to the track.


Free "one button" plugin called Smiley In other Streaky news, he's also released a new plugin that’s a combo of eq and other effects(compression?, saturation?, distortion?). You get to choose whether you make the catchy looking interface “smile” or “frown”.
This is the download link.  



Last night, I played through all the tracks I “finished” in the last 12 months. Time has given me separation and allowed me to hear them in a new light. While I still heard things I would change, I also heard great progress. I went to bed happy and more motivated to make more music. Perspective FTW!


Thank you,

Mark Skaggs

Managing Editor


PS: Don’t be shy to hit reply!  MusicMaker News is a passion project for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.


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