New Song #13: Bright Lights

New Song: Bright Lights (Instrumental)
Key of E, 120 BPM, Laid Back Electronic Dance

Bright Lights is a peppy little dance tune in the key of E. It’s a pretty accidental track and more a product of perfecting workflow than anything else. It’s also the first one that actually starts to sound polished and professional. It has none of the problems of previous tracks. It could use some vocal bits, but I didn’t have anything I really liked handy, so I may produce something else in quick succession that does have vocal.

Workflow is a big deal. A process that takes the grains of an idea and turns it into something of substance helps to keep the ideas going without having to stop and think and wonder what the next step in the process is. I’ve been thrashing around for almost a year trying to come up with the right way to work and this seems to function for me.

Step #1: Noodle around on the guitar.

I don’t have a big piano for generic noodling, and I’m not convinced I could noodle on a piano if I had one. I do, however, have an entire room full of guitars and banjos, and it is relatively easy to mess around with the placement and the rate of 3 or 4 chord sequences. The sequences these days come from a bunch of places: tabs for other songs, big books of songwriting swag, me messing around with chord sequences, and an hour or so of screwing around. Eventually, something that sounds plausibly good falls out and defines the parameters of a song. (Is it a Major or Minor Key? Is it in Mixylodian mode? Etc.)

Step #2: Write something in Finale

Finale is a godsend. For some reason, I cannot really compose anything in MIDI roll. I know plenty of people can and do. I need to look at notes, even if it is big chunky whole and half notes that play over complex chords with 9ths and 13ths. My little lizard brain understands all the little black marks on the white paper. Finale lets me move notes around, lengthen and shorten notes, build in little riffs, work out arpeggiated sequences, and change keys until I find a key I like. I can technically write a ton of music in C and then key shift it to something a little more interesting and colorful, or write in C and then play the music and cycle through keys until something sounds right.

Finale Notepad is free, but it does not save. All other versions of Finale export to MIDI which is easily imported into a DAW. The Finale suite comes with Native Instrument’s Kontakt 2 and Garriton Personal Orchestra, but I find that I use general MIDI instruments most of the time.

Step #3: Toss it in Garageband

Garageband has a use in this universe: to mess with ideas quickly and easily. That’s its job. It makes truly crappy finished product, but it works as a wonderful scratchpad. It’s simple to load up a chunk of MIDI, load up a synthesizer, and play some sounds over the composed music. Be aware, though, that it is extremely easy to kill Garageband so dead that it won’t even play over frozen tracks. The trick is to turn all effects completely off and play only through the AU synth.

Step #4: Import Garageband Project into Logic

By this point, the music is 90% done. All that is left is the mixing. Unfortunately, Garageband tacks on a bunch of dud effects and bad instruments on to tracks, so every track has to be purged of GB nonsense. Also, the faders are always crazily out of whack. Zero out the faders and remix the volume from scratch.

This is also the point where I would add in vocals, special effects, big swoops, and automation. I didn’t here because this is mostly an accidental song, but the next song’s goal is to start incorporating more advanced mixing techniques and some vocal parts.

Step #5: Share!

And here, I share. So, enjoy!