How to finish an EP in 30 days: week 2 – generating ideas


Our guide to writing, finishing, and releasing a three-track EP in 30 days kicked off last week. If you’re just getting started, head to the first installment to start there. Otherwise, read on for week two…

Armed with the notes and a “shopping list” of items we’ll need for our tracks we produced the first week, it’s time to get creative.

This step is about creating raw ideas that we can flesh out into full tracks later. We won’t hold your hand trying to tell you exactly what or how to craft at this point.

Ultimately, this is where your own creativity comes in, and precisely what you write and how you do it will depend on your own style and workflow.

However, below and above the page, we’ve outlined some potential approaches that might help spark some much-needed creativity.

A few things should be noted though. First, this “shopping list”: the goal here is not to stifle your creativity. You don’t need to monotonously tick off a list of kick drums, basslines, pad sounds, etc. Instead, let it guide your next steps.

If you’ve created a drum groove you’re happy with, check what your track template requires and try to find new material based on what you’ve already created. Creating more than you need is a good tactic, it’s good to have options!

Likewise, our notes from previous steps should help you stay on track. It’s too easy to get distracted by a new idea without finishing what you’re working on. If you find yourself inspired by something that doesn’t fit the project as intended, you don’t have to abandon it altogether, but perhaps put it away for later use.

A final consideration – in what form should you capture these ideas? For the most part, it’s up to you. What we’re looking for is to create a bank of largely ready-made track elements that we can lay out in an arrangement in the next step.

The easiest way to capture them might be audio, but that obviously introduces limits on how much you can edit later (although that might be a good thing).

Alternatively, you can create MIDI files and save instrument presets, or even save patterns directly into a hardware sequencer, synth/sampler, or modular system. Whichever way you feel most comfortable, work is the way to go.

Days 8 to 14

Goals :

  • Generate some initial ideas
  • Experiment with new techniques
  • Produce materials to organize and structure the next week

Three approaches to generating ideas

1. Jam and composition


(Image credit: Ableton)

Compilation tools are now fairly ubiquitous across the board, long existing in Logic or Cubase and more, recently added to the more “electronic” DAWs Ableton Live and Bitwig Studio. Compositing tools are often considered best used for vocal takes, but they’re also fantastic for capturing and blending elements from a synth, guitar, keyboard, or even a box jam. rhythms.

Choose an instrument and improvise for a while. Play to your strengths – if you’re not a keyboard player, use a sequencer and familiarize yourself with filters and effects, introduce some randomization. Most composition tools allow the user to fold longer takes into layered loops. You can then use them to choose the best parts of your jam session, mixing riffs, patterns or tones into a single loop.

2. Resample the “mining”


(Image credit: Ableton)

An often successful way to activate creative synapses is to take a single sound and see how many different track items you can create from it. A sampled loop, whether rhythmic or melodic, is always a good starting point.

Try feeding your loop with creative effects such as extreme reverbs, comb filters, delays, etc., and resample the results. Or try selecting percussive elements in a melodic loop or turn a percussive sound into a melody using resonator effects. For a great example of this approach, check out the latest episode of The Breakdown with Ploy, where he uses a sampled loop to create both the hook and the atmospheric elements of a track.

3. Loot old projects


(Image credit: Ableton)

Do you, like many of us, have a slew of half-finished or abandoned projects lying around on your hard drive? These could be the perfect starting point for researching ideas and material for your next track. Just because something ended as a creative dead end before doesn’t mean you won’t find new inspiration by revisiting it.

It’s common to find that a little time and distance can help you look at old ideas from a new perspective. Even if you can’t find something ready for wholesale reuse, try sampling your old ideas. Export discarded loops, melodies or entire tracks and process them as if you were sampling any other disc, slicing your favorite elements and applying creative effects.

6 quick composition tips

1. Double and Add


(Image credit: Ableton)

Do you find yourself constantly creating short, simple curls? Try that. Start by creating a one-bar pattern. Now double it and add a new event or variation that only happens every two bars. Double it again and add something that only happens once every four bars. Continue until you have something 32 or 64 bars long. It’s a quick way to add variety to drum grooves or create repeating patterns that can always hold the listener’s attention.

2. Call and response


(Image credit: Ableton)

Call and response is a technique used in various musical traditions and can work wonders in electronic music as well. It’s incredibly simple: create two elements, where the second seems to “respond” to the first.

Think Queen’s bass/piano line Under pressure. Try creating a melodic riff that mimics the pattern of a rhythm element, or introduce a chord “hit” that lands in response to your bass line.

3. Spice up a chord pattern


(Image credit: Ableton)

Looking for easy ways to add depth to a simple triad (three note) chord pattern? Add notes above the triad, skipping all other notes in the scale, to create seventh, ninth, or eleventh chords.

Rearrange the notes of your chord, moving some below the root note to create inversions. Also try suspended chords. These involve taking the middle note of the triad and moving it up or down one scale note.

4. Combine arpeggios


(Image credit: Ableton)

Everyone loves an arpeggio! Arpeggio lines are a great tool because they can add melodic interest and rhythmic dynamism. For something more complex, try layering arpeggiator patterns using multiple instruments. Start by creating a simple chord pattern, powered by an arpeggiator and synth.

Now duplicate this whole configuration. Modify the synth sound on this second arpeggiator for tonal differences, but also try adjusting the parameters of the arpeggiator, such as timing, octave range, or pitch shift. Automate these parameters as your track progresses to change the interaction between patterns.

5. Creative delays


(Image credit: Ableton)

Never underestimate the potential of using a delay effect as a compositional tool. With Wet/Dry set to 50%+, a delay will drastically alter the rhythm and feel of a simple single note pattern.

Try introducing simple patterns or rhythms in your favorite delays, then bounce the wet signal around like a new groove. Similarly, use pitch shift delay effects, which can help you generate melodic patterns that break away from obvious chord structures.

6. On one side


(Image credit: Ableton)

Do you find your looping patterns lack a slight sense of purpose? Try adding a little something unique to the first beat of each phrase. It could be a chord hit, a crash cymbal or some sort of effect hit.

It might seem like a simple and obvious tip, but adding a little something to help define the start of your groove can help grip the listener for what comes next. Even low in the mix, this can help turn a “loop” into a proper section of your track.

Check back on MusicRadar on Tuesday March 15th for the next edition of our 30-day EP workshop…


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