Some general beginner-hints for making whole songs?

16 replies [Last post]
Joined: 01/17/2011

-- General workflow-problem, not NS specific --

Well, have I admin, that I have problems finalizing my songs. I have a lot of ideas, and not much time for making music. Mainly 25min a day while sitting in the train.
I open NS, BM2, iMS20 etc., pick some pattern/sequence and begin to edit and tweek it to make a new verse or chorus for the song.

The result is, that after that the pattern doesnt match with the rest of the song, and I say: "ok, this is the beginning of a new song". So I have a lot of cool sounding patterns, every one very different, but not getting a song realy finalized and complete.

I'm seeking for some simple beginner-rules to make my work more effective..

Joined: 03/10/2011

A few thoughts (and this is just how I tend to work).

The first thing that comes to mind is that the part that doesn't match the rest of the song could be reserved for the bridge, as the bridge is usually the excuse/opportunity to do something different from the rest of the song before coming back to the original idea again and closing the song. Those different sounding parts can work to your advantage.

There are also times where I have a ton of different ideas I've layered on top of each other. I find that if I selectively peel back the layers and place them at different parts of the song, it can lead to much better arrangement and helps build the song up and down in various areas. I usually get all my ideas in first, and then find that the song editor in NS is great at encouraging moving the various blocks of parts around.

Lastly, I too have lots of initial ideas that I like a lot, but I'm not too sure where I should take them next. One option is collaboration (which using .nsp files and dropbox is crazy easy to do if the other person is also on NanoStudio). I had a small verse/chorus idea that I liked a lot but had been sitting around for months without further development. I sent it over to MCOBigBen and he added vocals/lyrics and did some cool mixing / arranging that made it very intuitive to figure out how to construct the next part of the song.

Just my 2 cents.

Joined: 07/20/2011

layering is extremely helpful. that's my advice i'm having trouble with the whole structure beginning middle and end. but learning to layer has been crucial to my growth. ( or so i like to think) also it helps to use your ears and mind when you listen to music you enjoy to understand how songs are made. i don't know once again just adding.

Joined: 09/26/2010

I do that a lot too. Tweak away and then wonder what the hell I was doing. In your situation it sounds like one remedy might be to continue to play the original with the new part. Meaning if the original part is on bar 1-4 and you're editing 5-8, loop on 1-8 instead of listening to 5-8 alone for 30 minutes.

I imagine good songwriters (which I'm not) often think about the part they want to make first and then make it happen instead of tweaking around until they like something - at least when it comes to a second part. I try to do that sometimes but don't really have the memory/clarity of vision to sustain the part in my mind while I try to recreate it. My fumbling around while trying to recreate it usually supplants what I was originally thinking of! Like trying to think of a song while another one is playing.

Joined: 08/22/2011

Don't be afraid to "throw away" parts, either. I can't tell you how many times I've followed this flow:

Lay down part A
Add part B
Add Part C
Add part D, like it a lot, but realize it doesn't quite fit
Throw away A, B, and C, and start the whole process over with part D

For my song "El Cidi", I think the first 5-6 parts I created didn't end up having a place in the final product.

I also tend to be more pop/vocal focused than most, which makes decisions a bit easier. Does what I'm adding help the vocals? Does it frame them, or provide space for them? If not, I tear it out, or like peanut_gallery said, shunt it aside for use in a break, intro, or outro later.

Rather obviously, I'll second what peanut_gallery said about collaborating. There's nothing better than a fresh set of ears when you've droned yourself silly listening to the same loop 20 times in row.

Also, the opposite of my initial advice; don't be too quick to throw away your mistakes. Sometimes innovation comes from chaos. For example, I was looping an 8 beat loop once and accidentally triggered it every 4 beats, making it step all over itself. The result sounded much better than the single loop by itself.

Galaxyexplorer (not verified)

There are many good ways...50% of the loops and samples i create for a song are not in the final track at the end...; )
Most i first choose a speed (bpm) for the track. When i have done this i build up my track from this...i most use a intro, following a drop...a nice break, drop again and a smooth ending! It's good to have much variations in the track...for exampel you load a sample on eden synth..."normal speed" is c4 then. You can play it c3, c4 and c5 at the same time without getting out of key with the melody. And the fx are very important to give the music the deep. Nano studio is a great tool for that. For one of my tracks (used all 16 tracks in the sequenzer) i used only a voice to create all sounds in the track included the main bass, the sub basslines, all fx and the melodys by using the great NanoStudio sound generator...that means you can make a really complex track with a simple spoken "ohh"'in the iphone micro. Or you can make your tracks with hundreds of's all possible with this app...and i use about 20 other music apps working together with NanoStudio per copy and i have my own "big DAW" on my idevice ; )

Joined: 08/07/2011

If it's good enough, it drives you to finish it. I haven't felt that way since early 2000.

Joined: 01/17/2011

Thanks very much everyone. There are many helpful hints here. Gonna try this out step by step.

Joined: 08/22/2011

You have to listen to music objectively and critically not just for pleasure that way you learn to identify form like ABACB etc :-) Just listen and identify like "right this is part A, and now this chorus has to be part B" etc. A lot of electronic music doesn't really change pattern/form in a chordal way like other music however the form is more dictated on whether the bass is playing or not. :-)

Thomas A.
Joined: 03/20/2011

This is the way how I create songs on my iPhone:

1.) Use either the app Chordbot or ProChords (both are really useful apps for this job) to create a nice chord progression over 16 bars (or more). Import the progression as MIDI file into Nanostudio. Unfortunately, Nanostudio doesn't import MIDI files via mail or dropbox :-(((( So you have to do this at home.
2.) Then create/load a drum groove as rhythmical base.
3.) Now create matching melodies and bass lines while playing back the progressions.
4.) Refine the rhythm stuff, create fills and breaks.

And so on ...

Joined: 08/22/2011

>You have to listen to music objectively and critically not just for pleasure

This is a great point. Pick a song you like, and really think about *why* you like it. You love how the bass kicks in? Deconstruct how they did it. How does the bass interact with the drums? How many bars long was the intro, and when did the main refrain appear? How often does the drum pattern change?

Critical listening is a lot different from listening for pleasure. You can hear a song 100 times and still not know much about it if you're not listening critically.

Try recreating songs, in style if not a literal recreation. You're a Yaz fan? Write a Yaz song. Don't do this kind of exercise intending to end up with an original work, do it so you can learn the tips and tricks your favorite artist used when putting together their work, so you'll have more tools to pick from later on.

Joined: 08/11/2010

I have loads of NS projects in an unfinished stage, far more than when I used to write music on trackers, or as I still do on guitar. Part of the reason , I think is the cornucopia of options available in NS. I get distracted. Also I read an obituary of a painter once - he used to view every picture he painted as a battle between him and the painting. If he completed it he had won, if he didn't then the painting had won. Of course the battle was really with himself and the standards that he had created. I have that issue with NS projects - I know I could finish more if I just did something obvious. There is nothing wrong with the obvious, a lot of the time, but when there is the choice between the obvious development of one project, or the interest of a completely new project, the new project usually wins! When I was in a band, we used to find that having a deadline, like a gig, or studio session, really focussed us into completing existing songs and writing new ones. In that vein, I've decided to do an entire album's worth of songs and put it on Bandcamp - that way I will have to complete songs to fill the album.

MCO BigBen - your point about copying other artists as a learning method is a good one. Once I decided to write a song in the style of David Bowie's Hunky Dory. I listened to the whole lp intently. Then I went into a different room, picked up the guitar developed a song within a few minutes - it wasn't much like Bowie, more The Fall actually (The Fall playing Queen Bitch maybe). It was good enough for the band to want to play though.

Joined: 09/07/2011

Theme and Variations

That's a method that has worked for quite a long time.

Joined: 04/11/2012

Well what i tend to do is record one layer of notes. If it sounds great, and i know what to do next, i keep going. If it sounds great and i don't know what to do with it, i save the project and repeat the process. I have a bunch of unfinished projects but instead of attacking one project with all these crazy ideas, they're spanned out over several projects. Tunes i like have priority of being finished first. Tunes i don't like get ignored, and then trashed if they're shelved long enough.

Joined: 02/02/2012

Deadlines and restrictions are the creative mind's best friend, although the creative minds often don't know it.

I struggled for *years* with the same issue more or less and tried to find 'the secret' or 'the code' to putting together a song, and the answer is... there is none, really: it's all about you and what you like and are willing to commit to, and that commitment part is hard to do if all things appear to be equal. When you have a deadline, however, suddenly everything doesn't look so equal - some parts stand out as being inherently stronger/better than others and those are the ones you go with.

What really did it for me was entering samplepack/mix/plugin contests where I had a fixed period to make the best song I could for the competition. In the end, I realized that I wasn't competing with other would-be producers so much as challenging myself to do something well and stand by it. Within the space of a year or two, finishing tracks was no longer a problem.

Just my two cents.

Joined: 09/26/2010

+1 for limits. It's the only way I finish anything. Ever.

David Morton
Joined: 06/06/2011

The way I typically operate (though I'm slowly shifting to a more chronological approach) is like this:

1. Come up with a groove you like.
2. Add things to it. Layers and layers of loops.
3. You should be able to sit and listen to your groove over and over and over and over again... I mean for an hour or more... without getting bored or annoyed. If you're bored with it or annoyed with it, it's a bad groove. Goto step 1.
4. Once I layer stuff that works, I set up patterns, and order them the way I want them to come into the song. I lay out my tracks accordingly.
5. Next, I work on "live" portions, or portions I want to do in one take. That is, I already did most of the loops first, now I do stuff that might take a while. The loop is the framework, so doing this step first wouldn't make much sense.
6. Next, I might add a few more loops.
7. Next, I find good ways to break the song at various places... keeps things interesting. I'll add various background ambient noises to add that "attention to detail" feel.
8. Finally, I try to master the whole song as best as I can.
9. Lastly, I release the song WAY TOO EARLY. Don't do that. Let it sit. Let it bubble. Listen to it 12 times each day for a week. Adjust things that sound funny. Fix areas you feel bored. Tweak it and twist it and mangle it until it finally sounds interesting.
10. Release the song.

I'm slowly changing my approach, however, because I want to do something a little different for future tracks. I'd like to be able to "tell a story" so to speak, in sound. This, by necessity, means I'll be moving away from some of the loop and sound based ways of doing things, and into some more ambient uses, while spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on the sounds that will be included in each song. In other words, I'm trying to make a shift away from a focus on melody, harmony and rhythm, and more into a focus on sound quality, and sound content. Interesting sounds, without giving up interesting melodies.

As such, I've been working on one sound for nearly three days now. I think that gone are the days of me writing a new song every few days. Things are about to get real.