Editor’s note: After making some basic tunes with KORG DS-10, Alex is interested in actually learning how to write music. Can anybody in the Bitmob community give him a hand? -Jason


I love electronic music. I toyed with the idea of going to school to be a sound engineer, not because I’m innately good at it but because I find it so interesting.

Naturally, when I saw the KORG DS-10 on The 1UP Show last year, my mind filled with lofty dreams of creating simple, elegant electronic masterpieces. The screenshots showing knob tweaking and note placing conjured up visions of studio headphones and head-nodding gestures that said, “Oh, yeah, right there. That’s the perfect level of attack.”

Alas, the news of the KORG DS-10 reminded me of a past failure: I had once tried to get into making music with the program FruityLoops. After hours of experimenting I was able to turn out 30 seconds of very generic-sounding techno using the program’s most basic features.

I knew it would take a lot of tutorials before I could get any kind of results, so as any good twentysomething would do, I abandoned the program. This did give me some basic experience using sequencers, but I walked away feeling defeated.

But KORG DS-10 is a videogame! I know videogames; they are comfortable and familiar. This helped me muster up the courage to once again try my hand at electronic music. When my copy arrived in the mail, I quickly booted it up to poked around a bit in the interface.

 

To my horror, it was full of words and acronyms that I didn’t understand, and the thin instruction manual was little help in deciphering the technical jargon. Although I had dreams of setting knobs to the perfect level of attack, in reality I didn’t know what “attack” or any of the other knobs besides volume and pitch meant.

Thankfully, XSEED has a series of instructional videos on YouTube that actually explains what was going on. With some general knowledge under my belt, I set out to write a song. Real musicians (unlike me) probably have a musical idea or emotion that they want to express when they write a song. I pushed keys on the synth keyboard until I found a few notes that sounded OK together.

Then came the fun part: tweaking the sound of the synth until you get something nice that sounds like it came from a videogame. After experimenting with all of the knobs and waveforms, I started to get a feel for how to make certain kinds of sounds; this filled me with an immense sense of pride. There were other moments where I would exclaim to myself, “I think I made the sound from the Contra victory jingle,” or “Wow, that sounds like the synth in a song by The Knife.” I was absolutely giddy with delight after each of these moments.

But these victories were short lived when I came to the harsh realization that although I have the tools, no videogame could teach me how to write music. This was disheartening, but I was still having fun making sounds and simple beats.

For my first song I wanted to make something fuzzy sounding. I had been listening to a lot of Black Moth Super Rainbow at the time, and I was obsessed with their warm, fuzzy synths. I was able to kind of re-create the sound using the white noise waveform, but my song ended up sounding kind of creepy and less warm; it almost has a Dr. Octagon Blue Flowers vibe. It took me about 4 hours to get the song just right, but I was happy with the 90 seconds of sound that I had produced.

I then recorded it using Audacity and made an MP3. There’s a special feeling that comes from seeing a song you made sitting in your iTunes library.

One of my favorite parts of making the songs was naming them. Since my first song sounded kind of sci-fi, I gave it the cheesiest sci-fi name I could dream up.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W98AlMbDhQ0 425×344]

My second song was influenced by ’80s synth pop. After listening to Yaz and New Order, I thought that I might be able to re-create something similar. After 6 hours or so, the song was ready. I gave it another joke name to reflect my creative process.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC2y39oKmP4 425×344]

After making these two short songs, I tried desperately to make something new, but I couldn’t get past two simple patterns and forge a whole song. This track is a good representation of my writer’s block:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t15nW2f8-Fc 425×344]

The creation process felt much more real than my experience with FruityLoops. With that program I just selected a bunch of premade sounds and placed them together in a sequencer. However, with the KORG DS-10, I created these sounds and tailored them to the song that I was working on.

I also gained a bigger vocabulary. The terms that I often use to describe music are vague and tenuous at best; if nothing else the KORG DS-10 taught me a more objective set of words to describe sounds.

I don’t claim to be any kind of a master producer, but I can look back at how far I’ve come with a sense of pride. Maybe now the art-school dropouts down the street will let me hang out with them.

Does anyone have advice on how to actually write music?