It’s been about 8 months, and playing music has definitely become a bedrock hobby. I’m practicing or playing every day; at least 5 minutes daily using Melodics, plus other time that I’m logging in Noko. Ideally, I want to get my practice times automatically logged into Noko, but that’s a programming job for later. 😜
I was taking music lessons for a few months, which culminated in this track on Bandcamp:
It’s part of a larger EP I’ve been working on, but more on that later. First, I want to outline my current studio setup, since I just redesigned my office to make it a proper studio!
New Studio Setup
I have to admit, it’s been exciting going from never playing to having a proper studio setup, especially in 8 months. I’m especially proud that I’ve taken my time to slowly build it out, and not blown through a pile of cash on stuff that I’ll end up not using. Every piece of equipment has a distinct purpose, and was only acquired after both deliberation and patience.
Clearly the purple gaffer tape helps everything sound better.
It’s small, but there’s a lot of utility packed in here. I’ll go through each item, and the purpose it serves
- An old Casio CTK-541 to replace my Akai when practicing: it’s a little bit funky, but it was sitting in my parents’ attic, and it’s allowing me to tackle complex lessons in Melodics.
- Alesis Nitro Mesh Kit: This is the newest item, and the piece of equipment I deliberated the most about. Drum kits are big & expensive, and I didn’t want to get one unless I was sure I’d use one. So I waited to make sure it wasn’t an impulse and scouted Reverb for a good deal. It was an excellent purchase, drums were always my favorite part of Rock Band, and they’re a joy to play (even a few days in!) Practicing drums is making me a better musician, and I can’t wait to use them in my own compositions.
- My Artiphon Instrument 1 is back from repairs! I can’t wait to use it again. Since it’s both incredibly portable and a MIDI Polyphonic Expression device, it’s perfect for recording. It also makes string/fretted sample instruments shine, you can get a lot of mileage out of Logic’s stock software instruments with a bit of practice.
- I’m still using my Akai MPK2 when composing, because it’s so portable.
- I found my old Rock Band mic & stand, which could be an okay recording mic whenever I want to record some audio.
- I also finally got a music stand to hold my iPad & sheet music.
- My Sony MDR-7506 are still going strong, surprising no one.
- Melodics is still my daily practice tool for both piano and drums. Definitely one of the best investments I made. Especially since you’ll periodically get bonus sample packs from them, which are fun to mess around with!
- I upgraded from GarageBand to Logic Pro. I hit multiple limitations in my MIDI workflow, but I waited until I was about 4 months into this hobby before making the purchase.
- I found Noteflight to be too finicky for my needs, sadly. After a lot of research, I switched to Dorico 3, which seems to be the most efficient music notation software out there right now. While it’s far from perfect, it’s the only one that feels like it’s made in the past decade.
- Suggester is a great tool for finding different chord progressions.
- I’ve got free sample instruments from Spitfire Audio Labs and Native Instruments’ Komplete Start, but I really haven’t used them, so I can’t give a verdict yet.
- I don’t have an analog synth. I kinda want one, but I’m not sure I’d ever use it in a recording. I’m enjoying the freedom & limitations of software instruments & MIDI right now. Also they’re expensive.
- Despite the power of my Instrument 1, I still hit limitations with the stock orchestral instruments in Logic. One day I’d like to get Audio Modeling’s SWAM instruments because they look amazing.
Current focuses and future goals
Now that I’ve setup a proper studio, I want to focus my efforts on practice and musicianship. I’ve got a few song books to help me learn how to read sheet music, and I’m going back to old Melodics lessons and trying to perfect my scores. After I’ve got a solid practice foundation, I’ll revisit the EP.
I focused on composition until January 2021 because the idea of planning music rather than performing was incredibly alluring as a beginner. “I can make interesting and beautiful music without knowing how to play? Sign me up!” However, I don’t think that’s a viable plan for me, for a few reasons.
Compositions are a plan, at best
One lesson I’ve learned while reading sheet music is that sheet music and compositions are only an idea of how something could be played. They’re not even a blueprint, more like a detailed sketch. There’s such a wide gap between a composition & its performance that focusing only on the compositional side will limit my vocabulary and ability to express my ideas.
I think composing is like any other form of writing: the more you experience and observe, the better your work will be. I kept hitting writer’s block when opening Dorico to work on my EP, because I didn’t have the vocabulary to even know what to say (or how to say it). Studying how to perform other people’s work should help me understand their ideas, and carry the lessons I want to use in my own compositions.
Mind + Body
Music is something I feel in my bones. Even if I like building layers and metaphors in my compositions, there’s a physicality that is essential. I performed every part of the demo I recorded on Bandcamp using my Instrument 1, and I think it shows. There’s a human quality that my other compositions have lacked, and I want to grow that.