This post is a sequel to this post: Automation and expression.
It’s pretty easy to sequence.
You’ve got a computer chock-full of samplers, romplers, synths, loops and other sound sources. You start every project with an empty timeline that’s as inviting as a swimming pool on a hot still day or an untouched carpet of autumn leaves. It’s pretty easy to sequence – dragging in plugins and audio and placing them on the grid in neat patterns like lego blocks. And like lego blocks, it’s easy to arrange them neatly and be satisfied with the result.
But you can do better.
Sequencing can be dull and predictable. Notes and sounds come in exactly on the beat. Loops are the same each time we hear them. Section changes are stark and abrupt. The track progresses as a series of plateaus. Boring.
Life isn’t a series of lego blocks. Life is rich and colourful and fluid. Whether life reflects art or art reflects life, don’t sell yourself short. And don’t sell your listeners short. Lego blocks are a great starting point, and a useful way to sketch out a structure. But if all you’ve got is lego blocks, all you’ve got is a sketch.
So make your music breathe. Bring it to life. And I don’t mean layering a riser or stinger or drum fill or anything like that. I mean bring those lego blocks to life. Perform those parts. Bash out some drum beats on some pads. Play those chords or bassline or melody. Assign some MIDI knobs or sliders to plugin effect parameters. Don’t get ‘next step’, hit ‘record‘. Embrace the subtle performance variations that give the music some contour, some push and pull, some shape.
You might not get it right first time. Surprise! Don’t be discouraged. Practice it. Spend ten minutes, thirty minutes, two hours if you have to. Don’t be lazy. Put some of your self into the music. Are you the speechwriter or the speaker?
Right now there’s two kinds of people reading this blog post.
The first kind is those who are nodding and telling themselves “Yeah, that sounds kinda interesting, maybe I’ll try it one day”. And then they don’t. They get back in their studio and continue step-sequencing everything because it’s easier and they don’t care that it’s soulless. Expressing yourself with a mouse is like playing piano with one finger. And you’re only allowed to play at one volume level.
The second kind is those who are nodding and telling themselves “I don’t know if that’ll work for me, but I’ll give it a go and see what happens“. And they try it out. On whatever track they’re working on right now. Maybe just one instrument. Maybe partially quantise (don’t hard-quantise!) the performance if it’s a bit sloppy. Maybe try another instrument on the next track. Maybe get a bit better at it. Maybe in the process learn how to make their music a little better.
So which one are you? If you’re kidding yourself that you’ll try it one day but know deep down in your heart that you’ll probably forget about it once you move onto the next blog post, you probably won’t bother commenting here. You’re just a grazer. A window-shopper.
On the other hand, if you’re really going to give it a go, leave a comment telling me the name of the track you’re working on, and what instrument or sound you’re going try performing. Make a commitment to trying something new that might improve your music.
It’s up to you.