How can I get started in composing music?
November 10, 2008 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I have no music background, but it's been something of a lifelong dream to compose music. How can I create and record industrial music utilizing my PC?

Of course there is no typical with regards to industrial, but I listen to say "Father Don't Cry" by Doubting Thomas and I think I can identify drums, keyboards, sound clips from movies, and sound effects. Then again in "Pyromance" by Chemlab, I also hear guitar (and probably bass).

What do I need to get started?
Should I get some kind of keyboard, guitar and/or drum training?
Should I plan on purchasing some kind of physical instruments?
What software can I use?
Would I record each of the instrumental tracks, slowly building the song?
What's involved in taking sound clips from movies?
My lyrics won't be like typical pop songs with rhyming or a chorus, so I'd either do like spoken word (if that's the right term) or some sort of distorted vocals -- what can I use for that?
posted by indigo4963 to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well, old school composers wrote with a pen and paper while sitting at a piano / organ.
Music that is worth anything combines emotional writing with stirring music. It takes YEARS of practice to develop an emotional connection with an instrument and additional years to explore that connection.

Why bother with all that noise when you can just jump into software and make stuff.

Get Reason. It has everything you need to get started from nothing and make stuff that sounds cool. Once you master that, go into Live and bring your work to the stage.
posted by emptyinside at 1:29 PM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Learn music theory, you can get decent piano/keyboard lessons by looking either in the local paper or Craigslist. It won't be fun learning "Mary had a little lamb" the first few months but if you stick with it and practice A LOT, you'll zoom through the basics pretty quickly and then things open up like you wouldn't believe. Its hard to create without knowing the tools and music theory is certainly the most important tool. The more music you listen to with a critical ear it becomes pretty obvious which bands know how music works and is constructed and which ones don't.

Reason (the software) is cool, but it is a tremendous amount of information to learn and become adept at and can becoming overwhelming and discouraging if you just start tinkering, it will take quite a bit of time for someone with no music background to produce something of quality.

Millions have gone before you so just start with the basics, stick with it for a few months, practice practice practice practice practice and you're skills and talent will improve.
posted by Scientifik at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2008

Well, old school composers wrote with a pen and paper while sitting at a piano / organ.

Some of us still do!

It really depends on what you want out of this. Do you just want to make some cool tracks or do you actually want to learn to compose music in the traditional sense, i.e. do you want to understand what you're doing? It seems that you want to do the former, in which case just get a software program and jump in. If it's the latter, please let us know more, but learning to read music and then getting a good grasp on theory is the way in.
posted by ob at 1:50 PM on November 10, 2008

Pick up Fruity Loops.

Download a demo and see if you like it.

If so, buy it later or 'buy' it through the grace of God and a shady mutual file possession system held together by applications like azureus.

But please really buy it :)

There are tutorials, etc. readily available and the program has sound patches for nearly every instrument and industrial sound conceivable.

You will be making music within minutes.
posted by bradly at 3:08 PM on November 10, 2008

Yeah, seconding Fruity Loops as the best thing to try for someone with little experience, assuming you do want to do PC music rather than learning to play piano etc. Nothing else is as easy to just start making music with, and it will be a long, long time before you need to use anything else. Follow some tutorials, as bradly says, and you'll start having a lot of fun very quickly.
posted by cincinnatus c at 4:01 PM on November 10, 2008

I've used Fruity, Live, Reason, Orion Synapse, and a few others. For an absolute beginner to composing and sequencing, I recommend Fruity or Synapse. You'll need to grok pattern-based composition but it's not too difficult to grasp. FL has some additional tools like the chord thingy in the piano roll and, to me, it's a little easier to build up songs than Synapse.

Reason 3 and prior had really good pattern tools but in 4 they kind of bolluxed it up. And Live... I haven't yet gotten to placing patterns in the sequence as easily as in FL or Synapse.
posted by jdfan at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2008

Hmmm ... thanks for the replies. While thinking about this stuff, I thought maybe I'm leaning towards percussion instruments. I might have to post another question next week. So maybe I should just start with drums. Drums make the underlying rhythm, right? And then other instruments follow? Or do guitars start first? Or is it the whole ensemble working together?

Well, I think the rhythm of drumming is what I should start with. So maybe I'll go visit a local drum circle, and see if I have a knack for it. And maybe I'll buy a drum.

Still, I'll also try some of the software mentioned, though it seems that having an underlying understanding of the music is a good direction to go. I'm okay with taking YEARS to learn an instrument.
posted by indigo4963 at 6:10 PM on November 10, 2008

It seems like most people naturally jumped on a specific part of your question, but based on your response just above, you are really asking the broader question: how do you get into the nuts and bolts of music? You're not alone in asking that question; for example, there are a lot of excellent answers for it in this AskMe thread.

I'm hearing great instincts from you in your response: 1) finding other humans to experiment with, and 2) starting with basics. If you go to the drum circle you mention, and you explain that you're curious about music theory basics, I bet you'll find people who are happy to show you a little something on the spot about rhythms. And here's an excellent basic theory site if you want to take a look on your own. At least some time with a tutor or in a music theory class would also be great for getting started with music theory.

(And yeah, most composers still write on paper, if you're talking about composers who create from scratch / in our heads.)
posted by kalapierson at 1:57 AM on November 13, 2008

As a devoted fan and user, I highly recommend Buzz. It's similar to Reason in that you chain generators and effects together to a master output...except it's free. You can also go to Buzzchurch for support and advice from other Buzzers.
posted by deusdiabolus at 9:47 PM on November 13, 2008

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