Making original music
June 2, 2014 6:39 AM   Subscribe

How do you know that the music you are making hasn't already been written? I have a decent level of proficiency with one instrument and recently branched out and have started learning the basics of a few others. I have never made original music and recently have started tooling around and playing my "own" songs on a combination of a few instruments. It seems unlikely that I am playing anything unique which leads me to wonder how does one know when they are? Thanks.
posted by mrdrummed to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You don't know, right up until you do. Accidentally copying other people is part of the process. Everyone, famous and unknown alike, has done it. Just write and write and write and don't worry about i.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:47 AM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you have a particular idea you are scoring for or a personal point of view you are trying to express you're less likely to fall into that rut. Frank Zappa used to say that he was making soundtracks for movies that played in the theater of your mi-i-ind (or something like that).
posted by cleroy at 7:11 AM on June 2, 2014

Just wait til you find out that the same four chords make up any number of famous songs.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2014

You can never be completely sure, but it helps to have a group of trusted musical friends you can try things out on.

I really hated being the one to always point out that everything my best friend wrote sounded like "Hotel California," but it helped him.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2014

I'm a musician and I honestly think it doesn't matter. People like to listen to music that sounds familiar to them - it triggers memories and associated emotions. The sweet spot is music that sounds familiar but incorporates something different - like a peculiar rhythm or an unconventional instrument or thought-provoking lyrics. There's only so many chord progressions you can use before you start venturing out into dissonance and atonal music anyway, and there is so much space to be explored within the current musical conventions that you shouldn't run out of possibilities in your lifetime.

Also, in my experience, most people don't even realise how similar songs are unless they themselves are musically trained/have a good ear.

Just write authentically, and roll with whatever comes out - you might surprise yourself. If you sing, just sing in your own voice and try not to consciously imitate people you think are 'good' singers.

Pretty much everyone starts out emulating their favourite musicians anyway. You'll develop your own sound eventually but don't over-think it, 'cause you can end up sounding like you're trying too hard. Good luck!
posted by sweetshine at 8:32 AM on June 2, 2014

You just don't know for sure, and everything is just a slight variation of anything else anyway. When I was 14, I wrote my "Piano Sonata #1 in C-sharp minor." I played it for my teacher, and he said, "Oh, you listened to Rachmaninov, eh?" I didn't know what he meant, so he played me Rachmaninov's famous C# minor Prelude. My Sonata was almost literally the opening of the Rach Prelude and I was devastated and delighted at the same time. My musical experience was very specifically limited to Baroque and Renaissance music, so it was the coincidence of my lifetime, and a great story to tell my composition students.

Also, keep in mind that as a student composer, you will have an "imitation period" where you DO actually just pretty much copy other music you hear, even if unconsciously. Beethoven is known to have a very successful "imitation period," Mozart literally transposed Symphonies and called them his (we are just now finding out who really wrote them), and Brahms destroyed everything from his imitation period and "started over" at age 40.

This applies to pop music, too. My pop comp students all just copy what they hear on the radio and put their own spin on it, which is a healthy way to start, then we explore from there.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:46 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

My pop comp students all just copy what they hear on the radio and put their own spin on it,

Ugh. I can speak to this.

I'm not much of a songwriter, but a bunch of years ago I was REALLY proud of myself that I finally finished my first "real" song. It was lyrically complete, had a great hook, totally singable tune and everything. I worked really hard working out all the kinks and figuring it out completely. I played it for friends and they were all like, "yeah, man! sounds great!"

As it turns out, I crafted a nearly note-for-note reproduction of Duncan Sheik's Barely Breathing. Seriously, the melody was the same. The song structure was the same. It was in the same key. Even the shimmery guitar hook was the same. The end of the chorus had the lines, "... I can't find the air. I don't know who I'm kidding, imagining you care..." It wasn't at all intentional, but it happened. I don't remember listening to the song, but I must've heard it somewhere and got it stuck in my head, and then I spat it back out as my own song.

My friends and bandmates didn't tell me because I worked really hard on it and was so proud of it and they didn't want to break my heart. It wasn't until months later, when I heard it in a Hy-Vee grocery store, that I realized what had happened and what I'd done.

So, I'd suggest playing your music for other people as you're developing it and having them be honest if it sounds familiar. Alternately, I now sometimes take apart songs I really like, figure out what's cool about them and include those things in my songs (right now I'm in to gospel chord changes).
posted by elmer benson at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I went to school, there was a lot of emphasis on originality. Since then, I've learned that originality is nice to have, but creating a personal emotional connection with your audience is way more important.
posted by ovvl at 6:52 PM on June 3, 2014

I think the easiest way is to familiarise yourself with a huge range of music, especially if you usually only stick to a few genres. Note things you like from different genres and mix and match. When you listen to music, how actively do you note its compositional devices (timbre, pitch, tonal system, duration (tempo/rhythms/ostinatos/time signatures), dynamics, form, texture, instrumentation etc etc etc)? If you're consciously thinking about every piece of music you come across, it will be easier for you to file away musical info and know what's already been done.

If your exposure to music is more of the pop/band type, there are a few common tropes you could easily break. Note the common chord progressions and avoid them. If you usually listen to pieces/songs that are usually in 4-4 time signature all the way throughout, you could try writing your lyrics, not worrying about fitting them to 4-4, and fit the time signatures to your lyrics afterwards. Also try putting instruments that you don't usually hear in your frequented genres together, and experiment with combinations of sound.
posted by SailRos at 11:27 PM on June 7, 2014

« Older T-shirts that don't feel like t-shirts   |   Measure twice, cut once: tool buying edition Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.