Bedroom music making (not that kind of bedroom music)
November 17, 2017 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to make some DIY, teenage-y/college student music. Like the stuff people make in their bedroom alone by themselves. Particularly dreamy/slightly twee/electronic pop. Some bands I'm interested in are Crying and Stars. I don't know anything about music theory. I don't want to do anything complicated until I understand this stuff better. Where do I start? Should I buy a mini synthesizer? Toy piano?
posted by starlybri to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend checking out one of the physical controllers that comes with the basic version of Ableton Live. Something like the Also MPC Key 25. It's relatively easy to make some basic electronic music just using loops and it would give you a feel for whether you want to invest in something more powerful. You want need to know much about music, just play with it until it sounds interesting.

That said, you should get some basic books on how to write music - part of why music theory exists is that certain things are pleasing to our ears. It's fine to break those rules, but knowing about them cash be helpful.
posted by Candleman at 1:05 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you happen to have an iPad? Are you open to working mostly on a computer at first? That is the cheaper, likely more effective way to dip a toe in to synth pop. Also let us know your budget. If you have $1k to burn, this is conceptually a lot easier than if you have $100.

There are good free and free trial (Reaper) DAW (digital audio workstation) apps. You can get cheap midi controller and be on your way to farting around with bleeps and bloops in no time flat. If you want a more traditional approach (reading/writing music on staves), check out the free/open source LilyPond and Frescobaldi - you can learn tons about traditional song writing with just those.

I would recommend against a toy piano unless you already have some keyboard skills (but it sounds like you don't). Nobody goes from music ignoramus to making music they like on a piano very quickly, and though toy pianos have a charming plinky sound, it's only one sound, and hence not that useful for making anything other than piano music.

The power of machines is that they can play notes for you, freeing you up to focus on lyrics, arrangement, song structure, etc., and so again toy pianos are not that helpful.

If you really want a hardware mini-synth, I'd recommend a Novation Circuit or Roland JD-Xi.

(Nb. I just realized by "toy piano" you may have meant cheap electronic keyboards marketed at kids, rather than an actual toy piano. But I would recommend against cheapo kiddie keyboards too)
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:13 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have a Mac or iPad, Garageband is pretty easy to use, and there are a zillion tutorials on YouTube.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have an android phone and pc, and a budget of $50-100 to start.
posted by starlybri at 1:42 PM on November 17, 2017

Sorry, autocorrect mangled that - it should be Akai MPC Key 25. It's at the upper edge of your budget, but if you hold off until the post Thanksgiving sales, you should be able to find some discounts on it. I've not been terribly impressed with any of the Android music creation software and Ableton is pretty nice for easy creation.
posted by Candleman at 2:25 PM on November 17, 2017

In my mind there are two greats everlapping options if you want to write songs. You can learn to play an instrument or you can go the more electronic producer route and write songs in a DAW (digital audio workstation, I’m partial to Ableton on PC). DAWs generally allow you to play synthesized sounds and record analog instruments. Using just your computer keyboard you’ll be able to record sounds in real time, or compose songs by placing each individual note.

So unless you know you want to play an instrument before your very first investment I’d watch some videos on DAWs and see if that kind of writing interests you at all. Then I’d try a free thrity day trial of a DAW like Ableton. Ableton actually has some really great tutorials to get you started composing basic music.

If you like that you can then get a midi keyboard of some type that comes with Ableton or just buy Ableton and a microphone.

I started writing stuff with just an acoustic guitar and a free audio recorder (audacity) and a Skype handset for a mic but now I write music almost entirely in a DAW, mostly because I like to play with lots and lots of sounds.

Also don’t underestimate how awesome fun it is to compose music on a phone with super cheap apps. I can play with a looping program all day.
posted by cyphill at 3:34 PM on November 17, 2017

Oh, I should add that I record a ton of diy bedroom type stuff using just my phone and cheap apps like GarageBand iOS and Loopy.
posted by cyphill at 3:39 PM on November 17, 2017

Great suggestions everyone! I'll do some more research. Anyone have recommendations for android music apps?
posted by starlybri at 5:04 PM on November 17, 2017

I always recommend Caustic (developer) - it is an amazingly powerful, incredibly easy to use sequencer for Android.
posted by srednivashtar at 2:20 PM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

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