After the thing with that talented band fell through and quitting my band I was able to devote more time to my first real music endeavor, my first album. It started out as a challenge to finish the songs I start. I would always start songs but could never finish them, and on the rare occasion that I did finish one, it wouldn’t be that great. I had about three songs going by the end of my senior year. It was also around that time that I thought “Since these songs seem to be kicking ass and they’re far better than anything I’ve written before maybe I should put these up on iTunes if I get twelve of them.” To me a definite full length album is around twelve songs. I don’t know why but it just seems like a good number. Of course there can be less or more but I would try to stay around ten to fourteen. Anything less just seems like a demo and anything more is just insanity (looking at you The Beatles’ White Album).
My writing process for this album was incredibly mindless. Like the most mindless thing you could ever imagine. I got a copy of Finale 2010 from a friend and one of the great things about that program was how fast the entry method was. I would do step by step entering which means I would not use a midi keyboard to enter notes. I would use the backspace, enter, number, and arrow keys to write the notes. I would hit random keys at random times putting notes on random places on the staff and make them random durations. I would get something similar to a melody and I would either add or delete notes, make some longer or shorter, or move some up or down, I knew what was there in the mess of notes I just had to chip away at the excess crap to get to it. Once I was able to get something that sounded like a good melody I would harmonize it and make sure there wasn’t a lot of dissonance or just none at all. I would repeat that for a bit, make a few changes in what the supporting instruments are playing sometimes and once I drew that melody out long enough I would make a new one to transition in to. The reason why I wrote like this was because I really couldn’t think out melodies yet. Not a lot from the AP Theory and Harmony class clicked yet and I didn’t have the ability to play an actual instrument and write something using a guitar like I do now. I had a Yamaha keyboard but I was still trying to learn how to play it and trying to write something on that would have been a miserable experience. I thankfully can use it to write new stuff now. I couldn’t use my violin to write anything because I just didn’t know how to write anything on it nor did I even try. Until I could play more instruments I had to rely on luck and randomness to give me a good melody.
One of the earliest, and most likely the first song I started with was Dark Forest. I actually thought out the first few measures of whole notes but then I went into the random writing process for the main melody. I got something that actually sounded good and after that I stopped writing any other song I had up to that point and worked exclusively on this one song. After about two weeks I had it finished and was proud as hell about it. Especially since the violin solo on that song was done with the random writing process too and it still sounded alright. The only thing I didn’t like was that I couldn’t get a woodwind section to sound right and mix well with the rest of the instruments. Someday I will try and write a woodwind section in there but till then I’m happy with how the song turned out.
I later tried to write a piano quartet piece but that didn’t work too well so I just decided to have only one piano and that was what later became Pianoful (mashing the word beautiful and piano get this song title).
I started working on what would become That Old Nostalgia Feel after I heard All Alone by fun. because I loved the intro to that song so much. I would actually keep rewinding the song to the beginning so I could just listen to the intro. I did it so much I actually had an idea of how I wanted my song to sound like and once I got the intro to Nostalgia done I had no idea how to make it sound after that. I was going to have it sound really fast like a boss battle from Pokemon but that didn’t really work well so I just kept it very upbeat and light. Kind of like if you were walking through a town in an old Pokemon game.
The other song that drew inspiration from a video game is Song of Summer. I always loved the music from Legend of Zelda and I always wished I could write something similar to it but put my own style into it. This was my most successful song on the album and I am so glad I wrote it just because it is amazing and does capture the beauty of summer weather. Fun fact, I actually had a sore throat when I wrote the second half of the song. I came home from a tour at my local college campus (the tours are called SOAR days, no idea why but I thought it was funny that my throat was sore on a SOAR day). After I got home I tore through a bag of lozenges and finished the song while watching either Guy Code or Girl Code on MTV… Don’t judge me.
I wrote the title track of the album twice but the first draft of it for some reason didn’t seem to sync up. It was written on two different programs, Finale and Guitar Pro 6. I unfortunately lost the first draft of it and have not been able to find it yet. About half way through the summer I was at the annual martial arts camp that I go to and I decided to take my sheet music notebook and try and get a new draft of it at least started. I wrote the symphony intro part that weekend and came home and wrote everything else.
There was a song on the album that was written to basically prove a point. Which was can I write a song in one day that is better than half the crap on the radio? The answer may be biased but I say I can and did. Rainy Day violin was the result of this personal challenge and if you listen to it you can tell that it was a song composed in a day. The only thing in that song that repeats are certain drum beats but the violin part is through-composed, meaning no major repeats of any sections.
The other song that was really more of a personal challenge than anything was Pan Flute Awesomeness (It’s Not All The Same). Every time someone talks about that style of music they always say that all of it sounds the same. I wanted to try and write something in that style that proves that statement wrong. God knows if I was right or not because I think it sounds different but that’s because I wrote it so of course I’m going to be biased towards it.
Beauty Sonata in E Minor was written because I wanted to try and write something that was not only slow but also captured a feeling that can be hard to put into words. The feeling that people talk about but feel that they never adequately explain it no matter how hard they try. I wanted to try and write a song that without words puts into an audible form the way a person feels when they see someone and fall in love with that other person almost instantly. Beauty Sonata in E minor is meant to be a sound that describes the indescribable when words fail.
More on the opposite end of the spectrum than not is what I always refer to as the three songs that stand out from the rest of the album. For the most part Start is a more classical and experimental album than anything else. It took the love I have for different kinds of music combined with the music I have been exposed to for such a long time while in orchestra. But three songs don’t fit into the classical category or the experimental category, For When You’re Pissed (or as I sometimes abbreviate it to, FWYP), Energization, and Magnificence.
FWYP was written one day when for whatever reason I was in a bad mood. That bad mood you get in when every little thing annoys you and any problem that comes up no matter how small just adds unneeded aggravation, that’s the kind of mood I was in when I started writing that. I wanted something that a person who plays drums, guitar, or bass can play and just get out all that bad energy, mainly drummers though because that’s a song for when you want to break things on your kit. Another reason why I wrote it as more of a “release the bad energy” kind of song was because of something from my days in Metal Corps. We had one cover that we would do that every time we played it, it was just fun. And as much as I don’t like a lot of new “metal” I’ll give credit where it is due. The cover was Rebel Love Song by Black Veil Brides. The speed, the power, everything about made it a well written song. But when I wrote FWYP I wanted it to have a little more of the aggression that older metal had. Hence the guitar solo from hell, the flow of the section at 3:10, I wanted it to have not only speed and power, but some thought and musicianship. The drum intro was written in an unusual way. It was actually something I played when I would practice the song Straight Through My Heart by Backstreet Boys. I know that’s weird for an intro like that to come from a pop song but it’s true. When I would practice that song I wouldn’t play it note for note, I would add things, improv a thing or two, very similar to many drum mixes you can find on Youtube. At the time I was amazed at the stuff that drummers like Dylan Taylor and Phil J could do and I would try and do drum mixes like those guys and when I played that drum beat around sixteen seconds into the Backstreet Boys song I thought to myself “I gotta keep that in the bac of my head, I’m going to need it someday.” And apparently it was a good thing I did because that intro is a nice attention grabber to start that song with.
Energization came into existence because I wanted something that had a little bit of groove to it. Around 27 seconds in is when that becomes very apparent. The snare parts in the song were to see if I could write the stereotypical snare march kind of thing but make it sound unique. I included two sections like that because the first one was kind of fun to write and I wanted to do another one. In my opinion, the first one was pretty good but the second one before the drum solo at the end is my favorite of the two. The drum solo at the end was inspired by what Lars Ulrich plays at about the 6:11 mark of Welcome Home (Sanitarium) by Metallica. Keep in mind that I still really only knew how to play two instruments at the time and of course the easier one for me was drums so this was a very percussion driven album.
Magnificence was the rock ballad song of the three. I was originally going to have this song come earlier in the album because of how it’s not a hard hitting monster like FWYP or more energetic like Energization (I realize what I just did there, and yes, I hate me too). When I put together an album of original material or even a mix CD to listen to in the car I like to have the more gentle, ballad stuff come first, followed by songs that get progressively more heavy, fast, etc. I didn’t do that with this album to an extreme and I’ll get to that in a minute. But remember how I said this album was written more mindlessly than it probably should have been? This was one of two exceptions. I actually thought out what I was writing. More than just does it sound good and not have a ton of dissonance. But I actually thought how do I write this part, how do I transition, and the real big and new thing for me at the time: what note should come next/what should the interval between this note and the next note be? And I did all of this without an actual guitar in my hands. This was also one of the last songs that I wrote for this album.
The last song I wrote for this album was Head Contact (The song of Champions). To anyone not in the martial arts or anyone who is in the martial arts and avoids sparring in the martial arts like it’s the second plague may not understand the title without a little bit of context. In the forms of martial arts that are based around strikes and not grappling, there is a type of hit that is in some divisions not allowed, which is called Head Contact. In most tournaments, if you are under a certain age and under the rank of 1st degree black belt (or first Dan for the traditional martial artists) you are not allowed to even gently touch the dust on your opponent’s helmet. You get a warning for the first time you get head contact called against you, the second time you’re disqualified. And of course if you cause blood to be drawn or a snapping back motion of the head you’re disqualified immediately. So this is like a big no-no in sparring. It fit as the title for this last song perfectly. I wanted to end this album with an absolute “banger” of a song. One that can get you hyped before you step into the ring. The intro is an attempt to capture the moment where adrenaline kicks in a bit and things get a little bit more silent and focused, crowd noise starts to disappear, judges are barely able to be heard, in other words, shit gets serious. It all leads up to about 34 seconds in when the mood turns to what it feels like when the fight starts, everything feels like it just went up to eleven. From there it’s just fast paced music used to make the listener hyped. Fun fact about the part at 1:01, I originally proposed it as something to work off of when I was in Death Rising and we were trying to actually write something. But of course instead of giving constructive criticism, they laughed at it. They thought it was stupid and were not afraid to say it. Ten points for honesty, -15 for being dicks about it. I didn’t even realize that I had brought an idea back from the back of my mind that had been there for about 3 years or so until I wrote it into Finale and played it back. Now I can say that I’m the one laughing considering this song, which this section is in, has been bought, streamed, and hopefully enjoyed by a good number of people globally. Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Sorry, I had to. Anyway, similar to Magnificence, this song was not only thought out like I actually meant to make it sound good but I also used my keyboard to write it. I was still only using one hand to play at a time but it was enough to be able to write something. That’s actually a good thing to point out. You don’t need to be able to play with two hands if you’re using a keyboard/piano to write something. You can do the higher parts and the lower parts separately and combine them in a notation software to see if they work out. Or you can just do a really basic part on the left hand for the lower voices/instruments. Another cool thing about Head Contact is the fact that this was the first song where for an outro I did a reverse of the intro. When I say a reverse of the intro I’m not talking about anything similar to how Metallica did the intro for Blackened. What I mean is I wrote it as a deconstruction of sorts. The outro starts out with all the parts that played in the intro and backtracks till the first instrument that played in the intro is the only one still playing. You’ll know what I mean when you listen to it. And because it was the last song of the album, the last note in the song had to be accompanied by a gong. I could be wrong here but I’m pretty sure I paid a bit of homage to Rockband on this one. At the end of the career mode on drums you’re character gets to hit this gong that’s behind the kit. Like I said, I could be wrong, but with how much of a nerd I can be I know that this is probably why I wrote that gong hit at the end of the last song of the album.
I mentioned earlier about how I didn’t really organize the tracks in the order I had planned, softer more ballad-y songs first leading into the heavier songs to finish out the album. I didn’t do this as much as I planned because there were certain songs on this album that almost seemed to make different groupings or sections of the album. With the exception of That Old Nostalgia Feel, the first five songs are more of the lighthearted or prettier songs. Rainy Day Violin and Pan Flute Awesomeness are the challenges, FWYP, Energization, and Magnificence were the rock songs, then the orchestra songs seemed like the best ones to finish out the album with. It had more of a flow to it than if I were to order them the way I originally planned.
The writing of this album took a little bit more than a whole summer to write. The good thing was that obtaining the .wav files for the tracks were pretty easy since notation software always has an export audio feature. I exported the files from the different software I used and made sure the volumes were all around the same. I didn’t have to worry about volumes of different instruments or anything because I used dynamic markings in the scores themselves to adjust the levels. The only thing that I would do differently about this process was the fact that most of the time I was composing with earbuds in most of the time. Because of the way those work I didn’t have as much of the low ends as I’d have liked to but it still came out more than half decent in my opinion and when you consider my lack of actual training in audio production the fact that I even thought to make all the levels the same was a damn miracle.
I realized that there was more to releasing music than I thought. I didn’t realize that you had to find a distributor, (CD Baby or Tunecore) then submit a copyright claim for your music (I do this before I send my music off to the distributor just to be safe), pay a fee for the claims to be filed and the fees for the distributor to release your music, then the fees that you have to pay to keep your music on the sites the distributors send your music to. It was a hell of a shock. But like any situation like that as long as you keep a cool head and think things through you’ll be fine, which is what I’d like to think I did. I ended up choosing CD Baby as my distributor because instead of having to hope that your music makes enough to be able to pay the yearly fee that Tunecore charges to keep your stuff on the digital download sites, CD Baby does things more like a record label. Instead of charging a yearly fee, they just take a small percentage of your sales and that’s your fee. It seemed like the easier option, less upkeep. I filed the copyright claim and waited for the certificate to come in the mail. That took about 8 months but when it came in you can bet I immediately went to work on the submission process for my music. And like the ever so cautious guy that I am I made sure to read every damn word of that user agreement. Never did it with anything else before. I had my music set to release on the day after my last final of my freshmen year of college. I wanted the people who were waiting to hear it, however few that may have been at the time, to have an album they can blast for at least a good portion of their summer vacation.
I was proud of what I had accomplished, considering that I went from not being able to write anything great to writing something that I had enough confidence in to put on the music market all within a little more than two years. But I didn’t think I would get many sales. I’m not in a big city where even a bad day of on the street promotion can net me a couple handfuls of new listeners, I’m not in a band, and all my music is done with notation software. I didn’t have the highest hopes but I just wanted to say I tried. Then came the biggest surprise of my entire life.