How I ended up making music the way I do

I do not have a profound musical education, I mostly work intuitionally. I did have music classes in school, but I was never thouroughly interested in either learning more about musical theory or actually applying the acquired knowledge to physical instruments. I did take acoustic guitar lessons in the mid 90's on the initiative of my parents, though I found out quickly that this was never to become a passion of mine. So I quit rather soon. Up until a few years ago, I never actually pursued playing an instrument anymore, let alone master it.
In 2013 I felt it was time to finally try something I had been thinking about for years, I decided to get myself an e-drum. Drumming was enjoyable at first, but soon I found out that I neither had the spare time, nor did I want to dedicate myself to this hobby.
I came to the realization that I just wanted to produce music, mastering instrument playing was never really at the core of my striving. With nowadays' possibilities and so many digital instrument libraries being available, so much is possible, even for those without the skills and/or the desire to actually play instruments.

How I work

I compose music digitally, I do not actually play the instruments. There is no necessity for me to record any kind of performance, I just compose my tracks in the sequencer. When developing ideas I do however occasionally usually use a midi keyboard to record small melody snippets which I then modify and use in the sequencer.

I usually start a song with the refrain, or at least a defining melody part. I don't necessarily need to have an idea where the song will be headed when I'm in the process of composing a simple melody. The ideas grow and develop over time once I add more parts, or refine existing parts. This usually happens through a lot of listening to the material I have so far. Making sound adjustments and basic mixing is integral part of this during composition.
Sometimes the starting point for the composition is a drum pattern and the lead instrument melody just comes to me naturally. Once the refrain idea is done, I usually make the part leading up to the first refrain. After the refrain I mostly face the really difficult decisions:

  • How long do I want the song to be?
  • Do I stick with the instrumentation I've got so far? Do I add more instruments?
  • Do I make the remainder of the song powerful or relaxed?
  • Do I want solos, do I want interludes?
  • How much of the parts up to here do I want to repeat?
  • Do I even make it a very unconventional song not bound by the rules of contemporary music?

If the song is in the context of an album, all these rules gain another dimension because they need to be put in context of the whole album.

Music production is generally a very iterative process for me. I usually listen to my songs endless times, not only during production, but even after production is basically finished. It takes different gear, different listening situations and different moods to perceive all aspects of your music fully. It even takes many iterations to focus on each and every instrument at a time and look for anything that might be missing, unfitting, too prominent, too obscured, or even devoid of musical purpose.
The process is very time-consuming and requires that you step back from it from time to time, because being in it so deeply can lead to a kind of "organizational blindness". It's also valuable to let friends listen to your compositions from time to time in order to get feedback through a fresh set of ears.

Overall it is a very interesting process with lots of ups and certain downs. It is certainly fun and all the more so if this fun extends to other people who enjoy your creations.