Sign in to follow this  
Trapper Zoid

Composing music for a beginner: any recommendations?

Recommended Posts

I'm trying to gain skill in all areas of game development, and I'd like to try my hand at music composition. I'm pretty much a beginner at the moment; I can play keyboard a little bit (but I'm not very good), and I know the basics of making chord progressions and fitting melodies to them. At the moment, I've been playing around with finding good chord combinations on a synthesiser keyboard, as well as improving my keyboarding skills by learning traditional pieces. However, I'd like to try recording a few pieces to my computer. I could just record the sound of me playing on the keyboard, but I'm not a very good player yet and I'd like to be able to easily edit out my mistakes. I'd like some recommendations about a resonably easy way for me to be able to compose music on the computer, or be able to transfer the synth. chords (with automated rhythm and bass etc.) easily. I'm prepared to get some extra equipment or software, but my budget isn't too high for this kind of thing at the moment. What I've got at the moment: Synth. Keyboard (reasonably decent one, with MIDI cable capability). PC (Athlon 2200, Win XP/Linux), but only a crappy motherboard sound chip And of course staved manuscript, pencils, etc. Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Modplug Tracker, baby. All you need is to learn your way arond the program, and provide your own samples.

Tracker formats are very straightforward after the initial learning curve. Some people are put off by the fact that they have to provide their own samples, but its liberating. Others champion more involved trackers, but Modplug keeps some of the simplicity of the old school format in its implementation without a lot of bells and whistles.

If you're intrigued, find the forums at modplug.com and look for the new release of OpenMPT, the open source Modplug Tracker. Theres enough people active there to help with a learning curve.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'll give it a go. Is there any trick for providing your own samples, or do you just make your own from sound files? I haven't really had a look at creating samples yet, but I'd presume you'd need a separate attack, release and a connecting middle part (sustain? not sure on the terminology) for a sample.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There are a few MIDI to USB converters out there (Midi Uno and MidiSport, e.g.)... but if you're composing music on your computer, you'll probably want something better than the on-board sound chip you've got. Perhaps consider buying a mid-price sound card with MIDI input (or one of those serial joystick inputs -- you can get MIDI-in and MIDI-out to joystick adapters). I have a DMan MidiMan card which gives me RCA-in and RCA-out, along with MIDI in/out... it works well as a MIDI interface and also gives me better than decent audio recording.

I don't remember how expensive it was, but pricewatch.com is quoting $100. There are cheaper sound cards out there which might do what you want, but if you really need to spend less, I would go with the MIDI/USB solution (pricewatch says the M-Audio interface I have is $45)

Either of these solutions will let you continue to use your keyboard as an interface (which IMHO is *much* better than a mouse for music input). And the good news is, many trackers have MIDI input capability, so you could continue to learn how to use trackers while also keeping up on your keyboard practice. Even better, there is software out there that helps you practice your keyboard technique using your keyboard and a MIDI connection to your computer.

Good luck and have fun!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm a bit out of the loop on sound cards (I used to spend a bit on a decent one, but didn't bother with the computer I presently have). What should I look for in a sound card for audio/music work?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
FOr trackers, you just provide a single wave file, like a piano.
You can tweak it with attack and sustain envelopes. Its old school, not immensely versatilve, but it gets the job done very effectively.

As for a sound card, for hobbyist and simple work, something half decent like a soundblaster LIVE or an audigy will work.
A really good, affordable pro card I highly recommend is the M-Audio Audiophile 2496.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would reccommend with your PC set up...do the following.


1. Buy at least a Creative SoundBlaster Live!, or a Creative Audigity
Price: $50-$200


2. Buy FLStudio, its made for begginers, and when you get really advanced into it you can compose just about anything at any quality.
Price: $60-$250

3. Headphones are a must! its better to buy good headphones, then the best speakers
Price: $20-$100+

Total Price: $130-$550+


With that said, you should also buy a VSTi or two, I would reccomend 2 products from edirol
EDIROL: Super Quartet
EDIROL: Orchestral

Those are 2 very powerful VSTi

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
$US550 is a bit much; that's probably higher than the value of the rest of my computer! September is a pretty busy month for me, but I'll have a look around for sound cards later on once I've cleared the backlog of projects I've got. There's probably some good local deals on ebay.

I've been playing around a bit with ModPlug loading up the ScreamTracker modules from Deus Ex, and it seems pretty good! I can probably start off with that, as it will be easy to put in a basic level of interactivity within that kind of music.

This question is probably a bit too basic, but where do you get some sample instrument sounds? I'd like to find some good free ones to start off with. I've done a quick Google search, but I'm not sure what is free for use (i.e. no copyright issues). What samples do you use (even if they are expensive, I'd like to know).

By the way, is it okay copyright-wise to plug in my synthesiser keyboard and record a few notes from that to use as a sample?

And one last question, what's VSTi? Thanks! (I feel like such a newbie [smile])

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
Thanks! (I feel like such a newbie [smile])


Better to be a noob than to never have tried at all. :) Good luck with your music.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by krikkit
It is absolutely okay to sample your own synthesizer. In fact, its probably best.


Great! I wasn't sure if there was some weird copyright rule against using my synthesiser's samples, but logically it would be the same as if I recorded myself playing a piece of music using the keyboard, except the music only consists of me playing notes at different octaves [smile]. I could make a crappy synth. keyboard out of the addition of simple wave forms, but I'd need more instruments than that.

Do you guys also record your own wave samples using a microphone for your tracks? I'm probably going to have to get a mike at some stage if I want to make audio samples, but I'm not sure what to get (or where to get it, actually).

By the way, how do you know if a set of headphones is good quality or not, other than by testing them? My current headphones are way too cheap and nasty for sound work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Re: headphones - don't buy dj cans, they're not built for sound quality. you're looking at ones costing upwards of £70 (~$130) and with a decent frequency range (i.e as close to the range of a human ear as possible). Sennheiser and Pioneer are some good makes to look at. A good set of monitors are an alternative but your neighbours will hate you :D speaking from personal experience anyway.

I love trackers, here's another good one to check out: http://www.renoise.com/

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Okay man...Allow me to help out too. I am also a self-taught keyboardist and slowly worked my way up to where I am today. I want to keep it as cheap as possible for you, because I too know how it is being young and broke!

The Necessities:

A good soundcard: SoundBlaster Audigy can be bought from Wal-Mart for no more than $30. You WILL want a good one...some software do not allow you to record without upgraded software. Audigy is very awesome!

Speakers/Headphones: A 2.1 subwoofer speaker system is what I use. Get it from Wal-Mart too. Shouldn't be anymore than $25. I was always told by "professionals" that you shouldn't record with headphones, but I do a lot, though I can see why it is not recommended (it's an acoustics thing). If you use headphones, follow two rules: (1) Check for good frequency (usually on back of package). Good frequency is about 16,000 MHz - 20,000 MHz. Most will be around 18-20,000. Those are good enough. I use $20 Sony's. You should not have to pay more than $20. (2) When recording with headphones, always re-listen to your music through a set of good speakers.

OK, so far, we are looking at about $50-70. I know, it's a lot, but good recording equipment IS NOT very cheap. And we still have more to get...

More Necessities:

Recording Software: Many people have different opinions about different products. But, if you are cheap like me, you want the best deal. I would recommend Cakewalk Sonar for you. Now, prices for this software range anywhere from $40-550. DON'T PANIC! All you really need is the $40 version. Usually you will be able to find this software at a Sam Goody...if not, check out the nearest media/computer software store. Some music stores might have some too.

Okay...That's ALL the necessities you will need...but if you want to go a little further...get drumlooping software. Fruityloops is the most user-friendly looping software I know of. It might cost $30.

That's pretty much it. You might have to spend a little more than $100, but it's worth it. Oh yeah, you will also need some cables to plug your keyboard into your PC. A standard stereo cable might cost you no more than $5. A MIDI cable (that plugs into your game port) will cost quite a bit more. Mine costed about $40 or $50. You will want this, considering you want to work basically with chord progessions and MIDI performance.

So...hope that helps out. Take your time, save every penny you get, and keep learning your keyboard! Don't back out due to difficulty...always learn something new and more challenging. Just listen to some music on your CD player and learn it note by note. That's how I did it.

Most of all, enjoy doing what you do...and the money factor won't be so hard on you....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by twilight_knight
Okay man...Allow me to help out too. I am also a self-taught keyboardist and slowly worked my way up to where I am today. I want to keep it as cheap as possible for you, because I too know how it is being young and broke!


Heh, not quite so young these days (frankly, I feel ancient when reading the replies to those frequent "what is your age?" questions in the lounge).

Thanks for all your replies. I'm going to stick with Modplug Tracker to start with, and see what I can do with it, but I'll see if I can find a good pair of headphones as well. In a month or two when I've got some sample pieces finished I'll see if I need to think about getting something with a few more features.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm going to buck the trend here and say that you can do pretty much everything you need to with FLStudio. There are some great free VSTis and Soundfonts available which you can use with it, and you can stick it in keyboard mode and play happily. I used to use ModPlug Tracker, and Cakewalk, but now I don't touch the former and only use the latter for tracking audio.

Personally I also don't think that getting great headphones will matter to begin with. I admit that I have problems in that my 2:1 system and my headphones are both good for bass and treble but lack mid-range, so that what I record tends to have too many mids when I play it on a decent stereo. But that only happens when I record noisy guitars and the like, which cover a wide frequency range - it's not an issue for orchestral or keyboard pieces unless you start EQing the instruments away from the defaults. If you stick to good instrument samples and reasonable arrangements then it will sound good.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
I'm going to buck the trend here and say that you can do pretty much everything you need to with FLStudio.


I've read a lot of support here for FLStudio. How easy is it to compose with this software package?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Depends on what kind of music you're making. It's a pattern-based sequencer, so it lends itself a lot better to electronic styles than, say, sweeping orchestral music. But I'm pretty sure you CAN do any style you want... it's just a matter of perserverance and intimately knowing your software.

FL gets a bad rap from a lot of experience electronic musicians because it's default sounds are instantly recognizable in A TON of amateurish works, and illicits groans of, "ewwwww, FL defaults". Haha. But I've heard stuff done with FL that sounds great.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
I'm going to buck the trend here and say that you can do pretty much everything you need to with FLStudio.


I've read a lot of support here for FLStudio. How easy is it to compose with this software package?


As easy as you want it to be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Rain 7
Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
I've read a lot of support here for FLStudio. How easy is it to compose with this software package?


As easy as you want it to be.


I suppose I was setting myself up for such a short answer with my terse question [smile]. What I'd like to know is what features does FLStudio have that a beginner composer such as myself would appreciate over the features of a freebie sequencer such as ModPlug Tracker. Plus I've checked out their website and there's a plethora of versions and plugins available which confuses me; I'm not sure what's useful or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I like the recommendations in this post but thought I'd post my own.

SOFTWARE:
I've been using fruity loops for a few years now and I highly recommend it. It's great and easy for beginners, but also allows you the flexibility of professional equipment, plugins, recording and mastering. For the price, this program cannot be beat. They offer everything you need to get started writing complete musical pieces, along with some songs demonstrating the potential of the different modules and any new features they add. You can load up a song and start tweaking to learn yourself, or go through the excellent help files they have to learn every little aspect of the different modules. I think they even have a tutorial on how to make a song from scratch. Don't be turned off by the included song files, they aren't that great because they are using

This program is available as a free demo or about 150$ with the midrange features. Some really useful features for fruityloops are the beatslicer, soundfont player, and sytrus. Sytrus is an amazing synth.

You can grab a ton of free soundfonts and other stuff from hammersound.net (unfortunately the site is down right now but I was there yesterday).

Goldwave is good for manipulating audio samples and recording things and is also shareware.

HARDWARE:
If you have a decent computer you can get by with ANY SOUND CARD. Don't let people fool you into thinking you need a $100+ sound card. If you want to get a little more serious later on the added benefits of a pro soundcard is nice, but you don't need it as a beginner, and you may not need one for quite a while. The songs that your music software will mix down has nothing to do with your soundcard, meaning if you make a great song with onboard audio it will sound even better on an audiophiles machine. Onboard audio will work just fine, but beware that it will be heavy on your CPU and might be a tad inaccurate in reproducing the exact sound (and actually some people cant even tell the difference). There's a wonderful driver called ASIO4ALL that will allow you to use ASIO for low delay audio on any soundcard.

Well I have to leave this post prematurely because i have things to do, I hope that helps you out and if I made a mistake someone should correct me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm almost finished polishing up my first piece of music using ModPlug Tracker. I don't have any webspace at the moment for storing music, but I'm thinking about getting a GDNet+ membership in a few weeks, so I'll ask for comments about improvements then.

By the way, what types of file formats and sound quality are usually used when posting music to these forums? I can convert to Ogg Vorbis, or I could hunt down a tool for MP3 conversion. However, with high quality stereo the file size is pretty large (over 7 Mb).

Oh, and you should have warned me how addictive music composition is [smile]. I don't mind losing my reading-for-leisure and gaming time to a creative task, but now when I'm meant to be writing research papers or figuring out new algorithms I can't think clearly because there's constant clarinet solos playing in my head.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You can save to Wav...I use RazorLame to convert to MP3 sometimes, if Im doing quick and dirty I'll just export as MP3 from sound forge.

As far as -im- concerned, you can just zip up your tracker file and share it:)
I like to watch the notes fly by and I could offer some advice if I see somewhere you could improve.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this