By Simon Zlystra, Reed Andary, Shep Greene, John Hart, Nick Harrison, and George Littlefield, VI Form
Original Songwriting and Recording
Editor’s Note: These reflections and recordings come from the winter St. Mark’s Saturdays course, “Songwriting and Recording.” The course, taught by Mr. Jason Eslick, covers songwriting and composition in electronic and acoustic mediums while getting students started with the art of recording and production. Students worked to come up with a recorded, mixed, and mastered final project.
Taking Songwriting and Recording has been my first experience with making and mixing digital tracks on a computer. In this course, I explored a variety of different sounds, ranging from upbeat guitar riffs to dark and ominous synthesizers. I wish I had more access to the equipment outside of class so that I could work on creating my own sounds. Towards the end of the course, I started to learn some basic chords, and looking forward, I hope to continue my digital music production with increasingly more complex sounds.
What more can I say about this class? On top of getting to help out fellow classmates learn how to make their own music and figure out an amazing program like Ableton Live 9, I also get to create my own music. Yes, it can sometimes be a struggle figuring out what I want to make and produce when I prefer playing music live, but I still have so much fun creating Ableton music. I have been able to further develop my skills with the program since Mr. Riva’s class on Digital Recording sophomore year. I loved exploring the different combinations of actual MIDI recording and samples that were pre-downloaded into the program, but most of all, I enjoy the satisfaction of creating pieces of music (whether they are good or bad) that I can call my very own. I would recommend this class to programmers at all skill levels because it is not extremely difficult to learn the program, seen from all my other classmate’s wonderful material, and it is also an amazing method of learning music creation and time-keeping. Thank you!
During this class, I have had the opportunity to learn and use professional music softwares. I have greatly improved my skills in music theory and learned the vast amount of creativity that is required to create even the simplest of songs from scratch. Although the interface was initially challenging and the choices were overwhelming, I learned to love all of the complexity that was involved. I could make the same chord sound a million different ways based on how I applied it. I loved the freedom that I had in this class as well; I did not feel like a song had to sound a certain way or that I was forced to create something that I did not completely enjoy. One suggestion I would have is to make the room more available during the week so we are not restricted to class time hours to work on our projects.
I really enjoyed this class for St. Mark’s Saturday. I came into the class not knowing too much about the production of music, and my own skills were equally unimpressive. Throughout the first few weeks, I was able to learn the basics of how to use Ableton and how to start producing music. I chose to make a new song every week because I wanted to try a plethora of different ideas instead of just try one song and master it. So, I was able to go a mile wide and an inch deep, which is exactly what I was looking for in the course. This way, I could have a variety of knowledge if I ever try to produce anything in the future. I liked my final piece because I was able to mix it and go more into depth with the song, and I want to be able to produce something like that – only better – in the future. I am getting ankle surgery next week, so maybe I can spend a little time in the studio instead of on the athletics fields this spring.
To start my final song, I decided that I wanted the song to take a sharp turn and sound completely different from the way that it sounded in the beginning. To do this, I made the beginning sound like a normal soft rock. Then, I turned it into a mash-up of different sounds that I thought would work well together. For the ending, I wanted to keep the beat going for as long as possible, but I also wanted to end with just the voice saying “What we’re telling them.” To do this, I eliminated the sounds in reverse order of how the sounds came in when they were introduced into the song. Once the song reached the final sound, I then went back to the “what we’re telling them” and had it fade out with a “them…them…them.” The songs that I had previously recorded helped me come up with ideas for this final song.
Translating the musical ideas in my mind into a cohesive sounding Ableton Live piece was by far the most challenging part of this Saturday Program. I had trouble at first using Ableton. After getting over the initial frustration, I started to learn how to mix, record, and use MIDI, even though I did not incorporate any MIDI into my final project. I would often use YouTube to search up some of my favorite songs for inspiration. To warm up on occasion, I would try to replicate some of these beats and baselines on the Ableton MIDI. This was helpful in that it forced me to synthesize someone else’s work into my own, while adding my own twists. Overall, I loved this class – by far the best thing to do during St. Mark’s Saturday Program.