After many years of trying, I finally found a little bit of success as a composer after 2 of my songs won some high profile awards last year. I vividly remember that it was a real struggle for me to get started all of those years ago because I was at a complete loss the first time that I actually sat down and tried to force myself to create a masterpiece from nothing – considering that I hadn’t gone through any formal song writing training. During this particular time in my life, I happened to attend a panel discussion that was put together by the local Atlanta chapter of the Recording Academy. One of the panelists shared that the secret to his award winning success is that he intensely studied great songs written by great songwriters and then kept practicing his writing skills until he was able to create his own hit songs. This is the advice that gave me some direction and helped to propel me forward.
The first halfway decent song that I wrote was an instrumental that was part acoustic instruments and part digital software instrumentation created using my MIDI keyboard. It took me almost 2 months to get it all finished, which drained me mentally. I kept telling myself that I needed to find a much better approach because I couldn’t continue to spend 2 months on every song. That just wasn’t practical. I already had a copy of the Logic Pro software, which came with a demo project that had all the instrumentation and sound clips for the song ‘The Numbers Game’ by the group Thievery Corporation (see the image below).
I grabbed a pencil and some paper, and mapped out all of the instrumentation for each measure of the song. This became the template that I later tweaked to create my song ‘Metro Sonic Groove’. It took me considerably less time to finish that song because I had a plan to follow and could quickly structure my verses, choruses and the bridge. If you ever happen to listen to my first composition ‘Reflections at Sunset’ and my later composition ‘Metro Sonic Groove’, you will definitely hear the difference that it made in my production quality when I changed my approach and started off with a written plan. This approach may not work for everyone since all artists have their own creative genius that they have to find a way to tap into, but it’s something to try if you find yourself in a rut.
The first music composition award that I won last year was for my song ‘HeartBeat’. It won an Akademia Music Award for Best Ambient/Electronica song. That song came about after I entered a Mixathon48 music producer’s competition. I was sent 5 eight-measure audio files and had to create a full song around those audio stems. Unfortunately, I didn’t win that competition, so I decided to use the parts of the song that I legally owned to create another song which later became ‘HeartBeat’. At the time of the competition, I was studying and creating a project instrumentation template from Katy Perry’s song ‘Unconditionally’. I made some modifications to that template structure in order to come up with my final award-winning product.
The second music award that I won was for my orchestral arrangement of the Christmas tune ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. I entered that song into a Radio Airplay contest, and it was selected as one of the Top 200 Holiday Songs of 2015. I made that Christmas arrangement from a project template that I created based on the television show Glee’s arrangement of the same song. I had to make some minor adjustments in that all of the vocal parts became acoustic cello or digital string parts, and that seemed to fit in well with my other instrumentation choices. I’m just happy that enough people liked it to vote it onto the top 200 list.
When it comes to music composition, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. Every composer eventually has to find the right artistic expression that truly represents who they are. I know some composers who will only use acoustic instrumentation and some who prefer to create their songs digitally. Composers who are looking for commercial mainstream success may have to make different choices than someone who’s composing for personal gratification, but we all have to start somewhere. I hope that you find my experiences useful as you pursue your own musical dreams.