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23 July 2015

Songwriting Samples and Effects

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Computer-Generated Instrumentation

Along with the standard instruments such as drums, bass, and guitars, most modern music also makes judicious use of samples and computer-generated instrumentation. On I Wanna, Iguana!, Kent used several effects and instruments generated from the computer.

Creating Effects

The animal sound effects on “Monkey Talk” were modified from stock sounds in our computer software library. The monkey screeches at the end of each chorus were brought in and then edited to be in time with the song tempo. Also the excited children saying “Wow!” at the beginning, middle, and end of “Goodbye Song” were also computer samples.

What is MIDI?

Besides sound effects, the computer provided many other instruments. Kent looked into recording steel drums for “Monkey Talk”, but the cost of finding steel drums and someone to play them was prohibitive. Additionally, tuning ancillary instruments such as steel drums can be a nightmare. Instead, Kent used a keyboard to “sample” the sound and play the notes he wanted on a MIDI keyboard that was much easier to record but also fully editable.

What is MIDI? Music Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is a music industry standard for communication of music data between computers, keyboards or other enabled devices.

Stringed instruments are also a challenge to record but Kent used MIDI to record the strings on “Maitland’s Meadow” and multiple layers made up of cellos, bass, violas, and violins on “Wiegenlied”.

Drum Loops and MIDI

In the songwriting process, Kent may start with just an acoustic guitar and a vocal melody. However, if a song will eventually have drum tracks, he will use drum loops to put together demos of the songs he’s writing to get an idea of what the fully produced song will sound like.

Drum loops are a component of drum software. Drum loops are MIDI versions of a drum pattern. In the program that Kent uses, the drum loops were initially played by a live drummer and then converted to MIDI. By converting the drum patterns to MIDI, the drum loops can be edited and swapped with unlimited drum kit sounds. The bass drum uses one note, the snare another, the toms and cymbals, etc. This allows you to try completely different drum sets with the click of a button without having to record each percussion instrument separately. MIDI also allows you to set whatever tempo you want and the drums will be perfectly in sync.

Creating Demos

By choosing the drum rhythms that match what Kent hears for the song, he can then play along with the created drum track and record the bass, guitars, and vocals (and other MIDI tracks) to create the rough demo of what the final song will sound like. This makes it easy to provide a sound recording demo to session musicians so they can learn the song to play for the recording session as well as giving the mixing engineer an idea of the general direction to go when mixing the song.


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