Osteocephalic Getting Productive with Music

26 Stubs

This year, I set out to write 52 Tracks in 52 Weeks, which I’ve posted on another blog. I got into the habit of writing ambient tracks, which occupies my entire output so far this year. Much of that is due to the fact that I have a limited amount of time I can focus on writing a given piece of music. For me, that time limit is 45 – 60 minutes. This is problematic for my house music attempts.

So, I decided to work around this attention limitation. I started a project called 26 Stubs. A stub, in this case, isn’t the remains of a tree (although I suppose that’s one way to thing about it) or the left over part of an amputated limb. A stub is the beginning of something, in the wikipedia sense of the word.

For example:

This article on a DJ is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.

26 Stubs is a response to my inability to work on any track for more than 45 – 60 minutes without wanting to sequence it out and call it done. If a good track takes 8 – 12 hours to produce well, 45 minutes of work isn’t going to cut it. Working continuously on one track over and over will stale the track in my ears and I don’t stay excited about it.

So, here’s my 26 Stubs workflow:

  1. Create a new track in Reason or Logic. Play around with it for 45 – 60 minutes. Save “stub” without title: “Alpha Stub 2008-01-02”.
  2. Iterate through all 26 letters of the alphabet, alpha to zulu, before returning to Alpha Stub again, working on each for 45 – 60 minutes. Save this stub with an increment and a new date stamp: “Alpha Stub 2 2008-02-03”.
  3. After several iterations on a particular stub, one of two things will occur:
    1. This isn’t going anywhere. Archive this stub and start something new in its place. Once something gets archived, recycle its letter. 26 Stubs are 26 active stubs.
    2. This is almost/totally finished. Title it. Congratulations, this is no longer a stub, but an actual track. Now, it’s ready to be released and remixed.
  4. Revised Archive directory periodically to review previously discarded tracks.

I don’t see this becoming a strict “never work on anything that’s not in the 26 Stubs workflow”, but it can provide more of a focus to the perpetually scatterbrained (like me). This will make “noodling around” with software a little more productive and, potentially, result in a new track every week.

What do you think? What little tricks do you use to improve your productivity in the studio?

Building a Sample Library

I love music magazines. Every few days, when I’m walking to the train station from my office, I stop at Borders in San Francisco and see if another one of my favorite music magazines has come in. I always buy them at the news stand. Yes, I really should subscribe.

Magazines like Keyboard or Electronic Musician seem to be mostly ads. UK-based magazines, on the other hand, usually have a DVD included with a ton of samples and demo software. They also have frequent special issues that cover a particular piece of software, like Reason 4. The magazines I generally buy as soon as they come out are MusicTech, ComputerMusic, and FutureMusic.

Today, on a lark, I wandered into the Palo Alto Apple store and picked up a tiny 120 GB iomega hard drive. The samples on the DVDs that come with the magazines I always buy are utterly worthless stacked as they are on a shelf in my room.

Since I don’t make my own samples and I tend to use stock instruments in my music, I decided that it would behoove me to carry around a portable sample library, since the hard drive on my computer has about 830 megabytes free. Over the years, I think I’ve purchased seven or eight large sample collections, in addition to the 50 or 60 issues of various magazines that came with sample CDs.

Might as well include the video tutorials, right? This is a really easy way to build a cheap sample library that has patches and samples that everybody else doesn’t necessarily have. Here in the United States, there aren’t too many places that stock these particular periodicals.

The steps, I’m taking:

  1. Purchase small Firewire/USB hard drive (this one’s a little bigger than my iPod).
  2. Copy the entire samples and workshop collections, one by one, onto the new drive.
  3. Carry 100+ gigabytes of samples everywhere.
  4. Prepare Grammy speech.

How do you build your sample and patch libraries?

Resolution 2008

In January 2007, I had a mishap with my computer, which cost 12.5 gigabytes of data, including a directory on my Desktop called “Music.” You can probably guess what that contained—all of my noodly compositions from about 2001 until early 2007. After taking my computer to the recovery place, I was left with no working files. In my closet somewhere, there’s my non-working PowerBook G4 (a video card failure crashed the motherboard) with an intact drive that may have some of it.

After the catastrophic data loss, it was hard for me to write music productively. Toward the end of the year, I realized that I hadn’t really gotten significantly toward any releases. Despite having a bunch of equipment, I don’t have a productive workflow, a live performance setup, or even a recognizable style.

Near the end of the year, I decided to upgrade Reason to version 4 and Logic to Logic 8. Since I’m spending money on music software now (I’m considering upgrading Live to version 7, as well), I might as well get with the program and put some music out in 2008.

My resolution for 2008 is to try to write a track a week. Every Tuesday, I have to start a fresh new track. I can always come back and revise or remix the work of previous weeks. Not all of these tracks are going to be good, but maybe I’ll end up with my workflow. And if just 20% of those tracks are releasable, that’s an album this year.

What’s your resolution?

Introducing Osteocephalic

My name is Apollo Lee, also known in some places as Osteocephalic. I’m a classically-trained musician, who has struggled to master modern music software. It comes down to a lack of focus and discipline, which I intend to solve here. I’ve been attempting to write electronic music for a number of years. I might as well succeed this year.

This blog is about music composition, primarily using software tools and inexpensive hardware. Much of the techniques I talk about here will be very basic as I get more and more familiar with software that I have, in some cases, dabbled with for years.

My goal in doing this is to gain in-depth insight and practice in creating compelling music with various software packages, alone and in concert. I’m kind of a bonehead at some of this stuff, but that’s not going to stop me. I have numerous problems with my setup or with the things I’m trying to do musically. As I work through these issues, I might as well tell the world about it. Hopefully, someone will find something useful here.

The software in my arsenal:

The hardware in my studio:

What do I know about creating good music with this software? Not much. But, I’m gonna learn. Join me!