Making The Soundtrack To Kaz Ball - Part 1 

Intro 

We’re writing the soundtrack for Kaz Ball, a 5v5 ball game that takes place in space. What kind of audio production do you imagine when you hear that description? Cause I hear SCI-FI, PULSE POUNDING ACTION, ROARING ENGINES. And on top of that we got the request from the lead developer to include rebellious blues rock inspired guitars. 

All of this adds up to an intense soundtrack that fuses aggressive edm with rock. 

For the battle themes I wanted to capture 5 moments that’ll happen in the game: 

  • Ships Launch 
  • Somebody Grabs The Ball 
  • Being Ahead Or Behind In The Game 
  • Someone Ninjaing Your Ship 
  • Battle Cruiser Hull Integrity Is Critical 

Battle Theme 1 

Ships Launch 

Here’s where I included the distorted guitars. I wanted to create, in the lead developer’s own words, “the feeling that action is coming and ACTION IS HERE”. This theme is going to be something that players hear at the beginning of every match so it had to get your blood pumping right off the bat. 

Somebody Grabs The Ball 

I created a driving beat using drum samples and midi clips from the Build and Drop pack in Ableton 10. There are also chopped up samples of a bass. I had a lot of fun using the ‘Slice’ feature in Simpler for the main harmonic layer that kicks in when somebody grabs the ball. 

Being Ahead Or Behind In The Game 

There needed to be 1 motif each for being behind behind by 25% or being ahead by 25%. The motif for losing is very spacey and I put delay on the lead synth to emphasize the feeling of dragging behind. The motif for winning by contrast uses the guitar riffs established in the beginning to reaffirm that you’re bringing the action, you’re on the right course. 

Someone Ninjaing Your Ship 

When someone fires at your ship’s hull for a prolonged period of time there’s a stinger that plays informing you about it. It needed to be something attention grabbing but mysterious sounding at the same time. It’s also technically something contributes to your team losing so it needed to use an electronic element. We ended up settling on a synth melody with some pentatonic in there for added rebelliousness. 

Battle Cruiser Hull Integrity Is Critical 

Things get intense when your battle cruiser drops below 25% integrity. I ramped it up by switching to a dubstep beat with syncopated ostinato in the bass and synth. I wanted it to become especially driving once your ship goes below 5% health so I added a guitar that plays the same rhythm as everything else. I also arranged another guitar that adds to the chaos by playing double bends. 

Battle Theme 2 

Ships Launch 

I wanted it to sound like an engine starting so I chopped up a snare sample and pitched it while increasing the frequency of hits until it sounded like what I was hearing in my head. 

Somebody Grabs The Ball 

I created a driving beat using drum samples and midi clips from the Build and Drop pack in Ableton 10. There are also chopped up samples of a bass. I had a lot of fun using the ‘Slice’ feature in Simpler for the main harmonic layer that kicks in when somebody grabs the ball. 

Being Ahead Or Behind In The Game 

Both motifs had to sound exciting but convey opposite feelings. The Being Ahead motif had to activate your brain’s pleasure centres and give you a sense of accomplishment.The Behind In The Game motif still had to motivate you to move forward and fight, though. It was a bit of trial and error to write something bad-ass, sad, yet gratifying all at the same time. 

Someone Ninjaing Your Ship 

This time for the sound of someone shooting your ship’s hull I wanted it to sound like an alarm being raised. So I made an air horn type sound in Serum and pitch bent the note for maximum obnoxiousness. Somehow this turned out to be one of the most badass moments in the soundtrack. Hearing it gets you hyped and ready to gun down the enemy. 

Battle Cruiser Hull Integrity Is Critical 

Originally the bulk of Battle Theme 2 had a drum and bass beat. Things left nowhere to go though once your battle cruiser drops below 25% integrity. It needs to ramped it up in intensity. We decided to change the beat in the beginning to be a half-step beat and that solved the problem.

3 Tips to Improve Your Workflow in Ableton 

Introduction: 

I do most of my music production in Ableton Live, which I’ve been using for 6 years now. Throughout the course of learning how to use Ableton properly, I have discovered several things that have helped me to significantly improve my workflow. 

When we’re working on anything creative, efficiency is crucial. Alongside our imagination and our inventive thoughts, there is the job of putting our ideas into a concrete form. This task is typically repetitive, takes up a lot of our time, and can be fairly taxing on our stamina. Having a strong ethic will only get us so far. 

Today I will be sharing 3 tips to improve your workflow in Ableton. All of these tips can probably be applied to any other Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) so there is value in reading this article even if you’re using another software. 

Without further adieu let’s jump into it!

1: Stay organized by renaming everything! 

Renaming is as easy as selecting something to rename, pressing Ctrl+R (Cmd+R on a Mac) and typing in a new name for it. Pretty much anything in Ableton can be renamed. Tracks, instruments, clips, samples, audio effects, and the list goes on! 

Giving everything a name is a very simple and effective way of staying organized and avoiding future headaches. I find it most useful as a way to differentiate between different audio tracks, especially when I have 20+ tracks in one project. I also find it handy to give names to specific clips that are very important, such as those with a melody line or chord progression that need to be easy to spot. 

It’s CRUCIAL to change the names of instruments that we’ve modified or created, so that when we save them, they are easy to find. (You can change the names of instruments you’ve already saved by finding their directory in Ableton.) 

Get into the habit of assigning a name to everything in your project and you won’t regret it! 

2: Learn to make use of groups! 

Instrument tracks and effects can be grouped together. This can be accomplished by highlighting more than one track or effect and using the shortcut “Ctrl+G” on a PC or “Cmd+G” on a Mac. You can even group separate groups into multi-groups inception style.

Benefits of grouping instruments: 

  • Groups can be expanded and collapsed to decrease clutter. 
  • The relative volume levels of all instruments within a group can be the same while lowering the group’s overall volume. 
  • We can apply an audio effect (This beats the ordeal of adding or removing the effect from each individual instrument one by one.) 
  • The same can be said of panning an entire group left or right. 
  • Groups can be soloed or muted all at once with the click of a button. 

Benefits of grouping audio effects: 

  • Just like groups of instruments, effect racks can be expanded and collapsed. 
  • You can turn on and off entire racks instead of the tedium of turning each effect one at a time. 

3: Use your sends! 

Sends are used to route multiple audio tracks an audio effect. This saves us effort by sparing us the hassle of having to add the audio effect to each instrument individually. We can place multiple audio effects into one return track. and if we wanted to alter the effects on multiple instruments, we can just go to the return track and alter them there. This is a HUGE time saver. 

With the Intro version of Ableton Live you're allowed to create up to 2 return tracks for sending. Ableton Standard or Suite gives us the option to create up to 12 return tracks. 

Make sure that any audio effects you put into a return track are set to 100% wetness. This is because will be controlling the dryness/wetness of the effect by adjusting the sends on each instrument. This way we can make an audio effect (such as reverb, delay, saturation...etc) in a single return track give numerous outcomes for each track that it is altering. We can even dial in a send on an entire group track! 

If we were to right-click on the [Send A Dial] and choose “Enable all sends”, we would enable the ability to send return tracks to each other (or themselves). With this option on, we can create some pretty messed up effects like: reverbed delays, saturated flangers, chorused phasers...whatever your mind can think of! Careful not to feed returns back into each other or you could give yourself a headache or blow your speakers.

Because sends allow us to process all of our frequently used effects in one place, they drastically cut down on CPU and RAM consumption. This allows us to have a larger amount of highly specialized effects on individual instruments. 

Keep in mind that return tracks cannot be put into groups. But any time we have a bunch of instruments or effects that serve a similar purpose, we should definitely get into the habit of grouping them together! 

Sends are truly amazing. They save time, they save effort, and they can even optimize Ableton’s demand on a computer! 

Bonus Tip: Learn your short-cuts! 

This tip is not just specific to Ableton. But it stands to reason that if we want to be as productive as possible, we make the effort to learn most (if not all) of the short cuts in Ableton. A complete list can be found on the Ableton website.

Sharing Your Content On The Internet  

The Digital Age allows us to share our content in many different ways. From Soundcloud to Youtube and even Torrents there are a lot of possibilities out there. So which one is the best for music? 

Most musicians would like to make enough money off their music to live comfortably. Very few services allow them to earn such an amount of money though. One of those services is Youtube. Youtube is fuelled by ads that enable it to monetize videos so that content creators can reap the rewards. However, recently Youtube has developed several problems which serve as a hurdle to making a living for a content creator. First there was Adpocalypse 1, which saw a decrease of revenue from using Adblock. Then there was Adpocalypse 2, which saw advertisers pulling their money on content they deemed unsafe and offensive. Finally there is an endless brigade of lawyers sending false copyright claims. 

Unfortunately, the last point is often the most dire one - 3 copyright claims mean the end to your youtube account. Big companies like Sony treat issue DMCA takedowns like a silver bullet. Disputing them is a lengthy process for the content creator and youtube tends to take the side of  the bigger company. Even if you can prove that DMCA takedown is false, your account can still get eventually blocked due to “excessive violations”. Proving that those DMCA notices were false and trying to get your money back in court is difficult. At most you will be able to get a nearly non-existent amount of resources back. 

There are other services, such as Vimeo, but they lack concrete monetization options. You can do video on demand, which many people are not fond of, not to mention the audience of those websites is lesser than Youtube. Spotify is a big streaming music service, however even Spotify doesn’t have high payouts and competition is dire (I heard that getting into top playlists can range between 350-1500$- Per song!). 

So we are faced with 3 problems: Accessibility, Monetization, and Promotion. 

While searching for a solution to these 3 problems, I thought of decentralized networks - like Torrents. Many users use Torrents to obtain legal or illegal content. And even though Accessibility of it is still an issue, they are ultimately not very hard to use. For low-mid tier artists, Torrents can actually improve the sales of music. (http://qed.econ.queensu.ca/working_papers/papers/qed_wp_1354.pdf) 

What I tried to find is a solution that solves all 3 problems using de-centralized networks. I ended up finding https://steemit.com/ . They use blockchains and de-centralyzed networks (Similar to Torrents!) to store content and generate revenue for the creators.  One of the websites that uses this technology is https://d.tube/ . Their interface is very similar to youtube, allowing anyone to easily navigate the website. They offer video monetization based on views and likes by the means of blockchain technology. 

Moreover, because of the use of decentralized networks (meaning there is no single server), only the disapproval of the community can take down your videos, not big companies falsely throwing DMCA claims for whatever reason. Since this is a small community, promotion for an average artist should also be easier to do, at least at this point, since there is less competition - meaning more visibility from the main page. 

Of course there are downsides - registration either requires 5$ or 2 weeks waiting period to verify that you are a real person. That makes sense though, as they would want  to avoid to armies of bots that are crawling within youtube and other similar services. Also, the community is small, but hopefully is this going to remedied in the future, as similar services become more popular. 

We are going to try and post our content on https://d.tube/ and see how it goes. Hopefully we are seeing the future of the streaming websites, as monopolies such as Youtube should eventually wind down. 

We will notify you of our success (or failure) on this website, but for now looking forward to the future!

3 Tips To Improve Your Songwriting  

Introduction: 

While writing songs can be very rewarding, it can also be very tough to translate exactly what you’re feeling into words. Songwriting is a learned skill that takes patience and consistency to develop. It's a craft as much as it is an art. It requires good communication skills, the ability to make observations, and a decent amount of wit. 

Some of your songs may come out completely finished in a flash of inspiration. Others may require a difficult process that takes considerable time and effort. You should not have to count on the mood to strike you if you want to maximize your songwriting productivity. 

These three tips have helped me and countless others to write songs faster, of a better quality, and with more meaning and impact than ever before. 

1: Write every day! 

There will constantly be thoughts swimming around in your head. Take some time out of every day to put those thoughts into a tangible form that you are capable of editing. Your ideas don’t have to be world changing or mind blowing. But they provide you with themes, emotions, and experiences, all of the necessary building blocks for powerful songs. 

I spent a year between April 2013 and April 2014 trying to write a song a day. After only 4 weeks of trying to write a song a day, I was able to sit down and write a song about basically any topic that came to mind. 

During that time I came up with nearly 300 songs. Some were good, some were bad, but all of them were fruitful. The problem with writing so many songs, even after you weed out the bad ones, becomes recording them all! (But that’s a topic for a different article). 

Start off by brainstorming some thoughts. 

Soon you should find that some of your ideas jump out at you. Resonate with you. Make you feel strongly a certain way. At this point you can start trying to write the first verse of a new song. See if you can answer these questions (my own spin on the classic 5 H’s from journalism): 

  • How do you feel? 
  • Why do you feel this way? 
  • When did you start feeling this way? 
  • What’s going to change because of how you feel? 
  • Where will we notice the change? 

At this point you should have some substantial material for a song. But what if you get stuck after Verse 1? What if you can’t write the second verse or the chorus? Well it just so happens that I have a solution that works for me most of the time. 

2: Start with the ending and explain how the story got there! 

When first expressing a concept through song, we tend to focus on what we’re feeling at the moment. Another part of the story is what factors came together to create the circumstances that caused our feelings. 

Let’s say you’re feeling happy because you had a wonderful day. You can answer: 

  • How you feel (Happy) 
  • Why you feel this way (Good day) 
  • When you started feeling this way (Today after I left work) 
  • What’s going to change because of how you feel (Nothing can bring me down) 
  • Where the change will be noticed (In my smile, in the way I talk, in the way I walk) 

Now we can go back and state specific things that might have happened to us at work that made us feel this way: 

  • Got a good night’s sleep and woke before the alarm. 
  • Boss said I did good work and was excellent at my job. 
  • Went to buy groceries and paid exact change. 
  • Told someone I really liked them, now we’re going on a date 

With this exercise you should be able to create enough material for an entire song. Another benefit of doing this is that it adds specificity to your song. People love specificity because it paints a whole world for them to explore. The words you write hold the very mental meaning to the song. If they are very specific to your song, it will be that much more memorable and people will be able to recall your song long after hearing it. 

But even the most specific of lyrics can be forgotten. In order to make sure that you never forget a song that you’ve written, you are going to have to follow my next piece of advice. 

3: Keep a recording device with you at all times! 

An idea can come to you at any time and at any place. You must be prepared to take information down at all times. 

If you’re old fashioned you can carry around a note-pad and pen with you for writing down thoughts and lyrics. I would also recommend having something that can record audio with you everywhere you go. That way you can record a catchy melody if you think of one. You can also record the chords and accompaniment to your song using a guitar or a piano. 

Smartphones are the best for this! They have note taking and audio recording programs built-in. You can even use the camera on a smartphone to record a video of exactly how you’re playing your accompaniment or take a picture of something that has inspired you for future use. 

Be warned though! Data can be lost no matter what medium you use. Make sure to create back-ups regularly. Photocopied manuscripts of your songs in a safe secure place. Back-ups of your notes and audio recordings on a remote hard drive. These are all good measures for keeping your material from becoming permanently forgotten. 

Perhaps consider modern cloud storage systems like www.dropbox.com or www.box.net that allow you to store your files online, free of charge. 

Bonus Tip: Absorb as much culture as you can! 

This tip is not specific to songwriting. For all creative endeavours we need to have a basis of morals, ideals, and stories to draw inspiration from. 

A lot of these things can be done for free. See if your local library has any of these resources: 

  • Read lots of books: fiction, non-fiction, philosophy, and science. 
  • Watch movies, documentaries, and travel guides. 
  • Read articles about what’s going on in the world. 
  • Look at compilations of photos, paintings, drawings from certain time periods that shook the culture (such as this). 
  • Absorb anything that will add to your knowledge of the world and add to your ability to make meaningful connections between your lyrics.