I started a segment in my podcast Composer Quest where I break down my music and give techniques and tips I learned through producing it. I’m happy to announce that these “Charlie’s Music Production Lessons” are now a mini podcast of their own. In these episodes, I give some technical audio mixing tips, but I focus more on the creative side of electronic and video game composing, in hopes that it will spark your creativity as a producer.
- Drone Variations
A common request from directors is to provide mood-setting music that doesn’t call attention to itself. One of the best ways to do this is with long, held tones. Making these drone tracks can be quick and easy, but there’s also an art to getting just the right emotional flavor. In this episode I share some of my drone variations for the film Twin Cities.
- MIDI Remix Quest
What would you do if you were given a bare-bones MIDI file, and told to fill it in with whatever sounds you want? That’s the challenge I posed to Composer Quest listeners, and in this episode we’ll get to hear from them about their experience completing our MIDI Remix Quest. You can download the full tracks on Bandcamp.
- SEGA Counterpoint
Early video game music was in some ways a revival of Baroque counterpoint. In this episode, I share one of my video game-y tracks inspired by counterpoint techniques, and inadvertently inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog.
- Surfing from A to B
What do you do when you’ve written an A section and B section that don’t quite fit together? In this episode I analyze my surf-inspired chiptune track to figure out how to smooth this transition point.
- Skydiving Payoff
To have any real emotional impact, music has to have some sort of payoff, through repeated themes, sounds, or lyrics. When you’re scoring a film, you should also keep this idea of musical payoff in mind. Where are the moments in the story when you can resolve the themes that were only hinted at earlier? In this episode, I share some examples from the skydiving documentary I just finished scoring, called Beyond the Thrill.
- Film Scoring Puzzles
When you’re scoring a film, some scenes have an obvious emotional direction to follow. Other scenes leave you with a puzzle to solve. In this episode, I break down my scoring for two of the hardest scenes to figure out in the feature film I’m working on, Twin Cities.
- Doritos Melody
How would you score a scene where a guy looks longingly at a bag of Doritos stuck in a vending machine? That was one of my recent scoring puzzles I had to solve. In this episode, I share some tips on writing an effective melody in the brief amount of time you’re given in a commercial.
- Tropical Island VGM
Video game music seems to have cliche sounds for different types of levels: ice world music, jungle world music, etc. In this episode, I talk about how I approached making a stereotypical tropical island tune for a video game, with Mario Kart 64 as my inspiration.
- MIDI Masterpiece
Sometimes you have to give yourself weird challenges to get out of your comfortable habits. In this episode, I describe a technique I’m calling visual MIDI improvisation, where I draw in MIDI notes in a visually-pleasing arrangement, without any regard for what they sound like. I also share some techniques you can use to make a listenable track out of these sketches. Blog version of this episode here.
- 7th Chords and Queen Vocals
Changing a single note in a chord can drastically alter the mood of a piece, like changing from major to minor. In this episode, I show how different types of seventh chords can give your song a different color. I also describe the technique Queen used in recording their vocal harmonies.
- From Cheese to Chiptune
Challenging yourself to re-arrange a piece of music is a good way to practice your composing skills without having to start from scratch. For this episode, I made it my goal to transform a cheesy soap opera theme into something that I’d actually want to listen to. In the end, it turned into an old-school video game track. I also did a blog post of this episode.
- Beatles Composition Techniques
If you were asked to channel The Beatles and write a new song in their style, how would you do it? That was the challenge I gave myself in creating a jingle for my patron from Liverpool, Luke Thomas. In this episode, I explain my thought process behind each layer of this Beatles-esque song.
- Experimental Effects
Sometimes you have to expand your horizons as a producer and just experiment with as many different crazy effects as possible. Here are some mixing ideas I used in a sound collage I made for one of my Composer Quest patrons.
- Guitar Layering
I often start a song idea on guitar, but sometimes I add so many layers I have to pick and choose which ones should be highlighted, and which ones should be subconscious background layers. In this episode, I talk about my process mixing a commercial soundtrack. More details in my blog post.
- Minimalist Chipsounds
When I’m composing at the piano, I often start by playing chords over and over until a melody pops into my head. In this episode, I talk about how I apply that method to a chiptune video game score. I also test out my new collection of chipsounds.
- Film Scoring with Classical Themes
Sometimes the best way to tug at people’s heartstrings through a film score is by using familiar melodies. In this episode, I talk about scoring a short film by creating new arrangements of classical themes.
- Buzzword Stock Music
I started a stock music project that was part joke, part business venture, and part musical experiment. In this episode, I break down one of my sunny, ukulele productions designed to fit a cheesy commercial.
- Producing Musical Chills
Musical chills have been on my mind lately, since I listened back to a past song of mine and got chills in the same spot I always do. In this episode, I share some of the science behind musical chills, to try and answer why this song gives me goosebumps.
- MIDI Orchestration
I just got a new orchestral sample library, and I’m really enjoying messing around with these surprisingly realistic instruments. In this episode, I share some things I’ve learned while working on an orchestral score for a new video game.
- FEZ Music Demo
I had the privilege of watching Rich Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace) give a live music production demo at Gamer’s Rhapsody. In this special CMPL episode, you’ll get to hear Rich composing a track on the fly. He shares his secret ingredients in scoring the video game FEZ: the Massive synth, with heavy amounts of reverb, bitcrushing, randomness, and tape warble. Here’s the video of this demo.
- Inside VGM Interview
This episode comes from my interview on Tom Snively’s podcast Inside Video Game Music. I thought I’d share it here, since it’s in the same spirit as my other music production lessons. In our talk, I pull apart the different layers of my video game track “Moto Hekalu.” You can find the finished track on the Star Reaction Soundtrack. To hear my full interview, visit insidevgm.com/007
- How to Chiptune
If you can create authentic-sounding chiptune music, you’ll have a leg up in the video game composing world. Plus, it’s just fun to see what you can do with very limited musical materials. In this episode, I share my first adventure in creating chiptune music. My finished song is a jingle for one of my Composer Quest patrons, Rob Waite. I also wrote a blog post with screenshots.
- Music Theory in Sound Design
I sometimes wonder how much sound designers think in terms of music theory. For example, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard microwave drones that sound like a major chord. In this episode, I talk about my own experience applying my music theory knowledge to designing some video game sound effects.
- Survival of the Fittest
As a producer, one of your main jobs is deciding when to add and when to subtract. In this episode, I explain my process of sifting through musical layers until you’re left with only the golden nuggets. The track from this episode, Kítrinos, can be found on the Star Reaction Soundtrack.
- Sidechain Compression
Sidechain compression. You may not know the term, but you’ve definitely heard the results of this technique, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years. If you’re aspiring to be a pop or dance music producer, this is going to be one of your cornerstone effects. I’d say you can find a use for sidechain compression in almost any kind of production, so I’ve dedicated this episode to explaining how it works.
One of my secret weapons in my productions is randomness. I often try to set up a system that generates random pitches and rhythms. If you’ve never tried this kind of music making, just Google “generative music,” and that should give you more info on how to get started. In this episode, I show how I use randomness in one of my video game scores. The finished track, called Glibberigwald, can be found on the Star Reaction Soundtrack.
- A MIDI Seed
How do you start an electronic track? With a synth sound? With a sample? In this episode, I talk about building a track from a single electric guitar strum.
- That Video Game Swing
Have you ever tried making a song that has both a swung section and a straight section? In this episode, I show how I gradually morphed from a swung beat to a straight beat in one of my video game scores. The finished track, called Sumendi, can be found on the Star Reaction Soundtrack.
- Ambient NASA Launch
I love making ambient music, because it feels like the equivalent of finger painting – you can smear things around by stretching out long tones and soaking them in reverb. No sound seems out of place if you bring it in gradually and keep it there for a while. In this episode, I talk about how to create tension in ambient music by holding notes longer than you think you should. Here’s my Apollo 12 video.
- Remixing Techniques
If you’re like me, you’ve probably stumbled upon a song that made you think “Hey, this would be really fun to remix.” But how do you even start a remix? In this episode I share a few of my mixing techniques to get you going.