Intuitive Music Writing 2.0
How to write your best music under a deadline


In my last blog i talked about the business side of music, today it’s all about writing….
Being in the business that i am; writing for brands, events, product launches, commercials and
tv series i have learned to trust my musical “guts”.
Being able to write, record, mix and master a song, including the lyrics, in a record time of just 2 days, and get a happy client, is part of the daily life of a corporate composer like me.  Looking back on how i started and what i’ve learned, it all comes down to musical knowledge, taste or sometimes being able to adjust my own taste to that of the customer, the right mindset and trusting these musical “guts”.
Or maybe better words for “guts” would be
“intuition”, musical intuition!

Be intuitive when you write and do trust you first instinct. Your initial ideas are most often the best.
We sometimes lose these initial ideas by overthinking or by going into detail too soon.
You might argue that all your music is done intuitive, but
hear me out, i’m gonna take it some steps further……

 

Pitfalls!
Regarding going into detail too soon; i see this alot with my students and a conversation on school might go something like this: Student:“listen to that bassdrum, i have layered 10 kicks!” Me; Eh, well yeah, the kick sounds nice but your song sucks! ..“But, i’ve used 20 synths for this chorus part!”, eh yeah, but your song still sucks…
(And i say this with a smile of course 😉

Another pitfall can be the use of plugins when you just keep searching for a sound, going through hundreds of presets and lose many hours on that. Picking sounds should be intuitive too! Don’t waste time on all these presets. Decide fast if you need piano, strings, or whatever you need, and when finished, record or bounce these tracks to an audiotrack. Then “kill” the plugin so you won’t be able to go back easily. Again, trust you instincts, be intuitive. It will save huge amounts of time but more important it will keep the creative proces alive.

 

Be Intuitive 2.0
So, i took my “be intuitive” workflow even further
. Trusting my own musical intuition when working alone is great but what about working with other musicians in the same way?
Could this be done?
Usually when i hire musicians like hornplayers, cellists, violinists, drummers or bassplayers my track is pretty much ready and it just needs that live feel of a real and great musician. (Real instruments always win it from plugins and midi stuff imo. It is more difficult to get the sound right but it immediately is your “own” sound, where the plugin sound is being used by many, many others).
The musicians i am lucky to work with are very talented but i always have the feeling i am not using their whole talent.

So i tried something new. I asked two wonderful musicians and long time friends of mine into my studio, a drummer and a bassplayer of worldclass. I set up some nice mics and we made sure all sounded great. The kit was miced with 8 mics (kick, snare, tom1, tom2, stereo OH, room mic about 2 mtrs in front of the kit) and the bassplayer had his pedalboard with a couple of effects and a DI.
I played guitar and keys myself. All went into my UA Apollo and Protools and we were ready to go…

But, this time we had no chords, no plan, no lyrics, nothing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three of us during recording

 

All i did was call out some keywords before we started; words like “indie”, “up”, “positive vibe”, “britpoppish” etc….. and a key to play in of course! And immediately we started playing and…recording!

Yes, the first time we improvised a song in that particular style we immediately recorded the bass, drums and guitars!
How well this worked i cannot tell you in words. It was simply magic! Unbelievable!

We wrote 9 songs in one afternoon and i love them all. The groove, the feeling, the freshness, the excitement, it’s all there.What a great experience.
Very, very inspiring indeed!

So, all these tracks where one-takers! We had to write songs so we kept it simple and basic, sometimes we called out chords while playing but for the rest it was pure intuitive writing!

Roog with pedalboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rogier playing through his pedalboard

 

Keywords

I used keywords or we listened to some tracks for inspiration in a particular style.
For instance i like the Black Keys very much so we listened to some tracks of theirs very shortly. The drummer starting retuning his kit and the bassplayer took an appropriate bass and changed his pedals to get a gritty sound. And off we went… within 5 minutes a groove, a riff, some chords were found and i started ProTools.. That’s it! Done. Pure music and emotion.
(The making of the sound right at the start before recording is very, very important! When done well you don’t need eq or loads of extra time to get the sound right in the mix. So when for instance you want to sound sixties or seventies… do not use a high pitched snare or a 6-string bass. This may seem obvious but it is actually one of the most common mistakes i notice with my students when recording).

Most of these songs we recorded where over 5 minutes so later on i cut the best bits into a shorter version of 3 1/2 to 4 minutes.
I then used the same intuitive writing tools to write
lyrics.

I just started singing.. again, no plan, just me singing and improvising. I believe when you get into the music, get your mind set, then the right words will come out, pushing you intuitively into the right direction. The direction the song needs. From there i sit down with a cup of coffee and finish 90% the lyrics within an hour.

 

Remember; this is all about being intuitive and believing that your mindset and musical ability are at it’s best when challenged. This is what i believe! It makes you productive and happy. It’s like playing live with a great band, sometimes magic happens. I want to be able to recall these magic moments whenever i want and need to.

 

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

Dave playing an “unknown” kit…

 

Deadlines…………..

I love deadlines personally, i need them to perform, i need the pressure to make decisions. I believe it’s a good thing to have a deadline because it forces you to focus and do what you do best; write music! The mind set to write, the mind set to perform and do the best you can at that very moment. Being that focused and only busy creating is a beautiful thing. Addictive even..

So give yourself a deadline, make a deal with a fellow musician, make a promise and keep it.
Force yourself into writing and finish at that promised moment.

Be intuitive, trust your own ability to write and just do it!

 

SOUNDCLOUD!

I’ve put some snippets of the tracks we recorded that magical day on my soundcloud.

Remember this is a Work In Progress! Not mixed, not a finished product. All the drums, bass parts and  guitars are one-takers done without a chordsheet. It’s really the first and only time we played these notes together.

I hope i inspired some of you out there to try this also. My guess is you’ll be amazed on how much usuable creativity will come out of it.

It gives us back an old scool band feel and mixed with the modern day DAW’s it’s kinda the best of both worlds.

Link to Soundcloud: Music examples Intuitive Writing

And here are the songs all ready: Finished songs

What you need to start:

  • a (home) studio or a room where you can record live instruments
  • some mics and a DAW, headphones.. the basics to record drums, bass, guitar, keys
  • a couple of good musicians that understand the above ideas. Understand the goal you want to achieve
  • keywords or an idea of musical direction
  • no ego’s! It’s all about the songs not about difficult fills, solo’s etc.. These can be added later but only after the vocals are there!
  • You can also have a singer there and sing his ideas immediately along of course..

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Have fun!!!

Erwin Steijlen

 

About the author:

Erwin is without question the nr1 Product Launch music composer in the world. He has written and recorded music and songs in all styles for hundreds and hundreds of the biggest brands worldwide. Brands like BMW, Nike, VW, LG, Liberty Global, Geely, Bentley, Shell, Ford and many, many more. His music has been performed in over 40 countries and he has worked with acts such as Cirque du Soleil, Fedde LeGrand, Shakira and even Pink! He has written music for the Beijing Olympics, the biggest ship ever build “Pioneering Spirit” and F1 racedriver Michaal Schumacher has even danced with his car to Erwin’s music! In 2014 over 30 tv commercials on US television used his music and tv series like The Mentalist, Pretty Little Liars and Parenthood love to built their scenes to his songs. Besides being a songwriter, composer and producer Erwin teaches at the biggest dutch conservatory ArtEZ. He is also starting a new worldwide company where he will teach other composers and songwriters how to make a living with their music.