The route for composing a musical theme – A roller coaster of emotions

Hello there,

Today I’ll try to illustrate the route that I personally follow when it comes to create a musical theme. It varies from time to time and so do the emotions linked to the process, let me explain you why and how.

Everything begins with the need of a soundtrack for a certain purpose. In Battle Fur Bamboo, for example, a theme song was needed in order to get the user into our jungleish furry mood.
The first choice that I usually take is to decide if the soundtrack will be standing out from the context or not. Let me explain what I mean.
In Battle Fur Bamboo the game environments always point at a natural approach. To stick with this contest I would have to use a style and instruments that recall that environment such as wooden percussions, woodwinds or marimbas.
On the other hand, if I want my soundtrack to create a different mood in the user, I can choose to make it stand out using a style that’s not related to the environment. For example I can choose to compose a pumping electronic music track to make the adrenaline raise in the player.
There is not a right or wrong choice  in this phase, it just depends on the vision that someone has in mind.

The theme that I’ve composed for our game takes the first approach so natural instruments were used.
My working environment for this project is the DAW Logic X , it offers a vast library of software instruments and this allows me to experiment various solutions.
The first step that I took was to look for a simple catchy melody, just floating around my piano keyboard and playing notes.
This step was probably one of the most crucial ones since the whole song was build around this basic melody. At this point the “walzer of emotions” began.

Composing a musical theme

Composing a theme in Logic X

Composing a melody can be natural and smooth or a real nightmare. There are times when a nice melody simply flows from your hands to your ears in a pleasing way, and others when you are not satisfied within the ideas that you are putting down or you have no ideas at all. In this second case my best suggestion is to take a break, do something else for a while and then come back to the musical project. The chances of flying keyboards, flipping desks and crashing laptops are drastically higher during the unproductive periods, so it is better to stay away from those devices for a while.

When you finally will have your melody it is time to develop the rest of the musical piece around it. The structure of the song, the tempo and arrangement are all fundamental factors.
I usually work “inside the box” so I do use software instruments and digital signal processors inside my DAW, at least for this composing and preproduction stage. Later on I can decide if I have to replace certain instruments with their real recorded counterpart or not, depending on available budget and time.

When the song starts to taking its shape, it comes the time of refinements. Improving the sound of a certain instrument, giving more space to another one, harmonize one phrase and keep the song dynamic and interesting are all processes that help in achieving a good ending result. Usually, at this point, the frustration is less present, giving space to the will of creativity and experimentation. It is also better to be careful during this stage to not overcrowd the composition, in many cases less is more.

The later stage is about final refinements. Eqing some parts, while limit the dynamics on other ones or choose the right reverberation , are aspects that requires attention. My best suggestion here is to take frequent breaks to rest your ears and good teas to heal your soul.
Personally I never know when I can be completely satisfied on how a piece of music sounds, that’s why deadlines sometimes come in handy putting an end to my work.
The final sensation it is usually always gratifying and, although some songs could be prettier than others and maybe some regrets on some choices make us upset, the feeling of having created your musical piece is indescribable.

Let me know in the comments below what are your composing routines and if you have any suggestions about methods for unlocking the creativity blocks.

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