Posts about 1st drafts of new songs and the techniques used to write them

Revenge of the Kicked [Demo]

  • Post category:Demos

Anyone that’s played Super Mario Bros. will recognize a familiar sound in this song. Except it’s not what you think. Check out the pitched percussion track that comes in at 1:00. Distorted, midrange blips played in threes. At 1:14, the higher pitched notes of this track sound like a Koopa getting kicked by Mario. For those not caught up on their 1980s gaming, you can hear the sound I’m referring to here.

The sound in the song isn’t a Koopa sample though. It’s actually a TR-808 conga sound pitched out of it’s usual range and bathed in distortion. Nonetheless, this song sounds like the Koopas have been kicked one too many times and have returned with some heavy duty reinforcements…

So there you have it – a musical instrument that sounds like a non-musical sample. Unlike my last song, which featured a non-musical sample that sounded like a musical instrument. 

Good Vibrations [Midnight Demo]

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Let’s see if this one doesn’t wiggle your mind a little bit. Listen closely to the bass. Especially at the very beginning. Or at the end, when it’s playing by itself. What does it sound like? Here’s a hint: It’s not a musical instrument. Or at least it wasn’t until the sound sample was dropped into this song and played on a keyboard. 

Do you think this song sounds a bit villainous? Akin to something like MF Czar? Different style of course, but a similar darkness? Maybe it’s just me. 

Anyway, this song is still a work in progress. If and when it gets released, you might have to identify it under a different name. 

Bitziblox [Demo]

  • Post category:Demos

We’re all just bits and blocks

doing the dance that we’ve been taught



This track caught me between a Melodies from Mars mood and listening to this playlist for hours on end.

I’ve been getting amusement lately sneaking guitar parts into songs where you’d never expect to find one. 

Experimental technique: 

      Using full drum breaks. My drum tracks usually consist of single hit samples. Or, if I use a drum break I’ll slice it to trigger one hit per pad. 

This track started by looping a tasty break. I saved the chopping for places that needed variation, like at the end of a section. Effects were also relied upon more than usual, adding further nuance to the drums. 

Takeaway lesson: 

Using a looped drum break? The earlier you lock in the rhythm and flow the better. An edit you make once in the beginning copies into future iterations as you expand the project. The same decision made later results in dozens of edits as you chase copied iterations across the project. 

Autuman [Demo]

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Autuman. Contraction. Autumn of Man. Aka Fall. Foreboding…

New techniques:

Started with a drum loop and pulsing helicopter field recording (thanks Derek). Sent those to a group and added a thick delay with heavy feedback. Printed the playback in real time while fiddling with the knobs on the effect unit. Shout out to the Song Exploder podcast with Jon Hopkins for giving me this idea.

Guitar is DI through VST Amp and delay. If you can’t set up an amp then it’s better to play around with the options available than to not incorporate guitar at all. I’m pleasantly surprised with the result here.


  • Post category:Demos

Demo posts will usually contain a new song sketch and the techniques I explored to make it.

At this stage, the song is not mixed and still a work in progress. It’s title is probably just a placeholder.

Every song is an opportunity to try something new. I hope by sharing my experimental techniques others will find creative inspiration. Sometimes one small idea, or even a slight change in perspective is all it takes to find yourself lost on another sonic adventure.

Let’s explore uncharted territories and share what we find, shall we?

Final Dungeon [Demo]

This song is the direct result of my recent field recording adventures with my brother Derek.

The sounds we recorded at the historic quarry and sculpture park have now been reorganized into music. It may well be my favorite song to date.

Take a listen to the full track below. Then, we’ll walk through a few examples of everyday sounds that were transformed to create the unique texture of this song. 

Main sound: Airplane Flyover

Derek recorded this sound sample while we were eating lunch. Check out the unedited sample in clip A, below.

Clip B is the airplane track from my demo in solo. The original sample is loaded into Cubase’s stock granular synthesizer*, Padshop.

I spread the sample across my keyboard and used a tuner to approach true pitch. However, plane flyby is characterized by ever changing pitch. So, the longer the note is held the more the pitch varies, and the more it sounds like a plane. Short notes can be tuned more accurately, and therefore sound more like an instrument. Let’s hear a few examples:

0:00: a quick arpeggio run to set the mood, a la this classic boss theme 

0:04 – 0:15: The one place the note is held long enough to recognize the original airplane sample. Compare to…

0:16 – 1:06:  These arpeggiated chords are unrecognizable from the original sample. They sound more like a haunting old keyboard.

1:06 – 1:28: Here the sound morphs into a menacing melody. It’s possible to recognize the original sample in this part now that you have heard it.

Art OMI lunch spot

*Granular synthesis can use any provided sound and turn it into something completely new. It does so by breaking down a sound into many microscopic segments. Then, these segments can be played back in varying order, speed, pitch, etc. Click here to learn more about the basics of granular synthesis.

Sound first heard at 0:06
A scraping texture, as seen recorded at Art OMI in video 3 of this post. Triggered with Padshop.

Sound first heard at 0:20
A metallic hit on an old rusty truck at the quarry (pictured, right). Triggered with Padshop. Alternate pitches can be heard starting at 1:07. A deeper pitched section starts at 1:27.

Sound first heard at 0:27
This is a sample of metal spoke hits, triggered with Padshop. Hear the original sound in videos 1 and 4 of the quarry post. Now is a good time to mention that all of these sounds have additional reverb added, but no further effects processing. Nonetheless, the result is otherworldly

C. Final Dungeon – quarry/sculpture park percusions

Experimental techniques: 

My high excitement level for this song seems to correlate directly to the amount of brand new techniques it contains. 

  • Padshop
    • My first time using this synth. Awed by the endless possibilities it presents. Will have to dig deeper, but having several instances of it in this project proved a successful start.
  • Unusually high percentage of “non-musical” sounds
    • I almost always use some oddball sample somewhere in a song. And yes, there are a couple traditional synth and tracks that come in later in the track. But, I can’t think of another song that got so much mileage out of everyday sound samples. 
  • Breakbeats in 15/8
    • A challenge if there ever was one. Drum break sliced, one hit per pad. Then drummed out on the pads, recorded in real time to the track. 
    • The decision on 15/8 timing was made at the outset of the writing process. This song just came out. It sounded cool and I was inspired to take on the challenge of an unusual time signature. 
    • The decision to add a breakbeat section came at the end. The odd timed drum breaks in this song continue to mesmerize me. Final Dungeon had already become a catch-all for my many inspirations of the moment, so why not go all in. 

Takeaway lessons: 

The challenge of using unusual sounds can be inspirational in itself. Multiply the effect by recording some new sounds yourself. Your music can’t help but be unique if you create it’s base components from scratch. 

Your satisfaction with the end result will be proportional to the amount of risks you take while writing. Of course, every additional risk you take increases the chance you won’t finish the song, or it won’t be any good by the time you do. Striking the right balance is the result of luck as much as anything. 

Writing in 15/8 is a risk. The result may sound too academic to be enjoyable. Or, you might get bogged down by the unusual rhythm and not be able to complete the song. 

Using oddball sounds is a risk. The more sounds you add, the more a song can grow apart instead of come together. Cohesion will be tested. Use of harmony will be tested. It’s often difficult bordering on impossible to tune random sounds musically. These limitations can dictate the path of your song so that it practically writes itself. They can also be so restrictive that you never get off the starting blocks. 

Again, fortune is mostly to thank. Most of the time, these things don’t fall so neatly into place. On the off chance they do, enjoy the satisfaction that follows. 

So, that's all for now...

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