Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Modern Composer, Pt.1: Sources of Learning and Attitude Towards

It's obvious to anyone with a computer that the resources available to the modern composer today seem vast compared to even fifteen years ago; YouTube, Google, and composer forums can make things so much easier. But please allow me to strongly recommend the books "Study of Orchestration" by Samuel Adler (it helps to buy mp3s of all the examples in the book), and "What to Listen for in Music" by the super composer Aaron Copland. These two books can be a huge help on many levels, the latter helps give you something that modern schools seem to have cheated this generation: a more conscientious appreciation of music. Such appreciation can have an immeasurably positive, inspiring effect on your own writing.

Let's get this out of the way: synthesizers have had the most profound impact on music today, bar none, like it or not. If you are deficient in your knowledge of this instrument (regardless of the genres you're looking to work within) then you are going to end up left behind. I started out as mostly a rock and heavy metal composer with some knowledge regarding the classic instruments (and electric guitar), but found myself wanting to replicate the "new" sounds I was hearing in superhero soundtracks. This led me to the revelation offered above, and from there I began intensive synth instruction. Now, I must single out the courses on ADSR as having been extremely helpful for me, the site often has very low priced specials on lessons and can be both thorough and engaging. Sometimes you have to bear with an irritating voice or three, but I believe that many of those videos will really help you on your way. Though it should go without saying, most user manuals today are truly treasure troves of information...don't let natural cantankerousness (or as my lady calls it "being a man") lead you to try flying by the seat of your pants (at least not most of the time, because breaking free of the rules is part of being a trailblazer).

One of the things I've heard people say is how they are afraid of learning a specific synth because it will make them sound too much like the person who is known for using it. This is a myth, but only if you take a significant amount of time to learn how to program the synth (not go through all the presets ad infinitum, ad nauseum) as thoroughly as possible.

Also, please learn from something I've already been through: don't either elevate your heroes on too high a pedestal, or sneeringly think you can dismiss them out of your own sense of hubris. Both approaches can lead to extreme crashes, resulting in profound disappointments in both yourself and those enshrined. Learn what you need to know to do your own thing, i.e. what you want to express as an individual. Beethoven's late string quartets and piano sonatas are widely regarded as like unto a musical autobiography of the composer's last years, they are fantastic lessons in personal expression; one could even say they are the way Beethoven immortalized his personality. Listen to those with headphones on in a very quiet room, a place where you will be undisturbed (the "Heiliger Dankesang", or third movement from opus 132, and the slow movement of the Hammerklavier taught me so much).

If you're going for the cash, fine, if the art, fine. If just the art (or a combination of the two), then know in advance that the chances of making a living off of that kind of aim today are minimal. And then make up your mind whether it's worth doing just for yourself.

Finally, never let the opinions of others unduly influence you, even if it's your hero(es). People are people, and quite a few people (even successful ones) lead very small lives in little corners (that they often cleared out themselves). They might try to have you share their little corner with them, because that's the only way they can feel bigger.

Ultimately, other's opinions are only worth the value you put into them; in general what other people think about you and your work is none of your business. I recommend only paying attention to criticism which seems constructive, weed out the wheat from the chaff, and make sure you can tell the two apart.

Take what you can use from what I've written, throw out the rest (if not all)....and FLY!