johnfn's News

Jams and Analysis

2015-06-03 15:21:41 by johnfn
Updated

Here are some nice chiptune songs I'm listening to.

Sunrise to Sunset : https://soundcloud.com/jayster6721/sunrise-to-sunset

Don't even get me started. Sunrise to Sunset may be the best chiptune song of all time. Absolutely sublime.

Jayster is just a magician. Listen to some of his other stuff : https://soundcloud.com/jayster6721/foreign-grove if you need convincing. (1:18!!!)

I wanted to talk a little more about why the song is so good, but it's hard! It reminds me of the old saying about how understanding a joke is like dissecting a frog. In the same way, I think that appreciating the theory behind the music is a bit of a frog dissection. Still... let's give it a shot.

I think one of the biggest melodic tips that all beginners eventually pick up and more experienced people know by heart is that melodies go down the first time, and maybe go up the 2nd or 4th time. This is hard to explain but easy to hear in a song. Let me direct your attention to Never Alone https://soundcloud.com/ko0x/never-alone as an example, which I'll get into even more detail on in a little bit.

Listen to the chorus melody. (Isn't it awesome?) First, notice how the 8-bar chorus is structured something like ABAC. This is one of the most common structures used - just listen to practically any pop song if you need convincing. Now, notice how the melody goes up higher in B than it does in A. The ABAC structure is really important here. Imagine if A and B were swapped so it that it was BABC. How does it sound in your head? To me, B going up higher would sound wrong without A to precede it - it's almost like A provides some sort of 'foundation' that B can then use as a launching pad. 

Hopefully this all makes sense - writing about music is hard :) Here's some more examples:

2:54 of Sushi Parlor https://soundcloud.com/xenon-odyssey/sushi-parlor starts low, second melodic repetition goes higher

1:22 of Watermelon World https://soundcloud.com/tothejazz/watermelon-world starts low, second repetition goes higher. 

We set up a foundational melody in A, and then we go higher than that foundational melody (in B or elsewhere), and that adds interest. Even if we've never thought about it before, if we've written enough music we know subconsciously that this is how music works

Or is it?!?

Let's get back to Sunrise to Sunset. Listen to 1:16 in particular. Holy crap, Jayster just blew out of a foundation that didn't even exist yet. THAT'S CHEATING! Or 1:29 or 1:33(!). 

I think this is why the song is so magical - it's sort of going against these unwritten rules that nearly every other song follows. It actually made me step back and go "have I been doing it wrong this whole time?!?" 


Never Alone https://soundcloud.com/ko0x/never-alone.

I listened to this like 100 times.

Seriously, this song annoys me because of how simple it is. It's just that dumb chorus melody glued together by a couple of lame solos. AND YET IT IS SO GOOD! Every time I hear the last 3 (and a half?) notes of the main melody I remember why. 

I was breaking down the main melody the other day and I was finding it really hard. The song has a bunch of interval jumps that were going further than I thought they were. In fact, the majority of the chorus consists of the first 3 notes of the scale, and then the final 2. It's almost always jumping straight over the middle of the scale to go from one end to the other - even though when you listen to it, it's not emphasizing those interval jumps at all. In fact, it's almost hiding them in the middle of the melody. 

I really think that that jumpy sort of melody (which does not feel jumpy in the slightest) is a big key to what makes this song so awesome. Go ahead and try to play the melody yourself. Maybe you'll learn a little! 


Other songs I like:

Teardown https://soundcloud.com/malmen-1/malmen-teardown
The vocals are a little cheesy admittedly but come on it's great.

Fakebit Love https://soundcloud.com/malmen-1/malmen-fakebit-love

I just found this one like 5 minutes ago but I'm pretty positive it's gonna be my jam.


johnfn's guide to mixing (2015)

2015-05-09 16:25:04 by johnfn

In my most recent song, I feel like I really nailed the mixing, and I wanted to write up what I did. I posted #3 on the forums, but I felt like I could expand on my process here. Here's the song. 

http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen/622648

How did I do it? 

It was not due to 1 weird trick that audio engineers don't want you to know ;-) Rather, it was the accumulation of a bunch of small things. 

1. High pass everything

Think of the frequencies in your song like an inverted pyramid, with the point of the pyramid at the bass frequencies. The lower you go on the pyramid, the fewer elements you want to be in the mix. This is why things like delay and reverb are heard mostly in the higher frequencies, and people often advise to cut out lower end of reverb, because it sounds 'muddy'. Too many things in low frequencies will make the song sound like crap. Too many things in upper frequencies will make the song sound interesting. (To a point. Do not go overboard with this advice. :)

Seriously, listen to your favorite EDM track and count the number of things you can hear in the upper range. There's probably hi hats, high ends of almost every instrument and percussion element, delay, reverb, random effects, white noise... it goes on and on. Now count the things you hear in the low end. There's bass and a kick. Not even that, but you have to sidechain the bass to the kick so that they don't overlap! (Imagine if you had to sidechain your high-end elements together. You would die before you finished a song. ;)

Alright - hopefully that was enough to convince you. But maybe you're thinking that you don't put too much stuff in the bassline, but it still sounds muddy. You might be surprised to find that almost every instrument you use has low end noise that is going to get in the way of your bass and kick and muddy up the low end (remember! only 1 thing down there!). If you don't believe me, open up your DAW and attach a spectrogram to one of the instruments and start playing around on it. You'll be surprised to see all the crap that it has going on in the low end. It's fine to have that going when the instrument is just playing by itself - it makes it sound more 'full'. But when it's playing together with your bassline, it's going to clash and sound terrible, so you should high pass it to cut out the frequencies you don't need.

2. Make your drums louder

The #1 easiest way to spot a mix by an amateur musician (not to diss on amateurs or anything! I still am one!) is to listen to how loud the drums are. Now, if the track is not supposed to be energetic, disregard this advice, but otherwise: I can guarantee that almost every beginner musician will make their drums far, far too quiet. In an energetic song, drums should be the loudest thing in the track. 

The reason that everyone gets this wrong is because no one listening to a track is paying attention to the drums! With the exception of the odd drum solo, your attention is always on the lead or the vocals. In the same way that you may not be fully conscious about the fact that it's actually the bassline of a song that gives it its fullness and weight, you might also not realize that the drums are what are giving your favorite track so much energy. When you think about it this way, drums and bassline are kind of the unsung heroes of music... (except in dnb)

Even though they're the loudest thing in a track, you probably aren't even consciously aware of them. So here's a homework assignment: Go listen to your favorite EDM song and pay attention to how loud the drums are. Maybe you can't tell how loud they are relative to the rest of the track. (I have difficulty with this as well, just because it's so hard to break that subconscious processing.) In that case, try dragging the mp3 into your DAW and opening up a spectrogram and looking for spikes when the drums are hiting. 

They're pretty loud, eh?

Alright, let's say you're convinced now. So what do you do? Well, obviously, you can just crank the gain on those suckers. Turn down the rest of your song if you have to, and make them the loudest thing in your track. Boom, you're practically done.

The other thing you can do is compress them. A guy much smarter than me told me that you should pretty much always compress your drums. It's essentially a way to get them to be even louder, still without making your song go into the red. 

Yes, people really like loud drums that much.

3. Stereo Widening

I think that one of the big successes I had in my track "Light Up" was mixing the pad rhythm to fit well with the melody line, even though they're both at the exact same frequency and should therefore technically overlap and sound terrible. Listen to e.g. 1:20. If you go and try to replicate this in your DAW, you'll almost certainly be aggravated. The pads will stomp on the melody, or they'll be unhearable.

The way that I did it was with <em>stereo widening.</em> Essentially, Ableton has this neat tool that allows you to take audio and split into two copies of itself, then pan one hard left and one hard right. If you use Ableton, it's the "Width" option in the utility. If you don't use Ableton, I believe you can replicate this by duplicating your audio channel and panning one copy to the right and one to the left by equal amounts. In Ableton, I made the width 150% (100% is default), which is probably equivalent to panning the 2 channels halfway to left or right.

This will separate the pad from the rest of the song (which is right in the middle, I'd assume). Not only will it allow the pad to live harmoniously with the melody, but it'll also make the song sound fuller because you're taking advantage of the full range from L to R.

Stereo widening is awesome.

Alright. I have even more tips I could write here, but I think that 3 is a good start for now. 



I was improvising on the piano and just came upon a really nice melody when my house-mate a story above me stomped really hard on the floor to get me to stop playing piano. I guess it *was* like 11:30 and theoretically people have work tomorrow (like me) and I was playing kinda loud :P 

https://instaud.io/6oO

It cuts off exactly when the floor stomp happened. 



http://battleofthebits.bandcamp.com/track/chipiphany

IT IS SO GOOD WOW

OMG NOW I JUST WANT TO WRITE CHIPTUNE JAZZ FOREVER!!!!

If you know of any songs that have a similar feel, send them my way! O_O


Just found this album

2014-11-09 01:35:40 by johnfn

https://soundcloud.com/fod-steve/hopeless-romantic-n163-224hz WOW BEST SONG I HAVE EVER HEARD OMG

https://fearofdark.bandcamp.com/album/motorway

SCREW WHAT I SAID BEFORE. TIME TO WRITE TONS OF CHIPTUNE.

Listen to the last track, Motorway. WHOA

Serious though, the album is pretty good. Very special for chiptune. 


Slowing down a little

2014-08-03 14:59:05 by johnfn
Updated

I've been having this problem with my music where, while I think it's fine, it's not really the kind of stuff I'd listen to (if I hadn't written it). 

So I'm taking some time to re-evaluate my style and spend more time on my tracks. I feel like I've been too caught up on a rapid write and release schedule that might have actually been damaging to my overall track quality. 

In the meantime, I want to thank you guys for all the comments on my recent tracks. It means a lot <3 

P.S. And yes I owe some people some reviews... I haven't forgotten you!


Send music of yours for me to review.

2014-06-24 23:39:12 by johnfn
Updated

I've been lazy about reviewing lately, so send me something that you want feedback on! No catches.

 

No promises about review length or sanity. 

EDIT: This may take a while. O_O


It's quiet... too quiet.

2014-04-12 14:17:02 by johnfn

You may have noticed that it's been nearly 2 weeks since I released my last song. That is way too long for me. 

I'm not dead yet. The reason for the silence is that I've started working, which means that time left over to do music is very small. This makes me sad. 

HOWEVER. 

The week before I started work, I wrote a couple of songs which I haven't released. PLUS I still have that song that I alluded to in "<3" as "much better things". So I'm going to be wrapping up those songs and submitting them over the course of the next week or two, hopefully.

I'm not really sure how I'm going to make music while also working most of my time. When I get home from work I'm usually pretty tired and not really inspired in the least to write music. I have this idea where I wake up really early and write songs but I'M REALLY BAD AT WAKING UP EARLY. So that could be hard. 

To tide you guys over, here's an older, unreleased song that I wrote. I actually consider this song to be amazing and have no clue why I never released it. So here you go :D

P.S. I am eating oatmeal and I think I accidentally spilled some oregano in it. Culinary innovations commin atchu


Free small EP of my music

2014-02-28 17:51:58 by johnfn

Link to download (it's free!): http://johnfn.bandcamp.com/album/thoughts

It's melodic and atmospheric electronica with hints of orchestral ideas. If you've been following me on Newgrounds, you've heard these pieces already, but if you haven't, here's a convenient place to download them all :) 

I called it Thoughts because I write music about what I've been thinking about. 


Today I am thankful for YOU

2014-01-31 02:34:20 by johnfn

This morning I wrapped up "starlight dreams" and submitted it and went on a run. I got back not 40 minutes later and had THREE new reviews, and there was some serious detail and thought put into writing them. This made even more amazing because I've gone on a serious spamming spree recently and I'm kind of amazed that you guys haven't gotten incredibly tired of me and gone home or something. 

And just in general, I mean, it's really awesome to have such great feedback. I remember a couple of months ago when it wasn't guaranteed that I'd get even a single review on my song, and that was honestly really depressing. It felt like shouting into a void, you know? 

You guys are great. <3