Songwriting Tips and Tricks
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Old 11-23-2016, 09:22 PM   #1
benirose
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Songwriting Tips and Tricks

I'm looking for some songwriting advice for electronic ambient/post-rock music. I often find myself writing a short part that repeats and I recognize it as a good foundation, but have a hard time building up from there. For example, I might have a four chord progression, with each chord lasting 2 bars. That's 8 bars for the progression. If it loops 4 times before moving into the next part, that's 32 bars of basically the same thing! I'll often add some subtle changes, perhaps a different hihat pattern on the 3rd time around, or start adding some reverse melody parts in. But I can't help feeling bored for others when listening back or showing it to a friend. Perhaps that is just harsh judgment on myself, since I'm happy to listen to repetitive loops in other people's music, but I'd still like to spice it up a bit. Especially when I listen to the subtle details in songs by artists like Imogen Heap or Dntel, I really feel like there's a lot of empty space.

What techniques do you use to fill your space or add some subtle layers and changes under your song foundations? In the past I've used Live's clip follow to randomly generate some glitchy stuff from my melody or drums to layer underneath, and I've also taken field recording and run them through vocoder and other effects to get some interesting background textures. I'd love hear what others are doing and get some new ideas flowing!

You can hear my latest release for reference of music style:

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Old 11-23-2016, 11:29 PM   #2
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Re: Songwriting Tips and Tricks

I'm a big fan of chord inversion. Take the top or bottom note and move it an octave down or up so that the top note is now on bottom or the bottom note is now on top. Usually, you get a new chord, but you're still in key so you don't have to touch anything else. Do that and mix it up with your rhythms and you can get quite some mileage out of just 4 or 8 chords.

I've also found I can write 16-chord progressions easily if I repeat two chords a lot. For instance I might write a progression A-B-C-D-A-B-E-F-A-B-G-H-A-B-I-J (the names are arbitrary, not proper music theory chord names). Then you can break some of those chords in half and do major-minor combos, invert some chords, whatever you like really.

I find starting with a scale in mind helps you pick chords (at least your A and B repeaters), but after that there's a million ways to justify going out of scale in music theory. You don't need to know them, you just need to know that whatever you want to do is probably covered. I'd definitely recommend trying some pentatonic scales for electronic music.
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Old 11-24-2016, 01:22 AM   #3
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Re: Songwriting Tips and Tricks

Quote:
Originally Posted by White Noise View Post
I'm a big fan of chord inversion. Take the top or bottom note and move it an octave down or up so that the top note is now on bottom or the bottom note is now on top. Usually, you get a new chord, but you're still in key so you don't have to touch anything else. Do that and mix it up with your rhythms and you can get quite some mileage out of just 4 or 8 chords.

I've also found I can write 16-chord progressions easily if I repeat two chords a lot. For instance I might write a progression A-B-C-D-A-B-E-F-A-B-G-H-A-B-I-J (the names are arbitrary, not proper music theory chord names). Then you can break some of those chords in half and do major-minor combos, invert some chords, whatever you like really.

I find starting with a scale in mind helps you pick chords (at least your A and B repeaters), but after that there's a million ways to justify going out of scale in music theory. You don't need to know them, you just need to know that whatever you want to do is probably covered. I'd definitely recommend trying some pentatonic scales for electronic music.
These are fantastic songwriting tips! Thanks so much for contributing. I'm definitely going to try out some of these.

Any ideas for filling out seemingly empty spaces? Even with some of those techniques there could still be lots of room for little accouterments that keep things from feeling too bland. Of course post-rock and ambient can definitely be done well without these things, but then I listen to other artists I like that lean more towards the electronic side and I'm just blown away by all of the one off sounds and perfectly placed layers. When I first heard all the instrumental tracks from Imogen Heap's album Ellipse, I lost my mind.



Here's another favourite.


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Old 11-24-2016, 03:29 AM   #4
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Re: Songwriting Tips and Tricks

It's an obvious one, but resampling saves the day for me quite a lot.

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