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Tech Tuesday: How does music production work?

Photo by Chloe Coffman |

February 2013 | Musicians use a variety of hardware and software technologies to produce unique music.

On April 9, rap and pop artist Drake announced the release date of his long rumored album “Views from the 6.” This will be his fourth studio album, according to theverge.com.

Throughout his career, Drake has worked with a host of artists and producers, including The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Noah Shebib and Daxz, according to the website for Complex, a pop culture magazine.

Part of what helps artists such as Drake create memorable music is the production behind it. In other words, the “beats” help a song stick out to the listener by exploring new rhythms and sounds, according to tweakheadz.com, a music production website.

The beat of a song typically covers everything in a song minus the vocals. This includes a digitally produced drum pattern, a bass line, samples from other songs and supporting orchestration such as violins or horns, according to the site.

A drum pattern can come from either a set of drum sounds readily provided by the sequencing software, or a Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) keyboard, where each key triggers a different sound, according to the site.

Default provided sounds, called audio loops, can be edited, adjusted and used in a variety of ways to achieve a unique sound. The loop can be compressed, elongated and even given different effects, according to the site.

MIDI patterns are more complex to produce, but provide more exact results. The MIDI sounds may come from a software sampler or even real instruments. The sequencing software records the sound from a key and how long it was held to create a drum pattern, according to the site.

Most hip hop and electronic songs tend to layer drum patterns, providing complex patterns for the listener and ultimately providing an enhanced listening experience, according to the site.

The bass line is a low waveform audio, meaning it is a deeper sound that is much lower and thicker, helping the vocals stand out. This is typically made with a MIDI keyboard, as the freshly produced sound is much clearer than an old bass sample, according to the site.

Supporting orchestration is made by selecting instruments that not only add layers to the song, but help the listener feel a certain groove, according to the site.

Depending on the genre or intended listening environment, orchestration can help provide a certain “feeling” to the song. For example, an R&B song might incorporate jazz guitars while a symphonic song would use many string instruments, according to the site.

The final part of the beat is sampling, where audio of pieces like drum patterns, strings and guitar chords are taken from other songs and reused in a new song, according to the site.

These samples can either be removed manually from a recorded song using sequencing programs or obtained online without having to pay royalties. Samples can help add a dimension of time to the song, according to the site.

Different pieces of hardware and software exist to help make music production simpler, such as synthesizers, samplers and sequencing software, according to the site.

Samplers are may be outfitted with sampling pads and enables the user to produce audio loops using default sounds, according to the site.

Synthesizers provide a variety of sounds to work from, allowing the user to be creative with a host of bass line and orchestral options. Vintage synthesizers can provide a unique sound to the song, while newer synthesizers can bring cleaner sound libraries to the forefront, according to the site.

The song is put together in sequencing software, with features enabling the user to move and edit loops and samples as desired to ultimately create new music, according to soundonsound.com.

Putting the beat together is a two part process. First is assembling, where the individual pieces are constructed. Second is arranging, where each piece is organized and adjusted in length for the entirety of the song, according to tweakheadz.com.

The assembling stage can be followed in any order, but it is important to keep in mind the “feeling” or groove that is desired for the song, according to the site.

In this stage, the drum pattern, bass line, orchestration and samples are compiled into eight or 16 bar patterns. Songs typically alternate between eight and 16 bar patterns, using longer patterns for periods of longer vocals, according to the site.

Arranging includes ordering and adjusting the length of each pattern, incorporating a short introduction followed by longer patterns during the chorus and verses and some alternate beats to change the pattern, according to the site.

The purpose of a song is very important to bear in mind when producing it, as it should fit its intended setting. For example, club music should be more hard-hitting while music for individual listening would be more detail oriented, according to musicradar.com.

Some producers build beats together, adding elements as the song progresses to make it more ear-catching. Adding unique sounds such as pure tones, guitar riffs, horns and even bird sounds can help add complexity to the track, according to the site.

After production and release of the song, it enters the extremely complex music industry. Some artists choose to sell their music, which can be difficult because of the ever-changing industry.

The value of a song is highly subjective. Artist Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 believes music should be free, while artists Taylor Swift and Jay Z believe artists should be paid for their work, according to the website for Pitchfork, an online music magazine.

In 2014, the United States had a revenue equal to one third of its revenue in 1999. This is despite the creation of music downloading stores such as iTunes and streaming software like Spotify, according to the site.

Pressing 1,000 vinyl singles in 1988 had the equivalent earning potential of over 13 million streams in 2012, according to Krukowski’s article for Pitchfork.

In addition, the price of an album has been steadily decreasing since 2004, losing almost $7 in value over the last decade. Further, the price of a single dropped from $5.57 in 1999 to $1.47 in 2004, and has stayed constant since then, according to the site.

While selling music may not be very lucrative, many artists make money through performances. For example, One Direction grossed $127.2 million in 2014, according to the site.

Making music at home can still be a gateway to future success, as being signed to a record label does not guarantee instant fame and success. Depending on the contract, labels might get a say in every decision a musician makes, according to sonicbids.com, a music advice website.

The average musician only makes $23.40 for every $1,000 of music sold, so a label does not guarantee a high payout to a successful artist. Further, the label may not even publish the music an artist produces, according to the site.

Despite all of this, people who make music without a label, even in their own home, may hit it big. Some artists who were discovered after making their own music include Nicki Minaj, Future, Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, according to Complex.

Artists like Chance the Rapper, Thudercat, Odd Future and MF Doom are all still independent, according to Complex.

Harshel Patel is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. He is the digital editor of The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @harshel_p.

Harshel Patel

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