From hesitant beginnings to happiness

Everyone has to start somewhere, when you create things. Something cannot come from nothing. I have learned this rather late in my life. You have to DO something: take a step, make a move, decide something, in order to create that thing you have in your mind. Or that thing that’s been bothering you and that you need to get out there. But I have also learned that this process will probably go nowhere, but that doing it will make me happy and give me great satisfaction. In this, I don’t think I am alone.

Roads to nowhere?

Looking at Armin van Buuren’s Armada Music website, I see so many artists, so many people making Trance music, who, despite the promotion they get with Armada, will probably not ever become renowned for their productions. Will their names live forever, and their songs become the soundtracks to people’s lives? Not likely. To give you some idea of the sheer number of artists who Armada Studio collaborates with: on Armin Van Buuren’s 2021 State of Trance compilation album, there are 106 songs by as many different collaborators and artists, each being between 40 seconds, and a minute-and-a-half long. That’s a very short few seconds of fame.

Who are they and what will they become?

When it became possible for people to produce music on computers, by themselves, without a studio, label or promotor, being a musician or recording artist was no longer exclusive or unattainable. Anyone could, if they had the right equipment. But making it with your bank balance in the black, and with your sanity intact, is not guaranteed.

Being an artist means that, by default, you will remain unnoticed and unsuccessful, because the opposite is so rare that it is inconceivable. When I recently watched the documentary of the massive (400,000+ attendees) fiasco that was “Woodstock ’99“, it struck me that most of those bands that were, in the day, super famous, I don’t even know at all today. Check out who played and who caused the largest outbreaks of riots – Korn? Who’s that? Creed? Don’t know a single song of theirs. Jewel? (People were holding up placards: “Marry me, Jewel”.) Seriously? Nope.

I wish someone had told me this

I wish someone had told me that if you’ve got this urge to make music or write or paint or whatever, you’d best get on with it while holding down a day job at the same time to pay the bills. Because there are just too many artists in the world and social media makes everything and everyone look the same: the size of someone’s public profile is no indicator of quality or originality. You have to have something, something different, something unique, that will last over time and set you apart.

Stepping onto a road to somewhere

In 2020, after fiddling about on Garageband since 2018, I took the drastic step of reaching out to a sound engineer for mixing and mastering services. What did I know of sound engineering? What did I know of anything to do with music production? Nothing. I hardly even grasped basic music theory. I did not even know what I did not know. But I sent off the email to Luke Garfield of Banana Llama studios, whose name amused me and whose website was friendly, and that started the whole thing that you see here on this website.

Dear Mr. Garfield – I make music using Garageband, and I have got most of my songs (all basically piano instrumentals, no vocals) up to a point where they sound more or less…”acceptable” I suppose is the right word. But something is off, and I know it’s the mixing and mastering.
I spend months listening to and fiddling with the settings and the composition but in the end, they still sound just not right. Too tinny, too complicated, too much, some tracks too loud, the melody is too thin or the backing is too dominant, or it just doesn’t blend. I don’t know how to fix these problems, or even whether they are fixable. Added to that I started with this weird inspiration that I could make songs from melodies based on JS Bach’s four-part harmonies with counterpoint. In hindsight that was maybe not such a good idea.
I am stumped by the software, the creative process and my poor knowledge of music. Those I can learn but I do not have the skills for either mixing or mastering and I do not think I can learn those.
I do not want to sell or promote the songs, or release them. I would like to share them with my family and friends once they are OK. I might want to use the songs as accompaniment to my art projects.
Hearing my songs sound the best they can would make me very happy.
Could you please give me a cost estimate of how much you would charge to remix and master 1 song in .band file format? If you need to listen to it to assess how much work is involved, please let me know, and I’ll send a file your way. Sincerely, etc.

12 Nov 2020, at 4:51 am

You’ve got to admit, that is just sad! Every word spells self-doubt. But it was a start, a step, a move – whatever. Had someone told me how difficult things would get, I may not have sent that email. Had they told me how the creative process would mess with my head, I may not have sent it.

But, as it turned out, making music makes me ridiculously happy.

Ultimately, I make these things because I think they are beautiful, because it surprises and pleases me to make something that sounds beautiful, and because it amazes me that something that was only in my head has become real. Yes, this was a small step on a road that is very likely to go nowhere, but it’s a pretty good road to be on in any case.

The first songs

As a result of this email, my very first batch of five songs was produced. One is called Ooh-Aah, because it has a lot of ooh-, aah- and mmm- type vocalizing in it. It sounds sort of primal, like howls in a jungle, and the chorus gets very dominant and heavy on the triad chords towards the end, which is why the song cover art features singing monkeys. That’s my weird sense of humour coming out.

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