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Starting a Song with a "Hidden Element"

Do you ever finish a song, and when it is said and done, you can barely even hear the sound or idea that sparked the whole track? In my latest track "Scanning" that was the case.

Producers and beatmakers often ask when looking for inspiration do you start with the melody or the drums? Well in this case I started with a live conga that on the final track you cannot even hear. It became a "hidden element." I find that when I can play a real physical instrument to start the track it gives my song a real human feel, and allows me to connect to how I feel in the moment. It doesn't even have to be a "traditional" instrument. I can just be banging on a table with a pen or something creative just to get my juices flowing and tap into a natural rhythm. On the final mix you can barely hear this percussive element, but nevertheless it is what got my beat going in the first place.

Next up I laid down parts of the song that you can hear clearly on the final mix. After the conga it was actually live hi hats. In my experience, there are lots of patterns that come out differently on real hi-hats rather than drum pads. Its the feeling of holding a stick and being able to hit anywhere on an actual cymbal. I find it tough to duplicate this feel with drum pads. This rhythmic element laid the foundation and inspiration of the beat.

After the conga and hats I added some kicks and claps. One experience I had, working as a freelance sound designer with Ableton on the sound pack Chop and Swing has given me a chance to really explore different textures of claps and kicks. Some of the kicks, claps and snaps matched the vibe of this track I was going for. Once the drums and percussion were laid down I went to the melody and harmony of the track.

For the chords and synths I started with the Roland Boutique JX-03. I love this little synth! It has a vibe that really matches my style and although its tiny there is a lot of hands on control. I started experimenting around with it and came up with the sequence that gave a unique swing and harmony. On the final mix I added Echo from Ableton Live 10 to give it added texture. Echo is a great way to add delay and reverb to your instruments. In particular I like experimenting with the ducking feature. Next up I laid down the bass from the trusted Moog Sub 37.

On the final version of the track I added a half-time part with a Chorus, and Glockenspiel. These samples helped me to add variation, feeling, and texture to the overall track.

Do you ever start a song with something that by end of it turns out completely different? There are so many ways to do this, and I find that keeping that creativity open makes music more interesting and enjoyable to create and listen to.

What are some ways you get your creativity going? What are some "Hidden Elements" in your tracks?

As usual any feedback, or questions are welcome. Salute!

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