Gravity Ghost

Music Writing: Tech for the Creative Process

Here is esteemed music guy Ben Prunty talking about the creative process - and weirdly, he wrote it before he saw my post about Sustainable Inspiration. Some creepy telepathic shenanigans going on here.

Hello again! My last post was about as abstract as you could get on a development blog, so this week I'm going to try for something more useful to other musicians.

1) Listening to music and Evernote as a composing tool

I listen to lots of music. In lots of different genres. I have a premium subscription to Spotify and I run that into the ground. Whenever I hear something that stands out, for instance, an interesting rhythm and tempo combination, unusual chord progression, fun synth programming, or whatever small detail that catches my attention, I’ll mentally file it away. It's a kind of 'inspiration seed' to be pulled out later when I want some kind of springboard into a new track of my own.

Often this is literally filed as a short sentence in Evernote, like:

"5/4 time signature at around 180bpm, like in Floex's Casanova, makes for a good rolling, exciting rhythm."


"the chord movement in the third measure in the verse of Queen's All Dead, All Dead is really cool. Figure out how it works."

Sometimes I'll tag it with 'Gravity Ghost' so when I search for all my GG-related notes, it'll pop up as an appropriate seed. Using Evernote is almost exactly like having a giant spiral notebook with you at all times to scribble in, except you can organize everything by subject or tags and keep it in your pocket if you have an iPod touch like I do. I highly recommend using it. You can even draw in it with the right add-ons. Seriously, stop reading and just download Evernote right now (PC, Mac, iPhone/iPad). I can wait.

Here’s me using Evernote to collect images of paintings I like into a makeshift art gallery. I never stop finding new uses for the software.

2) Writing Chords and Melody

Usually the first thing I try to do is come up with the chord progression and some simple melody to make sure the chords can be tied together well. I'll sit at my sweet digital piano and bang on the keys like an angry monkey until something good emerges. A great tool to help with ideas is an iPad with the Polychord app. Bananas and fur help with the monkey part.

Give Polychord a key signature and it'll show you all the standard chords in that key, displayed as big buttons, plus all related chords as smaller buttons. When you tap a button, you hear the chord played. It's a wonderful (and dangerously, time-sappingly fun) way to experiment with new and unusual chord progressions that you wouldn't normally think of.

It also comes in black, but who would use that when you have these colors?

So I try to come up with two or three different chord progressions. Overall structure isn't too important to me at this stage. I'll come up with a simple melody or two as well. These will most likely change drastically or be discarded altogether during the production process, but it's good to have something to work with in the beginning. Hey, now I have all the building blocks with which to construct a cohesive piece of music!

3) The Gravity Ghost Instrumentation Suite

So with every project I work on, I build a small suite of instruments that will be the first things I grab when I start up a new track. I'll cull through the literally thousands of digital instruments that I have and pick out the ones that are the closest match to what I'm envisioning in my head for the feel of the soundtrack as a whole. Some of them will work and some won't. The first couple of tracks I produce will pretty much determine what goes into the suite. I'm not limited to those sounds alone, but they are a good starting point. This method does two things:

1. It helps keep a speedy and efficient production schedule. Instead of searching through all my instrumentation every single time I start a new track, I load up appropriate sounds from the suite right from the start.

2. It helps ensure that the soundtrack as a whole has a wonderfully cohesive sound.

Of course, each individual track has its own identity and needs, so I'll still be looking for new sounds all the time anyway. The best ones will get added to the suite and will most likely be used again in a future track.

A special mention must go out to Jeremiah Savage, the sound designer who developed the amazing Acoustic Refractions sound pack for Native Instruments. Acoustic Refractions has some of the most beautiful, quirky instruments, many of them built from the sounds of everyday objects. They're rich with detail and subtlety, and are infinitely customizable. Unfortunately, Acoustic Refractions was discontinued last fall with all the other Kore instruments. Regardless, when you hear the Gravity Ghost soundtrack, you'll hear much of Savage's work in my own.

In the next post I'll talk about the actual production. See you then!