Keeping It Simple (I'm stupid)

The old adage is “KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid” and I really struggle to keep things simple anytime I make anything musically, which means I’m stupid (ha). I sometimes tend to overwhelm the spectrum with every voice I have, usually on every step. I really struggle to keep my audio simple and clean. I always tend to think more is better when in truth it never is.

How do you all approach keeping things simple? If you have a super cool sound how do you keep yourselves from placing it on every step? How does one keep themselves “minimal” when making music?

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions on helping me keep things simple, I’d really appreciate it. It’s an area I really need to grow in.

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Self-imposed limitations are brilliant for this. Try a suite of songs where you employ these restrictions en-masse. For example, I will use x and only x for bass sounds, y and only y for rhythmic content etc. This can also make work more coherent across a release.

We live in an age of maximalism, where it’s really easy to be overwhelmed by possibilities & become unproductive. Try stripping away the detritus & forcing yourself to get the most sonic output from the fewest things.

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It gives me something to shoot for. I really struggle not throwing everything in. So like you said, “self-imposed limitations” might help.

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Another great by-product of this is that you really get to know all the capabilities of equipment working this way.

There’s a real tendency in modular in particular towards accumulation. I totally get the excitement of a new shiny thing, but I personally get so much more satisfaction from a small, focused set-up that I know my way around on a deep level. Some of the walls of eurorack that I see on YouTube make me anxious just thinking about how I’d get started using them.

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I’m curious, at what point are you deciding that you’ve overwhelmed your composition? Is it after some time that you’ve decided the track is done and you’re re-listening to it? Is is something other people are pointing out?

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Same! I don’t think they use 98% of the modules when I’m hearing them perform. Ha.

I’m seriously considering getting a small skiff that I can just use to focus with. Choosing a few modules I really love!

It’s not anyone has ever said, it’s just my own personal comparison to myself after I step away. I tend to struggle finding room as I have so much sonic “stuff” going on at once. I am completely unable to understand how to use space and silence properly. It’s very much a self-recognized thing.

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Although just a hobbyist, I find myself feeling the same thing: the terror of seeing an unused module as I’m staring at 12u with a handful of patch cables. I can make things that I like to listen to as droning, generative patches in that way but that I know would not mean anything to anyone else. However, starting from the point where I say a module is responsible for part of the percussion or some melodic line, I often reflexively reach out to find something else – either to derive a new sound from what is already there, add texture, delay &c. The array of options diffuses my attention to a point where the original idea I had rapidly thermalizes. Maybe it is a sign to drastically pare the system to what I most instinctively connect with.

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The terror is real for me too! So much money just sitting there unused :wink:

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Was with an artist I’ve admired for years and working on a track together and he had just looped some drums and added a piano sample. We arranged the parts around my vocals and I grabbed some keys to add a harmonic element. He completely shut me down and said the track was done.

He was right.

There are 12 unique notes in the chromatic scale – 12 distinct affective possibilities in each moment, for each voice. The tendency to add more elements, pads that are playing 4 notes at a time, a monophonic bassline, a chorded lead, a chorded harmony, deliberately pitched drums… Actually manipulating all of those elements with any degree of intentionality requires a great deal more compositional rigor than is available to most of us. It’s orchestral (hence KAS, hence sixty person teams on every pop song, hence five year release cycles on more ambitious projects from smaller teams).

If I, as a relative layman, am fortunate enough to stumble upon a single precious moment, it would be blasphemous to hide it behind some sophomoric attempt at ‘filling space’ or demonstrating whatever sliver of musical knowledge I may posess.

On the more practical side: try recording each voice individually and arranging from there with a focus on something like a subtractive remix. Know what a song is doing and what moments are precious and divorce yourself from the notion that deleting a part is wasting all the time you spent on it. You learned so much from making it and if it no longer serves the song it must go.

Most importantantly: stop stressing about making music! Do what feels good and let the practice serve you.

(is it obvious that I’ve been struggling with this lately?)

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I love this, but don’t give those of us with knowledge of compositional rigor TOO much credit :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Love this anecdote here. It helps me see that less is often more and that artists who are confident in what they do know when something is truly done.

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I have this issue sometimes myself, and one thing that helps is just taking a break from working on the piece for a while. The longer I listen to a song I’m working on, the less aware of its subtleties I become and it starts to sound boring. I can’t remember the term for this, but it happens whenever you’re exposed to any stimulus for so long that you start to tune it out as background information. I’ll take a break, come back to listen with fresh ears, and the piece immediately sounds more interesting than before without having added anything to it. And you have to take into account that people listening to your music won’t have been sitting there listening to it over and over again for hours on end, so less will seem like more for them.

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Currently I’ve been working with the Nord Wave and two pedals - a Ditto looper and El Capistan (often as a quasi-looper in Sound on Sound mode). I think I could explore and hone my music making on this set-up for years to come.

I occasionally try to add some additional synth textures with the OP1, but I find the simplicity of the workflow and musical process to be more inspiring. I’ve often been one to try to make things “more interesting” by piling on more, but learning some restraint has been a positive experience for me.

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I really like the idea of using single synths (Alessandro Cortini style) and just diving into every sonic possibility for each!

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Right. Well, it sounds like you should try stepping away a bit more often; perhaps try adding less at a time and wait to see how things sit before taking the next step?

Others have mentioned constraints and that’s a great way of stimulating your creativity. Think about how many sounds and instruments you typically use in a track, and try to work with half as many. Listen to some of your favorite pieces of music and see how many layers they use, and emulate that.

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I tend to not use many parts in any given song, but I still usually feel like I have to fill the space. I want to get away from doing that all the time. I’m coming up with a set of keywords to guide my next album, and two of them are “sparse” and “breathe.”

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listen

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A little reverb (and delay) can go a long way :slight_smile:

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On one level I completely understand this: I think that what I produce can often get too busy.

On the other hand, density of sonic stuff in the frequency domain and close proximity of rhythmic events are just as valid a strategy as sparseness etc. If convention says leave gaps, let things breathe, then why not challenge it and go the other way.

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But a lot of reverb and delay goes further! :star_struck:

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