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5 song styles in 10 minutes - the challenge

A few weeks back, I had an interesting little idea.

I wondered whether it would be possible to produce five different song styles in 10 minutes - from start to finish.

Sketching one song in 10 minutes is already interesting, but creating five separate styles seemed a bit crazy at first. However, I decided to give it a go. Of course I had to plan some things beforehand (like sound choice, effects, and re-use of song elements). But in the end, the main work was the reduction of each style to its essential elements.

Without further ado, here is what I came up with:

Challenge rules

Are you ready for a nice musical challenge yourself? Then this one is for you! Here are the rules:

  • Pick five genres of your choice. No matter what.
  • Use any software and hardware you want.
  • The focus is on songwriting. You are allowed to prepare instruments and effects beforehand.
  • You have 10 minutes (no pause!) to create your five song parts.
  • You must be able to play back the result from a DAW or other sequencer.

Technically, you could simply work with premade loops here. But heeeyy.. it's a question of honour ;).

If you come up with an own video, I would love to hear from you in this KVR thread: http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=485137
Please use the hashtag #5in10 if you enter your work outside of KVR.

My own solution

If you are interested in the details, the following paragraphs will explain some of my thoughts and production choices.

The software I used

My two core software pieces are Sundog Song Studio and Ableton Live (however, any other DAW would work as well). Sundog is connected to Live via MIDI. I use the songwriting workflow of Sundog to create MIDI files that are imported to Live later on.

There are several ways to use Sundog efficiently, but I mostly work this way:

  • Decide which BPM, swing, and scale settings are interesting.
  • Create a chord progression on the Chords Page.
  • Work on the chord notes with most instruments. Use scale notes for leads (I don't do that in this challenge, but usually this is my preferred method).

Most sounds rely on presets from u-he Hive, LennarDigital Sylenth1, and Ableton Live. Other than that, only standard effects are used.

The instruments

I tried to work with instruments that could be used for as many styles as possible. This is why most sounds are rather pure and simple. The "Urban" song part is the one with the most individually used sounds. In the end, I came up with these 11 instruments:

  • Piano: Grand Piano (House, Psydub, Happycore)
  • Bass 1: Standard synth bass (House, Psydub)
  • Bass 2: Brighter than bass 1 (Trance, Happycore)
  • Pluck: Short standard pluck (House, Psydub, Trance, Happycore)
  • Pad: A broad sound for the background (Trance, Happycore)
  • FX: Some kind of "bird" noise (Psydub)
  • Synth 1: Whistling, many heights (Urban)
  • Synth 2: Deep and dark bass synth (Urban)
  • 808: Tuned 808 kick (Urban)
  • Drums: A collection of standard electronic drums (all styles)

The song styles

Here are my thoughts on the various styles - and what I did to reach my goal.

1. House

BPM: Everything from 120 to 130 BPM is absolutely fine.

Scale: The Minor scale is perfect for a relaxed, earnest, "mature" atmosphere.

Chords: Go for four note chords. They sound kinda jazzy and smooth. And they provide more colour than standard triads.

Chord instrument: A piano is a good choice. E-pianos are great for this genre as well.

Drums: The bass drum is always played four-to-the-floor. Use the full range of sixteenth positions for hihats and the ride. This is helpful to make the swing setting more obvious. The snare is played on the backbeat.

Bass: The bass line follows the bass notes of the chords. A pattern length of eight sixteenth is long enough to provide some rhythmic variation. And it's short enough to keep it danceable. Make sure to play at least one note outside the standard on-beat and off-beat positions. This will make the bass more groovy.

Pluck synth: For the sake of simplicity, play on the chord notes as well. I only use two notes on a 16 steps pattern to keep the atmosphere relaxed.

2. Psydub

We start with a copy of the "House" song part. The copy makes it possible to change just a few key things to alter the atmosphere tremendously.

BPM: 80 is enough.

Scale: C Phrygian. I didn't create a real lead melody in my video. But if I did, I would have used the scale notes of the Phrygian mode to create a mystic/oriental mood.

Chords: Simple triads, not too much variation. Stay on one bass note most of the time. In my song, the first three chords use the same bass note. This way the bass line stays calm and unobtrusive.

Chord instrument: Set the length to 4 steps and focus on the offbeat. This is one of the most important things to do if you want to create a more laidback feeling.

Pluck: Work with 16 steps, but use more notes than in the House part. I also transposed the octave a bit to change the character of the synth.

Drums: Change the bass drum pattern to sixteen steps. Delay the first beat for one quarter note. This will add to the laidback feeling. All the other drum sounds will stay the same as in the "House" song part.

FX: Let's play back an effect sound from time to time.

3. Trance

Make a copy of the "House" song part. Many of the "four to the floor" elements can be re-used for this genre.

BPM: This can be faster than House. 128 seems to be good.

Swing: We don't need a swing feeling here, set it to "Off".

Scale: The Minor scale is perfect for Trance, so leave it as it is.

Chords: The right type of triads is important. I use Sundog's Chord Mods feature to create so-called "open chords". Open chords transpose the second note one note up. This way the chords sound more airy and spacious. Bonus tip: Do a right-click on the chord buttons to transpose the chord one octave down. I do this a lot in this song part.

Chord instrument: Clear the piano field. Use a pad sound instead - and change the mode to "Full chords+". This will double the bass note of the chord one octave below as well.

Pluck: No Trance song without an arpeggio ;). Use three sixteenth slots to create a fast arp.

Bass: I work with a different bass sound here than for the House song part. Four steps are a good length to create a repeating pattern. Only the first step is empty, the other ones contain notes to create a rolling feeling. However, the focus is on the offbeat note, which has a higher volume than the other steps.

Drums: Nearly the same as in House. But remove the ride.

4. "Urban"

I wanted to create a song part here that uses elements of current Hip Hop and Trap productions. We begin with a copy of the "Psydub" song part. First, we clear all melodic and harmonic instruments and get rid of the FX sound.

BPM: Anything below 90 BPM is good I guess.

Swing: Can be a bit more subtle than in the Psydub part. 54% is nice.

Scale and chords: Same as in Psydub, as I only use chord notes here. But usually I would recommend a Minor scale for this genre.

Drums: The bass drum pattern should start on the first quarter. Other than that, the pattern is quite similar to the Psydub style.

Percussion: Fast stick and rim sounds are a staple in modern productions. Double the speed of the pattern, then work with 12 steps. 12 steps are nice, because they repeat at different positions during a 4 bar track (not only directly on the first beat of the bar, as it happens with a 16-step-pattern).

808: Tuned 808 kicks are nice, too. Use "Follow the chord notes" to play melodically on the bass note of the active chords.

"Melody": I use "Follow the chords" here. The synth patch is more or less monophonic - and accidentally resulted in a fitting melody line. Definitely a hack, but hey.. ;)

Additional melodic bass: Another deep bass sound is played melodically on the chord notes and adds to the dark atmosphere.

5. Happy Hardcore

Yeah... well, I was a huge Happy Hardcore fan in the 90ies, so I decided to add this style as well ;). I am not too happy with the final mix quality here. But this is the drawback when you use the same effect settings for a whole range of styles I guess. Start with a copy of the "Trance" part.

BPM: 180 BPM. Definitely.

Scale: A happy Major scale.

Chords: I use one of the standard chord progressions here, known from dozens of Pop songs (I - vi - IV - V). I could have used the Chord Progression Finder of Sundog as well, but working with the keyboard keys 1 - 6 - 4 - 5 was eaven quicker.

Bass: A simple offbeat bass.

Piano: "Follow the chords", but change the pattern length to 3. This creates a nice syncopated feeling.

Drums: Use a distorted kick drum. Create some rolling hihats (4 steps, the first step is empty).

Downloads

You can download the final Sundog song and the MIDI files here: http://feelyoursound.com/data/5in10-challenge.zip

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