Be creative with limitations
Make music challenges to focus the mind 11/27/21
Today we have a plethora of choices when it comes to music technology – thousands of amazing plugins, programs, and devices to make music just about anywhere. The scale of options, however, can sometimes cripple us. The paradox of choice is a very real thing – most noticeable in a take-out restaurant or a restaurant with a large selection of things on offer and limited time to choose before you starve.
This paradox of choice can also arise when making music, alongside a possible shade of guilt about having all the possibilities in the world and no new idea comes to mind. In the past, access to equipment, software and music creation tools was very limited, but despite everything, extremely iconic, emotional and expressive music was created. In this spirit, we will be inspired by the constraints of musical creation in the past to focus our minds, optimize our time and boost our creative potential.
To note: It may seem like an overly demanding and (perhaps painfully) restrictive challenge at first glance, but I assure you; after reaching your goal, you will gain many new perspectives for making music.
Floppy Disks / Zip Disks
It might be hard to believe, but the humble floppy has a standard storage size of 1.44MB, which means all data had to be optimized, cropped, and downsampled to fit into one. . Years later the ZIP disc came with what was then a whopping 100MB of space which eventually grew to match that of a CD-ROM (700+MB). There are now very few storage limits.
Limit the size of your song file / folder – Easy: 50 MB / Medium: 15 MB / Hard: 5 MB
All DAWs are different, so it’s necessary to define your own settings for this – you may want to consider including limits on contained samples, VST instruments, and the project folder. In most cases, MIDI notes and CCs will be tiny compared to samples, so it will be necessary to downsample your sounds. Not only will this save space, but it will also affect their tonal quality, which might just give your sound a new flavor. Alternately, use wavetables instead of samples.
Many sampler fanatics will tell you that the drum breaks were just too big to fit on floppy disks, but if you edited them, saved them, then played them on lower notes, they would fit on a record – with all of them. the lo-fi artifacts in addition to the charm. Ingenious! Artists like Pete Cannon still use this technology to a wonderful effect:
Our time here is limited; which means we all have a great motivation for a sense of urgency! With that in mind, how about limiting the creation of your tracks to a limited time? Note that Andrew Huang recently made a full album with Rob Scanlon in 12 hours – although they’re pretty much superhuman at this point, so I’m not sure that matters!
Limit your track creation time – Easy: 4 hours / Medium: 1 hour / Difficult: 30 minutes
This could be defined in terms of a week – maybe a one hour session a day to do a track, or as FACTMag‘s Against the Clock Series; go hardcore and limit yourself to 10 minutes to get something done. You’ll find that a time restriction gives you an exceptionally focused approach, prioritizing what is absolutely essential to creating a lead. Likewise, you can set a longer time goal like MATHS did in 2021 – releasing a track every month for an entire year. A video review of this process is apparently underway!
Here is FactMag’s âAgainst The Clockâ with rival consoles:
7 “discs were the standard output format for singles – with an A-side featuring the hit release and an often more experimental, free-form B-side on the reverse. The limitation of this format was that the songs were limited. to be just over 3 minutes – which is why many radio montages to date are of similar length.
Limit the length of your track – Easy: 1 minute / Medium: 2 minutes / Difficult: 3 minutes
In the modern world of ‘Tik-Tok’ we may be used to making short bursts of music of around 1 minute. In reality, while it doesn’t translate to a full version very well, it doesn’t come close to matching this particular challenge. Limit your lead to 3 minutes to say all you have to say. Many producers use the same session to follow a radio edit alongside a more extended club version – so if you like what you did you can always take it a step further.
Hear how artists like JX (now Rex the dog) created 3 minute pop hits in the ’90s with minimal elements, a strong hook, and a fairly straightforward arrangement – then compare it to the extended mix.
Music hardware has been continuously released over the past 40 to 50 years, with a huge increase in options since software joined the party. We see new synths, samplers, sequencers and more every day – but it hasn’t always been that way.
Limiting the era of production tools – Easy: Before 2010 / Medium: Before 2000 / Difficult: Before 1990
Limiting your options to a particular era is a fun and often inspiring way to make music. For example, focusing on synths (or software synths) made between 1990-1995, or the DAW of a particular year (who remembers Make waves – the software behind Daniel Bedingfield’s hit Garage-Pop ‘I have to get through this‘?). You can try to make music with stuff released until a specific point in time, or only after a specific point in time – this may not be limited to equipment, but can even be early versions of VSTs: Native Instrument Pro-53 anybody?. For the more dedicated, that means running old virtual machines and operating systems, but you’ll be surprised what still translates to. Remember, there is no time to waste!
Like Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet did for their single ‘Don’t Go’ … you can limit yourself to what’s available in 1982. Sounds pretty good to me!
Limited synths / sound sources
We’ve all been in the position of Own our only first synth – deepen it and experience the diversity of sound possibilities that are there. A lot of people have tried to make an entire track or album with a synth or gear – the youtubers took up the challenge (see below) and I myself have done it several times for it. Synth Explorer Sample Pack Range.
Limit the amount of equipment – Easy: 3 synths / Medium: 2 synths / Hard: 1 synth
Finding ways to craft bass, pads, leads, kick drums, snares, and (often a challenge if there’s no white noise) hi-hat is an extremely rewarding process – and you’ll be surprised. ingenious techniques that you offer. For an expert guide to drum design, check out the Waldorf Attack software synth manual, which details how each type of hit can be generated. Going back to a full setup after doing something like this suddenly makes your usual process infinitely easier. You will find that your sound design skills grow exponentially with this task!
Here is Cuckoo doing an entire song from the Typhoon Synthesizer.
With such a wealth of processing options available right now, we can turn a single sound into a myriad of things – bearded is known to do it with his voice alone to an astonishing effect.
Limit the number of samples – Easy: 10 Samples / Medium: 3 Samples / Hard: 1 Sample
How about taking a sample and using it to create an entire track – maybe a vocal sample or something recorded from your home? Treatment programs like Paulstretch will immediately give you a plethora of options, as well as resonant filters, pitch changes, harmonizers and downsampling (now mandatory). It might seem like an impossible challenge at first, but what better way to dive into sound design and test your skills?
Here is Yan Cook doing an entire Techno piece with a sample:
Hardware sequencers, tape recorders, and many DAW software come with a limited number of tracks and channel options. Early tape recorders had one or two recording tracks, DAWs were originally limited to 16 MIDI tracks only (no audio or VST tracks), and chip music is often limited to just 4 channels. Each of these restrictions tests our musical dexterity as well as our problem-solving skills and resourcefulness.
Limit the number of tracks – Easy: 8 slopes / Medium: 4 slopes / Difficult: 2 slopes
Try to use 4 audio tracks only; you’ll find that limited resources mean you have to think of some ingenious ways to make things work – much like smart music producers still do. For a more modern challenge, limit the number of tracks for VST instruments and nothing else! Go the extra mile and remove the option for effects sends, for minimal additional processing – or don’t apply any main channel effects.
Something not for the faint of heart – here’s DJ Scotch Egg playing live with four GameBoys at Boiler Room Berlin, while wearing a rather dashing apron!
There are therefore new approaches to inspire, refine and refresh your musical creation! Hopefully this will spark some new ideas and help you see things from a new perspective. You might want to think about limiting processing power such as CPU usage or for the more adventurous: no savings at all; render export only! Time to throw in a five minute floor fill and get your groove on just four tracks!
Do you have specific techniques to limit your musical creation?
What other limitations could inspire creativity?
About the Author [midierror]: midierror is neat Max to live devices, innovative music equipment, award-winning sample packs and welcomes a Podcast talking to people in the music business.
No more news: Like that
Even more news …