Hear music. See music. Know music.
Learning how to make music is just as much about seeing as it is about hearing. For example:
You use ADSR envelopes all the time, it’s second nature at this point. But to learn how an envelope works, you probably had to see it before you heard it right?
Which is what makes these music videos equal parts fascinating AND entertaining.
From pop tropes to boring DAWs, each of these music videos take on music as their subject and explain what’s really going on…
Marianas Trench – Pop 101
We’ve all had the odd ear worm in our heads from time-to-time whether we liked it or not. Like that one you picked up from the radio while you were getting groceries last week.
They can be the audio equivalent of a pebble in your shoe, or the safety blanket you hum in moments of need.
But no matter how you feel about those all-too-familiar pop licks, it’s pretty simple to see that it’s not just an art form, it’s an art formula—Equal parts science and sound.
Ever wonder how it works? Look no further. Marianas Trench’s Pop 101 teaches you every dirty pop trick in the book… by singing you a pop song about it.
From “baby” to “bringing the beat back,” it’s all there if you care to peak behind the pop curtain…
Depressing? Maybe. Scary? Perhaps. Catchy? Absolutely.
The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar
At first glance Michel Gondry’s video for Star Guitar by the Chemical Brothers is about as boring as it comes: monotonous landscapes out the window of a moving train.
But look – and listen – again…
What you’re seeing is the train ride equivalent of your DAW‘s arrangement view.
But instead of a MIDI note for the claps, you get a light pole. Instead of a waveform for the kick, there’s a small round building. Instead of an arpeggiator line, you see smoke stacks in the distance and so on… Gondry even drew every element from the song to bring the arrangement to life.
The truth is, this video goes beyond being clever and pleasant. It’s actually a really powerful reminder to not get caught up in all those dull grey DAW tracks.
DAW views can take some of the narrative and poetry out of your tracks. So try visualizing your song as a train ride (or anything else that makes sense). It’s a great way to keep your tracks (no pun intended) human and interesting.
Daft Punk – Around The World
As if a train ride wasn’t enough, Gondry doubled down on the arrangement motif in the absolute classic video for Daft Punk’s Around The World.
Only this time we get grooving bodies instead of rusty light poles and smoke stacks.
Each element of Punk’s track gets its own squad of dancers.
The underwater bass line is represented by some stretched out breakdancers in track suits. The tumbling synths appear as synchronized swimmers. And the vocoded vocals slink along as retro-futuristic robots.
Again, this video is not just a fun dance recital, it’s also a reminder that most music is meant to create movement. And each and every part has it’s duty to move bodies this way and that.
So next time you’re crafting a bass line ask yourself “does I want it to slink? Or do I want it to bop?” These are the important decisions we overlook too often!
Wiley – Numbers in Action
In rap and grime it’s often easy to focus on JUST the beat or JUST the rhymes.
But Wiley’s video for Numbers in Action – created by Us – keeps you interested in both beat and rhyme at the same time.
By visualizing the elements of the beat using an army of Wileys, a couple of bouncing balls, and some strategically placed lines on the floor, it’s easy to see (and hear) the relationship between beat and verse.
You even get cards that tell you when a new section is starting! It’s like a catchy little text book on how to make a massive tune.
Although I must admit, even though it helps you visualize the ENTIRE song, the bouncing balls that represent the toms are especially mesmerizing…
Imaginaria – 13 More Bells and Whistles
You use VST plugins to tap into hundreds of synth sounds all the time. So composing can get pretty bizarre when you’re making some seriously alien synth sounds.
Sometimes you need to come back to reality and try to remember which instrument you’re actually trying to synthesize.
Do I need a marimba in this track? Or do I need 10 synths that sound like a space ship landing on a iceberg?
Which is why this Short Circutz animation is oddly comforting. It reminds you that if you ever need a simple bell, pipe organ or drum kit, they’re all just a synthesizer way.
Of course they’re there for you when you need a bulbous-watermelon bass line or a pink laser pointer lead sound as well…
Golden Ears Start With Golden Eyes
These music videos are perfect examples that seeing music is just as helpful as hearing it.
Next time you’re stuck on a track use visualization as an exercise to work through it.
It could be as complex as drawing a diagram for your song, or as simple as dancing to what you have already to figure out a new part (skeleton costume optional).