When you start with a song idea in your head, what's the fastest way to make it real?

I'm just starting with Live.  I've read and listened to several tutorials.  And this is what leaves me puzzled ...

Let's say I have an idea for a song in my head.  It's got drums, bass, a guitar, and maybe a sax or horn section playing.  I can hear it in my mind, and I want to get it down onto some Ableton tracks to play it through the speakers.  So I sit down in front of my computer.  Now what?  How in the world am I supposed to pick the "right" guitar or even drums to get the sound I have in my head? 

In the tutorials, it seems that many people just fool around, trying out this sound or that one until they find something they "like", and then they start building on to that with other samples they "like".  But that means you end up somewhere that you never planned.  It's fine if you a looking for inspiration, but my problem is different. 

I know exactly where I want to go - I know what I want it to sound like.  But it seems I have to become familiar with hundreds of samples, and memorize their sound in order to know which one to select to help me get there.  And until I achieve that impossible task, I am doomed to frustration - trying this sound or that one until I just happen to hit on the "right" one.

Hopefully I explained the problem clearly.  What do most people do in this (probably pretty common) situation?  Surely there is an answer to this, and I just don't know it because I have almost no experience?

53 followers

BEGINNER 2 years ago | 1 comment

21 answers

  • MatthiasSpeck1
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    Probably that sounds funny but what helped me in the same situation was just to sing the melodies and to record them with a microphone in live. You can do the same with a groove that you´ve got in your mind. Even if the recording sounds bad you will remember  the melodies if you re-open the project one week later or so. So you have all the time you´ll need to program or play the melody with the right instruments and to program the groove the way you like it.

    2 years ago | 3 comments
  • the_woof
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    I'm after pretty much the same thing you are. I've been producing for about 3 years and I feel like I'm getting closer, but it's a very slow process. You do have to learn a lot--samples, synthesizers, effects, and how they sound when you combine them. There's no way around that and only time, education, and experimentation will get you there.

    Even when you really know what you're doing, it will take time to get your song ideas (both the actual notes and the sounds playing them) to sound the way you want. This is why it's crucial to capture the idea somehow. A microphone is really useful, and so is learning basic singing skills, because you already have a very direct connection between you and your mouth. The connection with Live is the same kind of thing, but you haven't been working on it for years and years already. So use your voice and record approximations of the sounds you're looking for. If you can't sing it or voice it somehow, describe it in words as best you can. Once you do one of those things, you're no longer in danger of losing the idea. 

    Then you bring all your knowledge to bear in creating or finding the right sounds, and if you don't know how to do something, ask on a forum, look for a tutorial, or experiment with what you have. You'll get better with time, no doubt about it.

    2 years ago | 1 comment
  • Near Earth Object
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    5 votes

    When I have an idea in my head, it's usually a groove or melody. I start a new project and use some synths/midi to make the main melodies, basslines, etc. I need. The sounds don't need to be spot-on yet, but at least come close to the idea. Use a drum rack or drum plugin to make a basic rythm. This also does not have to be perfect, but should be fiiting for the style you have in mind.

    Make some custom drum racks when you have a set sounds of you like. Next time you'll have these racks ready to use right away. 

    Same thing goes for your plugin instruments; make instrument racks with your favourite instrumenst and fx so you have direct access to them when you get another idea. 

    Basic melodies and ideas can be played with a midi controller or drawn in by hand.

    I usually make simplified loops (short or long, depending on the style i'm looking for) in Live's clip screen. 

    top row; just a simple beat/rythm.

    second row; simple beat + a bassline

    and so on; I make a crude build-up and breakdown of my track, with different combinations of the basic elements. After that I record the different rows and their loops "live" to get a skeleton of my track.

    After thats the fine-tuning starts; first tweaking the sounds to fit together. Then record some tweaking of the sounds and automation.

    Add fx and one shots to bring the track to life, and add fx. 

    This takes a lot of listening and editing, but slowly you will get the result you are after.

    Still, this is only part of the process. Like someone else already wrote here; you have to become good at shaping sounds to make the idea you have in your head become real.

    Once you know how basic synthesis or sampling works, you will be able to get closer and closer to the final idea. Might be a good idea to make your own soundbanks; name different folders with the type of sounds you use. I use a sort of dropbox too; every time i run into something I think i can use, i immediately put it in the folder, so i can find it when i want to create a certain style of music.

    The key element will however always be; practice! Get to know your instruments and soundbanks, and after some time you will get the result you are after much faster.

    Sometimes the best ideas come up after simply playing around with your resources. And things that seemde like a good idea at first can evolve into something completely different, but much much better! That's exactly the greatest thing about DAW's like live; sometimes it's great to get results you were not aiming for.

    Simply put; it's a combination of knowing your sounds/instruments and a lot of practice. Probably not the answer you hoped for, but definitely the way it works :)

    2 years ago | 1 comment
  • ob1_
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    I think you may be going about this the wrong way. The skill you are talking about to create in Ableton exactly what you hear in your head would probably take many years of experience and experimentation. You are talking about a combination of sound design, composition. and production techniques. I would take a more exploratory approach.. try to break down the sounds in your head to individual little elements and get as close as you can to them with the knowledge that you currently have. You will learn techniques from tutorials and trial and error on the way that will give you more tools with which to create the sounds in your head... but getting there right out of the gate is definitely going to be a challenge. That is the beauty of producing with a DAW like Ableton. There is a lot to learn and a great reward in writing something that you are happy with.

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • lectrolee
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    I would say as far as sound design goes, rather than trying to familiarise yourself with huge sample libraries. Really learn how to program 2 or 3 different synths & really learn how to play the keyboard. Then you will understand how to create the sounds in your head. (rather than "painting by numbers" with samples)

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • danishgreg
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    Practice makes perfect,sorry, but any DAW is an instrument,that has to be learned.

    Get the idea down first,take it from there.

     

    2 years ago | 2 comments
  • adicarter
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    As long as I record the melodies, baseline and drum patterns in some form so that I don't forget them that is the main part. Providing the idea is down you can work around it (whilst learning your DAW simultaneously) at your leisure. I've been known to hum melodies into my phone's recorder before now as long as they can be saved. 

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • Freztino
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    I can also recommend learning the effect of different filters and effects, so that you can tweak your sound to what you want. Also one of the easiest ways to learn theses effect are to play around with them (as you said).

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • BEGINNER
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    Thanks to all of you for the patient and thoughtful explanations.  To summarize, I can see that it's important to try to get the song down in some form - quickly, so I don't lose it.  I have a microphone, so I can use that.  And I can hum/sing each part as a separate audio track.  Maybe the beat on the first track, melody on the second, and perhaps backup/other instruments on a third.  Then I can go back and try to duplicate each track with a "real" instrument, and add more to round out the sound.  With Ableton, I can even put sung vs. instrument tracks next to each other, to compare them.  Excellent!!! (oh yes, through it all I should be patient with myself, because it will take quite a bit of practice to get this process down ... nothing worthwhile is realized without effort)

    2 years ago | 1 comment
  • vitaminB
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    The advice here about learning your tools and instruments is very sound, and I agree wholeheartedly, but it seems too long winded a solution when that idea is burning a hole in your skull right now. There is another tried and tested way of converting your ideas into music that you may also consider... collaboration.

    Many musicians turn to producers and work together with them to break down their ideas into core elements, and then build those out into a track. Along the way, you are watching how they work and learning how the sound in your head relates to the abstraction of knobs and dials. Pretty soon you'll be able to progress by yourself and gain even more control over the process. 

    This is not a solution for everyone and finding someone on your level to work with can be a challenge. It's like forming a band, get into the communities, production forums, friends, even local or online music schools and ask.

    In the meantime, persevere; read the Live manual and play around with the software trying to copy more generic, simpler sounds that you've heard. Tweak knobs and dials and record everything. You'll sometimes find you come across a sound that reminds you of what you were looking for, more often than not you'll just be inspired by some happy accident and take off at a creative tangent ;) Enjoy and keep in touch with the community, we're looking forward to hearing what comes out of your head!

    2 years ago | 1 comment
  • ShelLuser
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    The key issue here is experience IMO. No matter what tool or DAW you use; as long as you're still a little inexperienced things will be a lot harder than when you've become more familiar with it.

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • wehkah
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    At first you need to know the content of your sound library, so you can find the sound you have in mind. A handheld recorder like zoom h1 is really cool to capture ideas. Record raw snippets of your idea in clips, so you can rearrange & play it in various combinations, i own a launchpad, its a very nice tool. At the beginning of a track its not so important to have a sound which is 100%. I tweak & mix the sounds often in the final arrangment process.

    My english isnt pefect, i know.

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • couttsben
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    Well if i've got a sound in my head, say something for Bass and it's bright and hollow sounding i know it's going to start with a Square Wave and from there i work on it. It may take a day or a week just get the sound i want and most of the time i stumble across something different to what i had in my head, but it sounds better. If you have ideas in your head figure out what the fundamental of that sound is then work your way into it. That's the way i handle things, hope this helps with your problem :)

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • noroch
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    i am relatively new to this and have been fooling around for around 5 years, advice I've been given is to write it down, this will give you focus, I myself prefer going with the flow at the moment, I do think getting involved with tutorials and playing around with synthesis is a good start, you can spend most of your time making samples, that fit around that goal, then find others, maybe  another idea is to find key words like dark, metallic etc sounds that you want and then search for sounds with those qualities or how to make sounds with those qualities. FM8 has this built in for the preset sounds, I'm unsure though as to how else it is possible than practice and searching!

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • TheTsar
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    I like to just get the idea out quickly. Instead of spending hours finding the right sound, I would go and just get the parts out in one form or another. Then go back later and fine tune the sounds till you get them how you would like. I can't say that I stick to this method every time (each session is unique in its flow) but Getting an idea out quickly and then tweaking the sounds later is the best recommendation I can give. Wish you the best of luck!

    2 years ago | 1 comment
  • pennyliquid
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    my best advice would be to let go your original idea and go with the flow. i always have melodies, riffs and leads in my mind, but i'm not a good enough instrumentalist to lay them down. i can do a basic bassline, but that's about it. so usually i get started with some loops playing in the session slots that sort of come close to the original idea i have. then i take it from there, and let these sounds inspire me to create new loops, clips and combinations. i don't stick to plan too much and just let it go, and more than once when i'm ready - the sounds i started out with are no longer part of the set. once i have laid down a raw song in the session slots, i record it into the arrangement. that's where the sound tweaking starts. effects, enveloppe automation and such. this is the time consuming part.  the end result can be totally different from the original idea, but usually the groove i had in mind for starters still is there - either on the surface or buried deep down. so unless your a gifted instrumentalist, my advice is: DON'T STICK WITH THE PLAN :)

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • robkim55
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    great ideas, try a sample of your melody on a step sequencer and then vary it a little, study the result and write some more.

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • blissman
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     I am a total beginnner and I was able to start translating songs from my head to recording within a few weeks.  The trick is the order in which you record.  You need to start with the speed of the beats you want, and I suggest laying down an initial drum track because it is much less annoying to follow then the metronome.  If you already know the chords that go with the melody, I would suggest putting those down next but I have also put the melody down and then the chords.  However, if you put the melody down just be sure you are starting in the right key, otherwise you won't be able to put the chords down.  With the beat, chords, and melody all down, you can add in the bass, and other instruments to blend in.  I have also added harmonies to the melody later.  At that point, I suggest writing this all down in whatever way is comfortable for you, and then you will probably want to start all over when you want a more serious take.

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • ELECTRIC_NEWB
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    Well what I do when I get an idea in my head, I make one pattern for each instrument and just use the first one in the list. For example: I want a guitar, so I click the first guitar instrument i can find and I make my pattern right then and there! So at first it will sound like crap but at least I will have my idea down.

    From there I can browse all the instruments and then I pick the one that sounds the closest to the sound I want (sometimes I end up with a few instruments to make the sound I was looking for).  And then I can fine tune the sound until its just how I like it (or at least pretty close...)

    Practice makes perfect. If you have all the tools you need of course!

    Hope I helped!

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • grooverb
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    If its lyric based I'm writing the lyrics down first, then sorting out the melody.. If its not it will usually be the beat first, then strongest part of the song in my head, and then I usually end up building on that, doing some really random stuff and somehow it all comes out the other end.

    2 years ago | 0 comments
  • stoersignal
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    i don`t want to disencourage you but i totally agree with ob1_.

    to really get the sound in your head into ableton (or any other DAW) it takes years of learning. Synthesis, Sampling, Mixing, Processing and the DAW itself.

    But just go on and play. ableton is the greatest tool to play with, you can have a lot of fun and get very interesting/good sounding results, even if it`s not what you hear in your head. and: get all info you can get, but please check if the source is serious.

    2 years ago | 0 comments

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