Sep 282011

I recently read an article at the Wall Street Journal called “Better Ideas Through Failure.” In it, the writer shows a curious trend in company management to reward failure. The point is simple. The more “Epic Failures” you have, the more innovative you are. It’s not so much that you fail, but rather, it’s about learning from your mistakes.

Flash forward to the Propellerhead User Forum, where every once in a while I see a post that looks like this: How do I get out of the loop?. The OP there has not finished a song in 4 years, and everyone is jumping in to give lots of very helpful advice on how the Original Poster can break out of a clear creative block. In other words, how do we become more Creative? And how do we finish a song?

So how do we do this?

Is it through our failures? Is it through a million ideas that we can provide to a poster in a forum? How do we kick-start our creativity?

One answer comes from another quote I often use. A friend of mine once said “the best gift we can give to our children is the freedom from fear.” Think about that for a second. What would you do if you feared nothing? What if you were unafraid to fail? Would that unleash a watershed of creativity inside you? I think that’s the first step.

When you don’t fear what others think, you are unafraid to do things badly. You are unafraid to take chances and it’s at this point you are the most innovative and creative in your life. You try things out you wouldn’t normally. You regain your sense of innocence you lost somewhere between the age of 5 and 25. You become liberated.

Another thing you can do that will help you in your creativity is to become a sponge. Read up on everything and anything related to what you want to achieve. If your goal is to create a song, then learn as much as you can about sound design, mastering, routing, mixing, your genres of choice, and all genres. Listen, meditate, take it all in and increase your knowledge. Use your ears 90% of the time and then make music the other 10% of the time.

Then create a set of rules and challenge yourself. For example, here’s a recent idea I had which challenged me to create an entire song using nothing but a noise oscillator in Thor. I gave myself some limitations. I could use any number of Thor Noise Oscillators in Thor, but that could be my only sound source. I could use any number of effects I wanted. I could use any filters I wanted (though I couldn’t let them self-oscillate), but that’s it. No samples (except samples created by resampling the Noise Oscillator sounds I was creating), no loops, just that little old Noise Osc.

As soon as I did that, I set about to build up my song from the ground up, creating all the sounds as I went. I was unafraid to take chances, and I started with drums, then bass (which was extraordinarily challenging with this particular oscillator), then pads, and synths, a few little sweeps here and there. By the end of it I was building something interesting, but was it a song. Hell no. It sucked! It was an epic fail. Here. Have a listen:

Epic Fail! by Phi Sequence

So I dropped that song like a rock in a pond, and went about reassessing what I was doing. I stepped back, took a few days off, and went back to the drawing board. I asked myself what I had learned. Turns out, I learned quite a lot. I learned more about the Noise Oscillator for one thing. Secondly, forcing myself to use only the Noise Oscillator, I had created some interesting Noise Oscillator samples, I had learned what was working and what wasn’t. All of this was valuable information.

This brings up another good point: Another way we can be creative is gathering the opinions of others, not just in our wins, but ESPECIALLY in our failures. Now I already know this song does not work, so you don’t need to state the obvious, but why don’t you tell me where it fails and why, and what I can do to improve it. What would you do with it? In fact, I’ve included the song in a Reason format below, so that you can open it up, pick it apart, rework it, and make it better. Want to collaborate? Here you go.

There’s a few good parts to the song. The delay on the drums towards the end I really liked. The high pitched Synth sound seems to work well, and some of the samples I created were salvageable. As for the cons, I learned that it needs more drum variation, it’s very chaotic, without cohesive transitions, and well. . . I could go on. But instead, I decided to cut my losses and take some of the good out of the song in order to start reworking it into a new song. Enter the blank slate and new approach.

Fast forward to today. I have since tried about 4 different variations, and I’m currently working on one which I think is much better than this one. It sounds nothing like the original, and it may or may not turn into a full-blown song that I post on Soundcloud. But it’s sounding better to my ears. More importantly, for every success I feel I have, there’s many more failures. And I think you need to be open to that. It’s more important to exploring ideas, pursue challenges, know when something isn’t working and when it is, and never being afraid of that “Epic Fail.” The more experience you gain, the easier it becomes to both fail and succeed.

So to answer the original poster on the Propellerhead forum, keep at it, make lots of song attempts/sounds/loops/samples, try different approaches, take all the advice of other helpful people, collaborate, and be unafraid to fail.

If you like any of the sounds in this song, I’ve put them together into a zip file, along with the actual song here: Epic-Fail. Feel free to use them and maybe come up with your own Noise Oscillator song. If you do, please tell me about it and let me have a listen. I’d love to hear what you come up with.

Happy music making!

  10 Responses to “Epic Fail!”

  1. @Victoria,
    Thanks for your comment. I think in the end I was overthinking everything. And also, I needed to stop working on this track and move on to something entirely different. Sometimes it’s good to know when a song isn’t going the right way or the direction you want. That’s an art in and of itself. But I may revisit this and try as you are suggesting. Very much appreciated. 😉

  2. louder.Another issue might be the 0db level part. However, that one can be fact checked pttery easy by bypassing the mastering suite and check the Audio clip sign at the bottom of the rack. However, I think the first part of this double post is probably the issue that takes place. You could try to tune the subbass different and see what kind of effect that brings. That’s just the nasty part with these subtones. you need to tweak it, tweak it again until you get it right.

  3. @Rob,
    Thanks. I do like some elements of this track. I think the arrangement is the biggest “Fail” with it. Plus, I didn’t take any time to master it properly, so it is severely lacking in those respects. But some of the sounds are definitely salvageable. Thanks for the comment.

  4. I think the failure method of learning is a good one, especially in a creative pursuit like making music. Some of my favorite sounds have come from failed attempts at making something else. And I think the synth sounds that start this track are awesome! Great filtering and rhythms, and I like the glassy tone.

  5. Ces.
    Take the plunge! Put the nerves at bay. And jump in. I’m looking forward to listening to what you’ve got. 😉

  6. Hey Rob,

    When reading your reply, I was a where of doing my customary nerves giggle (FEAR).

    In fact fear has grip me this week because I’ve been thinking of Props and How I’d LOVE to become a Product Specialists (Ha ha ha)!!! Within the UK. As a female I’d bring something totally fresh with a different approach compared to what I see my male friends doing…….

    Anyway, I’ll get to grips with it and let you hear something shortly.


  7. everythingbutthegirl,
    Well if you feel brave, share your song with us. Let your voice be heard. 😉 Glad you liked the article. I personally loved that Wall Street News article. Finally, companies are understanding that it’s the creative types that feed the fuel of innovation and new ideas. So stop being afraid and let’s hear what you got girl!


  8. Hey Guys! Do you need a drummer? Thanks for the article, its so encouraging cuz I thought I’m the queen of FAIL. Can honestly say there must be only one track I’ve made I can say is …ish.

    But I’ll keep going because I no there are a lot more inside of me that need unearthing.

  9. We should all be the Kings of Failure – hey what a great name for a Rock band. hehe.

  10. I am the king of Epic Fail…but somehow, I don’t care. I write to make myself happy.

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