The Most Common Tracking Mistakes v2.0
by Fredrik "Eagle" Larsson
Once being an active reviewer back in 2006, I came across a lot of clearly unintentional pit-falls that were made by less experienced trackers new to the scene. Music is a wonderful thing, but it is easy to also make it unpleasant. In order to learn from your mistakes, you need to be aware of them in order to improve. This is the reason I have listed the ten most common mistakes that I have found. Read and learn.#1 - Being stuck with a single theme without development/laziness.
Let's face it. Often, as you compose, you will create a theme which may sound wonderful! The problem is when you build your entire song on this single idea without developing on it and moving away from it, it will sound monotone and actually quite boring.
Minimalism can be intentional (and even a whole genre!), but variation in not only arrangement but in composition, melody, sound and dynamics is the key to an interesting song. Allow yourself to be creative!#2 - Off-key and off-tune. *shivers*
Some can hear it, some cannot. If you have ever felt something sounds horrible without being able to put your finger on what - most likely the tune is off-tune or even off-key. Whichever is the case for you, always tune your instruments or samples before composing with them.
A simple way to tune things would be to play two samples at the same tone simultaneously and listen to whether they interfere with each other. Tune them manually until they play the same tone at the same key. Also try some common accords with 2 or 3 samples like C-major (C, E, G) and see if they sound like they should as when you play the chord with only one sample. For other methods, look for guides on the forums or ask around. There's plenty of good ways.#3 - Got a little bit off-beat, mister drummer?
Imagine the following sequence to be the sound of a ticking metronome.
Hear anything that seems wrong? There are ways to experiment with rhythms and you can create very odd beats. However, whenever you make a song with an odd rhythm, it should at least be consistent throughout most major parts of the song.
The variation of different beats could possibly create interesting effects, but if your song is just random, it will sound like random noise and not a song - I suppose a song is what you intend to achieve?#4 - Forgetting to fill out the sound spectrum.
As a beginner, you may not be aware of what the term "sound spectrum" means, so I will make it simple for you. Every sound consists of waves with different wave lengths. A long wave has low frequency and creates a bass sound which typically sounds like "ooom". A short wave with high frequency has a fizzy sound or lean towards a flute. And then there's the mid-frequencies like a guitar.
The more you mix instruments with different frequency levels, the fuller your sound is. Listen in your headphones and hear how they compliment each other or how empty it can feel if you, for example, forget to add bass - which many does.#5 - Missing to pay attention to dynamics and sound levels.
Dynamics and panning may come in second hand, but is just as important a tool to achieve superb effects. You may also want to pay attention to how the volume of different instruments compliment each other. If a pitchy instrument is too loud it will hurt your ears, too loud a bass may give you too much bass and too much mid-frequency things can crack your speakers and drench your songs.
Balance the volume of every different part of your song so that it creates a pleasing effect. Panning helps creating interesting effects and the changes in volume (dynamics) can create more interesting effects than all the vibrato, glissando can do together. For example you could expressing the feeling of being tense by using or nervous by putting tremolo on a string or use a loud orchestra hit for toning that something just happened. The possibilities are many.#6 - Finishing a song just for the sake of finishing.
Sometimes as a composer, you will run out of ideas especially as you are about to finish your song. If you don't know how to incorporate an ending, maybe you have already gotten stuck in the pitfall I explained in mistake #1?
Otherwise, there's plenty of way to finish a song. You can always ask someone experienced for a little help on suggestions or you can think it over as you sleep. Just make sure you have a methodical strategy so you can achieve the effect that you want.#7 - Staring too much on the effect column.
Effects can be used to create something that sounds awesome through clever but technically simple means. However, I sometimes come across those who consider effects as the one and only mean to create a good song.
It's not the amount of effects you use that make something sound good, it is how you use them.#8 - Forgetting to test your song in other players.
Not everyone use the player you use. Listen to your song in most common players and try to adapt your song to it. If you use external features like VSTs and other plug-ins to create the sound you want, it would be advised that you release an MP3 in first hand and perhaps the module on the side so that everyone can listen to your song the way you intended it to sound.#9 - Stealing too many ideas.
Some call it inspiration, others call it influence, bloggers call it being unoriginal. There's a line where being inspired goes towards stealing ideas. If you have another song in mind, of course you can use some parts or ideas from it in your own creation, but create your own thing first and then put it in as a subtle compliment, and not the other way around or else accusations will be made. There's a fine line between stealing and being inspired.
Now, you don't need to be paranoid. If your song coincidentally sounds very, very much like another and you were not aware of it while creating your own piece, you have not done anything wrong.
If you remix a song or make a cover, credit the original author and make it clear that you have remixed/covered someone else. If you make a cover, do it from scratch and with your own interpretation or else it will be classed a rip.#10 - Forgetting to add details.
For archiving reasons, don't forget to add details and credit of when you made your song, possibly how you made it, what software you used and credit yourself for being the author behind it.
You may also add your contact details if you would like. It's not necessary if you do not want to do so. As long as the listener can find what else you have made and easily categorise your creations. It's all for your own benefit!
Copyright © Fredrik "Eagle" Larsson, 2006-2008
This is a short article I wrote recently. Newbies, look here!
Version 1.1 released! (Wednesday 31st May 2006)
The Most Common Tracking Mistakes v1.1
by Fredrik "Eagle" Larsson
I have listened, reviewed and viewed a lot of modules and often I see the same mistakes being done over and over again. I have listed the most common tracker mistakes in this small article in order to help newbies to get on the right course and avoid doing the same mistakes as most other trackers has done (Though, mistakes are the best teachers, hehe.):
#1 - Looping and using the same theme
Let's face it. Adding a single new sample after four looped patterns is not "kewl". It makes the song monotonous and therefore boring, yeah, simply boring. Be more creative, you will like it!
#2 - TOO LOUD, TOO QUICK!!
It happens that I turn on a fresh module which goes BAAAM-BA-BLAH! In those cases the author had built on the same patterns putting more and more samples without considering volume. The author probably had a low volume on his/her speakers too. Pay attention to the graphical equalizer (The red and green volume meters) in your tracker. If it is up in the red zone, it is time to decrease the volume. A good way to avoid this mistake is by starting with a single instrument and then add the rest to it as the song goes along. Avoid mistake #1 while doing that.
I may add that making your song too quiet is not a good idea, either. People need to be able to hear your work without buying a new, mega super duper hyper ear crushing surrond 4000W bass system. Try to keep a consistent volume throughout your module.
#3 - No depth, no panning, no nothing.
This is a common mistake done by less experienced trackers. Remember that echo, stereo sound and other things are the key to a filly and detailed sound. Without them, the song turns into a simple melody and nothing but a melody.
Too much details may destroy your song, though, so do not exaggerate!
#4 - Out of beat
Bonk-ba-baa-bonk-baaaa! When a song uses a bassdrum on 0 then a snare on 5 and hi-hat on 7, there is probably something wrong with the module. Remember to count the beats and keep your drum rhytm synchronized with it. For example, use a bass drum on 0, 4, 8 then a snare on 2, 6, 10 and then you can experiment with variations of this for example with a hi-hat on 1,3,5,7 and more. Look how other people do and you will see what I mean!
Remember that the melody must be synchronized with the drums and the drums synchronized with the melody. You can not (Well, you can, but I do not recommend it!), for example, use a 3/4 waltz rhytm with 4/4 rock rhytm, it will sound awful!
#5 - Finishing the song abruptly
Pling-plong-...? If a sample is active when the song ends, the song is not finished correctly (Unless you intended it in order to create some sort of shock effect to grab your listener with surprise). Perhaps the author forgot to jump to a certain pattern by using a loop in the end or perhaps the person just forgot he/she was not finished? Avoid this mistake by listening through your song before publishing it.
#6 - Forgetting to add contact info
You think no one cares about your music? You are wrong, people do care. If you publish a song, be sure to add your name and e-mail or any other way to contact you. If you have a website, add it. This can be done in the comment area in XM and IT and in the sample names in MOD and S3M. You may be surprised to find someone thanking you for making your module!
#7 - Spelling your mail-adress wrong
Check your spelling when you write your contact info. One mistake and your info is quite useless - especially if you misspelled your mail adress!
#8 - Cutting a note by using another note when you should not
This is a mistake I see often by complete newbies. Read your tracker documentation if you do not know how to use a note cut or a volume set. You know, RTFM (Read The Fine Manual)!
#9 - Using relative values
This is not neccessarily a mistake. But if you can, use absolute values instead. It takes longer to do but increases the chance that it will work correctly on other players than the one YOU happen to use.
With this I mean that you should avoid using effects that decrease something with -1, for example Set Tempo (-1). XMPlay, for example, misinterprets Set Tempo -1 as -8 or something like that and therefore the tempo changes abruptly rather than subtly or in any way you planned to change it.
Volume slides, may I add, is not a bad idea to use. They usually work correctly on all trackers and works better in slow tempoes/speeds compared to a manual volume slide made with Set Volume, which in slow speeds makes a stair-like and choppy volume slide.
#10 - Ripping
You think no one will notice that you just happened to change the sample names and adding your name to someone else's module? Think again! Ripping is wrong, no, ILLEGAL! If you get caught for doing this, and you will, you can say good bye to your future tracking!
Though, ripping samples is not wrong unless the author has made them himself/bought them and makes it clear that he/she do not want you to rip. Remember, he/she got the copyright.
Copyright © Fredrik "Eagle" Larsson