When starting a brand new project my process for collecting ideas, thoughts and perhaps a vision for the outcome is always the same. It has taken many different forms over the years, but I’ve found mind mapping to be an invaluable tool for hitting the ground running. The first medium I’ve settled on is post-it notes. I’ll give you an example of how this works relating to my projects, but please remember you can apply this to just about anything.
Yesterday I started to “brain-dump” my analysis behind a particular artists sound for my next YouTube tutorial. When I reverse engineer an artist, I like to start with the core components of their music, the patterns entwined throughout their albums and the production traits that set them apart. To do this, I spend a few hours listening to their whole discography, in the chronological order allowing me to hear their progression through music. While listening I’m writing each thought on a separate post-it note, some examples of these from yesterday include:
’Strong low kick drum with reverb.’
‘Snare layered with a long clap.’
‘Organic sounding percussion.’
‘Granular synthesis for vocals.’
‘Nature sounds & foley of people talking.’
I’ve not edited these as the whole point is that they’re raw, just capturing an idea from something that I heard. I usually end up with between 20 – 40 notes, which I then will arrange into sections, so everything relating to the drums is one part, the music another and so on. These will then end up on a whiteboard with lines joining or linking the ideas together. This forms the foundation of my analysis; it also acts as my compass when writing a composition in the style of the given artist.
Mind maps are incredibly helpful for collecting and organising your ideas, but what about expanding on them? One tool I’ve found for this is ‘Write Mapper’ (not afflicted). Write Mapper is just like every other mind mapping application with one huge difference. You can write documents or notes inside of each idea on your mind map, expanding further on each thought with more context. If we take the ‘Granular synthesis for vocals’ example from above, inside the note, I could write which tracks I heard this technique on, ideas for vocal samples that may work, which synthesiser engine might work best, further details about the method and so forth. These notes then form the sub-headers in my tutorials, which I can re-arrange and format to suit.
The post-it note concept can be applied in Ableton too, swapping post-it notes for Ableton’s clips. When starting a new composition, you could “brain-dump” 20 musical ideas into different clips varying between drum grooves, vocals chops, chord loops, or just about anything. Once you’re all out of thoughts, you can go through each idea, moving them around, sequencing them until something starts to form. Much like my post-it notes, this can either become the starting point of your next project or just serve as inspiration for something else entirely. The beauty of this method is that you’re always going to have a wide selection of musical ideas that can be used to help start or finish your compositions.