1. GET A REFERENCE MONITOR
Hearing your music from a good pair of reference speakers is normally the first step towards getting your sound to a professional level. If you can’t purchase speakers or don’t have a silent room, a great pair of studio headphones may be a good temporary solution.
2. OBTAIN A MIDI KEYBOARD
Some may say this is not for everybody, but unless you plan to be only doing really quantized, hard stuff for the rest of your life, a good midi keyboard with a mod wheel will definitely increase your capacity to be expressive with virtual instruments. I record almost all of my lines with my right hand on the keys, and my left hand on the mod wheel—specially orchestral parts.
3. STUDY COUNTERPOINT
This is good stuff, and you can do it by yourself. No wonder so many great composers started their day doing counterpoint exercises. Grab a copy of Gradus Ad Parnassum. It may feel out of style for you at first, but the lessons and notion you’ll learn along the way will never, ever cease to be useful to you in any style of music you want to write.
4. RESEARCH SOUNDS/SAMPLES THAT INSPIRE YOU
One of the great joys of music making nowadays is being able to use many different sound sources, traditional or not. There is a myriad of sample libraries around, and lots of good ones are free or really cheap. Sometimes the thing that separates you from developing a great personal style is not having looked around enough!
5. LISTEN TO A LOT OF REFERENCE MATERIAL
This one is kinda obvious, but when you’re supposed to write music in a certain manner, it really helps to listen to your references. Use them as soundtracks for your commute and exercises—get a pair of great ear buds and use them. If you let relevant music be a part of you, you’ll become a relevant musician.
6. EXPERIENCE CONTEMPORARY CONCERT MUSIC
So you don’t care about classical music. But it so happens that as we speak, lots of people are trying very hard to push the boundaries of music making. Aaaand… they might have something special that you can use.
7. WRITE FOR LIVE INSTRUMENTS ON EVERY OPPORTUNITY
Do you have any friends that read music and play instruments? Why aren’t you writing for them? Getting people to play your stuff live is an experience every composer learns a lot from. This is the kind of opportunity you’ll have in music school, but even if you aren’t studying (whyyyy?), you should seek out every chance you have to write for live instruments.
8. GET FULL SCORES OF THE MUSIC YOU LOVE AND STUDY THEM
Or produce them if you can’t find any. Countless composers throughout history have profited from knowing stuff from their favorite guys inside out. Learning the workings of good music you love, analyzing it and playing it is a great way to get closer to your ideals.
9. EXCHANGE MUSIC AND WORKS IN PROGRESS WITH PEERS
It’s often very rewarding to evolve and learn along other composers. Get into competitions, forums and exchange info with other music makers. Get people to collab on your music, and collab on theirs. Being in a community is fantastic.
10. GET YOUR MUSIC OUT!
Never stop your insecurities from bringing your music to the public. If people you trust tell you your music is good, get it out! You can get better later, but don’t avoid the experience of letting the public hear what you have.
Special thanks to the world-renowned VGM composer Rafael Langoni Smith for authoring this article.
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