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Digital composition

How do you turn lyrics you’ve written yourself into actual music? You have several options: You might know someone who plays the guitar or piano to help you find a tune to go with your lyrics. Or you might want to use rap or singing for your lyrics and shoot a video or record what you come up with using a microphone. Apps such as VivaVideo and YouTube let you do this. It’s worth remembering that the song contest includes a special prize for the best video.

If you’ve already written and composed a song and are now just looking for a simple way to record it, take a look below at the page under “Recording and completing your song”. We explain how to record your song using the dictaphone function on a smartphone. Alternatively, further tips on how to record songs and work on these further using an app are provided under “Recording a song – initial steps”.

Another option is to use music apps to set your lyrics to music to create a complete song. We’ll explain more about this below. In these guidelines, we work with the free app “Garage Band” (iOS). The app is easy to get to grips with for beginners, offers a wide range of approaches and good sound quality. Our videos help you understand the app and make music with it. We also provide free samples that you can use for your song. You will need around 4 GB of free space on your device to install the app, for the full sound library and for samples and recordings. We also recommend online tool “Soundtrap” and application “Studio One Prime 4”, which can be used both on Mac and Windows computers, as free alternatives to “Garage Band”. Information on this and other software is available on this website below.

If you are unfamiliar with a musical term, take a look at our glossary.

Please note: An English version of the following videos and of our glossary of musical terms will shortly be provided.

Recording a song – initial steps

Our video “user interface of the app” provides an overview of the structure of the “Garage Band” app. Initial steps for recording using “Garage Band” are summarised in the next video.

User interface of the app Garage Band
Recording with the Garage Band app
Recording with an audio interface

Apps allow you to play and record virtual app (musical) instruments directly on a touchscreen device. A keyboard can also be used, however, if equipped with a USB or Bluetooth Midi connection.

To record instruments using a microphone, headphones should definitely be used. This will allow you to listen back to recorded tracks while recording, without these being recorded again via the microphone onto a new track in the background.

Most integrated microphones in smartphones and tablet devices these days offer sufficient recording quality. A good external microphone that can be connected to a computer, tablet or smartphone via an audio interface, however, allows for a more professional recording. A large diaphragm condenser microphone (available in shops from around 50 euros) for instance is certainly up to the job. The pop filtering this provides ensures that undesirable air noise is left unrecorded.

The last of the three videos above this text shows how to perform recording using an audio interface and the Garage Band app.


“Latency” is sometimes a problem. This is where some delay is experienced hearing recorded material while playing. This can be rectified in some Android apps by selecting a “low latency driver”. You can also reduce latency by setting the buffer size for recording as small as possible in a program’s audio settings. You should then set the buffer size as large as possible when it comes to editing with effects. Tips for avoiding latency on Windows PCs are available on the following page.

Music components for your song

In addition to our ONE WORLD-themed samples provided for the song contest, the apps and programs that we’ve suggested contain further musical material. We recommend you download the full libraries of the programs used where possible. These contain numerous loops with samples of drums, bass and other instruments, which you can combine and use for your song. The next video shows you how to download the entire sound library of the Garage Band app.

Click here for song contest samples

If looking online for additional loops and samples, please make sure that you are entitled to use these. Usage rights are granted in the Garage Band app, which means that you may use, edit and freely publish loops from this in the song contest. In terms of loops and samples from other sources, however, to be able to use these within the song contest, they must at least be approved for noncommercial use.

Additional loops can be found here:

 

Downloading library in Garage Band app
Compose with loops

Before getting to the nitty gritty of composing your music, we suggest you go over a few important considerations regarding your song. Think about how you’d answer the following questions:

  • What’s the main feeling you’d like to impart through the song?
  • How intensively do you want it to be felt?
  • Is it specifically a feeling you wish to create, do you want to engage the intellect, or simply create a catchy tune, or all three?
  • What style are you thinking?
  • Which artist could you imagine singing such a song?


Now download loops that you feel go well with your idea. You should ideally start with loops from the Garage Band app (or from the app you are working with) and then add loops from the song contest website.

If using Garage Band on an iPhone or iPad, save the loops under Files -> On my iPhone -> Garage Band -> Garage Band File Transfer.


IMPORTANT: If you wish to start in Garage Band with a sample from the website, you first need to configure the tempo that the sample has. To do so, tap on the song settings at the top right. You will then be able to drag the sample into an empty clip as shown in the video “compose with loops”.
 

Composing: Patterns, form and chords

Once you’ve loaded some suitable loops into clips, the next step is to create a musical foundation for your song and produce a composition.

  • “Chords” create the harmonic basis and are combined in various ways.
  • “Composing” means deciding which elements appear in the song and when the individual instruments come in.
  • This involves the use of “patterns”, i.e. repeated musical components.
  • “Form” means the course the song takes, e.g. verse, chorus, verse etc.


To produce a composition using an app, it is not essential for you to be familiar with chords. Just sample guitar or keyboard patterns that appeal to you. You can use the chord patterns in the app as explained in the video. If you know someone who plays the guitar or piano for instance, they may be able to help you or record various chords using the instrument. A good song does not need to be harmonically complex: There are many hits out there using just two to four chords or even just one.

Songs usually are organised into parts with four beats, i.e. in choruses for example, chords are always repeated after four beats as illustrated in the next video. You can record clips of different lengths. Just have a go configuring the length of your recording beforehand (see also video “recording with the Garage Band app” ). Take a look at the next videos to familiarise yourself with the various functions for recording and composing patterns.

Creating chords and patterns using Garage Band
Composition and form
Creating melodies

The following is an overview of the various elements that may be heard together in a composition:

  • Beat / rhythm (drum pattern)
  • Bass
  • Rhythmic chords (multiple chord tones played repeatedly together)
  • Melodic chords (chord tones played in succession)
  • Pads / surfaces (flat, i.e. sustained chord tones)
  • Melody/melodies of singers, instruments or background singing
  • Special FX (effects) and sounds

 

When it comes to writing melodies, many songwriters simply start by taking a line of their lyrics and singing it aloud, sampling various melodic lines to go with it. Some even sing without any specific words altogether, using syllables like “babada” or sounds of some kind to warm themselves up and spark their creativity. Many even find it useful initially to use rap or rhythmic speech alongside their lyrics to see if a tune naturally occurs to them. Have a go and see what works best for your song. It’s not chords that make a tune and the result usually turns out better if you don’t give too much thought to the role of other instruments.

You don’t really need headphones until it comes to record the vocals. We’ve summarised all the key points in this regard at the beginning of the video “recording with the Garage Band app”.

Recording and completing your song

Congratulations! Your song is nearly there and you’ve come a long way on your creative journey. It’s now time to edit the various facets of your song until you are completely happy with the result. You can do this e.g. by adding additional instruments. You can further improve the result by “mixing”. This involves arranging the individual instruments by configuring different volumes and positions in the stereo image for these. Effects such as reverberation optimise the sound. The next video explains how to ultimately record and share your song.

If you find working with the app just too difficult, we also show you how to record your voice and, if necessary, an instrumental accompaniment really easily using the dictaphone function on a smartphone.

Effects, mixing and completing
Recording using the dictaphone function for Android
Recording using the dictaphone function for iOS

Even if the result doesn’t quite yet sound like a professionally produced track, don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be perfect. What matters for the competition is the idea itself and the endeavour of song writing, not the specific ins and outs of doing so. After all, all winning songs will be professionally produced in a sound studio.

We hope you enjoy playing around with the app and wish you the best of luck in taking part in the competition.

Alternative software

Many suitable apps and programs are available for recording and producing songs. The following compilation gives you some idea of what’s available. Numerous tutorials can be found on YouTube for each of these programs. You can also familiarise yourself with the various functions via the providers’ websites, the help tool within the software or via e-learning platforms such as www.udemy.com or www.lynda.com. Here are a few tips for the SoundTrap and Studio One Prime programs to get you started.

Recording in SoundTrap
Recording in Studio One Prime, initial steps
Library, guide for Studio One Prime

Another good idea: ask your friends if they’ve used these apps before. It’s more fun doing things together and two heads are usually better than one!

Text: Tobias Rotsch