The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.
Style & Culture

How I Hear It: Despite apparent hurdles, music-making an accessible art

The beautiful thing about art is that it can come from anywhere. It can be inspired by nature or urban life. It can come from a young dancer or an established painter. It’s the ultimate form of expression, and the best part is that anybody can do it.

For me, music is the ultimate art form, but unfortunately it’s also the one that’s hardest to participate in, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

I’ve spent hours as an air musician, fantasizing about how great it would be if I could actually do whatever I’m doing a poor imitation of. When I discovered Brian Eno, Stars of the Lid and other ambient artists, I realized that I could perhaps make music, even though my only musical experience is limited to playing the intro to Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” on harmonica.

That may sound like a dismissal of ambient music, so let me clarify: It’s easy to make music, but it’s hard to make good music. This formula is true for all art, but my suppressed desire to be a musician forced me to press on and see if I could make music.

Early on, I learned that it’s not easy. We’ve all fooled around in GarageBand, slapping pre-recorded loops on top of one another, but actually composing something is a humbling experience.

This is why I started in ambient music: Because structure is not as important as it is in other genres, it’s consequently very free. The genre purely about emotion and creating a sense of ease. It seemed like an easy point of entry for me.

I started out at the desk in my dorm room in 2011, recording real-world noises — including my trusty harmonica — and sounds from virtual instruments I found online, primarily using Audacity — a great freeware audio-editing program — to stretch and explore them.

Audacity became a playground where I could see what this would sound like if I stretched it out, 20 times its original length, and how that would turn out if I lowered the pitch 9,000 percent.

Because I approach music in an album-oriented way, I released the products of this endeavor as a self-titled album under the name “We Will Be Content,” available for free download because — as if anybody would pay for that.

That album probably isn’t any good, but making it was a lot of fun. As such a huge fan of music, it’s a strange and awesome feeling to know that of all the albums ever released, my rinky-dink effort is one of them.

After my first album, I decided I wanted to make music some more but better than before. I tried using tighter song structures, straying away from ambient style a little. I had attempted to use drum tracks before, but I wasn’t comfortable enough with them until I had experienced music making, firsthand.

Since starting to make my own music, I tended to listen to other music differently. Now I pick out individual elements and see how they contribute to the song as a whole. In addition to making me a more savvy music fan, it helped me better understand the songwriting process.

I released my second set of songs in May 2012, as an album called “Before.” Again, it’s probably not that good, but it’s a lot better than my first. I strayed slightly away from the free environment of Audacity and into the structure of GarageBand. After listening to Youth Lagoon’s debut album a thousand times, I picked up on its simple percussion and used what I learned on a song called “Power.”

Working in GarageBand gave me an even deeper understanding of songwriting. I learned about tempo and staying in key and a bunch of other good stuff. It turns out that making music, even if you have no idea what you’re doing, is a great way to learn more about it. That seems obvious, but you don’t realize it until you actually get your hands dirty.

Now, I’m working on a new set of music that is even more advanced than what I’ve already done — primarily 5-7 minute post-rock-rooted electronic songs. I changed my name from “We Will Be Content” — because it was an awful name — to “Aroostook,” as a tribute to where I’m from. I’ve also upgraded from GarageBand to Logic Pro, a higher level digital audio workstation. Now I’m learning more about mixing music, frequency distribution and the power equalization.

This might sound like a giant plug for my not-so-great music, but what I’m hoping is that sharing my experience of getting into creating music makes it less scary for non-musicians, like myself.

There are thousands and thousands of untrained painters out there, and I’m sure they were apprehensive when they started, with the concern that they were wasting their time and that nothing good would come out of it. At the end of the day, art is created, because the artists enjoy doing it.

My advice, start making music. Look up tips online, listen to music you already love more closely and start playing with sound. You might even end up creating something good. After all, art can come from anywhere.