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Musical Woodpiling

Musical woodpiling is the concept of stocking up musical ideas for future songs. Sometimes sessions are devoted to woodpiling, while other times musical woodpiling happens when we hit a roadblock in our creative process.

The term comes from the stockpiling of wood for future consumption in a furnace. If our musical creations are our metaphorical fireplace, we have the choice of writing everything as we go, or by writing pieces that can later be used in our songs. This article will discuss the latter.

Woodpiling Sessions

It's beneficial to periodically sit down and just brainstorm ideas. Musical ideas are no different!

Woodpiling sessions are just that. When we sit down in our DAW with no pressure of trying to come up with a song. We're only interested in brainstorming creative ideas that, in turn, will spark creativity.

There are 3 woodpiling sessions the modern bedroom producer should consider trying out:

  1. Jam record sessions
  2. Sound design sessions
  3. Sampling sessions
  4. Learning sessions
  5. Time-based sessions

Let's describe each of those.

Jam Record Sessions

These are perhaps my favorite sessions. Jam Record Sessions are when you record freely. This can be either your instrument through an interface or MIDI information; with a click or without a click.

The idea behind this kind of session is to improvise until you hear something that sparks your creative interest.

The benefit of recording improvisations is twofold:

  • The ability to listen to the record in order to improve upon the idea or to resample it.
  • Since we're already in a DAW or in a “recording state of mind,” it's easy to turn the woodpiling session into a song session!

MIDI Instrument Jam

The benefit of jamming with MIDI information is that you can later change the virtual instrument of software synthesizer from the original sound. This sound design leads to some really cool instrumentation and sound profiles in your tracks.

Real Instrument Jam

The benefit of jamming with a real instrument is that you really get the feel and personality of that particular instrument. This can be important in modern music production since so much of it is programmed.

Let's talk a bit more about sound design in our second musical woodpiling session type.

Sound Design Sessions

Sound design sessions are perhaps the most important to EDM artists, but that's not to say that we can't experiment in other genres.

My preferred method of running a sound design session is to have a MIDI file looping while I mess around with parameters of the virtual instrument the MIDI is being applied to.

When we sit down and focus on sound design without being tied into a song, we have the freedom to really run wild with ideas. Oftentimes these sound design sessions park ideas that eventually turn into full tracks!

I like sound designing with:

Sample-Based Instruments

I've gotten some really interesting results with sample-based instruments (like the soundbanks within Logic's EXS24) by simply manipulating the attack, decay, sustain, release, and glide functions.

Software Synthesizers

Soft synths are where we really have some fun with sound design. Getting into the intricacies of the various soft synths out there is beyond the scope of this article, but just listen to much of the EDM being released today and you'll hear some very intricate sound design!

External Effects

Lastly, we design sounds with external effects. A lot of effects will depend on a sound's role within the mix of a song. Effects like compression, EQ, reverb, delay, sidechain compression, etc. But other effects can really define the design of the sound on its own. Mess around with distortion, chorus, flanger, phaser, filters, dimension expanders, tremolo, pitch effects, and other effects to really manipulate and modulate the sound into something cool!

Of course, we can do this in a “song session,” but it's often times good to focus on creative sound design as a separate task. Often times I'll sit down for a sound design session when I'm not that inspired to write music.

The experimental nature of sound design will often spark some creativity to start working on a song. Whereas if I'm trying to design sounds while writing a song, I often become unfocused on what it is that I'm actually trying to write.

The goal in a sound design session is to have some fun and create assets that can be used in future songs. These assets can be saved as patches within virtual instruments, or as samples.

I especially like importing synth samples in song sessions because it removes the parameters for tinkering. There's a time trap that comes with getting the sound design “just right,” and often times it ends up worse after tinkering within a song. We can always clean up the sample with EQ and compression if need be!

Speaking of samples, let's get into our last type of woodpiling session:

Sampling Sessions

The sampling session is the third type of woodpiling session, where we source samples.

This can be through crate digging or chopping up pre-released audio. This is common in hip-hop but is found in many genres. There's a trend in Dubstep to sample a voice clip right before the drop.

The sampling session is about finding and manipulating the samples for use in your own music.

Another way to run a sampling session is to source through your pre-existing samples and create patterns and new samples out of them. For example, I sample all of my drums, but some samples don't sound as if they're played by the same drummer on the same kit. Mixing can help bring these samples together. But more often than not, I'll try to find samples that fit together first!

So to recap the 3 main musical woodpiling session types, we have:

  • Jam record session: Hit record and improvise freely until an idea is sparked.
  • Sound design session: design VSTs into something cool and usable.
  • Sampling session: Sample audio for future use in your music.

But there's another reason for musical woodpiling, and, in my opinion, it's the most important. And it has to do with time-based sessions and “cutting your loses.”

Learning Sessions

Whether you're learning music theory or music production, you'll undoubtedly be working out different musical information as you go about the process.

Why not take advantage of this time and write music as you learn?

This is something I've practiced for a long time. In fact, I'd say most of my music comes from learning the mechanics of either music theory or music production rather than from pure inspiration!

Time-Based Sessions

Time restricted sessions are a cool idea. Playing into the Parkinson's Law, by restricting the time we have to complete a song, it forces us to produce quickly.

But sometimes the passion or creative juices aren't flowing and we hit a roadblock with an idea. Rather than hitting our heads against the wall trying to force a song, we can woodpile it. Effectively saving it for later creations.

As musicians, we can sometimes put a lot of pressure on ourselves to keep producing music. I know I certainly do. But if you're not happy with the song you've produced at the end of the day, it's often not worth finalizing and releasing.

Even if the idea is good, if we can't get the song done easily and well in a timely manner, perhaps we're forcing it. Sometimes it's best to cut our loses, woodpile the good parts of the track, and move on.

Woodpiling in this way prevents us from forcing our music and allows us to move on to better musical ideas while keeping the old ideas just in case!

We can go back and chop up what we had done for future, or simply store that session away and revisit it later. There are many times when I'll open up an old session and the idea for the song will come to me. This will undoubtedly produce a more creative result than if I had finished it in a “roadblocked” state of mind.

When naming my sessions, I often like to write some description of the theory in the title. I'll add tempo, key, rhythm, time sig, or anything else that makes it easy for me to go back and find an old session that may fit with a project in the future!

In Closing

While not really an article on productivity, I hope this has sparked some productive ideas in your mind!

Try one of these musical woodpiling sessions out the next time you want to write music but don't have any ideas. Let me know how it turns out!

And remember that music is supposed to be creative and fun. Try not to force things to happen in the name of “productivity.” Your music deserves your best!

As always, thanks for reading and for your support.

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