Making music for the ages
The power of design can help me achieve my dream of becoming a music producer
by Natasha Qistina
Behind every amazing piece of music out there, lies a well-thought out melody. Take, for example, the opening notes for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s very popular Eine Kliene Nachtmusik: it’s so iconic, catchy, and memorable that it’s safe to call it one of the world’s most recognisable tunes, alongside the Nokia melody and the piano rift from Hit Me Baby One More Time. The melody became so famous that it was used – to great effect – in an important but memorable scene in the art movie Amadeus, although not quite in the spirit with which composed it…
In order to create a great song, it is very common that it is through pure luck – and usually simplicity is the key. It is well-known that children pick up very fast on speech based on what they observe in their surroundings – and more often than not, they will always pick up simple melodies very easily, to the point that it will remain meaningful to them for the rest of their lives, even if they are very rarely exposed to it again later on.
Simplicity aside, great songs are very often planned meticulously too, by either the composer, creator, or producer – and it’s not unheard of for the same person to fulfill all these roles. The plan will cover many aspects of the music – the direction the piece will take; what instruments will be used, and even how they will be used; which music or sound samples they want to put in; the duration of the song; etc – and the results really do prove amazing.
Most famous musicians practise complete control, designing how their hits will go with levels of precision that borders on obsession. The late greats Michael Jackson and Prince were legendary for it – and the latter is said to have played every single one of the 27 instruments and to have performed all the vocals on his debut album For You – released when he was 20!
More recently, Ed Sheeran and his team took some basic elements, played around with them, and layered them in increasingly sophisticated ways – and the result was the monster hit of 2017, Shape Of You. As they said in the video, they didn’t even realise that they were shaping (so to speak) the song that won Best Pop Solo Performance at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards – but that is exactly what they did: design a pop powerhouse that will remain a hit for the ages.
I love relating design to music. I firmly believe that all musicians and all music producers out there are designers. Every decision that a producer makes during the crafting period will affect how well the music will be consumed by the general listeners. There’s a reason that people still remember both Ludwig van Beethoven and Freddie Mercury, and it’s not for their dress sense (no offense, Freddie).
Producing has always been a lifelong dream of mine. Music has always been one of the important things that affected me while I was growing up. I love the fact that no matter how sad or down I may feel, I could always turn to good music to uplift my mood. Knowing how much music impacts my life, I made a vow to myself when I was in college to take it up. Since that point, I am happy to say that there has been positive progress for me: I’ve done more than a few gigs as a live performer over the years; I’ve learned to remix songs; and I’ve actually composed my own tunes. To my delight, some of my tunes have been acknowledged and featured, both in Malaysia and abroad.
Additionally, it is gratifying to know that I am in my own small way helping to pave the way for my local sister producers. You see, the Electronic Music scene in Malaysia is pretty much male-dominated; there are hardly any female producers around. Considering that I’m one of the few, I aspire to spread the love, and to encourage more females to pursue their passion in music.
Although I’m still super new at this, I always make a point of listening to more music, and to talk to a lot of other producers to further enhance my skills. When I make music, I try not to box it into any specific genre; I try to just make what my heart tells me to. And as a music producer, one of my biggest dreams is to create music that I myself will never get tired of listening to.
That’s the big goal for me: to create a musical work that will never grow old, that will be timeless – which is what I think every producer should strive for. And as selfish or narcissistic as that may sound, I can truthfully say that I can strive for that – because I am my own personal critic, and I’m not afraid to be the harshest critic there is when it comes to my own pieces.
However, it takes more than just talent to become an amazing producer. Dedication, persistence, and an ear for great music – these are some of the key weapons a producer needs to have. Always be hungry to learn, and always listen to as much as you can – you never know what will inspire you, at the end of the day.
So next time your favourite music comes on, I would like to invite everyone to do more than just listen. Try to picture the hours that went into producing such great melodies; think of how every instrument fits the others so perfectly; think about the devotion and talent of the artistic team that spent their precious time crafting a work that will have an impact on your life (whether it’s a piece of pop candy that’s three minutes long, or an hour-long symphony that will replenish your soul). I can guarantee you, it will make you appreciate your favourite music more.
To be honest, there is no such thing as perfect music, or a perfect song. Music is a very subjective matter, and the way that it is interpreted – whether by the performers or by the listeners – may vary. But the process of creating it is what makes music great. My one and only goal as a producer is to inspire people with my creations – and I hope to leave a legacy for future generations.
I am proud of myself for pursuing my biggest passion in life – and if there’s one thing i could tell other people, is that it’s never too late to make the first move. Go ahead and live your dreams; you will thank yourself one day.
Natasha Qistina is the Account Executive for Zachary Haris Ong & Associates.