Making Music: The How and Why For Two OES Seniors

by Calla Slayton

In a log cabin in Whitefish, Montana, Coleen Davis kept asking one question: So, Dylan, when do I get to hear your song?

She, like many in the OES community, was fascinated and eager to hear One Ohana, the long anticipated song that was written and produced by Dylan J., and marketed by Grady M and friends. Dylan politely declined to play the song on the speaker system in the cabin, but promised to email the song when we returned to Portland.

Coleen’s inquiry got me wondering about the process of creating music, specifically EDM or Trap (as those appear to be the most popular at the moment), and particularly with younger artists.

With the help of digital music software and the Internet, people of all different ages and skill sets can make and produce their own music. However, I still had many unanswered questions. Where did they learn how to write and make songs? What does the procedure look like? What should I understand about it? To find answers, I didn’t have to look far. Two talented and dedicated artists are in my own grade: Dylan J. and Everett P.

For Dylan, his interest in music started when he was in 6th grade. His music repertoire was minimal and he listened to Dubstep and Doctor P. “I was such a hipster,” he said with a smile.

By 7th grade, he was watching tutorials about how to make Dubstep and learning the fundamentals of using music software. As he kept learning, he started making more music and venturing into different types. He also got introduced to better software, however, at that stage, he had no intent of putting something out there.

During his freshmen year, Dylan took a music theory class. This class solidified his interest in music production, and served as a great kickstart for his musical growth. He now had a dedicated space to work and create.

In 10th grade, he took Adam Steele’s Music in Technology class and he became more interested in the craft and was exposed to more musical tools and applications, like Reason. Eventually, he made his first song.

Around this same time, tragedy struck. The Sandy Hook shooting disrupted our society and left many reeling. Dylan was one of them. He created the song Gun Game about the disaster. While there were some imperfections with the song since it was at the beginning of his career, he was “inspired and happy with it!”

He continued to hang out in the music lab and make beats after school. As he kept working, a young Everett P. started to join this sessions. Everett and Dylan would spend countless hours in the music lab at school and eventually, Everett got his own equipment and “began to put in even more time at home.”

As I continued talking to them, I started to see how time consuming and complex the process is. For Dylan, it starts by opening up his computer and opening up Ableton Live, a software he uses. Next, he opens up Massive, a virtual synthesizer , and shifts through different sounds.

He went on to tell me about all the different options, such as bass and distorted bases, and my head started to spin. After sifting through the myriad of choices, he begins messing with different keys on the keyboard until he finds a nice chord progression/melody.

When he mentioned his use of the keyboard, I wondered if he had any previous experience playing. The keyboard is no easy instrument and takes years to master. However, Dylan answered my question and admitted while he isn’t classically trained, he knows what sounds good and what doesn’t.

He then starts to make the beat and structure of the song, now using words and lyrics. He works to “flesh out songs with chorus and verses in mind.” This whole procedure can take anywhere from two days to a few months, depending on how inspired he is by the song he’s working on.

Besides just the technical workings, there’s another part of the process. It’s the more artistic and creative component to making music. As Everett describes, his “creative process is one based upon flow.”

His best work is born when he’s “not trying to hard to create something.” The process and inspiration has to be natural, not forced. Another key piece is trial and error. An artist might start out with one beat, but after further work, he or she might decide the rhythm isn’t quite right and will go back and alter the song. Or sometimes, the song could be discarded and the the artist will start from scratch.

Everett admits that “a lot of [his] ideas are not deliberate…they come from experimentation.” Letting the song reveal itself is an essential part of making music.

With any art form, there are always misunderstandings from those in the community who don’t grasp the talent and artistic ability needed to create said art.

When I asked Dylan and Everett what the biggest misunderstanding they’ve encountered around their work, they said that many people like to discredit the effort and skill needed to create the songs they’re producing.

A lot of older people believe the computer makes the song and there is no musical talent necessary. However, this is (of course) not true. The computer doesn’t magically make the beats and the notes appear or fuse them together to create the catchy and popular songs we hear today.

Hundreds of hours in the studio or at the keyboard are invested into the songs. Everett explained to me that “there is an assumption that young producers aren’t serious about what they are doing, and are only doing it as something fun on the side.”

However, there are thousands of young producers who are pouring a great amount of their time and energy into their songs and taking this work very seriously. We have two examples of it here at school.

Some of greatest aspects to making music is the joy it brings to the artist. For Dylan, he “like[s] to make music for [himself].” Surrounding himself with music, whether he’s creating or listening to it, adds a richness to his life. A lot of freedom also comes from making music.

Everett loves “how flexible music production is.” He’s able to “really create anything, any mood, or any sound.” Through this shared passion, many young artists collaborate with each other and support each other on different music sharing platforms, like Soundcloud.

This art form has created tight-knit community of young producers who love music and want to share their work with the greater community. As Dylan simply put, “music is just sweet.”