Context in music

You know, it just crossed my mind that I don’t write enough reflective posts on this website. Now what I mean by “reflective” is a post not necessarily related to any projects but meant to reflect on (and possibly offer help for) challenges one might encounter when working on certain types of projects.

It also crossed my mind that I have the perfect challenge to discuss in this manner. That challenge regards writing music – more specifically, writing music as part of an album.

Ever since I started making music, especially under The Santtu Pesonen Project, I’ve attempted to write the music on the albums with careful consideration to the larger whole, as well as the songs themselves. That, in my opinion, is a fun challenge when it comes to making music in the first place. How do you make the songs sound like they’re part of a larger whole while also sounding distinct from each other?

Admittedly, there are a lot of methods for going about this. Or you can just go with the flow, which is my preferred method. Now by “going with the flow”, I mean that whenever I get a new musical idea, I write it down as soon as I can and then compare it against other musical ideas I may have written down. (At least that’s how I do it now, as I’ve only recently gotten into the habit of writing down my musical ideas in the first place.) And if there are any musical ideas that sound good “together”, I “group” them together.

I realize there are a few ways you can interpret that, so allow me to clarify: the musical ideas don’t necessarily have to work together within the same song. And “grouping” doesn’t mean combining them into one song. In fact, my own musical ideas rarely fit together in that way early on in the songwriting process. Rather, the ideas only have to work together within the same album. And by “grouping” them, I also mean grouping them in that way.

But how do you know which ideas to group together?

That’s where context comes into play. There’s probably a better term for what I’m about to discuss, though. Either way, allow me to give you an example: I’m currently working on two different musical projects. They’re both progressive metal, but they’re drastically different styles of progressive metal: one is “lighter” and more atmospheric, while the other is heavier and also has elements of electronic music. I couldn’t possibly mix them – I have to consider which one to group a new musical idea into. But if it doesn’t particularly work in either, I store it away for possible future use.

Take note that depending on the nature of your project – for instance, if it’s a compilation album – context doesn’t always need to be considered. But in my personal opinion, a truly strong album is one in which all of the songs stand both on their own and as a part of the larger whole. Chances are you disagree, but that’s beside the point.

With all that said, I hope you got something out of this.

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