One of the bright spots resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is the explosion of creative activity it has sparked. Through this bizarre season, my interest in creating music through purely electronic means skyrocketed, going from being in the same vicinity as conducting at the bottom of the list of my favorite ways to be involved in the musical creative process to somewhere near the top. So without further ado, here is the behind-the-scenes of this project.
This EP had its genesis in the soundtracks I created for videos I started making during the COVID-19 pandemic. As I worked on creating video content for OrchKids, I realized that listening to me wax eloquent for 7 minutes about some obscure opinions on the best way to trombone could be incredibly dry, and thought some background music would help increase engagement with the videos. It was around this time that I discovered SoundTrap, a really incredible and user-friendly, if at times frustratingly limited, tool for making music quickly and easily.
I had only recently realized how truly simple it is to get music out there on the internet. If you have a $20 bill you don’t mind parting with, you can sign up with a distributor like DistroKid for a year and upload unlimited music to the internet music stores of your choice. (And if you use the link in this paragraph to sign up, they’ll give you a discount and give me five bucks! Everyone wins!) So when I signed up for an account with them (after being roped in with a special discount), it lit a fire under me to start putting some music out there — after all, I had paid for it! So I took some of the soundtracks for the videos I had been making and started polishing them up. Step Off the Elevator is the result of that effort.
The whole EP was created entirely in SoundTrap, apart from adding a few seconds of silence at the end of the first three tracks, which I did in Cubase. I was interested in the challenge of creating all the musical content with only the tools available with a free trial of SoundTrap’s paid tier. Given the software’s limitations, what kind of product could I generate? (Fun fact, I waited too long to cancel my trial and ended up paying for a month anyways…oh well. It enabled me a bit more time to refine the content, so maybe a good thing in the long run.)
Each track’s title refers to some element of the videos for which the music was originally conceived, with the last three track titles taken straight from quips delivered in the first three episodes of Bloopers with Mr. Daniel.
The name of the album itself went through several iterations in my mind. Initially I thought of calling it The SoundTrap EP, but fearing whatever legal ramifications there might be to using “SoundTrap” in the title (but not wanting to actually investigate what said ramifications actually were, if they exist), I then thought of simply abbreviating it as STEP. Thinking more about the musical content as being glorified elevator music led to the final form of the title, Step Off the Elevator.
“Stoop Sunset” began as the background for a time-lapse video I made for an art party hosted by Create Freedom, a non-profit using the proceeds from donated art to support organizations fighting human trafficking. The art depicted a silhouetted figure enjoying a sunset on the front stoop of a Baltimore-inspired rowhouse. This track also features the only acoustic sounds on the EP, with the trumpet parts played by myself in my parents’ guest room on a beat up student-model trumpet. And yes, full disclosure, auto-tune WAS used to polish up my not-so incredible trumpet performance…
I had a lot of fun tinkering with “The Third Option,” which ended up bursting from a sort of mysterious, almost grungy electronic feeling at points into more of Latin-esque and quasi-Calypso feels in various episodes. Inspired by Jacob Collier, I also went back in towards the end of the process and messed with a few moments to make them “roll like an egg,” adding a few unexpected dashes of rhythmic flavor here and there.
If I remember correctly, “You Don’t Wanna Run Into a Wall,” in its original form, was my first complete musical creation in SoundTrap. At first, it was only the drums, bass line, and melody, all interweaving in different combinations through various repetitions. That got old in a hurry, so I first added a countermelody, and then the whole middle section of the tune came rather quickly, driven by the melodrama of the strings. The direction of the ending was guided by a combination and overlap of the perky opening and mysterious, almost ominous middle section. This tune underwent by far the most significant overhaul from its original form into what was finally released.
“It’s Like Snorkeling” is not meant to be subtle, but rather just to groove in a very straightforward way. There are basically only two chords throughout most of the track, and so it relies heavily on changes in instrumentation, the odd rhythmic curveball, and quirky interludes to add variety.
Why is a Classically-Trained Musician Putting Out Electronica?
Well, the short version is, I have been having a blast making it! The long version is:
I have been realizing more and more in recent months my tendency towards perfectionism, towards not wanting to share any of my creations with the world for fear of rejection. But, inspired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work! I decided to put out this fun little side project knowing full well that it will not be regarded as the pinnacle of human cultural achievement. I want to get in the habit of sharing and hopefully blessing others with the creativity God has given me.
So What’s Next?
Making this music showed me that SoundTrap offers a great starting point for music creation and production, but it will only take you so far. I frankly don’t intend to use it again for my own music creation, except perhaps for some educational purposes. However, I would definitely recommend it to those just starting to dabble in electronic music composition due to its highly user-friendly interface.
I’m hoping to build on what I’ve learned from creating this music and putting it out there for the world to hear. I definitely want to keep creating both electronic and acoustic music, and composing in a more traditional sense as well. On that note, stay tuned for a possible wind ensemble composition coming circa July 2022!
I hope you enjoy this EP, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!
Thank you Jesus for your love for me and for giving me the ability to create music and to enjoy the process so much. All glory be to you alone!
Thank you to Brian for being a sounding board and for your encouragement!
Thank you to Mia for your help with the album art!