Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash
Here’s the Making Music guide for Jamuary, RPM, May Music Month, and other music challenges!
 
You may know of Inktober, where artists sketch a new illustration each day during October. Or maybe you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo where novelists write a 50,000 word novel during November. Like these, monthly music challenges provide an opportunity to play around with sound at least once a day. Nothing fancy, there’s no need to be Mozart or anything. Just have fun with making music. If you’ve always wondered what it’s like to make a song, or to experiment with sound, this is your chance to let loose and explore.

The goal is simple. By the end of the month, around 31 songs will hopefully be resting on your computer as nostalgic segments from a cool experiment, or as rough drafts to larger works in the future. Feel free to define the word ‘song’ to your own needs and nuances. If you get at least something out there, you’ve done well.

I personally define a song for myself as at least two components of sound (Drum and vocal, synth and guitar, two harmonizing vocals, etc) for the duration of at least a minute. Feel free to check out my previous Music Months. You’ll see that I didn’t complete the full 31 days, and that’s ok! 

2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020

Also, please join the HearThis.at group where we’ll share our rough drafts! So let’s get to the how-to.

The Making Music Guide

How do you make music? The very first thing we need to think about is equipment. Microphone, instruments, recording devices, and storage. I’ll go through all of these to help make the process easier so you can focus on the music itself. Ready? Here we go!

Microphones

The first thing you need to do any kind of music is a microphone. If you don’t have a typical singer’s microphone that you see on stage, that’s ok! You may have one without realizing it.

Built-in Mics

Are you using a laptop? Many come with a built-in mic. How about your phone? Your iPad? Do you ever Skype with someone? You have a microphone. These little buggers tend to be everywhere nowadays with all the technology we have.

Now if you don’t have a microphone because you lack these devices or prefer electronics that don’t use built-in mics, there’s still another way! You can find mics incredibly cheap at pawn shops, or online. There are different types you can use:

USB Mics

A USB mic is simple, and is powered by the USB hub on your computer. You can find them super cheap on Amazon, eBay, or AliExpress. Scroll through the options listed, and choose one that fits your needs and price range. If you think you’ll continue recording music beyond your chosen music month, I would suggest paying attention to the specifications and getting one that will be long-lasting (that, or get a performance mic, instead).  If you don’t foresee too many music projects in your future, then I would suggest getting a very cheap mic and not worrying about the specs too much.

Performance Mics

Performance Mics are better quality than USB mics and are built to last for multiple projects over the years. The most famous performance mic out there is the Shure SM58. But with mics like this, you’ll need extra equipment before recording. If you’re using a PC or a laptop, you’ll need a USB audio interface to transfer the sound of your mic to your computer. If you’re using an iPhone or an iPad, you’ll need an iRig setup. If this is already confusing you, I highly suggest going with a USB mic, or a built-in mic on one of your devices.

You can also get a condenser mic in the same price range as a performance mic, but these are for really quiet performances. So if you’re doing any screamo, or don’t have a good grasp on regulating recording volume or background noise, I would suggest the performance mic first since they’re much more durable and beginner-safe.

I think that just for a month’s worth of music drafts, one of these mics will be enough. I don’t think there’s any need to get super fancy and buy an expensive condenser mic. Let’s keep this as simple and fun as possible.

Instruments

What instruments are you going to use when making a song?

Vocals

The cheapest instrument that you already have is your voice! For this, it’s essential to have some kind of microphone. Don’t worry about your singing skills or talents. Just like guitar or piano, your voice needs practice to be developed. Just listen to some of my tracks from 2014. They’re horrid! And when you listen to the ones from this year, I bet you’ll hear a difference. Everyone’s voice needs time and care. It takes muscle memory just like anything else, so don’t sweat it!

Acoustic

You can also record just about any instrument with a mic. Is there an old Ukelele sitting around your house? Play it. A drum, or drum-like surface that you can make sound on? Play it. A jar and a spoon? Play it. You got a microphone, yo! You can play anything if you can record its sound! Shake a box of pencils! Record your cat meowing! Catch the voices of birds in the morning!

And of course you can just…play a guitar, too. If you have one.

Computer/MIDI

Some computers come with programs that already have MIDI instruments on them. If you’re a Mac user, you automatically have GarageBand and its many instruments. This is also for the iPad as well. If you don’t have a Mac product, there are tons of android apps that you can make music with. Here is an awesome list!

Another thing you can do is use a MIDI controller. Pawn shops often sell these for relatively cheap. There are multiple variations, but the most basic and well-known form is an electric piano. This kind of piano may not play at all on its own. It may only play once you plug it into your USB port, open up your recording program, and select a software instrument. If you’re pairing a physical MIDI controller with your computer, make sure the apps you choose are compatible with a MIDI controller.

Recording Devices

Now for the harder part. Figuring out how you’ll record!

Voice Recorders (Portable and Apps on phone or iPad)

If you’re using anything portable like your phone, tablet, or even a standalone voice recorder, then you’re good to go! You can share the file directly to SoundCloud, or put it onto your computer for editing before posting the final product. There are apps that you can use to help make the task easier if your device doesn’t come with a voice recorder. Oh, and if you’re using an iPad, you can also use your GarageBand app if you choose to do so.

Android apps

App for iPhone and iPad

Another App for iPhone and iPad

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)

If you plan on recording things into your computer, you’ll need some kind of Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. If you’re a Mac user, you’re already set with GarageBand. Just take a tutorial or two on how to record which probably won’t take very long. GarageBand comes with an automatic “share to SoundCloud” option which will make your life much easier.

If you use any other system, you’ll need to download a DAW. A popular, simple and free version out there is Audacity. If you’ve never used it, you’ll also need to take a tutorial before being able to record a song. You’ll need to export your song as an mp3 or wav file, and then upload that exported file into SoundCloud or HearThis.

A final option that’s viable if you want to be fancy and play around with the professional stuff is to get a free trial of any of the major DAWs. Most that I know of have 30-day free trials which will be perfect for playing around with for a month. Ableton, Cubase, and ProTools are some popular ones.

When playing around in a DAW for the first time, DON’T try and learn everything you possibly can about the software unless you find that enjoyable. For the most part, it’s unnecessary and will become work instead of play. Just use only what you need! Volume, record, add a track, add an effect if you want to, save, share. Only mess around with as much as you want to.

Storage

Where will you store your fine works of art?

Computer or USB Drive

Simple and straightforward, right? If you don’t have enough space on the device you’re using, you’re going to need an external storage option. If you’re using a USB drive, always make sure to eject your disk before unplugging! I’ve lost a ton of music files when my hard drive fell and therefore disconnected abruptly from my laptop. So make sure you back up your files as well if you really care about them!

The Cloud

You can backup stuff on any cloud-related system. Whether it’s Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud, they can all work to keep your songs safe!

Online Hosting

By default, I encourage everyone to upload their songs to the Jamuary group so that we can share and enjoy the process together. When you upload it, please tag every song with #Jamuary. Once finished, I imagine you can just delete the file if you don’t want to lose space on your device. Please back up to an external hard drive, and/or cloud based storage. Most phones and tablets have apps for HearThis, Soundcloud, and other music hosting sites so you can upload directly from your phone. Otherwise, you can store the files onto your computer and upload from there.

In Conclusion

I hope this helps you guys jump-start your Music Month Challenge! If this wasn’t beginner-friendly enough, feel free to ask any questions in the comments here, or contact me directly. I’m happy to break things down further if you’re in need of more help! There are tons of tutorials on Youtube, as well as how-to articles all across the web, so make sure to look those up as well.

Happy music making!