Abysmal Rejoicing

I’m not going to be so bold as to say Valentine’s is one of the most musically productive times of the year. In addition to lovesick lovers, there’s also FAWM. You can’t always wait for inspiration to strike, but there’s something about the strong emotions caused by love that just… triggers something.

Use that inspiration when it occurs. But don’t limit yourself to spontaneous inspiration. Here’s three ways you can use your emotions to make music.


Channel Your Emotions

When something emotionally intense hits you, the only thing to do is to release it. Yes, you can bottle it and stuff it and all that other socially-acceptable nonsense, but I’m pretty sure you understand that emotions need to be shown. Even if it’s in the safety of your room with a guitar or piano, let it out.

You have artistic inclinations for a reason. Let ’em loose. Don’t hold back. Do something ridiculous to express the depths of your heart.

It’s good for you. It’s also good for your productivity and creativity.


Create Your Emotions

Your emotions are triggered by external events, but you can also manipulate your feelings. Contrary to popular advice to follow your heart, you should actually be leading your heart, because you get to choose your actions, thoughts, and yes, feelings.

Emotional manipulation usually boils down to abuse. Don’t do that to yourself – when you read “create your emotions,” you should get the sense of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for creative purposes. Again, you control your actions and thoughts, which determines your emotional state.

Creating music can’t just happen when you’re inspired. Otherwise you’ll never hone your skills to the point where you want them, and you’ll never make enough bad music to recognize it for what it is.

So if you’re not inspired, make up some intense emotion. Create your own emotionally intense release.


Speak on Behalf of the Voiceless

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that if you’re reading this, you’re quite privileged. You have access to a computer. Probably also to clean water, 3 meals a day, and a bed at night.

You lucky bastard.

Whereas creating your own emotions asks you to put yourself in hypothetical and imaginary circumstances to generate the emotional inspiration to creation, this is asking you to look at the injustices around you and use music to speak to the gap. Your one voice as a lucky bastard is much more likely to be heard than the hundreds of thousands of voices of the less fortunate. 

This is a challenge to invest in something wrong with our world. Let dying children break your heart. Let the gunshots of blind faith boil your blood. Let the survival of one more person fill your soul with boundless joy.

Get up and speak so that someone may be heard. You are more than just an individual. You belong to the family of the human race.


Is there something I missed that is guaranteed to inspire you to write? Sound out in the comments! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

91 Things to Boost Your Creativity (aka 91 ridiculous ways to kill time)

Sometimes your creativity kicker just stops kicking. When your mind is empty and you’re pounding your head against a wall of uninspired bulldust, it might be time to take a break and give yourself permission to do something else. While you might have a couple ideas of something else that you know you want to do, here’s 91 other things you can do to stop choking your creative mind:

  1. Build something awesome
  2. Turn off your phone and go for a long, long walk
  3. See how many dogs in your neighborhood you can get barking at once
  4. Go for a color walk and try to find an object in every color inside or outside of your home
    Bonus points: Make sure your colored objects are something naturally occurring, like a plant or animal
  5. Challenge a random pedestrian to a dance-off
  6. Challenge a driver at a stop light to a dance-off
  7. Learn a new instrument like the drums, guitar, or piano (no affiliate)
  8. Teach yourself a new skill
  9. Teach someone else a new skill
  10. Prepare a GTFO bag
  11. Work on your everyday carry EDC kit
  12. Learn how to and practice walking like a ninja
  13. Show up at your friend’s house without telling anyone
    Bonus points: Make it a friend that lives at least 3 hours away from you
  14. Track down a friend you haven’t had contact with in years
  15. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in the past 12 months
  16. Call your Mother / Father / Sister / Brother
  17. Call your Grandma / Grandpa
    Bonus points: show up at your grandparents’ house without telling them
  18. Ask your family for their favorite stories about other family members
  19. Ask your parents for hilarious stories about yourself/your siblings as toddlers/children
  20. Start a rhyming text battle with someone
  21. Start a rhyming battle with a random stranger
  22. Give someone $20-$50 without them noticing (don’t forget to use your ninja skills)
  23. Ask homeless people to tell you their best stories
  24. Go through your closet and donate crap you don’t need
  25. Go through your house and donate crap you never use
    Bonus points: Try to sell some of these things to neighbors and/or strangers
  26. Play bigger and better
  27. Set up a Fiverr or Etsy account
  28. Create a 5-20 page children’s storybook, including illustrations
  29. Go to the library and try to find the most ridiculous book cover ever
  30. Go to the bookstore and try to find the most and least expensive book in the store
    Bonus points: Try to haggle with a manager to increase the price of the least expensive book, and / or lower the price of the most expensive book
  31. Read up on the latest psychological discoveries
  32. Sell your body to science
  33. Take a nap and DO NOT SET A TIMER
  34. Write a motivational speech for someone you know is having a hard time
  35. Research the details of a religion you’re not familiar with
  36. Rewrite 7 alternate endings for your favorite book series / TV show / movie / video game
    Bonus points: Tell someone who hasn’t gotten to the end of the story your alternate ending. When they see / read the real ending, you will get to laugh and laugh and laugh…
  37. Go to your local university’s free speech zone and ask students to tell you the most interesting thing they learned that day
  38. Make a plan to build a new habit
  39. Replay a game from your childhood
  40. Start a blog or Youtube channel
  41. Make a stop motion animated video
  42. Write a 3-5 page script and send it in to your local News Station
    Bonus points: Challenge them to actually use the script in their newscast
  43. Offer to babysit for a friend so they can have an epic date night
  44. Plan and run an epic date night for your friends who don’t have kids
    Bonus points: Set up the date between two of your friends who aren’t dating
  45. Go door-to-door and collect donations for a charity
  46. Call your mayor and ask him about the city’s plans for prosperity in the event of a nuclear fallout
  47. Download a free-to-play Steam game and play uninterrupted for at least 30 minutes
  48. Talk like a pirate for the rest of the day…
  49. … after making a customized paper pirate hat
  50. Learn a new language
  51. Make a friend from a foreign country
  52. Research and listen to music from a foreign country
    Bonus points: Ask your new foreign friend for their favorite band
  53. Listen to music from a genre that you can’t stand for at least an hour
  54. Try to write a song in a genre you can’t stand
  55. Learn some really long words
  56. Ask a guy to teach you some manly skill (like changing your oil)
  57. Ask a girl to teach you some womanly skill (like folding bedsheets)
  58. Play your instrument upside down
  59. Invent a new board game
  60. Invent a new card game
  61. Invent a cardboard game
  62. Build a snowman
    Bonus points: Build a snowman without any snow
  63. Read a comic book
  64. Write / draw a short comic
  65. Write / draw a satire
  66. Do a drawing tutorial
  67. Watch a kid’s movie and consider its political meaning
  68. Daydream about the perfect kids movie
  69. Daydream about the perfect video game
  70. Investigate career paths that you could take with your hobbies
  71. Plan a global adventure
  72. Take the lyrics of 2-12 songs and mash 3-7 word phrases into one song
    Bonus points: Mash genres together (aka metal mashed with dubstep, pop, and country)
  73. Take the characters of one story and imagine what would happen if you plopped them into another story
  74. Imagine how your favorite story would have been different if the villain was the hero and vice versa
  75. Learn a martial art
  76. Research a single year in history
  77. Browse random articles on Wikipedia
  78. Create alter egos for yourself and your family / friends
  79. Read a self-help book for something you don’t need help with
  80. Make a thank you / birthday card from scratch
  81. Create a scavenger hunt for someone
  82. Make a plushie for yourself, and a matching one for a friend
    Bonus points: Personalize the plushies so they reflect your personalities
  83. Genre-mash movies (Western + Superhero + Mecha)
  84. Watch an anime
  85. Write uninterrupted in a journal
  86. Make paper airplanes and see how far you can get one to fly
  87. Make the most delicious paleo (insert any other diet) meal you can with items already in your fridge / kitchen
  88. Sign up for a free trial of a game (Runescape, World of Warcraft; something of the like)
  89. Go to the park and see if you can Disney Princess a squirrel into your hand
  90. Play on a kid’s playground (when kids aren’t on it, of course)
  91. Come up with a list of 91 things to do with your best friend / significant other / brother / whoever

That’s it. 91 ways to beat your creative block and come up with awesome ideas. Have any more suggestions? Let ’em rip in the comments!

It’s What You Do That Matters

Dreams are great. Without desire, you’d never go anywhere, do anything, or strive to become something more than yourself.

But here’s the thing – and I don’t want to harp this point too much – without work, dreams are nothing. They’re just wishes that your heart makes. And if you’ve had any experience wishing on stars, you know that you won’t get your wish unless someone puts in the hours.

By all means, dream on, dreamer. Just remember that it doesn’t matter how big, all-encompassing or thorough your dream is if you don’t do anything about it. Because in the end, it’s what you do that matters.


What Have You Done This Year?

So you probably had some interesting, humongous, awesome dreams a month ago. What have you done about them? How much closer are you today than you were yesterday?

It doesn’t matter how small that difference is. If you took a single, tiny tiptoe closer to your dreams, you’re doing it right. Tiptoe a little closer today. And a little closer tomorrow.

It also doesn’t matter if you haven’t taken a single step closer to your dreams. Today can be the day that you finally start walking.


Do Something That Matters

… to you. I don’t care how busy your day is, or how small that “something” is. We all have to start somewhere – just do something.

You’ve only got one life to live. Please, don’t squander it doing something useless and ultimately meaningless. Create 8 bars of new music. Listen to a new band. Listen to your favorite song on repeat – it doesn’t matter what you want to do, only that it matters.

It doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s what you do that matters. Today’s your day. It’s on.


If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

How to Make MIDI Strings Sound More Realistic

Unless you’re paying $200 for MIDI sounds, chances are good that your free MIDI sounds are… awful. This is especially true of strings – violins, violas, cellos, double bass; if it can be played with a bow and was free, the MIDI version doesn’t sound that great.

That being said, there are ways to help make your MIDI strings sound a little bit less pathetic and a little more realistic in your mix. This guide won’t make your stock Garageband strings sound like a real violinist actually played them, but it (hopefully) will make your stock sounds a little more bearable.


On Velocity and Quantization

Just like with MIDI drums, to make your MIDI strings sound most realistic, you shouldn’t just keep all your notes’ velocities at the same level. (In Garageband I think the preset is 98.) Varying your velocities within about plus/minus 15 steps is a safe place to keep it so that you get variation, but it still maintains a similar intensity.

The key to improving the realism of your MIDI string sounds is to humanize them – so you change the velocity, and you change the quantization. You don’t want to quantize your notes so that they begin right on the beat – about 80-95% is a good place to stay.

One of the hard things with strings and quantization is that the samples don’t always start playing right at the beginning of your MIDI note. To just keep your strings in time with all the other instruments, you may have to pull their start time a little bit back from the beat you want them to play on.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.33.25 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.33.47 AMIn the first picture the notes are all aligned right with the beat. But if the sound doesn’t start right away, it can make your strings sound sloppy. Like the second picture, try pulling your notes back so that the sound starts right on the beat to help keep your recording tight.


Use Different Instruments and Split Up Tracks

If you can find some decent free MIDI sounds of each individual instrument in your string section (check out resources for some links!), you’re already light years ahead of Garageband’s stock. Use a different MIDI instrument for each of your instruments – violin, viola, cello, and double bass are the standard string section.

Even if you’re just got some stock “Orchestral Strings” instrument, try to have a unique track for each of those instruments, and keep notes that would fit for each instrument unique to that track. Just because you don’t have a specific MIDI sound for each instrument doesn’t mean you can split them up that way! Here’s a very generalized range that you can use to guide your track splits:

  • Violins can start as low as G3, and go as high as the spectrum allows
  • Violas can start as low as G1 and go to about D5
  • Cellos start as low as C2 and go as high as A4
  • Double basses are anything lower than G1

Those notes are by no means scientific or definite – they’re just a starter’s guide. I tend to have each instrument playing 3 octaves, with their lowest octave playing in the same range the instrument that’s lower than them, and their highest octave playing in the same range as the instrument higher than them.

For example: Violin would play C4-C6, Viola would play C3-C5, Cello would play C2-C4, Double bass would play C0-C2.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.53.03 AMThe tiny little letters on the keys on the left help me determine where to keep my notes.


Layer Your Sounds

If you’ve got computer power to spare, one of the simplest ways to make a strings track sound more realistic is to layer sounds. Play duplicate tracks (same notes) with different instruments.

For example, say you’ve got a violin part, and you’re using an instrument that has just the violin. To give it more oomph, you can copy/paste the notes into a new track, and use the Smart Strings instrument. Bam! Sound improved.


Modulation and Mixing

One of the awesome things about Garageband’s Smart Strings is that by turning on the modulation, you can change the kinds of sounds that play. You can get staccato, pizzicato, and legato all out of one track instead of needing to have different MIDI tracks specifically for the different ways to play.

Play with the modulation on your different instruments to see if you can get any extra sounds out of your MIDI.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.57.12 AMA short little guide for playing the Smart Strings with Musical Typing:

  • 3 is legato – smooth, blends together, good for long notes
  • 4 is a staccato – short, jerky notes played by the bow, this is a shafting sound
  • 5 is another staccato – same as above, slightly different technique
  • 6 is a pizzicato – short, plucked notes
  • 7 is another legato – same as 3, more or less
  • 8 is another staccato – similar to 4 and 5

Mixing is the last key thing you can do to get your strings to sound more realistic. First off, do your panning well. Give each of your MIDI strings its place in the stereo field.

Finally, feel free to EQ those suckers. It’ll help clean up the sound, at the very least!


These are the things I have found take my crappy sounding strings and make them more palatable and authentic. The vice of MIDI (it sounds terrible compared to the real thing) is also its blessing – it’s a different sound than you’ll get from a real instrument. Use that to whatever ends you will.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!