Open Access Honors Program Thesis
Matthew Wilson, Advisor
Electronic music; Composition (Music); Video recording;
Creating my thesis project has been quite a journey - perhaps a longer and more tedious journey than I anticipated, but rewarding nonetheless. Starting this project in the fall, I simply had the goal of making cool music, producing videos to accompany it, and getting some people to watch it. This is much easier said than done, however.
In my head, this was to be a pretty straightforward project. I had made electronic music before and had been improving at it. I had edited some videos, though not for a few years. And I had experimented with marketing content. The reality, of course, is that doing a good job at anything takes a lot of time and effort. I ended up learning lessons not just about the area I focused on, but about structuring a project and working independently. Some of this came from mistakes made along the way, some from successes. In the end (and as I write this, it is really not the end of the project) I think I have walked away with a great deal of knowledge gained, a new potential career path, and some solid work to show for the effort I put in.
My work was essentially divided into four areas: Ableton Live, Adobe After Effects, video and narrative concepts, and online marketing. Two of these areas are applications I learned to use, two of them more conceptual. Although I list these areas in somewhat the order I learned about them, this really was not a linear, “point a to point b” research project. Just as I thought I had finished one step or gotten a solid grasp of one concept, I would encounter new information, changing my view on the work I had just completed.
My basic starting point was Ableton Live. Ableton is one of the most popular pieces of digital audio software. It is an excellent program, but has a definite learning curve to it. My initial perception was if I had a good sense of how to use the program, I would be able to make good music. Making music is not all technical skill though, and I ended up spending more time thinking and learning about composition than about the technical features of Ableton. This was far from the only time my initial perceptions about what this project would involve were proven wrong!
The next program I delved into was Adobe After Effects, as well as Adobe Premiere. After Effects is essentially Photoshop for video. It allows for a great deal of manipulation of digital images. After Effects has been used in most (if not all) movies released in recent years. For me personally, the learning curve was pretty intense with this program. The user interface is effective for those with experience, but very intimidating to a beginner. The amount of flexibility is pretty limitless. This is great now - if I can imagine an effect, with enough time and effort I can probably create it. However, when first using the program the options are overwhelming. Again, I figured that with a decent knowledge of the program’s functions, I would be ready to create a video. However, watching tutorials and knowing what every button does is really just the beginning. Creating compositions that are organized in an understandable way and do not cause issues later on proved to be one of my biggest challenges.
Beyond simply compositing the video I wanted, developing a narrative behind my work was a huge learning experience for me. Whether for class or work, most of the visual creation I had dealt with before involved a previously created storyline. I had a good sense of how to create some cool looking visuals. Linking them together in a rational way was something I had not considered. This is an area I am still working on, and feel like I am getting better at every day.
The final, ongoing part of my project is marketing what I create. In retrospect, I probably should have saved this step for another project. The internet is a complex web. Understanding how to create content that will appeal to a variety of subcultures and communities is incredibly complicated. This is the step of the project that I see continuing for months, maybe even years. Things do not always blow up or go viral overnight, and to make a piece of content do so takes planning, organization, and some really good content!
That said, I feel like I have learned a great deal about what tactics are effective and ineffective already. Experimentation and trying out different tactics is the only way to learn what does and does not work, and without this opportunity to do so in a safe academic setting, I might have taken the wrong approach in a situation with higher consequence, and more important content. On the whole, I ended up realizing this was a much deeper project than simply learning programs and marketing what I made in them. Really, this was a branding project. It has allowed me to explore what my own unique content looks like. I have developed more of an original style, although my work is still pretty derivative of my influences. Finally, it has gotten me started creating the kind of thing I want to continue to do for the foreseeable future. This thesis is not a project I am finishing, but really just beginning. To explain what I did and where it has led me, I will elaborate on each area in a little more detail, giving a background and context to better understand my final product.
Upon starting this project, I had been experimenting with music and Ableton Live for about 6 months or so. My interest in electronic music and composition came from a few different sources. As a kid, I took piano lessons, and always found the piano to be an interesting instrument. I had preferred messing around to actually playing compositions though, and hated having to practice songs that did not interest me. Most electronic composition uses programs and controllers based around a keyboard. For me, this allowed a more intuitive understanding of how to approach varied instrumentation. When every (virtual) instrument can be controlled through the same keyboard, it is a lot easier to understand how they all interact with each other in a composition.
Of course, if I had taken piano lessons for much of my childhood, and had access to the requisite technology, why did I just recently get into making music with computers? A combination of factors is responsible. In the last five to ten years, the electronic music scene has grown immensely. The music I make is not radio friendly pop. But hearing such an abundance of electronic music made me think, “Hey, maybe I could do that!” A few artists in particular intrigued me with their intricate arrangements: Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada are some of my biggest influences. The idea that much of what these artists made was accomplished, or could be accomplished with simply a laptop was fascinating and motivational. Seeing artists rapidly gaining popularity in the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene and were only a few years older than me solidified the notion that I had the technology and time to pursue music creation.
My initial experiments creating music concentrated primarily on taking existing songs (often soul or jazz samples) and manipulating them to fit into a hip-hop paradigm. Adding drums to a few bars of a sample could create beats that would be suitable for rapping over. Although I was not very good at it yet, I loved the idea of taking existing art and recontextualizing it.
Year of Submission
Department of Marketing
University Honors Designation
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors
©2017 Isak Fedeler Knivsland
Knivsland, Isak Fedeler, "Trying to fit in with the weird parts of the Internet: Online subcultures and content creation" (2017). Honors Program Theses. 293.