How do you record your brilliant musical ideas?

September 28, 2009 4:29 PM

What do YOU do when you think up a hot melody?

I'm asking because I really have not found the ideal way to record musical ideas as they come to me when I'm not near my gear. As we all know, the best ideas don't tend to happen when you're right by an instrument or a computer - so when you're riding the subway, or driving, or just a'walkin' down the road, and you think up a fantastic tune, what do you do? Record it into your phone? Write it down somehow? Sing it over and over in your head until you get home? I'm looking for ideas and tips and such to improve my chances of remember my great ideas, because I lose a lot of them.

Thanks folks!
posted by ORthey (17 comments total)

I call home and hum it into my answering machine.
posted by chillmost at 4:45 PM on September 28, 2009

Or I hum it into my mobile using the audio record function.
posted by chillmost at 4:46 PM on September 28, 2009

Memo recorder on my PDA. Yeah, I still use my PDA.

If using that isn't appropriate for my environment, I'll scribble something down on some scratch paper.

I've tried the singing it over in my head technique as a way to force my brain to remember the idea, but that works about 7% of the time. What finally gets transcribed is never close to how awesome the track that developed in my head was.
posted by man vs sun at 6:43 PM on September 28, 2009

Oh man, I want an answering machine now. I can imagine coming home after a long day having completely forgotten. 'Hey! A message!' I'd think and give the ole play button a russ down. I'm not sure if I would be amused or horrified at the garbly warbly tune coming out of the speakers.
posted by xorry at 7:43 PM on September 28, 2009

I use the "remember it in your head" technique combined with the "assume what you are thinking of now is better than your original idea even if you're not sure it actually is." I tend to yell, sing badly, chant, and beatbox as I bicycle around. Everyone must think I am a nut.
posted by fuq at 8:12 PM on September 28, 2009

I try to sing it into my phone if it's convenient, but usually I'll just repeat it over and over until I've got it close-enough to remember. There are plenty of days I'll drive home from work with the radio turned off so I don't lose the tune.

I'm toying with the idea of picking up one of those portable 4-tracks with the built-in mics to toss in my backpack or the car, but I don't know how often I'd use it.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:19 AM on September 29, 2009

I record it into GigBaby on my iPhone. I used to actually write melodies out on paper. It was strikingly ineffective for creating a final song. Singing into my phone works much better.
posted by annathea at 12:15 PM on September 29, 2009

Given that I'm musically illiterate when caught on the hop I record my ideas on a Zoom H2 - which is a really good little hand-size recorder with suberb sound (PCM WAV, MP3 in various bitrates and other formats) and a lot of versatility. It would be a lot easier if I could read/write music - I'm just too fucking idle though.

I don't know what everyone else's experience is but mine follows a depressingly familiar patern: excitement of the "oh yesssss!!" variety with the initial idea followed by gradual sinking feeling as the thing fails to deliver on the magnum opus you initially thought you had on you hands, ending in "this is fucking crap - I'm giving this up 'cos I'm just shit". I think I've only done a handful of tracks that actually got even close to the original inspiration.

What I've found over time is that really good ideas will eventually come back, even if you think you've forgotten them. If they don't, they probably weren't that great anyway.

The biggest pisser for me is that I often get ideas when I'm dropping off to sleep and my brain is unspooling - so I have to get up and grab a guitar and my H2. And then I start thinking about the idea.......and find I've missed the sleep bus!
posted by MajorDundee at 2:18 PM on September 29, 2009

I have a notebook in which I keep my ideas, but that's usually where the crap that never becomes anything goes. The stuff I actually keep around usually is the result of an epiphany followed by scurrying for scrap paper, regardless of where I happen to be, at the time. The best ones seem to strike me in places where asking for a piece of scrap paper is completely inappropriate--like a bar, a wedding, or a funeral.
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 3:36 PM on September 29, 2009

What I've found over time is that really good ideas will eventually come back, even if you think you've forgotten them. If they don't, they probably weren't that great anyway.

I think this is true much of the time. There are no doubt some great ideas that don't ever come back, but I'd wager those are relatively few.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:18 PM on September 29, 2009

Many of my discovery moments happen when I'm sleeping. Usually they're recoverable because I associate them with visuals...I think those are easier to remember than sounds.

However, get a cheap digital recorder. They are fun to have around anyway. Good luck with this!
posted by snsranch at 6:21 PM on September 29, 2009

I tend to forget them, then recreate them in song form, then later remember that "Oh, crap, I was saving that melody for something way better!" I should probably start actually using that digital recorder I used to carry around. I mean, for things other than playing the Final Fantasy battle victory music when the need arises.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:49 PM on September 29, 2009

Digital recorder, answering machine, writing it down -- whatever works for you! Maybe a combination of everything.

Unfortunately, singing or humming an idea over and over again almost never works for me. Usually I record initial ideas into my little Cowon/iAudio flash music player, which also doubles as a recorder and can save audio as mp3s. And then as soon as I can, I'll try to record another version with guitar and (if applicable) lyrics, even if they make absolutely no sense/are temporary placeholder lyrics. A Zoom H2 or H4 would be nice, but sort of overkill if you don't need stereo sound or multitracking. Whatever you have, anything is better than nothing. Back before digital recording was more affordable, I would tape music ideas with a microcassette or portable cassette recorder.

Also, you might want to check out this AskMe: Getting music out of my brain away from home
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 1:37 AM on October 1, 2009

Yeah, rangefinder, I used a microcassette recorder as a portable music idea notebook for several years, in the 90s. I still have a little box full of those tapes, about 25 or 30 of 'em...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:42 AM on October 1, 2009

I use the voice mom function on my smartphone. I have an old-timey country-western tune on there right now. I should record it this weekend.

But as for "the best ideas don't always come when you're near the gear", I beg to differ. The stuff I created because I knew I needed one more song very frequently is the best stuff I've done. Not saying that's the trend; just noticed that it works for me.
posted by grubi at 8:38 PM on October 6, 2009

What's around? Memo recorder, laptop, calling my own voicemail, phone voice memo, or just singing it/humming it over and over hoping I won't forget it before I get home. That most of these sound terrible to me the next day doesn't thwart me; it's worth it to remember the good ones, or at least not to feel like I forgot the good ones.
posted by davejay at 4:35 PM on October 27, 2009

I have the iPhone fourtrack app, about 10 bucks. Works great and I've been able to make some pretty cool recordings and remember some nice ideas....
posted by slipperystar at 4:56 AM on November 10, 2009

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