Alex McGrath, senior music composition and double major in computer science, creates music on his laptop with his mini studio. McGrath not only creates film scores and electronic music, but he also composes his own music and will be releasing an album later this year. Photograph by Ben Caylor.
ARIE LIKHTMAN | STAFF JOURNALIST | [email protected]
Alex McGrath, a senior in music composition and computer science, has finally finished his first album: “In My Head”. A testament to growing up and dealing with anxiety, this eclectic project features music of almost every genre, from pop and R&B to film and orchestra. The album will be released on October 1 on all streaming platforms. McGrath shares his thoughts on what this project means to him.
The college butler: How long has this album been in production?
Alex McGrath: So this process, it’s quite interesting to see how it started. I was making electronic music for the first time in a long time last summer because I was stuck at home for COVID, and it’s been a while since I messed around Studio FL [A digital audio workstation that allows users to create music through digital sound]. So I said, “Why wasn’t I just producing a song?” I have a bad habit of starting to work on one song and then having a bunch of ideas for other songs. And so one song turned into three [and then] three songs turned into six. I added an extra song in the winter, then took it to my teacher, Dr Felice. He suggested that I have two more songs and make it into an album, and that’s kind of where it was finalized.
To confirm : How many songs are there on the album?
A M: There are nine songs.
To confirm : What inspired you to get into electronic music and more specifically to produce this album?
A M: I started playing electronic music when I was young. I have a copy of Mixcraft acoustics, which is an entry-level digital audio workstation. I had this when I was in college, and I started writing music that was a bit orchestral, a bit cinematic, a bit electronic, and that also had a pop vibe. I was on and off [writing electronic music] until last year. And since then I’ve done a lot of electronic music.
To confirm : What are your musical influences? Which ones can we hear on this album?
A M: I have one for each genre which has inspired me a lot. There are little bits of [electronic rock band] Muse, [dubstep artist] Deadmau5 and Ludwig Goransson, who is a film music composer. I love all of these artists, and they’re all on my playlist.
To confirm : How would you describe the sound of the album?
A M: Yeah, that’s the catch-all. I try everything. This is my first freshman album so I don’t have a definite style or the fans tell me to do this or do that so I try a little [of] everything and see what sticks. I like all of these genres. There’s everything from pop to R&B, from retro cutscenes to soundtracks, almost 8-bit. Very retro atmosphere, all kinds of things are in there. Hope that a little something for everyone. And that’s kind of where I’m going to set foot on it.
To confirm : What inspired the title of this album? What is special about the words “In my head”?
A M: The reason it’s called “In My Head” is that in the three tracks I have on [the album] who have lyrics, my voice is very deeply personal about my struggles. I had a lot of difficulty because of various things that really broke out with COVID-19. I’m a very sociable outgoing person, and being locked up is difficult, and sobering. I spent a lot of time in my head, thinking about social issues and stress. And so, I found that writing songs about it was a really good way for me to express that both for myself and for other people who are going through the same things. I wanted to summarize exactly what it feels like and give my take on what I’ve been through. It’s really interesting because [COVID-19] helped my music process because I’m stuck at home writing more music more often, but also, I felt a bit detached from a lot of people in public life because I spent so much time working on it . It was mostly my free time when I was in first grade. Last year I had just finished my classes almost every day and then I would come home and do a little more production, mastering, mixing, whatever I had to do.
To confirm : Can you describe your recording process on an individual song?
A M: I do everything from start to finish. I start pretty much every song looking for ideas, looking for instruments, then auditioning lots of VST samples and plugins. [Virtual Studio Technology, software that integrates digital sounds into the Digital Audio Workstation] to see if there is anything that matches what I’m feeling. Most of the time I have no idea, especially when I’m starting something new. The only thing I know is that I want to do something that is not what I just did. And so, I’m going to try something new and see if I get something that I like. Once I have an idea of where this piece is going. I am starting to work in this direction. It really is a “mad science” type of approach. You really have to be open to exactly what it is you are feeling if you want to achieve the best result. You just have to let what’s going on guide you to “It almost sounds like what I want, but what can I do to change and fix it?” Or “I know, I wanted this song to be more of a pop inspired song. So where’s my guitar?
To confirm : Outside of production, what’s your songwriting process like?
A M: I come from a background of classical composition and film music. All those things where you can find any sound and instrument. None of this has words. And so, this album was the first time that I produced something with my voice on it. I’m not really a singer by training. That is to say, really everything in there comes from my heart. I haven’t played with songwriting, so it’s just me talking about my [deeply personal] experiences.
To confirm : What awaits you as an artist?
A M: So much awaits us. I already have three or four releases from this album, or things that I never finished on time or that I started working on very late in the process and I didn’t get it. These songs could appear on a future album. There are so many things that I do. I’m trying so hard. I recently listened to some cool delays and edits on some vocals in a song, and now I want to have fun with it. A skill becomes a song. I like this way of looking at it. I really like to learn.
To confirm : How did your computer science degree influence your music / this album?
A M: Computer science is a very vague field. It really means studying how to code, and that’s about it. It means you can do it all with coding. So there are actually a lot of opportunities to do computer related gigs with music. One of those that I’m really interested in and that – if I had more time in the day – I would start right now is programming different plugins and VST software for musicians, so that I can create sound effects, all of them. of that done with code.
To confirm : What is the overall message of the album?
A M: It’s good to be in your head. This is where you do a lot of soul searching, and it’s good to do that if you’re having a hard time as well. If you really feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, don’t be afraid to share this message with others, because there are always people who want to help you, who want to share this experience with you. . And when you share experiences, you will find that a lot of people look to the things you are going through.
McGrath is only just beginning his musical journey. He plans to attend a graduate school for film music while continuing to produce more albums.
ArCourtesy of Macey Dickerson