Giray Songul, Entrepreneur, Software Engineer, Musician & Winner of Star Academy Turkey

What I love the most about music is definitely the freedom. Western music is simply a different combination of 12 notes in terms of sequence, timing, and duration. So you start so restricted, but you can end up somewhere that has never been discovered by anybody else. Additionally, it is all about emotions. A song needs to tell a story and invoke some feelings. Most of today’s popular music lacks this. However, this is the reason that music is the favorite art of many people: it can trigger your emotions pretty quickly.

My name is Giray Songul and I am an entrepreneur, software engineer, and musician. I am the founder of mychordbook.com, bookmark.expert, and shortcutexpert.com (along with many failed ones). Additionally, I have been a musician since I was 8 years old. 10 years ago, I won a singing performance competition called Star Academy Turkey, which was on a national TV channel. I did not continue my music career, but instead pursued entrepreneurship.

Unlike most people, I directly founded my start-up after I finished my studies. I was not into coding by then; I was working with freelancers and I was managing the business. Reviewing the freelancer’s work and requesting updates were too slow for me, so I started to make small changes to the style of the application with CSS. Along the way, I studied the code of the freelancers. Then I learned Javascript, then backend, then dev-ops. My only purpose was to create my dream product. 10 years have passed and I am still coding; I absolutely love it.

Currently, I am in Berlin, although my journey threw me into different places before. I did my Master’s in London. Then, I started my first company in Turkey. I worked in some companies here and there. I founded my second start-up in Estonia. Recently, a new opportunity brought me to Berlin.

I first became interested in music and guitar when I was a kid – my uncle was a musician, and he was always coming to our house and playing his own songs with his guitar. I was always into the composition part of the music because I grew up amazed by how he expressed himself with his songs. I never gave up playing guitar – it provided me with a social circle during my high school and university years. So, I have always enjoyed it.

Guitar had been my main instrument for about 24 years. However, recently, I barely touch it. I am an intermediate keyboard player; there are so many incredible libraries and sound packs today that I do not even play the guitar for my sessions – I just use software because I do not have a lot of free time, and live recording comes with many errors that you need to fix afterwards. So I mostly use my keyboard for my music production (actually, I believe I will also drop the midi keyboard in the near future!). Today, music production is so software-oriented that you do not even need to touch your midi keyboard. Don’t take my word for it; check out how some really popular producers create hits just with their laptops in a hotel room.

Although I am an advanced guitar player, I would have selected piano if I had the chance again– I see musical logic more while playing the keyboard than the guitar. In the future, if technology allows, I will record my voice to a sample library that can sing directly from the lyrics and use it for my future productions. That would be cool!

In my university years, I was crazy about music. I played in many bands, organised many gigs, composed many songs. I was certain that I wanted to pursue something in the music industry. During my senior year, I started to participate in composition and performance competitions. I think I was pushing pretty hard, as the company that produced Star Academy Turkey found me online (there was only Facebook by then) and invited me to their auditions. Everything went well and I participated in the 2011 series.

The program was on for about three months. We stayed in a place full of cameras and performed live on TV once per week, with one person eliminated every week. I was the rock ‘n’ roll guy of the house. There were many other contestants with different genres. I generally sang rock covers of old anonymous songs – this way, I could get votes from a wide age range of the TV audience. Our grand jury consisted of 4 people, two of whom were musicians: Ajda Pekkan (a very popular pop artist in Turkey) and Sertab Erener (the 2003 Eurovision winner). We also had the chance to work with many great musicians. After 3 months of competing, I was selected by viewer votes at the final as the winner.

Star Academy Turkey was a remarkable experience for me from start to finish. Since winning, I have met with many people in the music and TV business. It was pretty challenging and it definitely changed who I am today. Among all other things, it shaped my expectations about music. I have learned what it is like to think of music as a business, which I had never experienced before. I was much more dreamy about it before the competition. I had a taste of it and have decided not to pursue a music career afterwards.

I’ve still had a lot of great experiences with composing, arranging, and producing music after Star Academy. I have just finished recording a new track in which I sing as different characters representing the good and the bad sides of one’s soul. I used a nasal vocal to sound a little strange for the bad guy. During the recordings, I had the funniest producing moments of my life because I was always laughing after I sang as the bad guy. I had to take almost 30 different takes for each channel, even though the song is pretty serious. Anyway, it will definitely be a unique song. I will launch it after the summer because I have a hit dance song for the summer yet to be released. Wait for me, baby!

I have a few future goals with my music, especially now because I am totally free. Today, with the help of technology, everyone can produce top-grade songs in their bedroom and distribute them everywhere. This is amazing when you compare the situation with 10-20 years ago. Today, I compose, distribute, and market my music just as I want. Nobody interferes, and this feels amazing.

In recent years, in addition to producing, I have taught myself how to mix and master music. So today, I am able to launch a song from start to finish. My music has been shaping into a more groovy and digital sound from a slow-pop taste. I like to discover new places; my main aim is to find my unique sound someday. I believe my recent tracks Ben Geceyim and Gozlerime Bak were quite brave in trying new stuff. I would like to continue exploring digital fields which are new to me. Additionally, I plan to release some English songs in the coming years.

I have lots of advice and recommendations for people looking to compose and produce music in their home:

  1. Please do not feel overwhelmed. First, it will look like you need to learn tons of new information and software. You do not have to learn everything. Just learn the things when you need them.
  2. Do not consume your encouragement with over-work. Your enthusiasm for music is what makes you produce music at home. Do not lose it, whatever the cost. If you lose it, you will stop making music. So, do the things you enjoy producing music. If it is too boring, leave and come back later.
  3. You do not need a $1000 microphone. Today, you can set up a home studio really cheaply. You can certainly create professional-grade songs if you know what you are doing. Do not fall into the trap of hardware.
  4. If you want to learn, learn the fundamentals. Nobody cares how well you know a certain plug-in or software. However, if you know the bare-bones of music theory and some insight into technology, you can easily use any software or plug-in with ease. Learn how the sound works, and the relationship between the notes, chords, and scales. Learn the equalizer, compressor, limiter, and reverb. Always learn the idea, not the gimmick.
  5. For more advanced, full-stack music producers like me (who likes to do all the things), below you can find how important are some procedures for the success of a track. Do not forget that this is highly opinionated:
    1. Sales & Marketing: 50% (Sad But True from Metallica)
    2. Music: 50% (the track itself)
      1. Composing: 60% (melodies, lyrics, etc.)
      2. Arrangement: 20% (which instruments play what stuff)
      3. Producing: 5% (Recording the instruments, all the related techniques, etc.)
      4. Mixing: 10% (volume and character of each sound in the track)
      5. Mastering: 5% (overall volume and character of the track)

 

Unfortunately, these are not the percentages of how much time you spend on each of them. However, please always consider this table whenever you are committing your time to something that is not deal-breaking. Always focus on the important things.

Lastly, in today’s world, music is consumed like crazy. So, it is better to release more tracks with intermediate quality than releasing a masterpiece every 2 years. Although it sounds awkward, today’s audience wants to engage more often, and all the algorithms such as YouTube and Spotify support this kind of strategy. So, if you want to reach a bigger audience, release a new track every 2-3 months.

And that is it. If you want further advice, contact me for more tips!

I see a few similarities between my music and my current occupation. First of all, both of them are pretty analytical. Although emotions are more involved in music, just like coding, you spend many hours in front of your computer, turning knobs, adding effects, searching for solutions, etc. Additionally, the ratio of creative work to routine work is also similar. In coding, you rarely come up with a unique solution or work on something really special; most of your time goes to configuration and writing the generic stuff. In music production, again, the best part is when you write the bare-bones of a song, finding the melody and constructing the fundamentals of the arrangement. Later on, you do many boring tasks such as cleaning audio files, fine-tuning your effects, etc. And in both of them, you love how it feels to show it to other people who would enjoy it.

I certainly think my experiences with music have been a benefit to my technological career. My first start-up idea was a smart guitar that had LEDs embedded on its fingerboard to light up chords when you listen to a song from YouTube. Later on, Mychordbook.com, which is one of my most successful products, is all about musical instrument learning. So, I could not find enough courage to try these businesses without my music experience.

There is always more than tech. There are many people out there that do amazing stuff in our community. It is very important that we share, collaborate, help, and support each other. This will definitely make a difference.

Thanks Otia Magazine for pursuing this purpose and thanks for the interview. If anybody wants to connect with me about my music or my products, you are more than welcome to!

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