We are more than just musicians, we are people. During my last few gigs I had a few instances of the co headliner being rude. This is not the first time this has happened. I wanted to share my insights on how being present, and kind to everyone involved will lead to more success and a better gig.
Ableton has just released word on a new product. The product is something very unexpected. A Book?
When we think of the book industry, we think of a dying age. Well, some of us do. That is what makes this such an interesting move. I got to be a part of a call for Ableton Certified Trainers when the author, Dennis DeSantis, showed it off and let us ask questions. Dennis told us that Ableton as a company is out to help musicians make music. That this is above all else their goal. The move to create this book is the first step in that direction.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
For many artists, nothing inspires more existential terror than actually making art. The fear that we’re not good enough or that we don’t know enough results in untold numbers of creative crises and potential masterpieces that never get realized…
Making Music was written both to answer this question and to offer ways to make it easier. It presents a systematic, concrete set of patterns that you can use when making music in order to move forward.
I love the direction they are taking with this book. It’s a reminder of why we even use Ableton Live. To express, share our creativity, and make music. The book is called Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers. You can order the book now, and even read it online from their website.
The book is divided into three sections, Problems of Beginning, Problems of Progressing, and Problems of Finishing. The book is very precise and you can tell that Dennis DeSantis has taken his years of knowledge as a music producer and distilled it into an amazing resource for the rest of us.
One of the most daunting tasks as a music producer can be starting a blank project. Your mind starts asking what genre… what bpm… what style… what synth… where do I start? In this article I am going to describe my basic writing process and what I found works for me. It will be step by step. This is a guideline. There are no rules, but I find myself using this logical progression a lot in the studio.
#1 START WITH THE VIBE
The first thing you are going to want to do is get in touch with the feeling of what you want to create. Check out this article on the Creative Mode to learn more about “getting in the mood”.
For this process I suggest just playing around. Just rock out with an idea. It could mean you play the guitar, keyboard, step sequencer, or whatever. Just make music with a sense of play for a little while as the vibe begins to emerge. Once you have this the rest can begin to fall into place.
I’d like to add that this is a give and take process through out writing music. I begin to feel out the vibe and idea of the track, but I am also fluid and move where it wants to go. Sometimes ½ way though the track I make this totally awesome synth section that feels more like acid house then glitch hop (what I was going for). I just follow that route. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The key is to come up with ideas and just play.
#2 GROUND ZERO
At this point I will start to build my track. I generally start in 1 of 2 places. If I am creating a more harmonically driven track (like ambient of downtempo) I will start with texture. I have used the Morphonic Textures as a great place to build lush textures. From this place I will start to hear different harmonies and melodies. It’s like starting off a canvas with a random texture and seeing what shapes can be found in it, like cloud watching.
If I am making a more rhythmic based track I will start with the beat. It will be the cornerstone of everything else, so I will start with it’s structure. Sometimes I just grab some prefab look. If I like the groove I will remake it by listening to the parts and writing a new midi / audio sample based looping. It’s important to create your own loop as quickly as possible so you don’t build the track around any other drum loop and when you build one later it just doesn’t fit.
#3 BUILDING THE INSTRUMENTS
Now that we have the foundation , either textural or rhythmic, we can start to build the other instruments involved. 80% of the time I start with the presets. It’s just really easy to throw in my favorite synth and play with a few sounds. I see which one inspires me. Maybe this rhodes is awesome, but needs a little saturation or attack. I then edit the preset and tweak it to my liking.
Usually I change it by ½ to ⅓ of what the original sound was. Just minor tweaks here and there to make it unique and fit what I want. It’s important to understand the basics of synthesis so you know what is happening and how to affect it in unique ways.
Once and a while I will start with a blank instrument, like operator. If I know exactly the sounds I am looking for, or it’s easy to make, I will just dial it in. A good example of this is sub bass. I know I can use a sine wave, or a triangle wave with a few tweaks here and there.
In building instruments remember you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just because you’re a musician doesn’t mean you have to build all the instruments from scratch. Do you think every band leader should know how to build a drum kit, guitar, bass, and cowbell? Granted if you do develop the skills of synthesis and sound design you will have a stronger control over the sound and can start doing the crazy synthesis shit.
#4 WORKING YOUR WAY UP
Now that we have a foundation, and starting to build out our instruments we now just work our way up the track. This image is a great example of the stems to build a track. Granted this is a rhythmic based track. If it were more ambient and textural I would just add a layer at the bottom.
This is also a very basic formula to look at with songwriting. If you start with the drums, then the bass has a groove to play off of. That helps support the groove in the guitar part and so on. If you started by recording your lead and vocal then later added drums you might notice there cadence was off. That is why this is a simple and logical progression for writing tracks. Not a rule, just one formula.
#5 BUILDING THE COMPOSITION
Now the parts are being built you are ready to start expanding the composition. I wrote an article showing off some tips and tricks with writing your composition. With the composition you are just expanding out the ideas you already created. Maybe you add an intro, break, new part B, or whatever the track wants to turn into.
KEEP ON KEEP’IN ON
That is a look into my process of building a track. The key is to cover that blank canvas as quickly as you can with the basic elements and let the evolution move you forward. Don’t get stuck in your head worrying about what the track should sound like. Let the track move you as much as you create the movement.
If you are an Ableton Live user, you might also want to check out this article on Fast and Furious Songwriting. It looks at some techniques in Live that can keep you moving in the creative process. This article and much more can be found in my one on one classes. If you want an in depth look at the creative process and techniques on speeding up your music production, then check out the Private Online Course, Fast and Furious Songwriting to get the music flowing.
Creativity is an elusive subject. It’s hard to quantify when and what is creative. Then take it a step further and try to get in a creative mode is even harder to comprehend, well with the logical mind that is.
The other day I watched this amazing talk by the legendary John Cleese from Monty Python. He has had an astoundingly creative career. In this video he shares some interesting research and ideas around what he called the creative mode.
John Cleese brings up a point that really hit home for me.
The most creative professionals always played with the problem much longer before they tried to resolve it. Because they were willing to tolerate that slight discomfort and anxiety when you haven;t solved the problem.
This brings up a really interesting and powerful point. When you sit down to write music you might hash out an idea in the first hour. You might want to just jump on it and finish it up to feel like you did something creative. If you follow the easy route of what comes first, you might be holding back your true potential of what comes next.
The greatest song ideas can come if you are willing to push yourself just a little bit more. In practice, I do this by writing many sketches of songs. This way I can bust out a bunch of different ideas. I have endless amounts of useless sketches at this point. Sometimes I will make my first sketch and it is amazing. Then I make the next 3 and they are no where near as good as the first. Then other times I make a sketch I think is amazing and want to work on it, but the 3rd sketch of the day ends up being the most powerful track I have ever made.
The point is to push your boundaries, play with the problem / idea longer than you might need to. This will help new original ideas surface. Once you have multiple ideas, though, you can go through and pick the best then fully commit to it.
This idea has been really true about my unreleased album, Tides of Twilight. I got the basic work on this album done in April / May. Basically the album was 70% done. Now normally I would just push it out in a month or so. I get this feeling that if I am not making new music and getting it out then I am losing steam. For this album I decided to take a different approach. This time I decided to truly take my time.
Now 3 months ago I thought the album was almost done. Since then I have just worked on the album lightly when I have time to get creative. Something amazing happened during the process. Since there was no need or rush lots of little improvements happened. I found other musicians to collaborate on a few of the tracks and write new melodies. It feels as if it lets the music really round it’s self out in an organic fashion instead of being forced.
Now the album goes out for mastering in a few days and I feel it is a much better piece of work than if I stressed to get it out instantly. Sticking with that slight discomfort has lead to a much more original and high quality work.
Take your time and enjoy the process.
So far I have clocked over 350 hours on my next album. I know that because I actually track my time. Through out the process of writing tracks there are some major landmines you have to avoid. One of the biggest ones is tweaking things to death. Since I am getting all my tracks ready to send to mastering I am finding myself running into those landmines, so I am writing this article as a reminder to you and myself.
My good friend Danceher once shared the concept of diminishing returns with me. The idea is there is a point in which your effort brings you less of a return. So in this case working on a track past the point of anyone being able to notice or care.
When you are making music there will inevitably be challenges. You have two paths set before you. You can make every problem or question turn into self doubt, or you can transform it to self confidence.
You might be thinking that the reason you are doubting yourself is because that is just the way you are. You might think some people are better at this, or they have more experience. People that are staying creative are not doing this by mistake. We are all equal in our ability to go down the rabbit hole of self doubt. The difference with people that plow through it with confidence is they have built systems, ideas, and traits in themselves to keep them feeling confident. (more…)
To continue with this whole theme of Time Management, I want to dive into techniques in Ableton live for fast songwriting. These tips and tricks will help you stay creative, bust out songs, and feel confident in how you are spending your time.
If you are not using Ableton Live or, what to read the article on taking your time, it will look at the bigger picture of how artists can better manage their time.
1. Good Old File Management
Nothing says “I am an artist” like spending a day going through your files. Every successful musician I know is ruthlessly efficient with their sample library. We each have our own way of managing our files as well. Here is what I do with my Sample Library:
Time is a fickle thing. When it comes to our creativity, it is even more ethereal. If we spend too much time on a bass line, or a melody then we might not have enough to finish the track. Or working on the technical parts of the track might drain our inspiration and before we know it, we spent 3 hours on something and have nothing to show for it.
Because of this I want to share techniques for a good workflow and keeping the creativity flowing. This article will go over techniques that can be used for any artist. Be it a painter, Ableton Live wizard, Logic Ninja, or writer.
1. Take a Step Back First
Having a really clear vision of what you are doing and why will save you a lot of time. It’s important sometimes to take a whole day, or even a week, to sketch out in your mind what your goals are. You should know that if you are sitting to create if you are just working on techniques, or a series of works you hope to complete in a month. The more time you spend on the bigger picture the faster and more on task you will be when you are in full creative mode.
Something Joshua Penman, aka Akara told me years ago has stuck with me. He said that when making music you got to understand that it sounds bad all the way up until it’s completed. Only then, when everything is polished and complete, will you feel you have the track you wanted.
He also talked to me a lot about understanding that it’s a process and it takes time. When you are sketching out a song you should know it won’t sound good, but somewhere down the line it will sound amazing. In this article I wanted to talk about my process of making my album and how I used this wisdom to take time with my process.
The Process Unfolding
In a later article I showed off my steps to writing a track. I walked through the idea of making a sketch, a working composition, and then a final master. I also talked about working on many tracks so you never get stuck on one, and you’re always feeling fresh.
The next step to this is how your sketches and compositions slowly turn into completed tracks.
In this image I want to show how the process unfolds. When I am first starting out I might have a bunch of sketches and ideas. It looks nothing like a completed album. I can actually spend days and weeks before actually having a completed track, let alone 8 or more. (more…)