We Fail To Learn

One of the best things about trying to “make it” as a musician or producer these days, is that more than likely we’ll fail a lot along the way.

Now, I’m sure that has a lot of you scratching your head, but I’m serious.  Failing at something only serves to make you better at it in the long run.  It’s those reality checks in life that point out our flaws, and shows us where we need to focus our energies to really succeed at whatever we are doing.  Otherwise, it’s all too easy to blindly keep doing what we’re familiar with, never realizing that it’s not working, or that we’re wasting time on something that really doesn’t matter.

For example, here’s a couple examples of failing I personally experienced.  Things that sucked and were depressing at the time, but in hindsight only made me better at what I do.

1. A long time ago (in a galaxy very close by) I completed what I thought was going to be my very first E.P.  Like anyone excited by completing a project such as this, the first thing I did was run around playing it for as many of my friends and family as possible.  And of course, sensing my enthusiasm, they all told it sounded good and that they liked it.

Until I played it for my room-mate.

He listened for a bit, started to squirm a little, then looked at me and said “I don’t know man, the drums sound pretty weak”.  Which, if you knew my room-mate, basically meant he thought my drums sucked.  Not a good thing for what were supposed to be club tracks.  Of course, having been built up by the praise from everyone else, I was crushed.

But, here’s the thing.  After a couple days of skulking about, I sat down and listened to my songs, and sure enough, the drums WERE pretty weak.  So it forced me to refocus my efforts on creating better sounding drums, and I spent a lot of time on that which ultimately made a huge difference in my productions.

It also taught me that most of your friends and family will pretty much always tell you what they think you want to hear 🙂

2. Fast forward a few years and I was working on trying to get my first record deal. This was at a time before MP3 submissions were popular, when most labels still wanted a CD demo of your work.  With reckless enthusiasm, I spent hours at home burning CDR’s of my ten favorite tracks.  I must have made 100-140 demos to send out.

And of course, back in those days, most of the labels I was interested in were also in the UK or Europe, so it cost me a fortune to ship them all.  I probably spent $400-500 total creating and shipping those demos.  Weeks went by, and I never heard anything.  Months.  Years.  Decades.  Centuries!

Well, ok maybe only a couple months before I realized that I wasn’t going to hear anything.  Again I was crushed, disheartened, I swore I was done writing music and I never wanted anything to do with the music industry.  But of course, after awhile I calmed down and looked at the situation, and tried to discover what I did wrong.

Aside from the fact that the tracks probably weren’t good enough anyway, I had failed to use an approach that really made sense.  I realized in my excitement, I had targeted all the big labels, even if my music wasn’t in a style they normally release.  I had never really contacted anyone at the labels to see who I should address it to.  I included way too many songs, and didn’t put the best ones first.  In short, messing up made me realize all the things I needed to do right next time, and sure enough with the next batch of demos I got my first record contract (the track “Ion” with Ritmic out of Switzerland if anyone is curious).

These are just a couple examples out of a long list of times where I set out to achieve something, and just fell way short of my goal.  Sure, at the time it’s upsetting, it’s demoralizing, it makes you question all the time and money you spend on something (you think) you care a lot about.  But in each case, it ultimately becomes a sort of rallying point, a moment that I used to push myself to learn more and do it the right way the next time.

The point is, we all go through this, we all make mistakes and occasionally miss the mark.  I not saying you can’t be upset about that, but you have to do your best to not beat yourself up over it.  If you don’t succeed at something, there’s ALWAYS a reason why, and it’s never just bad luck (unless lightening strikes you while getting attacked by a shark, that’s probably just bad luck).

Accept from the beginning that sometimes we just won’t achieve something we attempt, and use those failures as a chance to examine what went wrong, and how you can improve the next time.  Do this and no matter what, your music will always be better as a result.

That concludes this week’s pep talk.

Join me next week as we look at ways to plan out your capital investments in order to maximize your retirement fund investment returns. (no, not really, it’ll probably be more sappy crap like this post was)

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Mastering Guide v2.0

The original version of my mastering guide was by far the most downloaded and shared production guide I’ve ever written, even though it was primarily geared towards “beginner” musicians. As time went on and I began doing mastering as a full-time profession however, it also raised a lot of questions from more advanced users.  So I figured it was time to update it and provide some clarifications, as well as cover some new ideas in places.  I hope that this new version will be as useful as the original, and that musicians and producers of all skill levels will continue to benefit from it.

 

http://tarekith.com/assets/mastering.html

Of course, some people have always found it odd that someone who does mastering full-time as their main source of income would be offering a free guide on how to master your own music!  Without a doubt, I still think that professional mastering is the best option when it comes to creating a great sounding finished product.  Especially in this day and age where most people work alone on their songs from start to finish.  It’s still by far the most economical way to get advice and help from someone with more experience, as well as a dedicated listening enviroment, who can really take things to the next level to bring out the best in your music.

But I also remember being a starving student myself, and I know there’s a lot of people out there who just can’t afford to go that route (or have other reasons to want to go it alone).  My hope is that guides like this will help dispel some of the common myths about self-mastering your own music, and perhaps in some small way lead to a lot of music sounding better as a result.

My reasons are selfish you see, I just can’t stand to hear incredible tracks ruined by people over-processing things when they “master” it themselves 🙂

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Bounce Around

Well, after wrapping up my new live set, I find myself once again getting ready to plan my next big music project.  I’ve spent a lot of time lately focusing on performance based projects, and it’s time for a change of pace.  Especially with winter coming, and knowing that aside from my weekly snowboard excursions, I’ll be stuck in the studio a lot.

This time around, I think I’m going to tackle creating another full-length album, since it’s been a few years since my last one (“Out From In“).

I know some people will question the relevance of full-length albums in this day and age of single downloads and short attention spans, but I think there’s still a place for them.

Instead of limiting myself in terms of the gear I use like I might normally, this time I’ll be throwing everything I have at it.  I don’t even have a theme for the album yet, I plan to just write the songs and see where it takes me this time.  I know for a lot of people these two ideas might seem the norm, but I’m definitely a person who tends to spend a lot of time planning things out before I start, so it’s a departure for me.

One of the few things I have planned out though, is that I’ll be working on multiple songs at once.  Or maybe a more accurate way of saying that is that I’ll have multiple songs in progress at the same time.  I’ve done this in the past, and I find it has some real benefits when it comes to creativity, such as:

1. There’s always something new to work on.  I don’t have to worry about getting stuck on any one song if I get into a rut or can’t figure out which direction to take things.  Every day I can come into the studio and work on something different from the day before, which keeps me from getting burned out (usually anyway).

2. It forces you to step back now and then, and come at each song with a fresh perspective.  One of the biggest hurdles I think a lot of artists face is not forcing themselves at some point to slow down and try to look at things with a fresh perspective.  Often times the only way to truly do this is to literally not listen to something for a few days, and realistically how often do people do this when working on only one song at a time?  It’s good chance to see what is and isn’t working in a song, and helps you to decide what things to trim out that really aren’t working.  So many issues people have in the production process can be solved with this one simple step.  Well, simple to say anyway, difficult to do 🙂

3. It helps give the album a cohesive feel.  When you have multiple tracks you’re working on at any one time, it’s much easier to ensure that everything gels well, both from a production perspective, but also in terms of the overall flow and pacing of the album.  Of course, the flip side of this is that it can also be easy to make an album where every song sounds the same.  See point number 2 above for how to correct that.

4. It’s a challenge, and often we excel when faced with challenges.  When you have a large project in the works, that pressure on you to wrap it up gets extended for much longer.  At times it can feel like you took on too much, but at the same time it can really push you get into the studio every day and make sure it gets done.  You go through a long period where you have a concrete and defined goal, and avoid those days where you just don’t know what you want to work on.  You set small goals and work towards those, but you still always have the larger picture in mind.

 

I’ll be keeping people updated about the process of writing of the album here on the blog over the next few months too.  If anyone has any questions, or maybe some other reasons why they too like working on multiple songs at once, please post them in the comments.

The Wayback Machine

Had a few dicussions recently with some other musicians about making music “back in the day” and what some of our earliest recordings sounded like.  Figured it would be fun to post what I believe is the first recording of  my electronic music.  I had some earlier stuff than this recorded from back in my guitar/punk band days somewhere, but we’ll leave that buried for now.  🙂

rEalm – Morphing Mechanism.mp3

This is a live set I made back in 1999, when I was still going by the artist name “rEalm”.  Recorded live in one pass (to cassette of all things) using a Roland MC505, and a couple samples from the Roland SP808 I had just bought.  This is a direct transfer from the cassette, no mastering or anything, so it’s pretty raw sounding, though I guess that was kind of par for the course compared to what we do today.  And yes, I was really into trance at the time, so no need to comment on that  🙂

As I’ve mentioned before, I initially got into writing electronic music from a live pa perspective.  So the title of this set is something I’ve always thought was very descriptive for the way I perform, and I’ve continued to borrow the name for all of the live sets I’ve created since.

Anyway, hopefully some of you get a kick out of this or at least a chuckle.  Feel free to share your earliest recordings in the comments too!

 

5. Questions

So, this time I want to turn things around and learn a little about everyone who follows the blog.  Here’s a few questions if anyone wants to answer and share a little about themselves, just post your answers in the blog comments:

1. What is your all-time favorite piece of gear (hardware or software) for making music?

2. Best concert or club night you’ve ever been to?

3. Who’s the one artist or musician you look up to the most, the one who inspires you?

4. What’s the one aspect of writing or performing music that you find most challenging?

5. Realistically, where do you see your music taking you?  What do you eventually want to get out of it? (hookers and coke don’t count this time)

 

Thanks to anyone that can take the time to share!  I’ll post my answers after a few other people chime in.

 

 

The Flickering Dark

This is a sort of proof of concept for a new type of live pa I’ve been working on for the last 8 days.  Not so much a demo as it’s only 20 minutes long, more an experiment for me to see if this was a valid way to play live.

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Tarekith-The_Flickering_Dark.mp3

There are some benefits to being left home alone (plus a dog) for 16 days, while the wife goes on vacation with her sister.  Knowing I’d have this time to myself to work any schedule, and do whatever I wanted in the meantime, I planned on writing a LOT of music.  I prepped material for a new Machinedrum live set, I bought some new apps for the iPad, I even prepped some song writing templates in Live just in case I got an idea.  In short, I got all the BS out of the way before she even left 🙂

Of course, things never go according to plan, and literally on the day she left I got this left field idea to try and get a working live pa set up with Stylus RMX and Omnisphere in Ableton Live.  I’ve tried it a few times before, but always ran into hurdles that kept me from getting it set up in a fluid, performable way.

The key this time, was that I realized I could use Live’s Looper devices, much like I do with the Elektron RAM machines in my Machinedrum live sets.  So I have one instance of RMX and one Omnisphere (Omni) in the set, and I use them both in Multi mode.  This way I could use a Multi in each device for each of my “songs” in the set.  With a Looper on each of those tracks, I can capture the audio from them, and have it start looping immediately while I switch to a new Multi on the plug ins.  Switching the Multi in Stylus was only time I needed to use the trackpad in fact.

The only tricky bit was figuring out how to fade from the audio looping in Looper on each track, to the new material I had just loaded.  I ended up using an audio effect rack, with one chain for the Looper, and one for the dry audio.  Using a track fader on the APC, I could crossfade from looped material and new stuff for the next song by mapping a fader to the chain selector.

I used 3 tracks of drums from Stylus, and 4 tracks of synths in Omnisphere.  The APC40 would handle clip launching, and tweaking all the Stylus and Looper parameters.  (Stylus and Omni both have excellent MIDI mapping utilities btw.)

Here’s a couple views of the Live Set:

I used OmniTR on the iPad2 to control everything in Omnisphere, from switching sounds, to tweaking everything live, to selecting the Multi for each song.  Strangely I’d get an audible glitch when switching Multi’s with TR, a super short audible pop.  Even more strangely, this did not get recorded in the audio I saved to post online.  ????

Anyway, pretty happy with it overall, even if it does sound a little confusing on paper.  I’ll start working on some more material for the set over the next month or so.  Fun stuff, enjoy!