A Shift In Workflows

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Things have been quiet on the blog front lately, I know. But, they’ve only been quiet these last few weeks because I’ve been crazy busy working on a new album. As happens every once in awhile, a lot of things in life align at the right time, and I get hit with a wave of creativity to ride for awhile.

While over all I think I’ve written some of the best music of my life this year with my Maschine Studio live sets, at the same time I know it’s been a long time since I sat down and did a proper album. Most of the last few years my music making has been focused on grooveboxes and live sets, creating longer pieces of music I could perform in a live setting. Or at least where the overall performance was driving the shape of the music. It’s probably been years since I sat at a laptop DAW and wrote more than one song at a time now that I think about it….

However, going to Ableton’s Loop event really sparked a lot of ideas in me for approaching a more layered approach to music making via the DAW again. Then you add to that Push 2, and being able to combine the feel of a groovebox and instrument with the editing and polishing of a DAW I know inside and out. Suddenly new ideas are starting to form. The final kick in my pants to get my ass working, was realizing I was going to be stuck home alone for almost 3 weeks while my wife had to travel back to Seattle for work. A long enough period of time to get a lot of work done if I put my mind to it.

And it’s crappy beginning of winter outside too, and who wants to deal with that?

So, for the last three weeks I’ve been working almost full days on the album, forcing myself to treat it like a job and power through blocks as best I can. The plan of attack became; get things recorded, work fast, and switch to a new song if the current one starts to get to me, repeat. Usually that sort of power through mentality doesn’t work for me, I get fried on the idea long before I can finish it. But this time was different, and I now have almost 9 songs done and ready to release for the new album.

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They all started as ideas I came up with on Push 2, usually 4-8 bar loops that I could expand upon once the initial concepts were recorded. Most of you have seen my Push 2 review, so you already I’m a big fan. Nothing has changed, it’s great for getting ideas started, and it feels like a quality instrument I enjoy learning and using. So that part of the process was fun as you’d expect, and I managed to get a lot of solid ideas captured in those first few days.

Usually this is where I stop, after all on a groovebox you really don’t often take things past the pattern stage. But I wanted to really fine tune the arrangements, and add more transitional elements than I had been in my music the last few years. So I flipped everything to Arrange View in Live, grabbed my headphones and a mouse, and sat in the kitchen arranging, re-arranging, editing, altering, automating, you name it.

Yes, I said the kitchen.

After working in my studio all day every day for the mastering business, sometimes I just need to get out of there and work somewhere new. And since I was just focusing on editing on the laptop, I didn’t need to worry about perfect monitoring (though I love my Spirit Focal Pros) or access to recording other gear. Instead, I just zoned out and moused away in the DAW like I used to years ago when I was more into the linear DAW way of working.

It was fun, I admit. It’s been awhile since I used Live that intensely, I had been taking a break from it after almost 12 years or so of heavy use earlier. So diving back in and seeing just how fluid things are in Live again was great, and it triggered a lot of new ideas that found there way into the songs.

I have probably 2-3 more songs that need to be polished up, then I’ll focus on any mix issues and that sort of stuff once I think the writing is done for all of them. After a nice break for my ears first of course 🙂 If all goes well I hope to be done by the end of the year, but since the majority of the work is done I’m not rushing too much at this point. If I’m actually going to sit down and spend time to craft songs in this manner, I want to take the time to do it right. Plus I’m considering giving away the DAW sessions for those that buy the whole album, so I have to keep things tidy in order for people to make sense of what I did.

Stay tuned for more info on that once it gets closer to release!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Not A Push 2 Review

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I thought long and hard about doing a proper review of Push 2, either written or video. But given how many other reviews there are out there, and how busy I am with other things (more on that below), I decided it wasn’t worth the time to do something too detailed. I did want to take the time to give my general impression, and talk about how Push 2 has come at the right time for me however.

Like a lot of people, I was really happy to see Ableton release the first Push. It had character, it was different, and it was really well made. After only a few weeks of use, I knew that I’d probably use it anytime I fired up Live.

Unfortunately, I also found it a little cumbersome to use, it was hard to always find what I was looking for when I had an idea. As a result, Push didn’t really drive me to use Live more, in fact for a long time I probably used it less. It happens when you’ve used a tool for over a decade I guess. No matter how good it is, sometimes you just want to use something different for awhile. This is largely what I did, exploring other DAWs, hardware workflows, and other controller/software combos like the Maschine Studio. It’s good to check out the alternatives sometimes, learn some new workflow ideas and just expand your horizons a bit I guess.

Then came Push 2.

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The seas parted, angels blared their horns, and unicorns shot rainbows from their asses. Not really. But it did make using Live properly FUN again, in ways I never expected.

Part of my reason for not really bonding with Push 1, was that I mostly work with audio and not MIDI when I write. And really, audio support on Push 1 and earlier versions of Live just wasn’t there. A simple numeric display of your clip and loop length, but that’s about it. Now that we can not only see our audio files on Push 2’s display, but also drop them into a revised Simpler for further mangling…. well, now we’re talking! At last, I can finally mangle audio, and in ways more fluid than what I had settled on with Maschine Studio too.

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The other big change that I find most helpful, is how Ableton re-ordered all the device parameters, and used subtle graphics here and there too. It gives each device a bit more uniqueness when you control it from the hardware, and makes finding what you want to adjust MUCH easier I find. Where as the Push 1 workflow felt kind of clunky to me, on Push 2 I can get my ideas down very fast I find. Not only that, it’s fun to use too.

One of the big take-away I got from Ableton’s Loop event, was just how much they really do think of this as an instrument. Something you can spend the time learning to play, perform your ideas, and capture them easily to expand on later. It’s not a DAW controller. Once you stop expecting it to be one and get comfortable using the mouse for the things it excels at, you end up with a very powerful and fluid workflow. It helps that the instrument side of Push 2 also received attention, the pads are much more consistent in sensitivity, feel, and color. The new buttons and lighting just make it ten times easier to find your way around while playing your ideas.

The timing of this release couldn’t be better for me either. I’ve been struggling with writers block for a few months now, so I could feel my creative energy building. Then the Loop conference happened last week, and suddenly I had a ton of inspiration and ideas. Take all those things and put a little bit of “my wife is away on a business trip for two weeks” and suddenly I have a lot of time and a lot of ideas on my hands. 🙂

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So, rather than just noodle about, I decided to really push myself (no pun intended) to record an albums worth of material in two weeks. The goal is to release 74 minutes of new music before the end of the year, so I want to dive in and force myself to write as much as I can these first two weeks. Knowing Ableton Live and having a controller that finally resonates with me it helping to no end I’m finding. It’s day 3 and I already have 5 songs written, arranged, and mixed. Like I said, there’s a fast work flow with this set up. 🙂

So, as you can see, I’m a big fan of the new Push, I think Ableton really hit the mark with this one. The first one had a lot of great ideas and really paved the way, but this one has the refinements that were needed to make it not only easier to use, but more fun as well. If you use Live and Push a lot, I think it’s definitely worth the price to upgrade (and please donate your old one too). Even if you don’t upgrade, it’s nice to know that Ableton are supporting the Push 1 as much as possible, they clearly see this as a long term instrument, and not something to be obsoleted.

Good thing too, I think I’m going to be using mine for awhile to come.

More on the new album later!

(Ok, I lied and did a video review too)

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Push 2 Comparison Photos

I’m getting a lot of questions about P1 versus P2 hardware, so I wanted to make a post to point people to.  Sorry about the bad lighting in all the pics, it’s really dark outside today and I don’t own any bright lights for the studio 🙂

Here’s a size comparison, with P1 on the left and P2 on the right:

And here they are side by side, again with P1 on the left, P2 on the right.

Here’s a before and after of Push 2 with the PSU and without:

I’ll update this post as I get requests for different pictures.  Thanks!

Tarekith

Ableton Loop Review

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I love it when something comes along and the timing just couldn’t be any better. For the last few months I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut, which as followers of my blog know is really not all that uncommon for me. Still, when I was invited to Ableton’s Loop conference this past weekend, an event designed to foster creativity, I have to admit part of me breathed a huge sigh of relief. Perhaps this was something that could kick start my ideas again. As this was an event with very limited attendance, I thought I’d give a brief overview of the weekend for those that couldn’t be there themselves. If you haven’t heard of this event yet, here’s all the details:

https://loop.ableton.com

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Loop was held at Radialsystem V in the heart of Berlin, a large venue with main auditorium for the main presentations, a huge room set up with all sorts of electronic music gear for people to play with, and multiple smaller workshops on the four floors above. While it was obviously an event hosted by Ableton, they made it clear that it was not an event supposed to be ABOUT Ableton. There were many other manufacturers there with gear for people to try, some of the more common ones like Roland and Elektron, a large selection of modular errr…. modules, as well as some more esoteric and experimental bits of gear. It was a nice way to check out things you might not have gotten any hands on time with in-between the talks and workshops.

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I won’t go over all of the workshops and presentations, as I only made it to a few of them due to spending so much time talking to other musicians, producers, and developers through out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Not to mention quite a few people I’ve known “virtually” for years who work at Ableton, it was a good chance to put a face to the names at last.

There were a few highlights I can talk about from the presentations I did manage to see however.

Friday Robert Henke gave a keynote about the power of failure to drive success. Despite being sick as a dog, he did an excellent job setting the tone for the weekend, and have one of the best quotes I heard all weekend when he said “Success points to your past, failure points to your future”. Meaning, it’s nice to have success, but if you’re only ever chasing that, it leads you to keep repeating the same things over and over. Risking failure forces you to expand your ideas and try new things, or work improve on those things you know you can’t achieve yet. A simple statement, but powerful.

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On Saturday there was panel discussion about creating new instruments and ways to play music with Gerhard Behles (Ableton), Carla Scaletti (Symbolic Sound/Kyma), Stephan Schmitt (NI Founder), and Roger Linn. Good insight into the thought processes about how they designed the equipment they’re most known for. I thought it was nice that they all answered honestly about what they consider their biggest failures so far. For Stephan it was the fact that Guitar Rig never caught on as a stage tool for guitarists, Gerhard said he regretted the way Grooves was implemented in Live, and Carla said she is always making mistakes in order to learn and improve from them.

Roger Linn won the discussion though when he said “Remember in the 80’s when music got sterile, lost it’s human feel, alienated musicians around the world, and made people discount electronic music for decades to come? Yeah, that was my fault”. He was referring to inventing quantization, but it still got a good laugh from everyone in the crowd.

The highlight of Saturday for me were the two panels that Young Guru was a part of. I admit, while I had heard of him and knew he was a well-known engineer in the hop hop world, I didn’t realize just HOW famous he was, nor the sheer number of classic albums he had a direct hand in. Despite this, he was so down to earth and eager to share his views on all things related to music, not just in the panels, but while walking around and talking to people before and after too. And better yet, did so in a very inspiring way. I think a lot of people were really impressed with what he had to share, I know I was. Most of the events at Loop were recorded, when Ableton eventually posts them online,I highly recommend watching the Young Guru ones.

Sunday started off with a bang, literally. The panel was about acoustic drummers and how they adapt to working with electronic music. It featured Katharina Ernst, Kiran Gandhi, and Zach Danziger, each with their own drum kits on stage. Aside from being a LOUD way to wake up on a Sunday morning, they were all such different drummers that there was a huge range of knowledge and technique they shared about all things rhythm. They closed it out with all three of them jamming at once too, by far the loudest event of the weekend by amazing to listen to.

Of course Sunday was also about the big Push 2 and Live 9.5 announcement as well, and really was a great way to wrap up the conference. The Ableton presenters did a great job of showing off the new features, and when gerhard said they would be offering a 30% discount if you traded in your Push 1 and they would then donate those to schools, the place erupted with a standing ovation. The music industry really needs more initiatives like this.

You can view the video of the Push 2, Live 9.5, and Link announcement here: https://vimeo.com/144372872.

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After the conference was over each day, there was a music event that was free for everyone to attend each night. While all the music performed wasn’t always the stuff I’d listen to normally, I think it was all well chosen to show the more experimental side of of electronic music. Really cutting edge stuff, sometimes ambient modular noodlings married to visuals, other times harsh and thunderous bass tones in a pitch black room synced to steam cannons. I think these were recorded as well, so rather than try to describe such esoteric music with words, I’ll wait and let you see/hear for yourself when these come out.

More than anything though, I think what I liked about Loop was that it got people from a lot of different backgrounds into the same room, and gave them a chance to share ideas and find new collaborators for their own projects. It also was interesting to see the same themes come up over and over, both in the official presentations, and just talking to people outside in-between the workshops. Things like:

– Making music is not always fun, especially if you’re a professional. There’s times you just need to plow through and get it done even if it sucks at the time. It IS work after all, you can’t just wait for the fun moments all the time.

– Limitations are good, both in terms of the gear you use and time constraints.

– If you want to get good at writing songs, you need to actually finish as many as you can and release them to the world. Wrap up, move on, and curate any feedback you get to improve things the next time around. Team Supreme’s weekly beat-making contests were a great example. Write a one minute long beat in 30 minutes once a week and post it online. Brilliant.

– If you’re having problems writing music with the gear available today, it’s not the gear, it’s you. Young Guru’s quote on how a craftsman doesn’t blame his tools, and that everything you use can achieve professional results with the right mindset.

– Working with other people always leads to better results than working alone. Maybe a bit controversial for me personally, but it’s something I heard repeated again and again.

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Despite three days of late nights and early mornings, I came away from Loop reinvigorated like I had hoped. It was a chance to see how other people work, not just with the same tools I have, but how they struggle and overcome the same barriers to making music. A reminder that as artists we all go through the same problems, and that sometimes you just need to stop whining and get on with things to push through them.

I was very excited to hear Gerhard hint at Loop 2016 at the end of the weekend, I for one really hope I can make it back again. Thanks to everyone at Ableton for putting on such an incredible weekend, this was definitely one of the most enjoyable music-related weekends I’ve ever had. It’s left me really excited to get back to my own music-making, as soon as I can kick this cold anyway 🙂

Peace and beats,
Tarekith