And…..Done. Final Blog Post

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It’s hard to believe I’ve been running my blog for 6 years now, even more difficult to believe that I’ve done 282 posts in that time period.  But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and I’ve decided that now is a good time for me to step away from the blog and focus on other avenues for sharing my views on creativity and audio production.

It’s been really enjoyable talking to everyone and sharing your views on how you approach all the struggles and joys of writing music.  I can’t thank everyone enough for all the insightful comments, indepth replies, and most especially for all the donations you’ve made to help make all this possible.

As a way of saying thanks one final time, I’ve collected all of the best blog posts into one document, which you can download here:

BEST BITS OF THE BLOG (Zip File)

The zip file contains both PDF and epub versions of the document so you can view it on any of your devices.  I’ve made a few changes here in there in the text to update my recommendations on gear, and make it easier to read all of the posts front to back.

Thanks again everyone!
Tarekith

Mixing and Mastering in Ableton Live – Decibel Festival 2014

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Just wanted to take a second to let any Seattle people know about a seminar I will be co-hosting with fellow mastering engineer and Certified Live Instructor Jake Perrine at this years Decibel Festival.  We will be talking about mixing and mastering using Ableton Live, and it will be a round table discussion featuring some of the artists from this year’s Decibel Festival line-up.  Still waiting on final confirmation from a couple of the artists, I’ll post who will be involved shortly.

Hoping to meet some of you there, please stop by and say hi before or after the seminar.  I plan on hanging out at the conference most of Thursday and Friday, so don’t be shy if you see me!  🙂

The seminar will be Friday, September 26th from 12:30-1:30 PM in the JBL Theater at the EMP Museum.   It’s FREE, so I hope to see a bunch of you there!

For more details on the Decibel Festival Conference, please visit:

http://dbfestival.com/db2014/conference

Thanks everyone!

Welcome To The New Blog!

Woo hoo, welcome to the new blog location.  Sorry if you got multiple notifications for this blog post the last day or so, still working out a couple last minute bugs with notifications.  Ummm, that’s all I have, but more soon!

(Strymon Timeline review…..)

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Decibel Festival Mastering Session

This past weekend Dubspot asked me to host a Q&A session on mastering as part of the Decibel Festival conference.  The session went great, there were more people than I expected for it being earlier in the day, and I was able to answer a lot of questions for everyone.  Luckily, all of the conference sessions were video taped, and are now available online for anyone to watch.

There were a lot of Live focused sessions, so definitely worth a look if that’s your main DAW.  Note that it says you need to install Silverlight to watch the videos, but you can just click on the Podcast version to watch without it.  Here’s the full list:

http://dbfestival.com/news/streaming-db-conference-panopto

And here is the direct link to my mastering session:

http://decibel.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=6d727890-9b16-4934-a619-2e8e2d3bb65e

I was the first session of the day, so the first few minutes didn’t get recorded, and there’s some audio issues later on.  Otherwise it turned out pretty well I think.

Enjoy!

 

Decibel Festival 2013

Well, that week is upon us, a non-stop ride of electronic music here in Seattle as Decibel Festival celebrates it’s 10th anniversary.  This year I won’t be performing, but I will be giving a talk as part of Dubspot’s workshops on Thursday, Sept. 26th, from noon to 2:00 PM.  The topic will be “A Day in the Life of a Professional Mastering Engineer”.

Dubspot Instructor Chris Petti will be fielding me questions about what it’s like to be an audio professional today, and of course we’ll be taking audience questions as well.  Stop by to say hi or if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, happy to talk about other audio subjects afterwards too 🙂

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The following day Ableton will be hosting a day of seminars as well, along with Warp Academy who are launching their new Live-focused video tutorial service this weekend.  I did some videos for them that I think people will find really useful, stay tuned for more details!  I’ll be there all day Friday as well most likely, say hi if you see me.

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 http://dbfestival.com/dbx/schedule

For those of you going to Decibel, who are you looking forward to seeing this year?  Other than the Orb, I haven’t made up my mind, so I’m open to suggestions 🙂  Anything but Dubstep or Bass music please, nothing against it but I hear that music all day.  Thanks!

Gear Gone By

Mastering

I recently finished a major overhaul of the studio, improving it not only for my mastering business, but also making things a little better for me as a musician as well.  You can read the full details of the build process here if you’re curious:

The New Studio Desk

As I was working on rearranging things, I started thinking about all the different pieces of musical equipment I’ve used over the years.  Interesting to see how they shaped the path my life has taken, so I thought I’d list them from the beginning:

– Used White Crappy Electric Guitar & Tiny Crappy Amp.  Got this at a pawn shop for my 16th birthday for $120, and the owner threw in a tiny POS 4″ amp for me.  He tuned it to pitch pipes, and that was the last time it was tuned in the year I owned it.  I had no idea what I was doing with this thing, but I did it every day.  I don’t even think it was a full scale guitar now that I think of it.

– Black Dean 88 Guitar, Jackson Preamp, Racked Spring Reverb.  After a year of the white guitar, I knew I was hooked and wanted to upgrade to something nicer.  Got the Dean and they threw in a tuner, suddenly it was a LOT easier to learn to play songs.  Amazing what a nice guitar can do I thought (not to mention being in tune!).  The Jackson Preamp I bought from a friend, and despite a bunch of knobs, it basically had two sounds: Clean with hiss, or full on shred with hiss and mains noise.  The reverb was meant to be for my guitar, but you couldn’t look at it without the spring starting to move, so I more or less always had reverb and couldn’t turn it off.

– ADA MP2 and Foot Pedal & Digitech TSR24s.  I knew that I’d never get to appreciate a full on guitar amp, so I jumped on the modeling bandwagon early on.  This was my first preamp, and also my introduction to MIDI.  The MP2 was one of the first midi controlled preamps, so getting that, the foot switch, and the Digitech I bought for effects to work together was a huge learning curve for me.  Helped me a lot later on though.

– Fender Bassman Amp.  This was one of those things I regret selling quite a bit, even though I was young and had no idea.  A guy I worked with was in need of cash for some reason, and was selling his sizable guitar and bass collection for pennies.  I got a mint Fender Bassman head and cabinet for $200.  I think I sold it for $800?

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– Ibanez S540FMTT.  Saw this while shopping with a friend and instantly fell in love.  Took a loan from my boss at the time, and owned this guitar for almost 20 years.  Only now is the Parker DF724 I replaced it with starting to feel like “my guitar”.  The Ibanez was amazing though, stayed in tune forever for a floyd style trem.

– Custom Guitar Cabinets.  A guy I worked with at another job also worked nights at the Washburn factory, and offered to make me some custom guitar cabinets.  Much easier to travel with than the Bassman was, and more suited to the guitar sound I was after at the time.  Unfortunately they were just one of those things I always held on to, but never really used that much.  After moving with them 3 times and not playing them once, I recently sold them to a very happy buyer who will use them much more than I did.

– Korg X2.  Eventually I got into industrial music, and failing to make my guitar make the noises I wanted I purchased my first keyboard.  It happened to be a workstation too, so for the first time I was able to learn sequencing and how to arrange a song.  All my industrial tunes ended up sounding like dancier club tracks people told me though, so I started getting more into rave and club music.  Life changer.

– Roland MC505 & SP808.  Eventually my friends started to get into DJing, but as a musician I wanted to make my own songs live, not play other people’s.  Preordered the very first MC505 in the USA, and happily used that for a couple year.  Taught me everything about playing live electronic music, and got me exposed to it super early in my “career”.  Added the SP808 and learned sampling, this was my main live rig for years.

– Yamaha CS2x.  Eventually I started feeling the X2 was too polished for the rougher dance music I wanted to make, so I traded it in for the CS2x.  Instantly regretted it, the Yamaha was just too basic and I hated the way they organized their patches with the XG standard.  The X2 was so much more flexible in hindsight, I just didn’t know what I was doing with it.

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– Akai S3000XL.  By this time I was reading Sound On Sound and Future Music a lot, and according to them you HAD to have a real sampler to be a legitimate electronic musician.  This was one of those things I spent a lot of money on, then kept upgrading it thinking it would make me like it more.  Interesting way of working, but so tedious.  I sadly never really used it that much, but luckily sold it before the prices really dropped on hardware samplers a couple years later.

– Korg ER-1.  My roommate got a new DJ mixer which had me jones for new gear.  This was all I could afford at the time, so it’s what I bought.  Fun little beat box, nice and jammable, if a little limiting in scope.  I keep meaning to get the iOS version….

– Computer!!!  Due to a car accident, I had to sell most of my gear to make sure I could still get to work and school at the time.  Once I got my settlement money, I figured it was time to jump into computer thing.  So I built my own and started working with Cubase and Reason.  I’ll save my software progression for another blog post, suffice to say this was the gateway into audio engineering for me.

XL7Outside(My custom painted XL-7)

– Emu XL-7.  Computers are fun, but I missed the hands on aspect of playing live.  These had just come out, so I was one of the first to get one again.  In many ways this was one of the best pieces of gear I’ve owned, I just wished it had better sounds internally.  Very tedious programming your own patches.

– Access Virus KC. The first of many Virii I would own over the years.  I still love the evil red and black look of this one the best.  Also one of the best key beds I’ve ever played on a synth, the standard to which I hold others.

– Xone62 & Line6 Pod XT.  Around this time I was DJing more at home, so I wanted the best mixer I could get at the time.  Then it was the Xone62, and it’s been my main hardware DJ mixer ever since.  I know that thing so well it’s like an instrument to me.  Also got my first Line6 Pod modeler to replace the ADA stuff.  Big fan of Line6 gear, great variety of tones, and so easy to program even a drummer could do it.

– Emu PX-7.  Despite getting sick of the sound of my XL-7 and selling it only a year before, one day I got the urge to try working with one again and bought the newer PX-7.  It was fun for a little while, but ultimately my music making was happening more and more in the computer, and I wasn’t working on many live sets then.

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– Elektron Machinedrum.  After lusting after one of these for years, I finally had the funds to take the plunge and boy was I glad I did.  To date, still my favorite bit of kit of all time.  Easy to use, sounded amazing, and designed with live performance in mind too.  I love Elektron gear, it just “clicks” with me in a way nothing else has.

– Virus TI & Roland TB303.  Shortly after getting the Virus KC I became part of the Virus beta team and was given a TI-K about a year before they actually came out.  Was an interesting time having a cutting edge keyboard and not being able to talk about it!  Also briefly owned the mighty TB303 around this time.  It was neat having a chance to play with a piece of history, but after a few months it felt like a one trick pony and had to go.  Crazy, I know.

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– DSI Evolver Desktop. One of the few pieces of gear I regret selling, and one I hope to replace sooner rather than later.  Really interesting and flexible synth, capable of mad little sequences. Only had mine a few months before I sold it, but it left a really good impression on me.

– Ovation Celebrity Deluxe Acoustic Guitar.  For years I wanted an acoustic guitar, something I could play without electricity, anywhere I wanted.  Getting one was a great moment, though I quickly learned that I still preferred playing my electrics.  I still play the Ovation every once in awhile though, so it’s nice to have around.  Every time I start having a bad week in the studio, I think about selling all my gear and just getting a really nice acoustic guitar to focus on the rest of my life.  🙂

– Line6 Pod X3.  Upgraded from the XT, nothing major.

– MIDI Controller phase.  I’ve owned so many MIDI controllers that it’s hard trying to remember them all.  In rough order, I believe this is most of them: M-Audio Oxygen 8, Edirol PCR-m1, Korg MicroKontrol, M-Audio Trigger Finger, Behringer BCR-2000, M-Audio Keystation88, Kenton Killamix Mini, Novation SL37, NI Traktor X1 and S4 (twice), Akai APC40 and MPK25, and finally the KMI QuNexus.

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– Elektron Machinedrum MKII Anniversary Edition #49.  Sometimes we make really DUMB decisions.  One of my all time classics was deciding to sell my first Machinedrum, I regretted it the second I left the UPS store when I shipped it out.  Only a couple months later I decided to buy another, and as luck would have it they were still selling the anniversary edition.  This is my baby, this is the very last piece of music gear I would sell, my desert island choice if you will.

– Korg EMX-1.  This is a box that always intrigued me, and finally I had enough people tell me it was deeper than you’d expect that I had to try it myself.  In many ways it’s probably one of the best all in one grooveboxes ever made.  Unfortunately, once again I was on a bit of a live bent at the time, and for performing I just didn’t find it intuitive enough.  I still get the urge to get another one every so often though…

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– Traktor S4.  After years of DJing with Ableton Live I needed a break and made the jump to Traktor.  The S4 has been a perfect fit, one to one mapping with the software, and it feels pretty robust for being made of plastic.  Very happy with this combo for now.

– Virus Polar TI2.  Don’t ask me why I bought this, but despite owning and selling two previously, I just had to have another.  It really is the best all around hardware synth IMO, especially considering how awesome the build quality is.  You feel like you get your money’s worth and then some.  But after almost a year of work on an album, a known bug in the OS caused me to lose all my patches on the day I was going to record it.  And it had corrupted all the previous daily backups I had been making.  I was mad.  I sold it.

– Line6 Pod HD500.  Upgraded the X3 in order to get the new HD models.  Huge difference, makes the guitar sound much more dynamic.

– Monomachine.  An interesting synth that was MUCH more capable than I expected it to be.  I was shocked at the range of sounds on offer in fact.  But, as is a common theme by now, it just didn’t gel with me for playing live, so I ended up getting rid of it.  One of those things I’d like to keep around if I had more money, but at the moment it’s value was better put towards something new.

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– Parker Dragonfly.  After almost 20 years, I decided I wanted a new axe.  I loved the Ibanez dearly, but it’s tone just didn’t have the bite I was looking for.  I’ve always lusted after a Parker Fly, I love the mix of new and old tech that they stand for.  I ran into a killer deal on a one of a kind Dragonfly that was JUST in my price range at the right time, so I jumped on it.  Amazing guitar in the hands, it just feels like a lot of workmanship went into it.  Craftsman quality, just beautiful.

– Maschine.  Everyone has Maschine and loves it, so I had to as well.  I liked a lot of aspects of it, and could see it’s appeal for a lot of people.  For me it was still just a bit too computer centric for me to get into though.  Though I’m lucky in that I’ve owned a lot of really nice grooveboxes over the years, so I have a lot to compare and hold it up against.  Neat idea, just not something I’d really use much for the way I write music.

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– Octatrack.  Now this, is a true black box in every way.  Deeper than you can imagine, approachable in numerous ways, and designed with a performer in mind too.  Quirky, capable, professional feeling, and totally unique.  After two years of using and gigging with this, I still feel like there’s SO much I don’t really have the best grasp of.  Rare I can say that these days! 🙂

– Line6 Pod HD.  Decided the floor-based HD500 was getting annoying to program, and I was playing less guitar as a result.  Traded down for the desktop based Pod HD, which I use a lot more of now.
Whew, I always thought I was a bit of a minimalist when it came to gear, but that’s still quite a list!  Stay tuned for a software one coming soon!

The Live PA Interview

– What is your name and what Live PA acts are you involved in?

Tarekith and….. Tarekith, that’s it 🙂
– How long has each act been around, what type of music do you play under that name?

I’ve been using the name Tarekith for the last 8-9 years I think, not sure the exact date I started using it exactly. Before that I used to go by the name “rEalm”, but then I started realizing how many other electronic acts and musicians had some form of that in their name already.

I produce and perform all different genres of music under the Tarekith moniker, I don’t really get into having a different name for each genre. One month I might be doing a downtempo live set, the next DJing tech-house or some kind of ambient combo of the two.

– Where are you geographically located?

Seattle, WA.
– Where have you had the opportunity to play live? Feel free to highlight your main gigs, all countries, and a link to your gig resume (if you have one).

Whew, that’s a tall order remember some of these! Here’s a few highlights that stick out I guess:

Chicago: RedNo5, Crobar, all the 619 Productions events, Sandbar, Hunans, Arena, too many small bars and clubs to remember (clearly).
Wisconsin: Rave’em & Bailey, Even Further, Structure
Washington: Chop Suey, Chillography, Photosynthesis, Washington Brewers Festival,
Vancouver: Sequential Circus 11

There’s a lot more I can’t remember off the top of my head.
– What are a few releases you can highlight for us that are live recordings (either audio or video)?

I have a whole page on my site dedicated to my live recordings here:

http://tarekith.com/live-sets/

Also there’s quite a lot of videos on YouTube as well, here’s a couple of the better ones:

http://tarekith.com/wired-roots-downtempo-live-pa/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTHRojYPzJg
– What do you call yourself? Live PA Artist, Live Remixer, Controllerist, etc.

I guess in general I’m just a musician, but if you mean for playing out, then I like old “live pa” name myself. When I used to go see guys doing the same thing I’m doing now, they called it that and I’m fine to keep on using it too.
– What is your definition of Live PA / live Electronic music?

It’s pretty vague for me, so I guess just music being performed where there’s at least some chance of making mistakes if you don’t do things right. How each artist interprets that is of course going to vary, and what one person thinks is live might be totally different from someone else.

Honestly, the very last thing I worry about when it comes to making and performing music is what people will call it. People get hung up one names and labels too much in this scene sometimes 🙂
– Why do you Live PA? Is it your profession? Do you aspire to do it full time? Is it a hobby? Somewhere in between? Or some other reason?

It’s fun, plain and simple. When I first got into making music at all, it was to play live. I had a Roland MC505 and would just create all these songs I could perform at parties where my friends were DJing. So right the beginning I’ve sort of equated playing live to making music.

I like seeing people’s reactions when I’m able to present an idea I had to them in a really direct manner, and playing live is that for me. It’s strangely addicting being able to control the mood or energy of a room full of people who have their full attention on you. At least, it’s fun when ti goes well! 🙂
– What musical genres do you play when you Live PA?

Right now I have two main sets ready at any time, a more chill but still grooving downtempo set, and a more upbeat club type set. I’m always adding new sounds to them or tweaking what I already have though, so they evolve constantly. I’m about 70% through writing a new club set too, all new material in this one.
– What is it about the musical genres that you produce and play that keep you interested?

Honestly again it comes down to the whole label and genre thing which I don’t really pay attention to. For me there’s basically two kinds of electronic music, the chill lounge downtempo style of tracks, and more danceable stuff, things that make you want to move around. I just make different versions of those as my mood strikes me when I sit down to record a new song.

A lot of times I might sit down with the intention of creating something really sparse and banging, but within 5 minutes I can feel myself being drawn more to the lush pads and dreamy sounds of the downtempo thing. So I’ll switch gears and write something like that instead, or maybe even flip back and forth on a few different tracks at once. I don’t have very many set ways of working.
– What was your first exposure to Live PA from the perspective of someone being in the audience?

Good question! I think that might be at my very first rave, and I believe it was Sven Vath that was playing live. It was billed as a live pa, and my friend was having the hardest time trying to explain to me what a live pa was. LOL I kept expecting to see this whole band up there, but it was just one guy. I didn’t get it at all, I was a guitar player at the time and it just was unlike anything I had seen before. From then on I was always attracted to parties that had live acts I wanted to see, more so than DJs.
– What was your first inspiration for doing Live PA?

A lot of my friends were starting to DJ, and while it looked like fun making music for everyone, I didn’t want to play other people’s music. I was a guitar player already like I said, it just seemed natural that I would learn how to use the tools to make this new style of music I was hearing.

Nothing against DJing mind you, I do that as well now and enjoy it immensely. Back then it just didn’t hold much interest for me though. I think eventually enough parties I was playing at got busted that I started to see the appeal of DJing more. You could just just grab your record bag and go, while here I was stuck with a car full of gear to pack up with the police kicking everyone out. That happened a lot in the early days….
– Tell us about your first gig. Give us the goods, we want to know what you were thinking the days / weeks before, how you came up with your methodology, how the gig itself went, and what the aftermath was.

I think my first gig other than at my house (we had a huge place where we lived and threw parties) was for a friend at a college town 6 hours away. We drove there during the morning, I set up my mc505 and a Yamaha CS2x and then I played live and my room mate DJ’d all night for a packed college house party.

I’ve never really gotten super scared or nervous before gigs, even then. Sure I get butterflies and start hoping it all goes well, but I’ve always WANTED to play live whenever I could. So for that gig it was no different to me than just playing for my friends at home.

Well except we ended up with no place to sleep. We’d been promised a place to crash at this house, but there was so much spilled beer everywhere there wasn’t a dry spot anywhere to lay down. So we packed up and drove 6 hours home with no sleep. I think that was my first introduction to what kinds of things I’d have to deal with to play live sometimes.
– Who do you primarily make music for, yourself or the audience?

Myself, definitely. Music is a selfish outlet for me to be as creative as I want to be doing whatever I want. I couldn’t wait to leave the concept of having to get together with a band to make music. Although maybe my first one was a bad experience too.

But at the same time, there’s definitely times I have to force myself to step back and think about the music I’m preparing to perform from an outsiders point of view too. I mean, it’s great to stand there and make weird noises for an hour, but if no one likes it then that’s the last time you’re going to get asked to do it.

So while you ultimately want to create something that expresses you views and ideas, you have to do it in a way that’s at least somewhat accessible for people too.
– What one to four word phrase should I use to title your chapter in the book?

This Chapter Starts Now.

– Can you list out your Live PA kit list and what you use each piece for?

At the moment I use an Elektron Machinedrum and Octatrack for everything, it’s a nice and compact set up that’s very powerful. The Machinedrum handles the drums, all of which are written specifically for the live set. The Octatrack handles all the instrument loops and stems I’ve prepped from my studio tracks, as well as new stuff just for the live show.

I have another live set prepped using the laptop and an Akai APC40 too, but at the moment I’m having more fun using the hardware again so that’s what I’ve been focusing on.
– How do you prepare music for a Live PA? What tools do you use to produce the contents of your set and how much is done before hand vs. on the fly?

If I used the Machinedrum when I wrote the original studio version, I’ll go back to my archives and grab the sysex and just send that to the Machinedrum (MD). Otherwise I’ll need to write new drum parts based loosely on the studio version of the song. I use a combination of the synthesis engines in the MD, and some of my own drum samples in the UW aspect of the MD.

For the instrument sounds, things like basslines, leads, pads, etc I’ll go back to the original DAW project files of the studio versions of my songs. Then I just basically edit and buss things down so that I get 6-7 stems that I think will work best for a live setting. Usually it’s the peak of the song, because I know I can build that up again live by playing all the parts at once.

Once I have these stems ready and working as 4 bar loops, I’ll export them as separate audio files, then load them into the Octatrack (OT). Then I’ll spend a few weeks more or less remixing all the stems into something new with the OT. I want the songs to have some of the same flavor as the studio versions but often I’m making them more dance friendly, or just remixing them into something almost completely new.

I spend a lot of time writing my songs, I don’t want to get sick of hearing them the same way either!
– Do you have a set way of playing every gig or do you change it up occasionally?

My gigs are usually spaced far enough apart that I can spend a little bit of time customizing the set for that particular event or venue. I’ll have an idea of what the crowd will be expecting, or maybe what my set time is so I can plan accordingly. I don’t follow a particular set list each time I play, and the performance of bringing all these parts together in a way that people will enjoy changes all the time.

If nothing else I get bored very easily, so I don’t stick with a particular working method for very long. I’m really happy with the current MD and OT set up, but I change how I interact with them all the time when creating new live sets. I like to mix it up some 🙂
– What are some of the challenges that you set for yourself in playing live?

I think the biggest challenge for any live electronic act is figuring out what level of control you want over the sounds you play. How much of it do you want hands on and how much of it do you want sequenced or pre-looped. There’s no way to really do it all live on the fly and make it super interesting for everyone, at least not for the kind of music I make.

So for my live sets I tend to think of myself almost more of a conductor or orchestrator than a musician. I’m not up there playing keyboards or guitar live (yet), but I’m still responsible for building and weaving all these different musical ideas into something that sounds cohesive, evolving, fun, and without making any mistakes.

Really the biggest struggle for me revolves around that, trying to decide how hands on I want to be. It’s got to be enough to let people know you’re in control and it’s happening right there in front of them. But at the same time, some of the really cool sounding parts of my music just can’t be recreated live, it’s impossible. So some of that stuff has to be prerecorded then triggered at the right time when playing live. Dozens, and dozens of times for each song.
– Do you have a set of rules that you follow that ensures you are doing a Live PA in your mind?

Not really to be honest, I’m only going to bill myself as a live pa if I know it’s music that I wrote to perform live.
– Do you worry about innovation in your Live PA? That is, are you always seeking new ways to play live or to tweak your setup? Can you discuss any processes you use to get better? Any examples?

Sure, sort of what I was just hinting at before. I get bored with working a certain way after awhile, so I switch it up a lot. A lot of times that might be just the gear I use, it’s changed a lot over the years. The MC505 gained a Sp808 brother for while, then an Akai S3000XL. Sold those, and eventually started playing live again using Ableton Live on a laptop with a Korg microKontrol keyboard. I spent a few years basically buying a new MIDI controller every few months then selling it and buying something else a couple months later. Nothing felt right.

Eventually the APC40 came out and that was a perfect fit for awhile. But over time I started missing working just with hardware, everyone was using laptops by this time so it no longer stood out. So I’ve been on the Elektron wagon lately, and that’s been loads of fun.
– How do you plan the music for a gig? Do you have a set list, is it fully improv, a bit of both?

I typically have about 20-24 songs (roughly two hours) ready to be played out at any time for both the downtempo and uptempo sets. They’re organized from the most chill to the most energy at the other end in both cases. So while I might not know exactly what songs I’ll play before the gig, I can plan the mood and progression I want the set to have. With most gigs being an hour, it gives me the option of making the set mostly chill, mostly upbeat, or a combo of the two as I see fit based on the crowd’s reaction.
– What types of things do you do on the fly vs. have laid out in advance while at a gig?

The loops are all pre-recorded, both the drums as MIDI in the MD and the instruments as audio files in the OT. I control when each plays, the volume, all the real time effect and synthesis tweaking, as well as controlling transitioning from one song to the next. A lot of time in my sets is actually spent working my way from one song to another, and there’s hundreds of different ways I can do that.
– Do you worry about making mistakes when playing live or do you go with the flow?

Yes. Of course you want the set to go good and not have any issues, but of course some will always happen. I’ve just learned to roll with it and hope I prepared for the worst. Usually performance mistakes no one really cares about as long as they are rare. So most of my stress pre-gig is hoping my gear works the right way.

Not that it’s been unreliable, but there’s nothing worse than showing up to a gig and having a memory card not read, or power issues making your gear freak out for no reason! The first time I sort of unstress strangely is when I first get on stage right before I play. I can see everything is still set up up and working right, so then it’s just up to me to use it right.
– How much do happy accidents work into your Live PA?

If they sound good, I go with it. That’s part of the appeal of playing live in the first place, you CAN make mistakes, but how you recover from them can be more important. You learn to think fast and really know your gear inside and out. Then you can just roll with any accidents and turn it into something unexpected.

Always tweak a knob in time to the music first time you grab it! LOL.
– Do you separate the concept of performance from the music you are playing when you do a live PA? For example, you may be doing some seriously complex and intense things to get the music out of the speakers, but how do you make it a “show” for your audience? Or is that something that you don’t really worry about?

I know it’s to my detriment, but I could care less for the most part. What I do takes concentration if you want me to do it the best I can, so I focus on making good sounds come out of the speakers, not dancing around on stage. I get into my music and have fun, and I try to keep eye contact with the crowd, but I’m not there to wear a costume just to get attention.

Other people are obviously successful doing it though, so don’t listen to me 🙂
– What tools and techniques do you use to purposefully increase the performance value of your Live PA? That is, are there things that you do on purpose just so the audience knows you are doing things live?

I think one of the benefits of using hardware is that you don’t have to worry too much about that. I don’t have a laptop in front of me that I need to worry about NOT looking at, or blocking my view of the crowd. If I’m not moving around busy with the MD and OT, nothing happens, there is no music. So just the act of me playing my music shows them I’m doing it all live on the fly.

They might not understand what each knob does, but they correlate the movement to the changes in the sound they hear.
– Do you incorporate visuals into your Live PA? What level of involvement do you think visuals have in a Live PA?

I don’t, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. I think for me it would be less about giving people a visual representation of the music I’m making, and more about a tool helping me set the mood to go with the music.

But at the same time, it’s one more set of bags to bring, and more gear to worry about. Maybe I just need to find an up and coming visual guy looking for some gigs, hmmmm….
– Do you have some future ideas youíd like to implement to enhance the performance side of your Live PA?

I’ve only had the Octatrack for a little over a year now, so it’s still pretty new to me. I’m pretty happy with the OT and MD pair to be honest, it lets me bring together a lot of different sides of my music into something with a true performance side to it.
– What do you say to the idea Live PA is only about pushing buttons and not live a true performance?

Who cares? The whole concept about what “playing live” is changes person to person. I think people are smart enough to see through bullshit if someone is up there faking it. And if not, well…

People aren’t dumb in general, they know when someone is really involved with the music they are presenting as live. You don’t make it long as a live pa otherwise. The only people that argue about it are other live acts online, most people could care less because that stuff sorts itself out naturally.
– What makes you feel satisfied at the end of a gig that youíve done what you came for?

Great gigs are THE best feeling in the world. Standing on stage, hearing your own music played LOUD, and having a ton of people get off to it? Yes please, sign me up!

There’s no surprise when a gig goes well, you know it the whole time usually. Being able to tap into that crowd energy and interact with people via music you’re making right then and there, that’s a very powerful feeling when it comes together better than you expected it would.
– Take us on an in-depth review of your Live PA setup. We want the nasty details. Don’t hold back.

Well, pretty simple in terms of gear, just the Machinedrum and the Octatrack at the moment. Umm… CF Cards by Lexar and custom cabling by Zenproaudio.com (highly recommended). I have roughly 12-14 tracks of drums in the Machinedrum, and typically 5-7 tracks of instrument sounds in the Octatrack.

The Machinedrum outputs go into the Octatrack, which lets me record and loop the MD, the OT, or both together on the fly. Useful for transitions between tracks. The OT is the MIDI Clock master, the MD is slave and sync is never an issue for me. Never even thought about it really, dead locked all the time.

I send a single stereo feed to the FOH guys, all the track EQing and whatnot I handle on stage.
– How do the various genres (if applicable) differ in setup and performance when you are doing a Live PA?

Not at all for me personally, at least not in terms of set up. I suppose in my uptempo sets I’m less likely to use a lot of really long ambient transitions, but other than that the set up and performance aspects are the same from my point of view.
– What are a few things that you are really proud of your setup that took you some time / innovation to get to be usable?

Bending the Octatrack my will so quickly! LOL. A lot of people seem to really struggle with learning how to use it, but for me it just clicked right from the start. I knew exactly what I was getting it for and it only took me a couple of days to learn how to do that and start building a bunch of new live sets.
– What is the craziest idea you have for a Live PA that you havenít implemented yet either due to cost, time, or know how?

I have some pretty specific ideas for some visuals I’d eventually love to have made for my downtempo sets. But to do it the way I want would be very costly I’m sure. For now I’ll keep the specifics to myself, still too far away to discuss yet 😉
– Can you reveal any of your secret rig tips and tricks that are a key to your success?

Nothing in my rig is a secret or special enough on it’s own to be something that most people would find useful I bet. It just comes down to really loving what I do, I want to do this in some facet or another all the time. It’s lots of hard work and long hours studying and practicing, but it doesn’t feel like work most of the time because I can’t think of anything I’d rather be usually.

I guess the best single bit of advice I can give is be in it for the long haul. Have fun now and along the way, because it often takes a long time to get to the achievements we set for ourselves.
– How is your gear prepared for a live set? Talk about things like packing, road cases, how you travel with your gear to a show.

I have two of the Elektron ECC-2 carry cases for the OT and MD. Those comes with the decksaver style lids that I use to prevent accidental spills on stage when I’m not using the gear. Each bag holds all the power, MIDI, and audio cables that I need, as well as backups of each just in case. I also carry a small battery powered reading light with a flexible neck. Useful for trying to see what you’re doing in super dark clubs and parties! If I need to use my own table, I have a dual-X braced keyboard stand and a piece of wood I can bring with fairly easily.

All in all a fairly compact set up, which I’ve found just makes my life easier. In this case I don’t think I’m losing anything in terms of playability of flexibility in how I perform, so it works out very well. I had built this really awesome wooden case last year for the OT and MD, everything was wired internally so I just had to take off the lid and plug in an audio and power cable. Done, easy.

It looked really nice too, but I used this super heavy maple for everything, and with the lid on, the darn thing just weighed too much to be practical. Oh well, the ECC-2 bags work well instead I guess. 🙂
– What’s in your gig survival kit? Any unusual items youíve discovered along the way that help you out?

I almost always carry a leatherman and small flashlight to gigs, as well as a roll of that blue painters masking tape. It’s useful for keeping cables out of the way and plugged in, and it doesn’t leave a residue when you pull it off. Much cheaper than actual gaffer tape!

If I have any doubts about the venue or the sound system, I have a bag full of extra cables and all sorts of adaptors I can throw in the car just in case. I used to bring it everywhere with me for my gigs, but lately I’ve been doing more parties and festivals out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s just one more thing to carry so I’ve been crossing my fingers I don’t need it.
– What things do you bring backups of to a gig in case of catastrophe?

Doubles of all audio, MIDI, and power adaptors. The ability to connect my audio outs to a stage or DJ mixer, so 1/4″ and RCA. All my data for the Elektrons backed up on separate CF cards, well for the OT at least. At the moment if the MD dies while I don’t have my laptop it’s going to be an issue! But I hope to get a +Drive installed in it soon to at least give me a small form of back up when I travel without the computer.
– What do you discuss with the promoter in advance about your setup and the venue?

Mainly the stage layout and type of mixer I’ll be plugging into. I really prefer to have a real soundcheck when possible, so I try and set that up at the same time as load in and set up. I can be fully set up and ready to go in 5 minutes, so that’s the easy part.

Other than that, set times and what the performers before and after me are playing if it’s a new venue. Just trying to get a feel for if they’ve don any sort of pacing musically in terms of the line up, so I know what style to play. It’s not an issue so much for the uptempo gigs, clubs and what not, they just expect you to bring it every time. But for some of the more chill events I do, they really want the whole night to flow a certain way usually.
– How do you go about tear down? Any tips for the setup that make this easier for you?

I have pretty unique cables, so it’s usually very easy for me to quickly grab mine and get them coiled and in the bags with the OT and MD. I use little velcro cord wraps to help keep everything neat, and if I have the time, I really try and coil everything nicely when packing up. Makes for less work next time, and often means you slow down and don’t forget anything.

Sometimes that’s not an option though. At Sequential Circus in Vancouver for instance, I was sharing the stage with 6 other live pa’s. So I had to get my stuff down and out of the way asap when I’m done playing. In that case it’s usually a bit more chaotic affair scrambling to toss all my cables and PSU’s in the bags as quick as possible!
– What’s your biggest at the gig/venue pet peeve?

Not being given enough space or time to set up even my modest set up. Also having to go into a DJ mixer before going to the house mixer. I’m a mastering engineer for a living, so I’m kind of a stickler for good sound quality. Having to go into a DJ mixer first always seems like a unnecessary step due to lazy sound engineers. It’s a minor thing admittedly, but I guess that’s why we call them pet peeves.
– Tell us about your funniest / most memorable gig.

Hmmm, there’s a few that stand out really. This past summer I was playing at the Photosynthesis Festival, and it poured for a few hours before I went on. The whole time it’s just dripping in the dome tent I’m supposed to play in, everything is getting completely soaked. Because I was playing in the chill out tent everyone, including the performers, were supposed to be barefoot and seated the whole time.

So here I am at 3:00 in the morning, sitting in a 5 inch puddle huddled over my gear trying to keep the drops off it, wondering if this is worth bringing $3000 worth of gear out in the woods! But honestly it was also one of my best gigs as well, by that point everyone just stopped trying to stay dry and everyone was just having a good time regardless.
– What ís your favorite venue? Why?

I haven’t played there yet, but it’s on my bucket list to one day perform at the Metro in Chicago. I’ve been there SOOOO many times to see other bands and DJs, it’s such a cool, but intimate venue. I really hope to play there some day!
– What is your ultimate gig? And have you had it?

I don’t think I’ll ever have some ‘ultimate’ gig. Every time I get off stage after a good show I think it was the best one yet, so it’s hard to answer that. It’s a sliding scale.
– What ís the strangest venue youíve played?

An art exhibit for a lady who made lamps out of repurposed materials. Nice people, so weird though. It wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be when I accepted, but that happens, you just roll with it.

I remember being asked to play at a house party early on, for this college girl’s birthday party, real frat house kind of stuff. When we showed up and started unloading the car with my gear, she came out with a shotgun screaming that she was going to shoot the next person that tried throwing a party in her house.

That was pretty strange.

No idea what the story was, we just quickly packed up and left real quiet like.
– Whatís the main way you network to find new gigs?

I’m too busy and tired to go clubbing every night these days like I used to. I think that’s definitely the best way if you’re young and just getting into this. Go out, meet the promoters, get to know them, help out, then ask for a gig.

In my case a lot of my promotion is done online, posting my sets to my website, soundcloud, Facebook, the usual. I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten a few gigs randomly from that, people just running into my music.
– How much work do you put into finding gigs?

Not enough! I like playing out and wish I could do it all the time, but the mastering business has been my real passion lately. That’s been taking up a of my time, both in the studio and out.

But usually I try and get a completely new live set together every couple of years, and that gets me motivated to start shopping it around to different local promoters. That reminds me, I need to start doing this for 2013 tomorrow….
– What types of gigs do you mostly look for? One offs, residencies, festivals? Any differences in playing these?

As long as there’s not a lot of drama, just about anything. I’ve had fun playing to VIP a room full of people who knew nothing about electronic music at a beer festival, and I’ve had fun playing some of the biggest clubs in Chicago and Seattle. With the right people, it’s always fun.

– What does having an audience to play for mean to you and how do they impact your set?

It makes the experience about more than just you. It adds a layer of responsibility you don’t have when you’re just having fun at home by yourself. Now it’s your job to entertain these people. If you’re not going to put on some super visual show, then the music better be on point.

Being there in FRONT of people adds to the experience as well, you can feel the vibe in the room when things are going good or going poorly. You learn to tap into that and read it, and how to go back in the studio later and shape your new music based on what you saw people reacted to the last time you performed.

You can be an incredible musician by yourself, but at some point you need to show that to other people. I think a lot of people struggle with this part of the equation.
– Whatís the largest audience youíve played for?

A few hundred I’d guess? At some of the festivals it’s hard to tell to be honest.
– What’s the smallest audience youíve played for?

My dog Link is my number one fan.
– What’s the largest misconception you deal with when speaking with those in audience?

People think I’m a DJ playing other people’s songs. Or they don’t understand how all those sounds could come from two small boxes.
– Have you ever lost an audience during a set and had to do something drastic to get them back?

Sure, I think we all have times where for whatever reason things just aren’t working well. I remember showing up once for what I thought was going to me an ambient set at a small club. When I get there, I find out now I’m not going on first, I’m going on at 2:00 AM. All the DJs and live acts before me were playing dark and hard techno and DnB, I would have been killed playing ambient after that.

So I basically had to crank the tempo up and add some drums on the fly. Stressful, not my best gig by any means, but considering the material I had and what the room wanted….
– What is the most memorable audience interaction you have ever had?

That’s a tough one. I think Sequential Circus was a really unique night in recent memory. That whole series of events is based on live acts, no DJs at all. So the crowd comes knowing what to expect and willing to pay good money to hear it twice a year. They hear a lot of up and coming (and established) live acts before other parts of the world, so the expectation is high.

They were a fun crowd to play for, lots of people afterward were coming up to talk to me about my set. Heck, even before hand people knew who I was and wanted to talk about gear and what not. Really fun night, good music, great crowd.
– What things have the audience done / said that have made you tweak your Live PA / performance for the long run?

I think in my case because my first forays into making music were for live pa’s, that a lot of my early feedback was just production related in general. My roommate once told me me liked my songs, but I needed to work on my drums. I think that was a game changer for me, it really made me focus on the percussive side of things more than I had.
– Are you affiliated with any Promoters?

No, though I’ve been doing a lot of the H’art events here in Seattle lately.
– What’s the largest misconception you deal with when working with Promoters?

That all live acts are 4 feet 2 inches tall and enjoy working on rickety folding card tables. Ummm…. no.
– What’s your favorite promoter story, good or bad?

Back in my clubbing days in Chicago, I was getting to know Chad Summer who was one of the main guys in the Pure group (huge Chicago club promoters at the time). We were at Karma at a sold out night for Dave Ralph’s birthday, and Chad pulled me and my girlfriend at the time out of the crowd to dance and do shots on stage with him and Dave.

That night and the after party was just pure debauchery, still brings a smile to my face. I had a lot of fun hanging out with those promoters.
– How do you determine fee for a gig or is that something that just settles itself?

Usually it just settles itself. Some of the festivals you’re lucky to get paid at all, but you get in for free and it’s so much fun you’d be there anyway. Other times you just have to weigh what it’s worth to you versus realistically how much they can afford to pay you. I used to work with a lot of promotion groups putting on parties and club nights, even some larger raves. So I’m used to dealing with the money issue and it’s not something I’m afraid to be upfront and honest about if need be.

As long as you’re being realistic about what you’re bringing to the picture, I think it’s pretty easy to be honest with yourself about what you should charge.
– Do you feel that there should be one definition of Live Electronic music or can the artist define their own methodology for what “Live”means for them, in context of their performance?

I really don’t care about definitions at all. If some guy is on stage flapping his ass cheeks making dubstep bass sounds and people are getting off on it, fair play to him.
– What’s the future of Live PA for you? How far ahead do you think about your purpose and what youíll be doing?

It’s always changing for me, but for the moment I’m right at the start of my journey doing live sets with the MD and OT. I’ve really been enjoying the challenge of writing and hours worth of music lately, compared to just writing a song here and there. So for the immediate future I see myself writing more live sets and trying to get more diverse gigs with those.
– Have you ever taught / thought about teaching Live PA to others?

I’ve presented at some of the Chicago and Seattle Ableton Live User group meetings, and some of that covered live performance. These days I really tend to focus on mastering when it comes to making a living though, so I haven’t really had the time for one on one training like that.
– Do you jam with other Live PA folks?

Not lately, though there were some guys back in Chicago I was having fun jamming with. I definitely want to get more into that, but I also know that a lot of it is just finding the right people to jam with too.
– What’s your favorite way to jam?

Just find someone way to get everyone clocked to a common tempo source and then brap away. I really am only interested in doing it with people who know when it’s time to move on to a new idea when jamming. A lot of people hang on to bad ideas too long 🙂
– Do you one day plan on passing the Live PA torch to family / friends?

Not really. My wife knows how to DJ and has had a few clubs gigs, but no kids for us to pass it on to.

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Quick reminder that my next live gig is at Photosynthesis 6 in Neah Bay, WA, July 19-22.

 

 

Pursuit Of Music Interview

Earlier this week I was asked to give an interview for the Pursuit Of Music blog.  In this interview I talk about getting started as a professional audio engineer, my DJ history, and of course I offer up some advice for those looking to follow the same career path.  Enjoy!

http://www.pursuitofmusic.com/dj-tarekith-interview/

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A few people have asked me when I plan to post about why I decided switch back to the Traktor S4 for DJing recently.  It’s coming, I swear!  🙂

Unfortunately last week I came down with a nasty cold and sinus infection, so it’s been all I can do to keep the studio running at the moment.  Hoping I can get some time later today to write the S4 post, and I’ll get it posted by the weekend if all goes well.  Thanks for your patience!

Also, the Production Q&A posts I sometimes write are going to start backup again soon.  So if you have any questions about audio production or performance you’d like me to answer, please send them my way.

Finally, I want to thank all the people that donated to the blog in 2012 one last time.  Your  contributions really helped, thank you so much!