Vancouver Teaser Live Set

A quick teaser of my new live set, getting played for the first time this weekend in Vancouver at Sequential Circus 11.  100% live with just the Machinedrum and Octatrack, more uptempo this time around.

Here’s a 320kbps MP3 if you prefer that:

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

 

As I mentioned, I’ll be playing Saturday, August 18th in Vancouver at Sequential Circus 11.  Details:

VENUE: Open Studios, #200 – 252 East 1st Avenue
19+ w/ID ONLY – there’s a bar
TICKETS: $20, available at the door only, arrive early to avoid disappointment
Doors at 10:00pm, first performance begins at 10:30pm sharp!

I’m told the last few of these sold out, so get there early to make sure you get in!

 

Elektron ECC-2 Review

Not the most exciting review, but I’ve had a few people asking me about the ECC-2 bag since I got mine.  Figured I’d do a quick video so people can see what it looks like, how big it is, and what the storage is like.  I also talk about a few things I wish were different about it as well.

Chillography 5

Well, the Photosynthesis 5 festival is over and done with, and I have to say I’m really pleased with how my set went.  After all the work I put into prepping a brand new hardware-based live set, it’s a good feeling knowing it all worked well and that people really seemed to enjoy it.  Probably my best live set so far in fact, so I’m very happy with the decision to take a break from the laptop and Live for a bit to focus on dedicated hardware for awhile.

Of course, not everything was perfect.  There was some confusion over time-slots, and I ended up having to go on about an hour earlier than I was scheduled to (depending on who’s schedule you were following I guess).  Plus, my gear was stored in a locked trailer, and the person with the only key for said trailer took awhile to find.  Minor freak out for me.

And then there was the rain, which had started earlier in the day and didn’t let up all night.  The tent I was playing in started to leak eventually, but we scrambled and managed to at least get some tarps up to divert water off the ‘stage’ where the audio gear was.  Unfortunately it had already soaked the carpet, so I ended up performing kneeling in 3 inches of water (the DJs and live acts all perform sitting down normally, since this is a chill out tent).

But, the tent was packed with a line forming outside to get in I’m told, and lots of people were dancing.  Something you don’t always see with downtempo. 🙂

When I finished the set, I realized that due to the scheduling issues, the next live act wasn’t there yet.  So I was planning on putting on CD while I packed up and waited for them, but one of the promoters just asked me to start playing my set again.  So I did another 30 minutes of it while we waited.  Not quite the finale I was planning on, but I’d rather play than not, so it could be worse 🙂

Best part of the weekend was just all the random people that came up to me all weekend telling me how much they enjoyed my set.  Always a nice feeling!

 

But, no rest for the wicked as they say, and now that I’m home and back in the studio I realized there were a few things I wanted to improve in the set still.  Namely most of my songs in the Octatrack don’t use up all the available tracks, there’s still 1-3 tracks free in most of the songs.  A few times while performing, I’d be really into a song and wanting to extend it, but not having more sounds to introduce would have made it too repetitive.

So the last few days I’ve been using Live and Omnisphere to write new parts for all of my live songs in the downtempo set, 17 in total.  Mainly I was just MIDI syncing the hardware to Live and jamming with Omni until I got something cool that I liked.  This was trimmed, and then transferred to the OT.  I probably could have recorded into the OT directly, but I wanted to work fast to get this done, and I’m definitely more used to working like this in Live still.

So, now all the new material is prepped and in the hardware, and I just need to go into each song and dial in the mixdown, and any small tweaks to the new sounds with the OT’s effects.  It was a lot of work overall, especially considering that I thought I was done with the set prep work.  But I think in the end things sound much better, and with the new sounds I added, it really gives me a lot more flexibility in how I perform the set and want it to flow.

Which is a good thing, since my next live gig is not that far away!  I’ll be doing the live set at Chillography in Seattle on August 4th, at Myrtle Edwards Park.  It’s a free party that runs from noon til 9:00 PM, and it’s in a beautiful location right on the shoreline of Puget Sound and within walking distance of the Art Institute’s outdoor sculpture garden.

My set is from 6:00-7:00PM.

Stop on by to hang out and listen to some great music for free.  Bring some lunch, a book, your dog, you name it, and enjoy the great vibe the h’Art people bring to all their events.  Hopefully I can record my set this time too!

————–

Next up, I’ve had a few people ask me when the next Production Q&A will be.  The answer is that it depends on all of you!  I need a couple more questions before I’ll start, so if you have anything music or production related you want advice on, just drop me an email.

Finally, thanks once again to all the people who sent in a donation over the last couple of weeks.  It might only be a couple dollars to you, but if enough people pitch in, I can finally buy that pony I’ve always wanted.  🙂

Thanks!

Preparing For Gigs

Since my last post about nerves before a gig, I’ve had a lot of people asking what I do to prepare for my live shows.  I’ve covered some of this in the past in my Playing Live Guide, but it’s worth covering the basics again.

The first thing, obviously, is having a live set ready to perform in the first place.  I normally try and have at least an hour of music I play before I start looking into getting booked gigs, or agreeing to take any.  Sometimes if I’m close to having enough material ready I’ll accept and use that to motivate me to finish, but normally I try and have the basics down first.

Once I get booked for a show, I want to know the details.  Where is it, what kind of crowd, when am I playing, how long am I playing, etc.  Normally the promoter will give you all this information when they contact you with the booking in the first place, but if not it’s worth getting ahold of them asap so you know exactly what to expect and what to plan for.

Think about other, less obvious things too though.  Is there a hotel nearby, and how are you getting there?  Will there be some place secure for you to stash your gear before and after the gig, or are you responsible for it?  What kind of connections will you be plugging into, DI’s or a FOH (or even DJ) mixer? Who has the drink tickets?

 

Usually by this point I’m a couple weeks out from the show, and I’m putting the finishing touches on the set based on what the promoter told me.  Tailoring it for the crowd, are they looking to dance or chill out, fine tune the track order, etc.  I then make back ups of all my data to DVDr to bring with me.  You can’t count on it, but it seems more often than not someone has a laptop available if you need it these days.  I don’t just back up the data for my sets, but also the apps needed to use/send it to my gear too.  It helps to have these installers for both OSX and Windows.

The next phase for me is the trial run of the set.  I force myself to pretend I’m doing it for real, and do it front to back to make sure there’s no issues (at least on that day).  Ideally I’m doing the set someplace else, a local small bar or a friends house, you name it.  Some place I have to physically leave my studio and pack like I was going to a gig.  I look at all the cables and connections I need, and then I bring twice as many of the same types.

Cables always fail at your first big show.  I swear gnomes exist that do nothing but trash your most important cables minutes before you’re supposed to start playing.

Not only do I pretend that I’m performing in front of people. but also setting up and tearing down my gear.  Will I be able to hook everything up in advance with a soundcheck, and just leave it in place until I play?  Or will I have to set up while someone else is finishing their set before me?  Plan for both, and know what to do so you can do it quickly and correctly.

 

Speaking of sound checks, when possible, insist on them!  This is your last trial run before the show, and it also lets you see if your set is sounding the way you want on the sound system you’ll actually be using.  Hopefully there’s a sound guy there to help you sort any issue (too bright, too bassy, etc), but if not, play some of your live songs and walk around where the audience will be.  If there’s a mixer you’ll be plugged into, use it’s EQ to get things sounding the way you want later on. Keep in mind an empty space will sound much brighter than one full of people too.

When you’re done practicing the set, pack your stuff up like you were leaving for the night.  Imagine someone else is trying to get their gear set up too, and plan to keep things as simple as possible.  Flag or tape your own cables so there’s no confusion, make them unique.

I’m a big believer in packing everything up neat so the next show I could just unpack and set up as if I just left the studio.  Coil cables carefully and use velcro wire wraps to keep everything separated.  Don’t just toss it all in your bag in a big heap, that’s how you break cables and forget things at the venue.   Do it right, but be efficient and considerate of those playing after you. Double-check that you actually grabbed everything you brought with you.

For the most part, this is pretty much all I do when prepping for shows.  Sometimes during the trial run I’ll hear some things I need to go back and tweak, but I try and not obsess over this too much beforehand.  It’s always a fine line between practicing enough to be prepared, versus hearing the same music so many times you get sick of it.  Plus, each time you change something, you need to create new back ups and burn new DVDr’s, so that’s a consideration too.

I generally try and get all the prep work finished 3-4 days in advance of a show.  Gives me enough time to rush order anything that breaks or needs replacing, and it also gives me a few days away from the set before I actually do it for real.  Like I said, no need to get burned out on the set before you even get in front of people.  🙂

Nerves

Less than a week away from my next big gig, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t feeling some butterflies, just like I always do.  Which is really weird for me when I think about it, because I’ve been playing live electronic music in front of people since just about when I started writing music in the first place.  That was more than 20 year ago, and still… I get the butterflies.

You’d think that over time it would get easy.  Well, maybe more realistically I should say easier.  And I guess in some ways it has, despite the last minute nerves that make me feel otherwise.  In the past I was always worried about how “I” would do, what mistakes “I” would make that might make people hate my music.  And sure, over the course of 20 years there were definitely some mistakes here and there.

But for the most part I’ve learned that most people don’t care when you mess up.  I mean, sure, it’s not like you can hide catastrophic errors where the music stops, or you REALLY mess up.  But a lot of times when you’re performing, you tend to fixate on the the little things along the way that don’t go according to plan.  And really, most people don’t even notice.  Heck, even when I record my own live sets and listen back to them a week later, usually I can’t spot the stuff that bothered at the time either!

No, these days I tend to find myself worrying about technical issues more than performance ones (quiet in the back).  Will the power be good?  Will I be able to hear myself in the monitors?  Will I have enough time to set up and REALLY be sure it’s all working right first?  Will my equipment work the way it has for months leading up to this? Will there be anyone there?  🙂

You know, the kinds of things you have no control over, and won’t know the answers to until you get there anyway.

 

Still, I worry.

 

I realize now it’s a good thing, in small doses anyway.  As the gigs get closer, I start getting that question popping into my head more often, “What if?”

What if it goes bad?

What if one of my machines just frreaks out on stage?

What if I forget a cable?

What if I leave my back up disc at home?

Etc.

And of course, the bigger the gig, the more questions I pose to myself.  But here’s the thing, despite being a little nervous having to worry about all this stuff, it also makes me think about and truly plan for all those potential problems.  I remember to bring extra cables, double check my memory cards, plan to play for longer than I’m booked, etc.

The more worries I have, the more confident I am once it actually comes time to play.  I’ve thought of as many possibilities as I can, and done my best to hopefully mitigate them as reasonably as possible (you can’t plan for everything).  I know my material, and exactly what I need to do, and suddenly I’m free to just focus on that.

Sure the first few minutes are always a little shaky, but once I realize it’s all going according to plan (or close to it), I can leave that worry behind, and just let myself have fun playing with sound.  I can just let myself enjoy hearing my music louder than I’d normally play it in the studio, and start looking at the audience, using their reactions to shape what it is I’m trying to do.  I get lost in the fun moments along the way, instead of always worrying about the big picture.

It’s a great feeling, addictive to us all.  It’s why immediately after the gig, we find ourselves thinking “should I approach the promoter now about possibly playing again in the future, or should I wait?”  🙂

So in the end the butterflies are still there, but I’ve learned to accept them as part of the normal process of playing live.  It might not be the most fun part (not by a long shot), but without those nerves, we might not be as prepared as we should be.

One last tip:

Always keep a notebook of some sort handy in your study as you prep for a gig.  It doesn’t have to be paper and pen, a text document on your computer or a reminder note on your tablet works just as well.  But almost without fail, you will suddenly remember some critical thing you almost forgot as you plan for the event.  WRITE IT DOWN.  Even if you plan on doing it immediately, it’s amazing how quickly we can get distracted or forget!

Photosynthesis 5.0

Hard to believe that after months of work prepping the new live set, the first festival of the summer I’ll be performing at is almost here!  Photosynthesis 5.0 starts next Friday, and runs through Monday morning (July 20-22) in beautiful Neah Bay, WA.  For those of you who’ve never been there, it’s a beautiful location, and also happens to be the northwestern-most tip of the continental US.

This year I’ll once again be performing in the H’art tent, and my set time is Friday (technically Saturday really) from 2:00-3:30 AM.  I’ll be performing my brand new downtempo/midtempo live set, super excited to bring the vibe to what is guaranteed to be an incredible tent.  Still no confirmation if I’m doing a more uptempo set in another tent that weekend, I’ll be sure to post here when I find out.

Tickets are going fast, so if you’re interested head to the website or Facebook page for more details.

http://photosynthesisfestival.com/

https://www.facebook.com/events/314150431967132/

Two weeks after Photosynthesis, I’ll be doing another live set at Chillography in Seattle at Myrtle Edwards Park.  This is a free day time event, so if you can’t make it all the way to Neah Bay, I highly recommend Chillography.  Great downtempo music in another beautiful location!

http://www.chillography.net/blog/events/next-event/

Finally, August 18th I’ll be doing an uptempo set at Sequential Circuits 11 in Vancouver, BC.  I’ll post more details on that event once I get them.

Thanks everyone, and I hope to see some of you this summer at one of these gigs!

Elektron Artist Spotlight

This week I was the featured artist in the Elektron newsletter.  They did a quick interview coving mastering and my workflow when making music, which I’ve copied below.

Spotlight: Tarekith

If you are an owner of the Machinedrum or the Monomachine you have most likely stumbled across the extremely comprehensive lists of tips and tricks Tarekith has assembled for said machines. Not only a true Elektron wizard, he also runs his own mastering studio and is the author of several music production guides. His skills are evident in his music. The spaciousness of his finely crafted songs makes them seem almost tailor made for summer outdoor parties.

1. How do you divide time between mixing, mastering and creating electronic music?

These days it’s probably 90% mastering and mixdowns, as that’s how I make my living. So that kind of work always has to come first, which is fine with me as it’s something I truly enjoy doing all the time.

Once my work is done for the day, then I have time to myself to work on my own music. After being in the studio all day working, it’s nice having something portable like the Machinedrum or Octatrack that I can take out on my deck and make music in a different environment.

2. Do you have any special mastering tricks you want to share?

Well, I don’t think it’s really about there being any special tricks, which is a misconception I think a lot of people have about mastering. The best advice I can offer for people looking to master their own music is make sure that whatever processing they do is really needed. I think too often people over-process when self-mastering, either because they heard “artist x, y, z” did something a certain way, or because they don’t know any better.

Really though, that kind of thinking should be part of the entire production process. Have a reason for the things you do, don’t just do things to your music ‘just because’.

3. Electronic music making offers so many possibilities, which can be both a blessing and a curse. How to you avoid getting distracted by choices?

I think early on a lot of people (myself included) go through a phase where you collect gear, be it hardware or software. But pretty soon you start to realize that you spend more time looking for the right sound, instead of writing music. At least that’s how it was for me anyway.

So I made a pretty conscious decision early on to whittle down my gear collection to a few pieces that I really enjoyed using, and that offered a broad range of sounds. The Machinedrum is a prime example of that, loads of fun to play, tons of great sounds, and it works live or in the studio equally well.

I always thought that the one thing that’s missing from a lot of electronic music is that sense of musicianship you get when you dedicate a lot of your time to learning an instrument. So for a long time I looked for gear that I could spend years mastering how to use in every way possible. The Elektron equipment is awesome for that, incredibly fun to use day to day, but so deep in what they can do that you’re still learning something new years later.

4. What would you say is the biggest difference between how you approach music making today compared to when you started out?

Well right now I’m actually in a phase where I’ve made a decision to focus on making music like I used to when I started out! Mainly just getting away from the computer and a lot of the micro-editing I used to do, and spending more time with only a couple hardware boxes to make most of my music.

Nothing wrong with software, I’m just over that phase of spending 8 hours slicing, dicing, and programming a 4 bar drum fill! Plus, because I spend so much of my day in front of the computer in the studio for the mastering business, it’s nice to just be able to sit down and focus my attention on something like the Octatrack.

It’s still a really powerful way to make detailed or complex music, but I can do so in a way that’s a lot more fun for me, and less visually oriented too. In fact, if there’s one downside to spending 90% of my studio time mastering other people’s music, it’s that I haven’t had as much time to master the Octatrack as much as I’d like! Every time I sit down with that box I’m blown away by something new it can do I hadn’t thought of before.

Becoming A Better Musician

One of the most popular questions people ask me is “How can I become a better musician (or producer)?”  People ask for recommendations on tutorials they can watch, or articles they can read, or they want me to listen to their tracks and tell them what I think they need to work on.

Here’s the thing though, none of that stuff is going to make you a better producer.  I’m not saying there isn’t a need for tutorials and the like, just that reading or watching something about making music is only going to help so much.  They’re a good way to learn new techniques, but you still have to gain the knowledge to know when (and more importantly, when NOT to) use them.

Unlike what many people think, there’s no one secret or group of music-making secrets that’s going to make you an awesome writer, if only someone would share them with you.

 

So then, how does someone become better at writing and producing music?  Here’s a few tips I would offer:

– Practice.  Yes, simple, and the answer no one likes, but the truth is nothing will make you better at writing songs than just…. writing songs.  From start to finish, the more you write songs, the better you get at knowing how to apply different techniques or tools to help you create the music you want.   The more time you put into it, the faster you’ll learn, no way around this.  We learn by DOING, not by READING.

– Patience.  Be realistic about what it is you’re setting out to do.  Learning even a single musical instrument can take years, so it only makes sense that trying to use multiple instruments, as well as learning audio production skills is probably going to take even longer.  This isn’t a short journey, so it pays to recognize up front that it might take a few years of diligent work before you start achieve the results you want.  Just because you may be using a computer to make music, doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be easy.

– Confidence.  Nothing bothers me more than beginning producers posting a song for people to listen to, and at the same time rattling off a long list of things that are wrong with it.  Don’t focus on the negative aspects of your current ability to write music.  You have your own unique focus and goals that are different from other musicians, so have some confidence in what it is you’re doing.  Be proud of the things you DID achieve and improve on in your new song, otherwise this will be something you just get frustrated with very quickly.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you have to enjoy the PROCESS of creating music more than the supposed rewards.  That guideline more than anything will serve you the most on your journey to becoming a better producer.   If you approach each day in the studio, or each writing session, with enthusiasm and simply enjoy the act of making music, you’re far more likely to develop your own musical voice, and ultimately become a better musician as well.

Upcoming live gigs, June and July 2012

Hey everyone, just wanted to pass on some info for a couple live shows I have coming up over the next couple of months.

The first is a chill afternoon gig at the local pub I hang out at,  The Beer Authority.  I’ll be playing Saturday, June 23rd from 4-6 PM, which also happens to be happy hour.  Buy two bottles of beer to go (any size, any kind), and your first pint is only $2.  They have over 800 micro-brew bottles from around the world, and 8 rotating taps.  Great place to just come and chill out, and if it’s nice out they have outdoor seating too.  No cover either.

I’m using this as an opportunity to give the new downtempo set a run through before festival season kicks off, so it’ll be a pretty laidback and low-key event.  Feel free to stop by if you want to say hi, or talk shop afterwards.  Or just have some really damn good beer!

Here’s their website for more info and directions:

http://www.seattlebeerauthority.com/

And here’s their blog for an up to date list of the latest beers on tap:

http://thebeerauthority.blogspot.com/

The next gig is one I’ve been talking about for awhile, and something I’m REALLY looking forward too, Photosynthesis 5.  Once again I’ll be playing in the H’art tent, which was one of the coolest venues I’ve yet to play in last year when I was there.  I believe I’m also playing a more uptempo set in one of the  main tents, though I’m still waiting for set times to find out for sure.

The festival runs from July 20-22nd, and is located in beautiful Neah Bay, the northwestern-most tip of the continental US.  I’ll post my set times once I find out, but if you’re at all interested I highly recommend this festival (even if you don’t want to see me 🙂 )  Here’s their website for more info:

http://www.photosynthesisfestival.com/

I also recommend their Facebook page if you want info, as it tends to get updated more frequently:

https://www.facebook.com/PhotosynthesisFestival

 

There’s a few other gigs I’m still waiting to get confirmation on for later this summer as well, so stayed tuned if you can’t make it to either of these.  Thanks, and I hope to meet some of you before or after my sets!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Soft to Hard?

Since I started talking about my recent work with the Octatrack, I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me about making the switch from software based audio production and performance, to a hardware based set up. In some ways I’m probably not the best person to ask, since I was the opposite and came from a hardware background and eventually got into software. But I’ll try and cover some of the more obvious differences for those thinking about trying to work a little differently than they’re used to.

The first thing that will be pretty apparent to most people is that you end up relying a lot less on your eyes when you’re writing. Sounds dumb since we’re making music with these tools, but I think a lot of people really never realize how visually oriented you are when writing music with software. Not saying it’s good or bad necessarily, but it can take some people awhile to get used to just doing things based on what they hear.

Sort of on that same note, with most hardware you’re going to have to get used to what we call “menu diving”. Obviously, it’s just too expensive for most hardware manufacturers to put fancy or large LCDs on their gear, so you end up doing a lot of your sound design and sequencing looking at smaller displays. The good manufacturers do their best to minimize this and make it easier on the end user, but sometimes it can feel a little tedious. I’m used to it mainly, so it doesn’t usually bother me most of the time.  It’s not all bad though, as I’ll talk about shortly.

Another difference is the amount of detail you’ll likely find yourself putting into your music. Not saying that you still can’t get detailed, but a lot times you’ll find that really detailed editing of your songs can take a LOT longer. Some people have the patience for it, especially some of the MPC based guys. Personally I find that it just makes me focus more on creating the individual parts of my song stronger right from the get go, versus relying on micro editing after the fact to provide the ear candy.

In fact this is probably one of my favorite things about working with hardware. It’s usually easier to just try and rerecord a part by playing it correctly, versus having to go back after the fact and edit any mistakes out. Forces you to be a better musician, and not a better programmer.

Ultimately I think this leads people to realize that you end up trying to do most of your sound manipulation in real-time, instead of drawing automation curves (for instance). So in many respects I find that hardware-based workflows tend to lead the user into a more performance oriented method of creating songs. I think this is one reason the whole groovebox thing took off for some companies. A perfect package for creating and performing music, fitting the needs of both the studio and touring musician.

Another thing I think that really makes working with hardware unique is that you really begin to look at your gear like a musical instrument, even if it doesn’t have obvious performance oriented controls like knobs or keys.

For example, I remember my Akai S3000XL sampler surprised me on this front. Tiny LCD screen and lots of buttons, and rack-mounted no less.  Doing anything on it generally required lots of menu diving and button presses, usually repetitively over and over again. After awhile though, you find that you’re doing these really complicated key combinations very quickly, without really thinking about it. You get in the zone while working, where you can realize complex musical ideas and the interface doesn’t get in the way, despite it not being what most would consider the most musically oriented way of working.  Your muscle memory takes over and you often don’t realize how complex what you’re doing really is.

The final difference I think that really will stand out to most people, is the lack of presets. Or maybe I should say useable presets. Most hardware groove boxes or workstations come with a decent amount of presets, but honestly most are kind of cheesy and dated sounding in my opinion. You’ll likely end up spending more time making your own sounds from scratch than you would with most software synths, many of which come with hundreds if not thousands of useable sounds.

Again, not a bad thing in my opinion, but it’s not for everyone. I could go on with examples of how hardware workflows are different from software, but I think these are the most obvious ones, at least from my perspective.

A few people have asked me for recommendations on what to buy if they want to get into making music with hardware.  I’m obviously a huge fan of the Elektron gear, though I realize that those boxes are at a premium and some people might not want to invest that much until the know if they like the workflow of hardware.

In that respect, I think the Korg EMX-1 is probably one of the best choices for most people to get into the hardware side of things.  Decent drum sounds, solidly built, portable, and you can easily do complete songs on it with just a little perseverance.  The synth section will probably seem super basic to most people, but there’s more depth there than a lot of people give it credit for.  It’s one of those synths where the controls have huge range, so often just tiny movements can have a radical change in the sound.  Definitely something you don’t want to give up on too early.

If anyone has any questions about writing music with hardware versus software, or maybe has some other examples of the differences (good or bad), please leave them in the comments, thanks!