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

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

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

Over-engineering Musical Solutions

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One of the more interesting aspects of living in Europe compared to the US, is how differently they build things.  Lots more concrete, no drywall, attention to air quality inside, more stringent energy saving devices, etc.  Of course, sometimes better is not always better.

Case in point.  The bathroom in our new apartment has a fan and vent system that’s tied into the overhead light.  When you turn on the main bathroom light, after a few seconds the fans in the vents start.  This provides not only fresh air, but also helps get rid of any moisture in the air after say a shower, preventing mold building up and the like.  It’s a great idea on paper, however the people who designed it over-engineered the concept because said fan will stay on for up to 30 minutes after you turn off the light.  Even if you only turn on the light for a few seconds.  And it’s very loud, so loud you can hear it in all of the other rooms.  To the point where it’s extremely annoying, and it basically creates a larger problem than it solves.

As a result, instead of being a practical solution we appreciate having and use frequently, my wife and rarely use the overhead light in the bathroom and instead use the much dimmer one built into the wall.    The point of this post isn’t just to whine about my new bathroom though, because I see music producers doing the same thing all the time when it comes to writing music.

For instance, people will be working to make two instruments sit together better in a mix by using some EQ on both parts.   They’ll go to great lengths to create these radical and steep EQ shapes that precisely isolate specific frequencies, and yes the sounds do fit together better afterwards.  But at the same time, they also lack any warmth or presence, making the mix sound thin and anemic.  They’ve in effect not just fixed a problem, but created a worse one in the process.

Another example I’ve seen has to do with a song’s arrangement.  I was mastering some music for a couple of DJs, and they had written their music so that every 8 bars was more or less a perfect loop.  The thinking was that this way DJs could just pick and choose their favorite parts of the song, loop those, and ignore everything else.

It sounds like an interesting idea on paper, but when you’d hear the songs from start to end, they sounded very disjointed and just didn’t flow that well.  It sounded like…. well a collection of loops.  It was doubtful any DJs would buy the tracks in the first place as they were, much less spend time pulling out their favorite loops.  Luckily I was able to make some suggestions to make things flow a little better, and there was still the ability to grab loops of the important parts of the songs if DJs wanted.  We had to un-engineer the tracks if you will.

There’s dozens of other examples we can all think of I’m sure, but point of all this is just to keep in mind that sometimes the best solution is one that is just good enough to fix the problem.  That putting too much thought and planning into something can occasionally take a good idea and turn it into something that lacks the soul that made the idea good in the first place.  It’s good to step back once in awhile and rethink what you’re doing, make sure that it still solves your problem without creating new ones you didn’t perhaps realize were a possibility before.

Too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing as they say.

Until next time, peace and beats.
Erik

Emotional Triggers

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One of the upsides of moving to Europe, was that I finally got a chance to upgrade my battered iPhone5.  It had been having increasing issues after 2 and half years of constant use and abuse, but with an overseas trip coming up, it didn’t make sense for me to sign a new 2-year carrier contract in the US in order to get a new phone.  So, at long last I was finally able to get an iPhone6, something an iOS musician like myself can appreciate for numerous reasons.

One of the more unexpected reasons I’ve discovered, is just how much better the camera is on the iPhone6 compared to my iPhone5.  Given that I’m in a brand new country for only a few weeks now, I’ve of course been out walking and taking a lot of pictures.  It surprised me how great they look once I get back to the computer to look at them.  (this blog post pertains to music, bear with me)

In fact I was discussing this with a friend of mine who’s into photography, and I mentioned I doubt I’ll ever buy a point and shoot camera again. How I think for my needs, the iPhone6 camera is all I’ll likely need ever again.  Convenient since it’s almost always with me too.

Of course my photography friend was aghast.

He sent me numerous links to articles pointing out the flaws in the sensor, the lack of details compared to higher end cameras, endless comparisons with “real” cameras, etc.  I replied that none of that mattered to me, I just like looking at pictures to remind me of certain times in my life, as a way of triggering a memory.  Of course, he then reminded me that this is why the majority of people are ok with low quality MP3s when it comes to listening to music.  Even though it might make a mastering engineer like myself cringe to read that people are tossing their CDs after ripping them to 128kbps MP3s.

Obviously, the analogy is spot on, and we agreed to disagree having reminded ourselves that not everyone needs accuracy or the best available detail to get enjoyment out of different forms of media.  It’s a good reminder that often the people most wrapped up in the creation of an artform are the only ones who really care about details of the medium used.  So while musicians might debate ad naseum the best algorithm for dithering, or photographers might debate…. well whatever it is they debate, it’s important to remember yet again that it’s the message that truly matters.

Of course we should take pride in capturing our message as clearly and transparently as possible, so the medium doesn’t detract from it. But at the end of the day that aspect of our craft pales in significance to how well we actual convey emotion or express an idea.  As always, it’s those things that trigger the greatest emotions in most people, not how well it was actually recorded.

A good reminder for us all I think.

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Speaking of my move to Luxembourg, it’s been a few weeks since my last update so I figured another one was due.  We got word last week that our sea shipment (which has all my studio gear) would arrive in European customs on March 10th, which meant another 3-7 days until it was delivered to our new home.  Woo hoo, great news, as this was some what earlier than we had expected.  Unfortunately, yesterday they revised that date to be March 26th at the earliest.  My 40th birthday is March 29th, and I was really hoping that we could be done with all the move stuff by then.

Drat.

Oh well, not much I can do about it, so I just remind myself that at least I still have the laptop, my iPad, and the electribe.  Once we get out of this noisy hotel and into our new quiet apartment, I can finally dive in and get some proper music making done.  Good thing too, as I’ve been asked if I would be interested in doing a live set in a few months, opening for one of my mastering clients who’ll be on tour in Europe then.  Should be fun and at the very least now I have proper incentive to dig in and get the new electribe set done.  I’ll of course post more details once I get them.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a fun Luxembourg fact.  Did you know that clothes dryers in Europe don’t actually dry your clothes?  In the interest of energy savings, they use less heat and don’t use forced air to dry your clothes in 30 minutes or less like we’re used to in the states.  That means you can literally run them with the motor spinning for 5 or 6 hours, and your clothes will still be wet.  Energy saving at it’s finest  😉

Hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll have more positive news about the studio opening, and maybe, just maybe by then my underwear will be dry too.

Until then, peace and beats,
Tarekith

We’ve Arrived

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It took 4 days of driving across the US, 1 record snow storm in Chicago, 2 flight delays, 14 hours stuck on a plane, 3 hours of hair-raising driving in Germany, along with whole bunch of other adventures, but at long last we have arrived in Luxembourg!

The journey has been tiring more than anything, long days learning to adapt in a country where you don’t speak the language(s) combined with jet lag will do that though.  This first week has been mainly getting ourselves integrated into a new government, learning new rules of the road, trying to find places to get food, and working on getting the last of my business change completed.

Oh yeah, the week before we left Seattle I converted my Inner Portal Studio business from a sole-proprietor based company to an LLC corporation.  I mean, why do things the easy way?  🙂  Mainly on the advice of other business owners I talked to who moved overseas, hopefully it means less issues with the Luxembourg government when it’s tax time.  It was something I was planning on doing in 2015 anyway before we decided to move, so other than the stress of trying to get it all done before we headed overseas, no surprises there.

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At the moment we’re in temporary housing in a hotel until our apartment is ready at the beginning of March.  The good news is that it took us less than a week to find a place to live for the next two years, and it’s a brand new building with incredibly thick walls so I can still work from “home” for my mastering business.  Well, once all my gear arrives sometime in April anyway.  The bad news is that I’m finding it really hard to make any music or be creative in a location like this.  Lots of noise from other people in the hotel, and there’s a TON of construction in Luxembourg during the day near where we are staying.

A least I have the electribe with me though, and since it’s battery powered, I’ll be able to take it just about anywhere once I find some good places to get away for a bit.  Plus it provides hours of childish fun when I get bored.  🙂

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Aside from trying to get a new live set written, I’m hoping to finally make some more progress on my audio production book.  Hopefully when we move into the new apartment in 3 weeks, things will be quieter and more conducive to creative writing.  I was never one of those people who could zone out in a busy coffee shop for instance.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Just wanted to give everyone a quick update on my move!

De paix et battements,
Tarekith

Inching Forward

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Well, things are slowly marching towards my move to Luxembourg, even though we still don’t have a firm move date which is dragging things out a bit (waiting for our visas).  The process is going well for us so far otherwise, we sold our house without too much issue, and in the meantime have been slowly getting rid of all the crap we don’t need to bring with us.  The one real benefit to any move 🙂

Figuring out all the details involved with getting my studio overseas has been rather more convoluted than I expected.  One of the downsides of moving to a relatively tiny country, had it been England or France information is much more readily available.  The biggest hurdle so far has been news that shipping all the studio gear might take up to 3 months now, instead of the original 6-8 weeks we had been quoted.  Thank you dock worker slowdown.

Oh well, nothing I can do about it, it’s the only practical way to get that much gear overseas.  Gives me more time to work on the book I guess.

Needless to say, all of this hasn’t really left me with much time or brain power for writing music.  At least not in any sort of serious way like working on actual songs or an album, though I’m constantly tinkering with random ideas.  For now I’ve decided to just focus whatever free studio time I have into creating samples and loops to use later.  My Ableton Push jams, guitar ideas, messing about with the Monotron Delay, you name it.

Oh yeah, and I bought a Korg Volca Keys at long last.  Just picked that up a few days ago, but so far it’s a great way to spend short bits of time coming up with fun ideas to record.  At the moment I’m just recording everything into one large Ableton Live session, since it’s so easy to fire that up to capture lots of ideas.  I’m hoping to post a video review once I get a bit more hands on time with it.

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Like I said, I still have no idea what I’ll do with all this material, but at least I have it recorded and ready once I decide.  Possibly going to use it for a new live set, perhaps with the Korg Electribe sampler when that gets released.  Or maybe I’ll release a sample collection.  We’ll see, at the moment not too concerned with the end result, just trying to have fun and unstress from anything having to do with the big move. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m still up and running when it comes to mastering and mixdowns, trying to get as many of those done as possible before I’m shut down for weeks.  Oh well, like I always say, heads up, chin up, just keep plugging away!

Hopefully I’ll have more news soon, until then peace and beats,

Tarekith

Inner Portal Studio Is Moving!

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It’s been months in the process, but it’s finally official:  Inner Portal Studio is moving to Luxembourg!  While my wife and I love Seattle, we both felt lately it was time for a temporary change, and luckily an opportunity like this presented itself at the right time.

The actual move date is still being worked on, but it’s tentatively going to happen around mid-January we think.  I’m doing everything I can to minimize how long the studio will shutdown during the transition, so hopefully it won’t affect anyone’s upcoming projects.  Luckily the beginning of the new year tends to be a little slower as people recover from the holidays anyway 🙂

I’ll keep everyone updated as I find out more, and I’ll be writing about what is going into moving a studio halfway around the world as well.  First step, find a good step-down transformer so I can use all my gear on 220v!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith