The New Studio Desk

For awhile now I’ve been thinking about building a new desk for my studio, one that would be custom-designed for my own personal needs.  In the past I’ve maintained two separate set ups in all of my studios, the main work area where I do all of my critical mastering work and most of my writing, and a separate set up for DJing and working on my live sets.  I’ve never been able to really get into the mindset of performing while sitting down, so this second set up has always been based around a taller table I could stand up at.  You can see the last set up I did like this here:

LastOldDeskShot

 

What I really wanted was a way to combine those two set ups into one area though, as well as giving me a way to take my OCD with hiding any cables to new heights (err… pun intended, as you’ll see).  Last year I saw a really cool height-adjustable desk that Argosy was making, but it was way bigger than I needed for my studio, and super expensive as well.  But it gave me the idea that perhaps an adjustable desk was the way forward, I just needed to figure out how to build.

The biggest hold up was trying to find actuators that would strong and stable enough to support not only the desk and my gear, but also the Event Opals I use for monitoring too.  No easy task considering the Opals are something like 80 lbs each!  After a lot of thought and research, I decided it just wasn’t practical, so I shelved the idea temporarily.

As luck would have it, I ran into a solution that I felt would work perfectly while out shopping for furniture with the wife.  One store had a sit/stand workstation designed by Jesper that caught my eye:

Jesper Sit Stand Desk

I had seen other desks like this before, but most were still pretty cheap feeling for my needs, they just didn’t look like they would last long.  This one however had a weight rating that met my needs (rated at 300 lbs), and more importantly it was incredible solid.  It lacked some of the functionality I had originally wanted, but I knew I could build what I needed later on.

Of course, it still didn’t solve the issue of how to raise and lower my Opals, but at this point I don’t think there IS a good solution for that yet.  In the end I decided to just move my HR824’s so that they could still be used for monitoring while working on my live material.  I had to redesign their stands a little to fit closer to the Opals, but it was the best solution for the issue.  Just use two sets of monitors, duh.

After that it was time to get rid of the old Ikea desk, and then build the new one.  Briefly thought about mastering with no desk, just via iPad control on my chair, but it felt too weird:

DeskBuild01

Time to get building!  Overall I felt desk was really well designed and easy to put together.  Heavy S.O.B. though, especially the legs with the electric actuators.

DeskBuild02

Because I was trying to minimize my studio downtime (work has been steady for awhile now), I just hooked everything back up asap when I was done so I could get back to work.  For awhile I lived with things like this, cables everywhere, still using the racks on the floor.  For the most part I just thought of it as having completed Phase 1 of the project, which gave me time to figure out how I wanted to tackle Phase 2.

DeskBuild03

I really wanted to get everything off the floor and have it attached to the underside of the desk.  That way when I raised or lowered the desk, I didn’t need to worry about cables being too short, or just the cluttered way it looked.  That meant building a rack for the power supplies (Monster Pro2500, and I bought a new Monster Pro3500), compartments for my hard drives, and shelving to allow me to hide all the cabling.  I also wanted to keep the same sort of aesthetic of the current desk, so I factored that into my plans as well.

You can see the separate shelf I built here, after one coat of paint:

DeskBuild04

I attached it to the underside of the original desk top with L-brackets and lots of screws.  The black box to the left is the brains of the electric actuators for the legs:

DeskBuild05

Here it is attached and ready to flip over.  The tape on the floor is just to mark where the desk was before, I had worked with it in that spot long enough that I knew I didn’t want to change things:

DeskBuild06

And here’s the final pictures, first with the desk down for mastering, and second when it’s raised up for my performance-based work (or just when I want to stand and check email, etc).  The switch to raise or lower the desk is just a pair of buttons under the left front section of the tabletop.  The range is huge, it goes low enough I can sit on the floor and work, or almost over my head.  The cables running off the back of the desk are the power cords for the Monster power supplies.  They go into an APC1500 UPS module that’s under a custom sound barrier I made for it in the lower right.

Mastering

Perform

I’m really happy with the way things turned out, it’s a really versatile desk for both my professional and personal studio needs.  Ended up looking better than I expected too, I’m always a little nervous tackling important woodworking projects like this.  It pays to go slow I’ve learned 🙂

Anyway, I know some people were curious about the desk I was building, so there’s all the details.  If you have any questions about the desk or build process, just ask in the comments and I’ll get right to it.

Photo Fest Prep

Photosynthesis2012-16

http://photosynthesisfestival.com

Two days to go until I leave for my next gig, once again playing at the Photosynthesis Festivals in Neah Bay, WA.  This is my third time performing at this location, and my 6th time playing out at a larger gig with my current Elektron live pa.  In a way it’s made me a lot more at ease than I normally am, and in other ways I’m more stressed than usual.

Back in the early spring I spent a lot of time refining my downtempo set for any gigs I managed to get this summer.  Quite a bit of the songs got remixing, everything got a new mixdown, and I moved a lot of things around to make it all flow better.  At the time things were a little slow with work, so I figured I’d use the time to get my live set prepped and ready for a new season.  And it would save me the stress of having to do it when I’m typically more busy in the summer, right when the gigs start rolling in.

So this summer I’ve been more or less set, knowing that my live set is working and sounding better than ever.

Or is it.

I guess no matter how well prepared I am,  I’m going to have last minute doubts about how the set will go.  Of course, the best way to get over this is to practice, run through the set and fix any issues that come up.  Simple!  Except I have just not been feeling like working on music lately.  I just released a new EP that I spent a lot of time on, and quite frankly I was a little burned out.

So the weeks went by, and I knew the gig was getting closer, but everytime I would sit down to give the set a try I just felt like it was half-assed so I stopped pretty quickly.  This happened a few times, which is of course frustrating.  Normally I love playing out, and when I had last worked on the set I finished very happy about how things sounded, so it wasn’t like I didn’t think it was good enough.  I just couldn’t get in the right mindset to really dive in properly and perform the songs the way I knew they deserved to be played.

Of course, eventually you run out of time.

This past Sunday, 6 days before I have to perform, I finally get in the right mood to give the set a proper run through. I know I’ll be busy all week getting work wrapped up so I can be gone for the festival, so it’s truly now or never.

Thankfully, all that prep work earlier in the year truly had paid off.  Properly motivated (i.e. no other choice) to sit down and practice for real, it didn’t take me long to get into the groove of performing, and I noticed very few things I wanted to adjust in the set. Whew!

Now at last I was in the mood to play, and I was 100% comfortable with the material as well.  I made a few more changes to some of the sounds, and gave the set a couple more plays over the next few days, then time to pack it all up.

It’s amazing how sometimes we spend all this time to prepare ourselves for what’s to come, and in many ways it still ends up being a mental exercise we need to deal with none the less.  Ultimately my prep work DID save me a lot of time right when I was obviously not feeling it 100%, so it was worth it in the end.  Though I have to admit, I almost wonder if preparing this far in advance is making twice as much mental stress for myself as just waiting until the last minute!

Heading out the festival in a couple days, I’ll let you all know how it goes and if I get a recording once I’m back.  Until then,

Peace and Beats!

– Tarekith

 

How Much Are You Worth?

photo

Recently, a friend sent me an article about determining your rate as a professional audio service provider.  This one in fact:

http://theproaudiofiles.com/charging-hourly-rate-vs-per-song/

And I have to say, it really struck a note with me, as this is something I have to deal with all the time.  And it’s not something I really ever planned on having to deal with when I started writing music, so even for me it’s something new to figure out.  It’s a very interesting place to be trying to figure stuff like that out, one I think about A LOT. On paper, from the professional standpoint, the hourly rate looks like the way to go. Unfortunately it also means you end up spending a lot of time explaining (debating) why the job took so long, and more often than not, the client feels like it’s too much. Even if they don’t say something, you know theya re thinking it.  Flat rates are nice and simple, but of course the odd project now and then really exceeds the time you thought and you end up feeling like you got the short end of the stick.

For me personally, I settled on a compromise. I use a flat rate for mastering that lets me ‘bank’ a little extra time/rate for the odd job. The client is happy that they know exactly what it will cost (and payments are easier since I can make payment buttons, etc.), and I’m ok with the odd job going long since I know that likely a lot of the other ones took less time than expected.

For mixdowns I do a rough hourly estimate at the start, and charge the client based on that. To be safe I’ll tack on an extra $10-$20, not much. Sometimes I need that extra time, so I made a good call.  Sometimes I don’t, so maybe I get a little more.  Likely I won’t need that bit of extra money every time, but it makes it easier when I get the odd job that runs long.

Best of all, it’s easy for the clients. Despite how fair it might be, NO ONE wants to be told 3/4 through the project “look, I know we’re almost done, and that you’re happy so far, but you have to pay me more if you want me to finish this.” No matter how nicely you word it!

Pricing for a profession like this is hard, probably one of the hardest things about running your own service-based business. You want to earn what you feel you deserve, keep the price low enough to attract and keep clients, and at the same time not look like you’re pricing things too cheap and scaring off the more well known players.

The best advice I can give is to go with your gut.  You can try to hide it, but we all have a dollar amount that we feel our time is worth.  Think about what you would like to be paid an hour for what you love to do (and better be good at doing!)  Keep in mind that this is actually WORK we are talking about.  You have to earn whatever charge, and trust me it will not be easy.

Once you know what your time is worth, you can better judge how to to charge for certain services.  How long do you really think it will take you?  Sure there will be some factors now and then you have to consider that might alter that rate, but for the most part it then becomes a pretty simple question to answer.

Best of luck!

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.

 

 

The Grind

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There comes a point in every project I do, when things just seem to slow down and the process of making music turns into a bit of a chore.  This seems to happen more so now that I’m working on bigger projects, but even on single songs I often find myself just plowing ahead because I have to, not because I neccesarily want to.

For me, a lot of the time I feel the most creative in the initial stages of a song.  When I’ve got an idea that came to me randomly, or maybe when I’m recording those early sounds and getting a good vibe off that.  Once I have enough of the song down that I can see where it needs to go, a lot of what I do from then on is almost an after thought.

That’s not saying that I don’t put much effort into it, just that I already have figured out what needs to be done and it’s just a matter of putting my head down and getting it done.  It’s boring some times, and it definitely can feel like it’s taking the fun out of the process of writing a new song.  But sometimes you just need to suck it up and trust that in the end the time you spend now will be well worth it.

We all have certain ways we prefer to work, and that invariably means that we will eventually end up doing something we’ve done many times before.  Probably over and over.  A deep breath, an exasperated sigh no one will hear anyway, and you just dive in and do it anyway.

Maybe not the most exciting day in the studio, but who said this was always fun?  🙂

Get On The Bus (or not)

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I’ve written this article 3 times so far, so I’m really hoping this is the one I keep.

Wait, wait, I should probably back up a little first.

For starters, sorry that it’s been so long since I had time to post something new to the blog.  I’ve had a lot of ideas for articles, but the studio has been booked solid for a few weeks now, so time has been hard to find.  On the plus side, I had my most successful month since going full-time as a mastering engineer, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Added to that, my own music making lately has been a roller coaster of ups and down, with quite honestly, a lot more downs than ups.  It happens, I’m used to it, it still sucks though.  Lots of time spent exploring new tools and ideas that ultimately ends up nowhere.  Sometimes you just run out of new ideas and it takes a lot of time fumbling about to find a new thread that’s interesting enough to follow for awhile.

But, there’s hope!  I see possibilities coming up that are starting to get me excited and the ideas flowing, and that’s a good thing as an artist.  One of the tools I’ve been exploring while hunting for a new direction, is the Audiobus app for iOS.  If you read this blog regularly, you know I enjoy writing music and sketching out ideas while out of the studio.

Obviously Audiobus is something that gets a lot of attention in the audio world these days, but other than a quick play with it, I really hadn’t had the time to spend diving in and exploring it more in depth until recently.  The last few weeks I’ve been trying to sneak in more and more time with my iOS apps for making songs (or ideas for songs), and I’ve been able to put Audiobus through it’s paces a little more properly.

I’m impressed.  So much so that I’ve starting writing a new article for the blog 3 times to gush over how awesome it is.  It will change my music making forever, it completely revolutionizes how I use my iPad, it’s making me come up with ideas I never would have done before

Except in use, I still wasn’t writing songs with it.  Every time I’d start coming up with something for the blog about this, I’d get stuck there.  Not much use writing about something that really doesn’t lead to any results, you know?

Now, I’m sure that a lot of this is due to just being in a musical rut in general, but it’s been perplexing to me how something I feel is so powerful and useful still hasn’t kick-started a new wave of creative.  Usually things like this tend to do that for me.

Initially I was trying to use Beatmaker2 on my iPad to capture audio from Animoog.  It worked, don’t get me wrong, but for whatever reason I never really found Beatmaker2 that intuitive to navigate around.  It seems well laid out, but the workflow just never embeds itself to the point where I don’t have to constantly stop and think “How do I do this again?”.    So it was a little frustrating, getting everything working from a technical standpoint, but really not finding a way of using it that I liked.

Then I remembered that Garageband was recently updated with Audiobus support, so I decided to explore that instead.  This is where the lightbulb turned on and it all started to make sense.  Being able to more or less use Garageband (GB) as a DAW to record audio from all my synth and drum apps was REALLY cool!  There was no way to sync anything (Jack for iOS hopes to solve this I hear), but at least I could overdub new audio tracks over my previous recordings, and start to build up some real song ideas.  And I wasn’t going to be limited to short phrases or patterns, either!

So I’ve spent a lot of time the last week or so working on some new song ideas and trying different app and hardware combinations to see what works for me and what doesn’t.  I thought that using GB on the iPhone would be lots of fun, since it’s so portable I can bring it with me on my bike.  Unfortunately from my experiments it seems that Audiobus compatible apps just seem more stable and plentiful on the iPad.

It works on the iPhone, don’t get me wrong, but you’re limited a little more in terms of what synths and effects are available.  And yes, that smaller screen is fine for sketching out simple ideas, but for comping and editing recorded audio, well… you can guess how tedious it gets.

So for serious audio work it just seems better to focus on the iPad for now.

I’ve managed to get some decent ideas started over the last few days, but it definitely starts to feel a little laborious after awhile.  GB is ok for basic audio capture, but trying to assemble a song like I want to is just slow, slow, slow.  Editing in GB is extremely basic, and there’s no provisions for organizing your tracks and audio clips really.  The other hang up for me was that playing iPad synths never really feels right to me.  Sure Animoog has those cool keys, and Figure has an interesting take on note entry, but it just is hard for me to be accurate AND expressive with a touch screen keyboard.

But there’s hope!

For starters, I’ve pre-ordered a QuNexus, which runs off the iPad USB port (via a Camera Connection Kit) just fine.  Having gotten a preview of one a couple months ago, I’m super excited that it will be here in a few more days!  That hopefully should solve my issue with playing the synths I have.  I don’t mind tweaking them on the iPad, just the actual playing part always felt off to me.

The other thing I plan on doing is saying goodbye to Garageband and going all in on Auria.  Having looked at all the options, I think it will allow me to record, and more importantly edit and arrange those recordings into something that I can call a song.  It’s a little pricey so I’ve been hesitant, but I think it’s the only way I’m going to be happy with using the iPad for more complex tasks like this.  Everything else is so slow it just makes me think “It would have been easier to just bring my laptop”, which sort of defeats the point!

So that’s the plan, focus on using Auria to record and capture the audio I play via the QuNexus.  I’d like to get it to the point where I could use a nice and simple set up like that to release a full album, or at least an EP.  But I know if nothing else I’ll get a couple solid ideas for some songs I can expand on back in the studio.  I’ll let you all know how I get on with the new set up once the QuNexus arrives next week, and I have some more time to mess around with it.

Until then!

Throwing Paint

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Frustration.  Pure and simple, sometimes when I’m working on music all it leads to is frustration.  That feeling that I have an idea just below the surface, waiting to come out.  I just need to figure out what it is, and how to express it, and then I can finally banish this feeling and all the wasted time it feels like comes with it.

But of course, that’s always easier said than done.

The last year has been incredibly busy for me on just about every front.  I had a couple larger gigs, released an album and an EP, there was excellent growth for my mastering business, and I switched DJ platforms yet again (which of course means converting my library and all the work that goes with that).  To name just a few things.

So I’ve known for awhile now that I was just going to hit that point where enough was enough.

Burn out.  The lack of any good ideas, though in my case that still means a lot of work trying to come up with something decent regardless.  I’m stubborn like that, even when I know it’s time for a break I fight the facts and keep trying to push ahead sometimes.  If you haven’t guessed, “sometimes” just happens to be right now.

I’ve always been the type of person who had a running list of projects in my head, potential or real, that I wanted to get done eventually.  Sometimes I’ll take awhile to mull over something I think I want to pursue, and every so often I realize it’s really not that good of an idea and I set it aside.  But for the most part, the majority of my life is spent with this running project list on my mind.  It’s not a bad thing usually, it keeps me pushing forward on things I’m working on, so that I can start work on what’s next.

But every so often, I tick off everything on the list and I haven’t been able to think of anything new to add to it.  Like now.

One of my art teachers in school used to tell her students “if you can’t think of an idea, don’t just stare at the canvas, start throwing paint at it”.  It’s not rocket science or a new idea by any means, but for some reason the way she said it always stuck with me.  So a lot of times when I get in these ruts, that’s what I do.

I’ll just randomly pick a piece of gear or bit of software, and just start messing about.  If after a couple hours I’m still not feeling it, I’ll move on and try something else.  If I’m using software, I’ll switch to hardware, if I’m using the laptop, I’ll try the guitar.  Or maybe I’ll change gears entirely and work on a new DJ set, or walk around town trying to record found sounds.

It’s frustrating as I said, because a lot of times despite going through the motions and spending a lot of time on something, it still ends up being crap.  But eventually I think of something else to try, and I give it a go.  And this can go on for weeks or months (if I’m really unlucky), but every so often it takes me only a few days to get back in the groove and start coming up with solid ideas.

What I realized was that by trying to just “throw paint at the canvas” as it were, I was inadvertantly coming up with new lists of projects in my head.  The act of just trying random things to spur ideas happened to trick that part of my creative side into spending time thinking of new ways to be random.  Trying to come up with new projects was in itself, MAKING new projects for me.

Still doesn’t make it easier to go through these periods of flailing about, looking for the right avenue to explore.  But at least I know as long as I keep trying to find it, I’ll eventually make my own avenue anyway.

🙂

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In other news, I just bought a Boss Tera Nova guitar pedal.  It’s awesome, expect a review shortly.

Favorite Downtempo Albums

Over the weekend I had a good conversation with a fan who was curious about what my favorite downtempo albums were.  Thought it might be fun to list some of them in case any of you reading the blog were wondering as well.  If you have your own favorite downtempo albums, please post them in the comments too.  I’m always on the look out for new music 🙂

With that, and in no particular order, here’s some of my personal favorites (I’m sure there’s many more):

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Nick Warren Global underground – Budapest Disc 1

I remember when this album came out and everyone was shocked it wasn’t two discs of banging club tunes like had been the norm for the G.U. series.  Fine with me though, since the first disc has some great tracks.  Probably one of the more inspirational albums for me in terms of getting me to start DJing the more chill stuff too.

 

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Enigma – MCMXC A.D.

Go ahead and laugh, I don’t care 🙂  I love this album, it’s classic electronic music in every sense.  I borrowed my Dad’s CD and never gave it back once I heard the whole thing front to back.  A little cheesy today, but still some really good beats on there.

 

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BT – This Binary Universe

Probably one of my all time favorite albums anyway, This Binary Universe has so much depth and dynamics to it that you can’t help but get drawn in.  If you’re lucky enough to be able to hear it on a really good system, it’ll change your view of how immersive BT’s more chill music can be.  I don’t like a lot of his newer dance tunes, but the ambient and downtempo stuff is fantastic.

 

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Download – III

Ok, this IS my all time favorite album, so it’s no surprise I guess that I’ve listened to this one a lot.  There’s definitely some chaotic and very non-chill moments on the album, but they are few and far between and help offset the slower pieces perfectly.  I’ve had many a DJ friend get turned on to some of the stuff cEvin Key  has done after listening to this after a long night.  Everyone should hear this once, though it might be a little too weird in places for some people.

How DO they get some of those sounds?

 

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The Morning After – Mixmaster Morris

This is pretty much THE quintessential downtempo album for me, and definitely the one I’ve listened to more than any other after clubbing.  This was standard listening after a long night partying, it ALWAYS went on before anything else once we got home.  I can remember many a night wishing I could get home to start listening to this instead of what was playing at the party!

Shame that the one time I got to see Mixmaster Morris live he was only so so  🙁

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In other news, I just wanted to thank everyone that supported my by purchasing my newest E.P. last week.  Glad to hear so many people are finding the Live Project files so useful too!   Happy to answer any questions people might have on the album or writing it too, just send me an email.

Roll With It

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One of the more interesting things I see producers doing these days, is setting out to write a song in a certain style and then getting frustrated when it doesn’t sound the way they intended.  It’s not surprising, we all have a goal we set ourselves when we write music, so of course it can get a little frustrating when it starts to sound totally different from what we wanted.

Sometimes the frustration can be a good thing though, a few people are good at recognizing when it’s happening and can step back and refocus their efforts back onto the right track.  But more often than not it seems to lead to more frustration, to the point where the producer just loses all motivation to continue with that song.  They feel stuck.  They don’t know how to steer things back towards the sound they were going for, and they end up with a half finished song that they aren’t happy with

Here’s the thing though, sometimes you just need to recognize that creativity cannot always be forced in a certain direction.  Often times we go off on tangents while writing because we’re having fun.  Maybe we discovered a new function on our favorite synth, or maybe we just zoned out for a little bit and came up with a new melody we weren’t expecting.

Over the years I’ve found that some of my best songs came about when I ended up writing something completely different to what I was intending to.  I got into a new groove and before I knew it my song was headed in a totally different direction.

Heck, I’m dealing with this right now in fact on a new live set I was prepping.  I was trying to create a really hard techno set, but after most of the parts were recorded I realized it had a much more chill and progressive feel than I wanted. Now, for people who know my usual musical output, this is probably no big surprise, and you’d think I’d be used to it too!  But, like a lot of musicians it started to cause me worry and frustration, to the point where I just had to shelve the project for a few weeks and work on something else.

But the key was realizing a few weeks later when relistening to what I had done so far, that maybe it wasn’t as hard and banging as I wanted it to be, but there were some really good and solid ideas there none the less.  At times like this, you have to let go of your original goal and refocus your efforts on making the most of what you subconsciously wrote.  You have to stop looking at the shift in styles as a bad thing, and instead realize that maybe there’s a reason things turned out in a slightly different vein than you thought.

By realizing that maybe it wasn’t what I intended, but there was still some good music there (IMVHO of course), I went from being upset and feeling like I was at a road block with the project, to suddenly becoming excited about things again.  I had a new goal, a new direction that felt more natural for this project, and I could once again start to shape it without the frustration of feeling like I had let myself down.  Or that I had failed in my goals.

Music and creativity are fickle beasts, and sometimes no amount of skill or intention is going to put them in containers they don’t want to be in.  When you find your musical idea evolving naturally on their own, you don’t always have to fight it.  Roll with it, see where it takes you and keep on having fun during the process of writing.  In my experience, more often than not this leads to far better results in the end, and helps you find your own artistic voice.

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Thanks to everyone that came out to see me DJ last week, if you were there you know how much fun it was.   Now that I have access to a bigger venue, I’m considering starting a regular night there with guest DJs and live performers.  Stayed tuned for more info about Liquid Beats!

One of Twelve

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Well, the first month of 2013 is almost over, so I wanted to give a quick update on some of my current projects.  Sorry, no deep-thinking posts or handy production tips this time, though certainly more are on their way soon (next Production Q&A is almost done for instance).  I just wanted to take some time to talk about some of the things I’ve been exploring and trying out lately for my own productions.

One of the more recent things I’ve been spending my time doing, as I mentioned in a few earlier posts, is DJing with Traktor and the S4 controller again.  I have to admit with all the work I’ve been doing preparing material to play live the last couple of years, I really haven’t had much chance to focus on DJing for awhile.  It’s been nice going back to that way of working, it’s a real good chance to play with music on a much more relaxing level.

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Of course, it’s not all roses though.  I’ve been amazed at how long it’s been taking me to go and find new tracks to DJ with these days.  Not for lack of choices mind you, there’s basically too much choice!  I can spend all day quickly flipping through songs on Beatport, and I’m lucky to find 4-5 that I really like.  I mean, I know I’m picky, but wow!  It’s great having so many options on one hand, but on the other hand it can be a bit soul-sucking listening to so many ummm….. not-so-good tracks during the process too!  Oh well, I guess it could be worse.  🙂

If you’re interested in catching one of my DJ sets, the next time will be at the next Liquid Beats night I run at Beer Authority in Seattle on February 6th.  This is the grand opening of their new larger location, so it should be quite a party.  I’ll be playing mostly catchy downtempo, but if things get crazy later in the night, who knows where it could go.

Beer Authority
12720 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98125.
7-10PM

In other news, I’ve taken a bit of a break from the Elektron based techno set I was almost done with.  Well, I thought I was almost done, but as will often happen when you write music, after a bit of time away from the set I listened to it again and realized that I wasn’t happy with how things were going.

LiveSet

The intention had been to do the set entirely in the Machinedrum, but it was starting to sound a little samey, so I figured it was time to press the Octatrack into duty as well.  So, I edited down my 16 songs in the MD into my favorite 8, and set about recording new samples in Live that I could use in the Octatrack.

After a few weeks doing this and getting everything set up to perform and record, once again reality snuck in and I found that I was still really not happy with the direction the set was going.  Hard to describe what exactly was wrong, but it wasn’t sitting well with me and I was on the verge of just taking the best song of the set and making a studio track out of it.

But while I’m a huge fan of editing out things that aren’t working and only keeping things that are, going from 16 songs for an hour long live set down to just one for a studio song seemed a bit drastic.  So instead I decided to just shelve the project for a bit and focus on other stuff.  I even went so far as to pack up the MD and OT (after backing them up of course) for now, out of sight and out of mind as it were.

Hopefully in a couple months I can come back to this project a little more excited about it and see if I can give it one more go!

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So, for now I’m just going to focus on working on a couple of single tracks for awhile.  I’ve had a lot of really large projects I’ve been working on over the last couple of years, from writing complete live sets to releasing full on albums.  I think for at least a couple months it’s time to just ratchet it back a notch and just have fun writing on some smaller projects.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time working in Presonus Studio One, and I’ve been really impressed by it.  So much so that I haven’t even opened Logic once on the new laptop, and I’m only barely finding a need to use the Live 9 beta now and then.  It’s not perfect, there have been some crashes and other bits of weirdness, but no more so than with other DAWs I have access to lately I guess.

I’ve been a bit bored with the DAW offerings lately (let’s admit it, the Live 9 update is kind of…. underwhelming once you’ve used it) and while Studio One isn’t the breath of fresh air I had hoped Live 9 would be, it’s at least something different to work with for now.  Really hoping that the beta of Bitwig goes live soon, as that’s my last hope for something truly revolutionary when it comes to DAWs!  Then again, I have been known to have high expectations too, so I suppose I should temper my expectations again 🙂

That reminds me, I want to mention the MIDI Guitar software from Jam Origin.  This is the first pitch to MIDI tracking software I’ve used that I felt let me play my guitar the way I want while still sending predictable MIDI to my synths.  It’s a bit rough around the edges, but well worth the $60 they are asking while it’s in the beta-stage.  Free to try, so I definitely recommend trying it if you’re a guitar player.

I’ll try and get some reviews written for both MIDI Guitar and Live 9 once they get out of beta, just to make sure the features are set in stone before I talk about them in depth.  Stay tuned!

Finally, man is it nice to have a guitar to turn to now and then, I have to say.  As you can tell from the above, I’ve been a little frustrated with my usual music making tools.  So it’s been really nice having another outlet to turn to for making music.  Over the years my guitar playing has gotten regulated to being something I only used a couple times a year when I needed a part in a specific song.

Parker SetUp

But lately I’ve been making a real effort to try and pick up the guitar at least once a day and play for a couple of minutes.  Sometimes that turns into a couple of hours, and I can honestly say those have been the more enjoyable days in the studio lately.  I think it’s time I start focusing some more on getting my chops back, and seeing how I can integrate the guitar more into my own productions.  Either on it’s own, or as a MIDI Controller via MIDI Guitar instead of using a keyboard controller.   Regardless, this is the direction that is giving me the most to look forward to in 2013, so I plan to roll with it as long as possible.

Hmmm, maybe it’s time to go down the rabbit hole of boutique guitar pedals as well…..