7 Quick Arrangement Tips

Just a few tips that some people might find useful when arranging or writing their songs:

1. If you have a drop or build up in the song, make sure there’s different instrumentation after the drop compared to before it.  You don’t want to build up the energy during that section, only to go back to the exact same sounds that were playing before the drop.  People will be expecting something new, give it to them.

2. Your average listener will know within a few seconds if they want to keep listening to your song, so make the intro catchy.  Nothing wrong with having a nice DJ friendly intro, but put some ear candy in there too so most people will be intrigued enough to keep listening.

3. Same with the end of the song, don’t make it so boring and anti-climatic that the last thing people think when hearing your song is “that’s it?”.

4. Avoid excessive repetition.  Keep it interesting.  Transitions, fills, call and response, variations, use whatever techniques you know to keep the song from getting samey-sounding.

5. Keep it focused.  Does your song really need to be 8 minutes long?  Are you really crafting an epic track that needs that much time to get from point A to point B?  Give people a reason to come back and listen again, don’t beat them over the head with the exact same sounds for way too long.

6. Constantly ask yourself “Is this part crucial to the song?”.  If you can mute a track and really not have the song change much, do you need that part in there?  Do you need 4 different synth lines in the song, or does the strongest one stand well enough on it’s own?

7. Space is good.  Dense mixes can be an amazingly immersive listening experience when mixed right, but leaving room for the instruments to breathe works good too.  Let certain sounds decay to silence, avoid patterns and playing that’s so busy the sounds never have a chance to convey depth or detail.  There’s no sense using reverb or delays if people never really get to hear them.  Not only that, but you’ll find the song is a lot easier to mix and master as well!

 

Hope some of you find these quick tips useful.  For more information on arranging and some more detailed ideas about the above topics, I’d also recommend reading these:

Common Arrangement Issues

Tarekith’s Guide To Arranging Songs

Tarekith’s Guide to Creating Transitions and Fills

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In other news, thanks to everyone that came out to Liquid Beats this past Saturday.  What a great time, with some great beer and friends!  I’m happy to say the new live set went well, only a couple minor issues cropped up, and those were easily dealt with the follow day when I got back in the studio.

Next gig is Photosynthesis 5 up in Neah Bay, Washington!  Hope to meet even more of you there!

http://photosynthesisfestival.com/

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Finally, huge thanks to those people who continue to support the blog with small donations.  Your kindness is very much appreciated!

Random Production Tips

Been awhile since I’ve written a more general purpose music production blog post, as some of my readers have been kind enough to point out to me.  Sorry for the excess of Elektron related posts since I’ve gotten the Octatrack, I rarely get new gear anymore so I’ve been a bit excited. 🙂

Anyway, here’s a few random production tips I thought I would pass on, hope some people find these useful!

 

1. Faking Bandaxall EQ Curves.

One of the more useful EQ types I’ve found over the years is the Bandaxall curve.  It’s similar to a high-shelf filter type, except that instead of flattening out above the EQ frequency you set, it instead continues to rise past the upper limits of our hearing.  You can see the differences below (exaggerated to make the point more obvious):

High Shelving

Bandaxall Curve

One of the best uses for a Bandaxall EQ curve is to gently boost the very upper frequencies, which can be useful for adding ‘air’ and enhancing the sense of space in a sound or song.  Typically it can be very transparent to the ear, as long as you don’t go overboard and boost too much of course.

Unfortunately not all EQs have this type of EQ curve (or even a high-shelf), but it’s easy enough to fake an approximation with just about any full-range parametric EQ.  Set one of the parametric bands so that the frequency is at it’s max.  Ideally this will be close to around 20kHz.  With the normal bell-shaped EQ curve, this means that the bell ‘peaks’ at the upper limit of our hearing, resulting in a gradual rise in the higher frequencies up to point.

As usual, the gain parameter will control how much the EQ adds to the sound, and in this case you can use the Q control to adjust the shape of the boost.  Again, use it sparingly and it can be a great way to unobtrusively enhance the upper frequencies that give a song or a sound the sense of depth and space a good mix should have.

 

2. Apple Earbuds are the new NS10’s.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the Yamaha NS10 speaker with it’s iconic white woofer was a staple in many professional studios.  It wasn’t because it sounded good, in fact it was literally a pain to listen to.  Very harsh and unforgiving, the NS10s became popular because they were known for helping mix engineers hear things the way your average listener at home would.  Issues in the mixdown in the critical midrange were often more recognizable on the NS10’s, and many a mixing engineer would use these to reference their mixdowns for that reason.

Today of course, very few people seem to actually listen to music at home, and for many the home stereo has been replaced by iPods and their equally iconic white earbuds.  Some might even say equally painful to listen to (count me in this group btw).

This was a point brought home to me last year when working on a mastering job for a client.  He was thrilled with how the mastering I had done sounded everywhere except on his iPod headphones, so I found myself in the position of having to use a pair of those to make adjustments to the mastering.

While I definitely would NOT recommend mastering or mixing a song only with the iPod earbud as your main listening tool, it’s definitely useful now and then to check out how your work is sounding in those as well.  Like the NS10, it will give you a good representation of the way most people will be listening to your music, and can help you make small adjustments to suit those listeners as well.  Just try not to do it at the expense of making your song sound good on a more proper setup 🙂

 

3. Easy compression setup.

One of the issues I consistently hear producers struggling with, is the proper way to set up  and use compression.  Even though I’ve written more comprehensive guide on the subject here:

http://tarekith.com/assets/pdfs/DynamicsControl.pdf

I thought it might be useful to cover what I used to find was the easiest way to approach it when I was first learning about compression myself.  So, here’s a quick and dirty way to set up a compressor if you’re struggling to understand how they work.  It won’t be the best way in all cases, but it’s a good starting point.

First thing you want to do is set the release to minimum, and the attack to maximum.  Then, set the ratio to 3:1 with a medium or soft-knee, turn off any auto make-up functions, and lower the threshold until you’re seeing about 3dB of gain reduction on the gain meter.

Now you’re going to adjust the release and attack parameters.  In general, for short and quick sounds with sharp transients (like drums), you want a longer attack phase to let that initial transient through.  You also want a shorter release so that the compressor is ready and waiting to let the next transient through untouched.

For more sustained sounds like basslines or vocals (or a full mix),  you generally want a shorter attack phase so the compressor kicks in sooner, and a longer release so that you don’t get unwanted pumping or distortion.  This is also true if you’re trying to reduce initial transients to give a sound more consistent volume, like with an acoustic guitar or electric bass.  If your compressor has an auto-release setting, it can be worth turning this on if you’re not sure what you’re doing.  That way you only need to adjust the attack parameter and can focus on how that is making your sound change.

Once you’re happy with how you have these set, then you can adjust the threshold for more or less compression as needed.  Keep in mind that as you add more compression though, the amount of signal the compressor is affecting with change, and thus you may need to fine-tune the attack and release again.

This is a good way to approach the order in which you adjust the parameters when you’re first learning compression.  It also help you to avoid the common mistake of not having the parameters set for the material, which often just ends up turning the compressor into a simple gain boost.  As always though, play around with the settings in your free time, the more you do it, the more it will make sense.

Well, that’s it for this time.  Next up, more Elektron stuff!  😉

 

New and Updated Production Guides

Over the last few months I’ve had a number of people request PDF versions of my Production Guides and Tutorials, mainly for storing and referencing on their iOS devices.  I apologize that it took me so long to get this done, but things have been pretty busy here lately to say the least!

But, at long last I now have all of the PDF versions completed and online here:

http://tarekith.com/tutorials-and-reviews/

I tried to make the PDFs nicer looking than the html versions, a few more pictures and some nicer formatting mainly.  In case anyone is curious, I actually used Pages on my iPad2 to create all these, and I have to say it was really easy to use.  Never thought I’d prefer to use an iPad app over a Desktop one for this sort of thing, but it was much quicker in this case. Pretty impressive actually for only $9.99!

There’s also two brand new Guides I just finished as well, one on creating space and depth in your mixes (previously a blog post here) and one on working with other musicians.  Just some helpful tips people might find useful.   🙂

As always if you spot any errors or notice something that needs correcting, please let me know and I’ll do my best to correct it asap.

 

 

Mastering Guide v2.0

The original version of my mastering guide was by far the most downloaded and shared production guide I’ve ever written, even though it was primarily geared towards “beginner” musicians. As time went on and I began doing mastering as a full-time profession however, it also raised a lot of questions from more advanced users.  So I figured it was time to update it and provide some clarifications, as well as cover some new ideas in places.  I hope that this new version will be as useful as the original, and that musicians and producers of all skill levels will continue to benefit from it.

 

http://tarekith.com/assets/mastering.html

Of course, some people have always found it odd that someone who does mastering full-time as their main source of income would be offering a free guide on how to master your own music!  Without a doubt, I still think that professional mastering is the best option when it comes to creating a great sounding finished product.  Especially in this day and age where most people work alone on their songs from start to finish.  It’s still by far the most economical way to get advice and help from someone with more experience, as well as a dedicated listening enviroment, who can really take things to the next level to bring out the best in your music.

But I also remember being a starving student myself, and I know there’s a lot of people out there who just can’t afford to go that route (or have other reasons to want to go it alone).  My hope is that guides like this will help dispel some of the common myths about self-mastering your own music, and perhaps in some small way lead to a lot of music sounding better as a result.

My reasons are selfish you see, I just can’t stand to hear incredible tracks ruined by people over-processing things when they “master” it themselves 🙂

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Bounce Around

Well, after wrapping up my new live set, I find myself once again getting ready to plan my next big music project.  I’ve spent a lot of time lately focusing on performance based projects, and it’s time for a change of pace.  Especially with winter coming, and knowing that aside from my weekly snowboard excursions, I’ll be stuck in the studio a lot.

This time around, I think I’m going to tackle creating another full-length album, since it’s been a few years since my last one (“Out From In“).

I know some people will question the relevance of full-length albums in this day and age of single downloads and short attention spans, but I think there’s still a place for them.

Instead of limiting myself in terms of the gear I use like I might normally, this time I’ll be throwing everything I have at it.  I don’t even have a theme for the album yet, I plan to just write the songs and see where it takes me this time.  I know for a lot of people these two ideas might seem the norm, but I’m definitely a person who tends to spend a lot of time planning things out before I start, so it’s a departure for me.

One of the few things I have planned out though, is that I’ll be working on multiple songs at once.  Or maybe a more accurate way of saying that is that I’ll have multiple songs in progress at the same time.  I’ve done this in the past, and I find it has some real benefits when it comes to creativity, such as:

1. There’s always something new to work on.  I don’t have to worry about getting stuck on any one song if I get into a rut or can’t figure out which direction to take things.  Every day I can come into the studio and work on something different from the day before, which keeps me from getting burned out (usually anyway).

2. It forces you to step back now and then, and come at each song with a fresh perspective.  One of the biggest hurdles I think a lot of artists face is not forcing themselves at some point to slow down and try to look at things with a fresh perspective.  Often times the only way to truly do this is to literally not listen to something for a few days, and realistically how often do people do this when working on only one song at a time?  It’s good chance to see what is and isn’t working in a song, and helps you to decide what things to trim out that really aren’t working.  So many issues people have in the production process can be solved with this one simple step.  Well, simple to say anyway, difficult to do 🙂

3. It helps give the album a cohesive feel.  When you have multiple tracks you’re working on at any one time, it’s much easier to ensure that everything gels well, both from a production perspective, but also in terms of the overall flow and pacing of the album.  Of course, the flip side of this is that it can also be easy to make an album where every song sounds the same.  See point number 2 above for how to correct that.

4. It’s a challenge, and often we excel when faced with challenges.  When you have a large project in the works, that pressure on you to wrap it up gets extended for much longer.  At times it can feel like you took on too much, but at the same time it can really push you get into the studio every day and make sure it gets done.  You go through a long period where you have a concrete and defined goal, and avoid those days where you just don’t know what you want to work on.  You set small goals and work towards those, but you still always have the larger picture in mind.

 

I’ll be keeping people updated about the process of writing of the album here on the blog over the next few months too.  If anyone has any questions, or maybe some other reasons why they too like working on multiple songs at once, please post them in the comments.

Common Arrangement Issues

Earlier this year I covered some of the more common mixdown issues I hear in the songs I work on, and in others I hear online in the various forums I frequent.  I think it’s time to take another tack now, and talk about some of the issues I repeatedly hear in the way people arrange their songs.  I’ve learned it’s one thing to create a great “track”, it’s another to craft a song that makes people want to hear it again and again.

In fact, for the longest time I more or less stopped creating (synthesizing) my own sounds, so that I could spend more time working on creating compelling arrangements that made people want to listen more than once.  As part of this process (and indeed as part of my daily mastering anyway), I listened to a lot of songs and tried to identify what it was that made me want to immediately listen to a song again.  Or perhaps I had to listen to it again anyway for some reason, but each time I did I heard something that caught my attention in a new way.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that a lot of songs people post online these days fall into some of the same traps that make them almost disposable after one listen.  Here’s a few of the areas I think a lot of songs would benefit from improving on:

The intro of the song is too long, or not engaging enough.

It’s true that a lot of people think electronic music means dance music, and as such we’ve all been told that dance music needs to have a simple beginning for the DJs to beatmatch.  I’m not sure this really applies anymore in this day of auto-syncing and the multiple loops that most DJ software uses, but a lot of people play it safe and create long 32 bar intro with relatively simple structures.  There’s nothing wrong with this for the DJs among us, but realistically, how many people in your audience are going to be hearing your song while cueing it up in a club?

In reality, your average listener is likely going to be at their computer, in the car, or walking around listening to their headphones.  So for a “standard” 32 bar intro at 128BPM, they have to listen to a minute of rather bland music before you really get into the meat of things.  By all means use a simple beat structure to make the track easier to beatmatch if you want, but make sure and put some more subtle ear candy in there to draw in and engage the other listeners too.  Or consider using a shorter intro that perhaps is a little more relevant to today’s DJ.


The song is too long overall, or too repetitive.

Sometimes I get sent songs to work on where the whole tune is over 7 minutes long, and yet they could have easily said everything they needed to say in only 4-5 minutes.  Building and riding a groove is great when you’re making your song, but it’s important to try and step back and realize that not everyone will be willing, or wanting, to listen to it for as long as you do.  There’s very little need to fill up a side of a record anymore, so see if you have redundant section in your song where things are just not really going anywhere.

Likewise, one of my biggest pet peeves is with songs that are just too repetitive and loopy sounding.  You hear the same sound, exactly the same way for almost the whole song.  Even worse if it’s something the producer does with all the sounds in the song.  It might be rocking your world when you’re first making that core loop you’re going to build the song from, but try and look at it from another perspective and see if you can use some variations to keep it interesting on repeated listens.

Maybe use a simpler version of the loop early on, or add new effects or EQing to it halfway through.  Better yet, trying and find a way to have each sound constantly evolve as the song progresses, even if subtly.  Repetitive stuff can work on the dance floor where someone might hear only 4 minutes of a track before the DJ mixes into a new one.  But at home when your average listener is going to be hearing it from start to finish, do your best to keep them guessing and engaged, and not feeling like they know exactly how the song will finish.
The song sounds the same after the drop as before.

Another pet-peeve of mine, is when people have a really nice groove going in the song, then they go into a really well constructed drop and build up phase.  Then, at the peak of the build up everything hammers back in and sounds…..

….exactly like it did before the drop.  Boring!  Use that chance to take the song to the next level, introduce a new part, take the energy up, use a significantly altered part of your initial sounds to really get people to notice and re-engaged in the song.  After a really dramatic build up, you have the best chance to take the song some place new and unexpected.  There’s no reason that a song’s 2nd half has to sound like it’s first half, so get creative!

 

Every song has a long fade out at the end.

It’s not something you hear all the time, but there are some people out there who insist on slowly fading out each and every one of their songs to create the ending.  Used once in awhile it’s a great tool to keep people engaged in the song while slowly bringing them down.  But if you do it every single time, it loses it’s impact and ends up sounding like a bad 80’s cliche.

 

Too much is happening at once.

This is probably one of the more common issues I hear in people’s tracks, and I freely admit to being guilty of it myself at times.  There’s nothing wrong with creating dense music with a lot of sounds playing off each other, but you have to make sure they are really working together, and not fighting each other for space.  Having two lead sounds playing at once can often make things sound busy and cluttered, when what you might have been going for is more energy.  After working on a song for days or weeks, we get really good at tuning out certain sounds while we focus on others in the writing process.  So it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking a song is not too cluttered sounding, we’re subconsciously already not really paying attention to the big picture.

Aside from making it difficult to hear everything or the focus of the song, it’s also going to make it harder to get the overall level of the song up to a volume that you might feel is competitive with other songs in the same genre.  Loud and punchy songs often have very simple song structures, with simple instrumentation (only a few sounds playing at once).  It’s much easier to tame the peaks from a few sounds when boosting things louder, than it is trying to keep it all from turning into distorted mush if the track has a couple dozen things going on at once.

Like I said, nothing wrong with make dense soundscapes if that’s your thing, but then you really need to focus on making sure everything compliments each other in terms of frequencies, pitches, and timing to get the best results.


Loops not trimmed perfectly.

Argh, I hate this one.  I don’t care if people hand craft each sound from scratch, or take everything from sample loop CDs, making music is making music.  But if you are going to use loops, especially when layering percussion and drum sounds, then you HAVE to make sure they sound like one part.  Layering multiple kicks for instance, it’s a great way to get really full and powerful drum sounds without needing to mess with compression and the like.  But you have to make sure that all those separate kicks sound like one single kick, and aren’t flamming at all.

There’s been so many times I’ve heard great tracks when shopping for records to DJ with, that ultimately i just couldn’t buy because the drums were flamming every 4 or 8 bars.  It sounds amateurish, it’s distracting, and it makes beatmatching painful at the very least.  Take the time to trim and edit your loops and drums so that they line up EXACTLY.  I find it’s best to solo the parts you’re working on, and use headphones to listen, and the effect is much more pronounced in cans than in some people’s monitors.

 

No fills or transitions to help guide the song along.

A lot of people are really good at crafting creative drops and build ups in their song, they realize the important of guiding people to an important section of the song.  But not everyone realizes that this same concept on a smaller scale can be used throughout the song, to much the same purpose.  I’m sure most of us have heard songs like this, where the artist sounds almost like they are turning sounds on and off abruptly every 16 bars or so.

Sometimes the sudden introduction of a new sound can have a lot of impact, but when that’s the only device you are using throughout the whole song, it can also get a bit boring and predictable too.  If you listen to some of your favorite songs closely, you’ll often hear how the artist uses small and subtle cues to tell the listener that something new is coming.  Maybe it’s a small drum fill, or perhaps a synth swell.  A common trick is to use a reversed reverb sound to lead into a vocal for instance. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but little cues like this give the listener a sense of anticipation, it engages them and makes them eager to here what comes next.

On the other hand, it can also make transitioning to a new, and perhaps very different sounding, section of the song easier to follow.  Instead of a sudden change, you help guide the listener into something they might otherwise have found too quick of a jump.  The key of course is to not make the fills more obvious and upfront than the sections they are preceding or alluding to.  Done correctly, subtle fills can be one of the greatest tools to give a song that repeat listening potential.  It creates tension and expectation in the listeners each time they hear the song, and can provide the little bits of ear-candy that makes people hear something new each time they listen to your song.

Anyway, I hope some of you got some new ideas from this, or at least it refreshed your memory on things to remember when writing your songs.  For more on arranging and fills, you can check out these older guides I’ve written on the subject for more ideas:

http://tarekith.com/assets/arranging.html

http://tarekith.com/assets/transitions.html

Thanks, and stayed tuned for more articles in the future!

(Still) Almost Live

Back in April I posted about the steps I was taking while preparing a new hardware based live set:

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

Well, things are getting much closer to wrapping up finally, so I thought I’d update people on some of the other aspects of what’s going into this set.  Probably a bit overkill since it’s a relatively simple affair, using only the Machinedrum and Monomachine, but people seemed generally interested the last time I talked about it.

So, when I last discussed this, the core patterns in the Monomachine (MnM) had been written, covering the bassline, lead, pads and fills, and other random synth sounds.  I had the basic beats sketched out in the Machinedrum (MD), mainly just some simple kick, snare and high hat patterns though.  I was planning on using 16 patterns as songs to fill up an hour live set, with transitions being handled by the real time sampling functions of the MD’s RAM machines.

The next step was to start adding in supporting percussion parts in the MD, and for this I wanted to do something a little different.  I decided that all of the percussion sounds would be made of of found sounds, basically me running around the house with a microphone recording myself hitting and tapping random objects (note to self, the dog does not appreciate being a drum).  I didn’t need a lot of sounds, the MD has quite a bit of sound sculpting ability, so I narrowed it down to only 23 samples in the end.  You can download them here if you’re curious:

http://tarekith.com/assets/2011LiveSetMDSamples.zip

From there it was just a matter of fleshing out the Machinedrum patterns with these new sounds, as well as some cymbals using the built-in synth engines (as well as my samples).  At this point I was also balancing all the levels of the different drum sounds, adjusting the panning on the less important sounds (main sounds are always right up the center), and programming some parameter locks here and there to keep things interesting and evolving. I’m a big fan of using the LFO of some parts like HH’s to modulate volume in a semi-random fashion as well, keeps things a little more organic sounding and less static.

Once done with that, I’d say 95% of the music on both the MD and MnM was written, so I was able to start working on the track order for the live set.  I like to start out a little slower but still catchy, build that up for a bit, then break up the set in the middle with some slightly weirder and perhaps even darker sounding songs.  Then I can come out of those and increase the complexity and energy to end on a strong note.  I’ve always found that Ableton Live is a really good tool for helping me to figure out the track order of live sets, since I can easily move clips around in session view to see how the set flows from start to finish.

The first thing I do is create 3 audio tracks in Live, one for the MD, one for the MnM, and one that I actually record to.  The MD and MnM tracks are routed to this third record channel, which lets me record both instruments into a single clip for each pattern.  I do this, naming each clip in Live the name of the patterns in the Elektrons, and then play around with the order of things until I like the way it flows as a set.

(Click to enlarge)

Once I’m happy with the order of things, I take a screen shot of the clip order in Live, and then it’s time to start playing with sysex.  The Elektron boxes don’t have a dedicated librarian for moving things around on the computer, so it all has to be done old-school style with sysex.  Luckily, Elektron has built some really clever sysex functionality into each box that makes this a lot easier to manage.  For starters, since a pattern will always call up a kit when loaded, it’s possible to export both patterns and kits in one go, and they will be tied to each other.  So the first thing I do is export the pattern and kit sysex for every pattern in both machines, naming them appropriately according to the track order I want.

Here’s the neat bit though, once the sysex is named and ordered on the computer, I can send it back to the Elektrons and specify the exact locations where I want both the kits and patterns to load into.  When receiving sysex dumps, the Md and MnM can be set to load the sysex into the same locations it was originally, or I can specify an exact starting point for the both kits and patterns.  This means I can send all of my sysex in one go, in the correct order, and I know that the Elektrons will store this data in the correct order as well.  Sounds a little confusing, but it saves a TON of time compared to having to manually send each kit and pattern and save them individually to the right locations.

I should also note that during this process I culled two songs that just weren’t really working in the set.  Rather than back track and trying and write new material, in the interest of moving forward and getting this set prepped, I’m just going to go with 14 patterns.

So, once the track order is set and addressed the way I want it, the last step is to go back and do one final adjustment of all the volume levels.  I’m trying to make not only each patterns full and balanced sounding ala a mixdown, but also making sure that the volumes are consistent from song to song.  I also make sure that the low end is nice and balanced (as much as I can), since the Elektron boxes can output gobs of sub-bass if you’re not careful.  Full range monitoring definitely helps here!

I also tend to write my Elektron sets with the master volume knob on each machine all the way to max, so I’ll double check that I’m not clipping my audio interface by sending too hot of a signal to my Fireface400.  I don’t perform with the volume knobs at max, I tend to put them at about 3:00 to give myself more of a safety margin when I play out.  This just lets me know that even with things maxed out for some reason, I will not be clipping either a PA or anything I recorded into.

And of course I’m backing up all of this work daily too, sometimes more than once a day depending on how much work I’ve done.  Better safe than sorry!

And now we come to where I am at the moment with the live set.  All of the above has been done so far, and I’m pretty close to being able to perform and record the set.  As I mentioned earlier, the songs are all about 95% of the way done, so I’ll take my time over the next couple of weeks to go back and fine tune everything until I’m totally happy.  After the last couple of weeks of heavy writing and tweaking, it’s nice to have a couple of days away to give my ears a break and get some fresh perspective.

Then it’s just a matter of waiting for the right time to get inspired to play and record the set.  Hoping to have this done in the next couple of weeks, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve said that about this live set!  🙂  I also plan on trying to video tape the performance, so people can see how I ‘play’ a live set on hardware.  No promises, but I’d like to do a close up of the MD and MnM and annotate what I’m doing through out the set if I can.

—————–

So, there you go, an update on the live set.  It’s been a lot of fun working on the set, I always enjoy the mental process of composing on hardware in a groovebox fashion.  but, I’m glad it’s almost done too.  I’ve been working on this for a long time, so it will be nice to put this behind me and move on.  I’m tentatively planning on starting a new full-length album after this, focusing on Ableton Live and Max4Live, using the APC40 and iPad apps to control and write.  We’ll see though, after this project I might need a break and who knows what new ideas I’ll get then.

Thanks for reading as always, hope some of you found this interesting.  Just a note that I’m now on Facebook as well, so stop by if you want to follow or say hi:

https://www.facebook.com/InnerPortal

 

Downtime

It happens to us all, we go into our studios to write some music and it’s just not happening.  Sometimes you can push through and end up getting back on track, but other times you’re just not feeling it no matter what you do.  Or perhaps you’re just stuck in a small creative rut for a few days, but still feel like being at least some what productive when it comes to music making.

I’m a big fan of using times like this to take care of all the boring bits and tasks that go hand in hand with making music these days, especially since most of us are using computers.  A lot of these things are common sense, but it’s amazing how long some people put this stuff off.  (Sometimes until it’s too late!) Doing them when you’re just not feeling creative is a great way to make sure that when you ARE back in the mood to write music, you don’t need to stop and worry about things that aren’t essential to the process.  So these are my suggestions of things to address in your downtime:

– Back Ups.  We all know how important it is to back up our data, but it’s something that often gets forgotten about until it’s too late. In addition to having all my data backed up to a second (and third) hard drive, I also have important documents and programs stored online, and burned to DVDr.  It’s important to use multiple formats for your back ups, and to not put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.  Doesn’t do you any good to have your data on 4 hard drives in your house, if one night it burns to the ground.

It’s a good time to back up any hardware or software synths too.  Sysex backups, or VST and AU presets, things like that.  Collect them in one place, and make sure you include them with all your other data backups.

– Clean up.  Boo hiss, I know, no one likes to clean house very much, do they?  Aside from making things look nicer, keeping a relatively clean studio can also help your gear last longer.  Dust can clog faders, get into computers and laptops and cause heating issues, and make audio jacks (like on the back of your soundcard) gunk up faster.  A can of compressed air, a vacuum, and a small car detailing brush can get rid of most of it in no time at all.  Every couple of years it’s worth opening up your computer or laptop and getting the dust out of there as well, especially around vents and fans.  Follow the appropriate safety precautions of course.

Something like Deoxit can be used to clean all the cable connectors or faders in your studio, helping them last longer and work better for years.  Finger prints accumulate on everything, an ever so slightly damp cloth can remove those in most cases.  I find that micro-fibre cloths work the best for this (and cleaning computer monitors without any chemicals), just be sure to never put them in the clothes dryer, or else they end up leaving lint on everything. Air dry only!  You can clean your trackpad and keyboard with those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.  Ok, that’s enough for the Suzy Homemaker tips. 🙂

– Update.  Make sure all your apps and drivers are up to day.  Run a fresh virus or adware scan, defrag your hard drive, make sure you have copies of the latest PDF manuals for your gear.

– Uninstall.  I like to test out different software demos, or freebie synths and plug-ins now and then, just like a lot of you I’m sure.  Sometimes they become valuable tools, other times I never use them again.  This is a good chance to go through and remove and uninstall anything you’re not using.  Makes browsing the plug-ins and synths you DO use a lot easier, and helps rule out any potential DAW conflicts down the road.  This same goes for any non-music making tools you might be using.

– Reinstall.  This one will be controversial, but roughly once or twice a year I like to reinstall all the software on my computer from scratch, including the OS.  Typically I do it after I’ve had a few days to test a new OS update, something like a service pack or a point revision of OSX.  It’s probably a little overkill, but I feel it’s worth it to make sure I’m running a clean and stream-lined system.  For me at least, it doesn’t even take that long, maybe 2-3 hours.  Most of that time is spent installing Omnisphere’s 6 DVDs worth of content anyway.

To speed up the process, I keep a folder on my computer where I store the latest installers of all my programs, as well as any custom presets, manuals, or preference files I might need.  That way, everything is always in one place.  Right before I wipe the OS to install again, I’ll first go through all my apps, plug ins, and utilities in this folder to make sure they are all the latest version.  That way I’m only installing up to date things when I’m done installing the fresh OS.


(Click for larger image)

I gain back a little hard drive space this way as well, though typically not enough to make the process worth it for just this reason.  Also, and it might just be placebo, a fresh system always seems to run snappier to me too.  I’ve never measured it, but it definitely feels that way to me.  Anyway, I’m sure some people will balk at the idea, but it’s worth considering doing every now and then, even if only once every few years.

– Organize.  This might be as simple as putting all your manuals in one place, or as complicated as tagging and naming all your favorite synth patches.  Sort and name any samples you’ve been collecting, make sure your records are set up in a way that you can quickly find what you need when you get an idea.  Go through any notes you might have scribbled in the heat of a moment and see if you still need them.  If you’ve got some unfinished songs you’ve been hanging on to, see if they’re worth saving still, or would it be better to just pull out your favorite bits to use in other songs?  Anything that can speed up the process of making music when you’re in the mood, and help you avoid getting bogged down.

Admittedly, none of this stuff is very fun, and some people actually thrive better in the chaos of a random workspace anyway.  But with a little bit of time spent getting these things out of the way, you can insure that your music making sessions will be fluid and go much smoother when it really matters.  Plus, it sure beats wasting a day outside of the studio or spending your time frustrated that you’re out of ideas!

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In other news, I was asked to do a DJ mix for the FriskyRadio.com 5 year anniversary next month.  Just recorded it this past weekend, so check back soon for details on when it will air.  Expect some grooving downtempo perfect for the upcoming summer, probably one of the best mixes I’ve done in the last couple of years if I do say so myself.

Until then, peace and beats,

Tarekith

Ok To Play

I get to work on a lot of people’s music these days, and one of the things that strikes me sometimes, is how often people use a track they plan on releasing as a time to try and learn a new tool or technique.  I hear something that sounds off, or just plain wrong.  When I ask them about why they chose to keep it in the song or try and learn something new while writing a track, I basically get the reply “when else am I supposed to learn how to do it?”

I guess in many ways it’s not surprising, there’s a lot things about producing music these days that keeps people from just plain jamming.  Most of us are using virtual tools in our DAWs as our main instruments, so any time you DO want to play, you’re already in an environment set up and ready to go for recording and writing.  Very few plug-ins run as standalone instruments anymore, and most DAWs require you to go so far as to record arm a track before you can even make a sound.  So right from the get go you’re pressured somewhat to record everything you do.

Add to that the fact that most producers these days are working alone, and there’s no real opportunity for getting together with your friends or other musicians and just jamming for fun.  Pretty rare that people work in a ‘band’ situation anymore, where everyone has to learn to work together and prepare to work efficiently in a group.  Instead you’re allowed to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, whether you know how to or not!  🙂  It’s not always bad thing, but on the other hand you don’t have 4 other people standing there giving you the evil eye while you waste valuable practice or session time trying to figure out the best settings for your new guitar pedal, or how to route LFO’s on your new synth.

Long story short, there’s not many readily apparent reasons to try and learn your techniques and tools before you start to craft a new song, so many producers end up doing it while in the song-writing process.  Sometimes it leads to happy accidents sure, but sometimes it hurts the track too.

I know it’s a viewpoint that many will disagree with, but I have to say I’m not always a fan of the “record everything you do” mindset.  You see this advice given a lot in magazines, to always be recording when you play, because you don’t want to miss anything magical that happens.  For me though, music often times IS fleeting, to be heard once and enjoyed during the moment.  Sure it can be frustrating at first having moments like that come and go, but soon you realize that there will always be others just as good in the future.

Taking time now and then to play just for fun without the pressure to constantly capture your ideas has some real benefits in my mind:

– It gives you time to practice and learn new skills.  When the record button is off, you can do what you want and no one will ever know but you.  It’s a great chance to try new things, and experiment as much as you want without feeling like you’re wasting time.  It’s also a time to improve your chops and become a better musician.  Think about how much time classical musicians train and practice to get better, in relation to how often they perform in public or record.  It’s the complete opposite of “musicians” these days!   We’re not classical musicians, sure, but getting better at any instrument is never going to hurt your music making.

– Often experimenting during times like this removes the pressure that might otherwise keep you from fully exploring new ideas.  When in the back of your head you know that you only have an hour to yourself to do music when you get home from work, it’s very hard to not feel guilty that you’re wasting time by just messing around and having fun with an idea.  Give yourself a day each week to have these sessions where you just play with new tools, or try something wacky that you know might never be good for a track you want to write.

– It keeps things fun.  Sometimes it’s relaxing and cathartic to just make music for music’s sake.  It’s one reason I love to play guitar still, it’s something I can just pick up and play for no other reason than it’s fun.  I don’t have to be recording to noodle for an hour, and I become a better player in the process.  Music making doesn’t always have to feel like work (even if it’s your job), you need time to yourself to just enjoy what you’re doing and not feel like there’s some deadline looming overhead.  To remember WHY you liked making music in the first place.

And just to clarify, I’m not saying that ALL of your music making needs to be spent like this.  There’s certainly times when you have a job to do that needs to get done.  Or a point where endless noodling on a guitar really isn’t going anywhere.  My point is more about how you need to find time now and then to play, just for the sake of playing, with no other goals involved.  Whether it’s an instrument, a new plug ins, messing around with a feature on your DJ mixer that you don’t know much about, whatever.  The principle is the same no matter what your preferred tool, you just need to remember that every once in awhile, it’s ok to play.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith