The Success Trap

I went to a local club to hear a visiting friend from Romania for an all-night of music that was more aligned with my tastes, and while the DJ before him was a bit linear and predictable, my friend opened up with fresh-sounding music. He didn’t drop the Beatport top 10 music or anything directly linked to the previous DJ, not even an introduction to please the crowd. He dropped some obscure techno, which was a bit audacious, and he quickly followed it with a song from the 90s. The main idea of that track was a vocal saying, “Get House,” which was this song by Caliesto. Beautiful contrast.



Just hearing the sample, I had flashbacks of raves, lasers, glow sticks, and people dancing and sweating, just from a single sample that I heard, which brought me back to a specific era. In contrast to the previous DJ, where all songs blended well together in a seamless flow, there was unfortunately nothing memorable or tangible to grasp from it. I don’t remember a single moment, just a week after. This is not a criticism of someone’s music, but more to say that solid ideas age well because they create intense moments. If you listen to the Caliesto song, you’ll realize it’s relatively simple. Still, the hook is catchy enough for anyone to tell their friends later on about the primary sample, which others can probably remember easily.

It occurred to me that the definition of success has changed since the 1990s. Of course.


Back to DJs


As I got back into DJing, I’m exploring the options available, as numerous tools are now available. For instance, I got a professional account on Rekordbox and paired it with an experienced account on Beatport. This allows me to sync my playlist from the store directly to my Rekordbox, add any songs I want and then have this endless catalogue on hand. It’s basically like having Spotify, where your limitation is your music knowledge or culture. But even if you are new to it or limited, there are discovery tools to help you search what others like and play.

After synchronizing Beatport to Rekordbox and opening the music section related to it, I got overwhelmed. If you know me, you’d know that technology rarely overwhelms me. It took me a lot to get there, but I was staring at the selection and feeling lost. I wasn’t overwhelmed with possibilities; I was confused by how much junk was out there.

I’m not here to criticize the music again, but more from a meta-level, stepping back as a global view.

The number of songs that sound exactly like the previous one was blatant. Some of my favourite artists suddenly make songs with questionable sounds or presets, and many new artists create music with strange, unusable arrangements.

Am I too old for this?

Nah, don’t worry. Once I start digging, I still find a lot of fantastic music. So what happened exactly?


Music Democratization and Open Business Opportunities


In the 90s, electronic music software aimed to allow more and more people to make music by making it more accessible and affordable. This opened the path to countless music lovers interested in making music. I’d be a hypocrite to complain because I was one of those people with no music background; technology was my saviour. Jump 30 years later, add YouTube for knowledge sharing (fueled with the motivation of popularity of likes), and add aggregators who allow anyone with a finished song to access all online stores and streaming platforms. You’ll get albums of barking dogs, techno EPs made by eight years old, fart-fueled drone music and whatever you can think of, you can probably find it.

Is that bad?

It’s not me to judge, but the advantage of people being solid selectors is probably what can make a DJ stand out from their colleagues. But as a producer, I think the question is, can one escape the appeal of the mass wave of music similarity and perhaps be irrelevant?

Absolutely, but this is a tad complicated to cover because it is defined by multiple aspects, such as your Definition of done (DoD), your culture, your community, and what you consider success.


Success Trap


Whatever you see or identify as a “problem” is directly related to a micro-culture of habits that created that situation. For instance, if your bedroom is messy, you have a terrible habit of not keeping it tidy. If you want to clean it, once you have cleaned it, it will remain that way for a day or two until it gets dirty again. The real goal behind this is not to organize your room; it’s to develop cleanliness habits so it remains clean.

We can translate this to the music business as well. A considerable amount of people who consult me in private wish to finish more music because their goal is to be successful, which they translate by having:

  • Music being finished
  • Signed to a label

Labels see success by releasing music that eventually gets attention and sales. DJs see success with gigs, and Instagram reels with loads of likes.

While there’s nothing wrong with these, the focus is set on something that defines the success of an external party. You might never feel like it’s enough because there will always be options for better, and while it can become addictive, it can also feel depressing. But the appeal of seeing people having many likes, playing on the big stage, and having many streams is an image we might all crave; I can get it.

Seeing success in others as an end goal is a trap because it doesn’t focus on the habits that successful artists built.


Behind the successful DJ is daily research of old and new music, rehearsals, and research, but also many failures. Behind the successful release is the habit of the producer making music every day and making 23 different versions of each song. Behind the successful label is a team that spends time daily networking with media, DJs, and festivals. Behind each role model, there is a lot hidden, and that is where success lies.

While everyone is debating AI music (or images) generating tools, I rarely see anyone talk about how this is aimed at results and bypassing the creation processes and habit forming.

If you focus on having solid habits, results will follow. This starts with keeping your bedroom tidy, making your bed every day, and washing the sheets once a week. In the end, your room will be clean and remain clean.

This is not my pure invention. It comes from a book called Atomic Habits. I discovered that book years ago, and it made such an impact.

Breaking The Standards


In my last post, where I gave points on speeding up your work process, someone asked how this can flood the market with more unnecessary copycat music when I posted on social media. I asked him if my music was, and he said no (I know the person, so it was a good chat). It came down to how you use your speed and the aim of your intentions. But yes, if you work fast and aimlessly, you may get in the queue to make another version of the best seller on Beatport, which has probably already existed 200 times.

But how can one break standards, routines, clichés?


Forming Habits Based Around Originality


This is where it should all start. That implies recognizing what makes a song original, unique, and memorable.



Being more personal in your expression


There are two popular types of producers: those who want to sound like everyone and those who don’t want to sound like the rest. Each faces some issues:

  • Sounding like everyone else will not elevate you to the status of a leader. However, it can pay off if you find other people who quickly like the same sounds as you.
  • Sounding like no one will marginalize you, making it hard to find your community. When done right, originality can be acclaimed and turn you into an innovator.

But being more personal in your music doesn’t mean turning yourself into an alien. It means you can take known ideas but shape them into who you are. For instance, I love it when there is a melodic harmony in my music (using root keys and scales), but I have a hard time following typical chord progression that is popular in songs (progressive, lo-fi hip hop, etc.). When I make melodies, I just hit keys randomly using my ear and eventually organize my notes to make sense (to me). It’s weird for anyone into music theory because it doesn’t follow convention, but it makes sense because it is not harmonically wrong.

My friend Bryan, a jazz musician, said he preferred my weird melodies to some too-organized songs because ” they sounded more like you.”

A client used his voice to sing notes that he’d convert to midi. He felt like his voice would put to melody, something very personal.

It’s the same for percussion. You can follow conventions or play it weird with whatever you like… while remaining on the grid, so it’s playable by a DJ.


Master one or more music production techniques.


The more you master one technique, the more you can push its boundaries. Using a method on its low level is missing that zone where you can extract ideas entirely different from what everyone is doing. Thinking of J Dilla, he mastered sampling and swing groove, which brought his recognizable signature.

If you think of that Caliesto song I mentioned, it’s also about understanding execution more than just relying on the content.



Cross-pollinate genre inspiration.


If you read my blog, this often comes up. Songs that get attention are usually innovative, and recently, there’s been a news saying that David Guetta has done some country music, which is a good example. You might not like him, but in terms of business decisions, this guy always takes decisions that show the way. This also applies to handling sampling as a way of constantly innovating yourself. If you think you’re mastering that technique, think again.

Splice is also an excellent place to dive for inspiration. Their AI that suggests ideas to start with is pretty innovative and helpful. It allows you to break the routine and pick samples from other genres.


Avoid popular sample packs and presets


I can’t say this enough, but some genres rely on the same packs. Unlike drum and bass with the amen break, it’s a sample. We’re talking about a pack of multiple samples just used and reused to the point where it’s breaking any chances of growing as a musician. Considering the number of samples we can access, I have difficulty understanding why this is happening.

Using the same sample packs falls under wanting to sound like the others. One of the excellent features of Ableton Live 12 is the “Find similar samples” feature, which, with a click, proposes a wide array of options. So, perhaps you can start with a base of a few samples but then dive into your library to get similar-sounding ones.


While advocating for presets, primarily for self-education, I also encourage you to tweak them a bit so you can find various colours you didn’t know you had under your nose. While mastering and listening to a client’s music, it often happens that I’ll go, “Ah, he used this synth with that preset,” which is not a problem, but I find it a bit lazy. But that’s me, which means others might also think that. If you aspire to release it, you might not want a label to believe that of your music.

While there’s no “find similar presets” in Live, you can sort of work around it by creating a macro of your plugin by mapping parameters to knobs (as a group), then creating snapshots of your knobs. If you record yourself playing with your snapshots, you’ll see the knob’s position being recorded as well. Then, you can make a slew between the positions. There’s also a max patch that can do it here.


I hope this helps!


Photo by Matthew Moloney on Unsplash

Shortcuts And Speed Up Tricks

In case you missed it, I declared 2024  “my back-to-production year.” It started slowly because I had a lot on my plate, but as soon as it slowed down, I got into full force. Ironically, the last ten years of education I provided to students and people I mentored were based on my peak time experience, but I wasn’t applying my tricks to my workflow so much.

Sometimes, you need to focus on yourself; other times, focusing on others will provide insights. You can only explain what you truly understand; explaining to others often forces you to rethink your knowledge. Since time flies, it has made more sense to do a lot of music to see the real challenges in 2024 and perhaps find new approaches.

In this post, I will try to summarize the different shortcuts and hacks that have led me to be on the road to work incredibly fast, making 1-2 songs per day on top of my regular workload.


Why Work Fast


If you read this blog, you know I embrace speed in music-making for multiple reasons. The number one reason is that you get better at something with practice, and if you work fast to make music, you’ll work with techniques, face issues and learn something new with each session.


By stating this over and over, it only made sense that I would be fast myself, and at first, I felt a bit rusty, so it didn’t take much time to get back into it. The first step to speed is to understand where you lose time.


For this, there are two main spheres:


Idea generation: Melodies, bass lines, percussive patterns, sequences, chord progression, hooks, song structure, arrangements, etc.

Content: Sounds, recordings, effects, etc.


Idea generation matters when developing your song, while the content sphere is about how it sounds. You can have all the best ideas in the world, but what does it sound like? You might have all the sounds, yet how you arrange them will be what your song is about.


It’s a challenge to come up with both, and many people get lost in one part of this, hyper-focusing on making the best of it and forgetting that there are other things to address. Building speed involves delegating some parts to tools that can handle it while you focus on the ones you are the best at.


A good example is the use of a drum machine. One might want to focus on hook and song structure but will leave the percussive side to a drum machine that won’t need much programmation nor sound design, as it comes with its sound. Another example is from the acoustic genre, like folk music, where the sounds will be guitar and voice, so the artist can focus on the lyrics and perform without worrying about finding many sounds.


Finding Your Shortcuts Through Tools


Once you know where you lose time, it’s time to realize that technology exists to simplify your workflow. Regarding tools and plugins, here is a complete list of all the tools I use to enhance my music.


Idea Generation

Hooks, Melodies, riffs, motifs: After analyzing so many hooks from songs I love (you should do the exercise to see what you like), I can understand that they’re either sampling-related or short phrasing of notes. If you expect to make great melodies without understanding music, your best asset would be to become familiar with the basics. Knowledge is always the best investment before any use of the tool.

That said, writing ideas can be tricky. Plus, if you want to write melodies yourself, you might likely always come up with the same routine. I suggest starting with generators that can propose some starting point and then build on that.

Ableton Live 12 has many different seed generators for creating fresh ideas. I recently related to Phil Meyer’s Suite of Generators, but I also looked at Manifest Audio, which has its palette of tools freshly ready for Live 12.

If you’re not familiar with the various tools AlexKid made, he humbly started with a drum machine sequencer in Live, but soon after, he came up with multiple tools for generating ideas, such as Seqund and the suite bundles.

I also love AudioModern and Riffer, and Rozzer and Sting can be super powerful free tools. Snake just got a new version of Live 12, which is lovely.


Sounds and Content


If we are going to relate to samples, there are multiple options on the market. In the subscription model, there is always Splice (one-shots, loops, plugin rent-to-own and more), Loopcloud (one-shots, loops, midi), Tracklib (royalty-free song content to reuse), and Soundsnap (sound library from field recordings to one-shots, used mainly by movies). You can also explore free options with Freesound,, and Samplette (random YouTube searcher).

The best way to generate new sounds is to create a macro where I have mapped the parameters of a sampler or Synth as a macro and then hit the macro’s randomizer to access a new sound.


Creativity comes from action and motion. You need to sit and work for ideas to come.




This is not a plugin, but collaboration has the most significant impact on speeding things up. It also depends on who you work with. In-person sessions can often result in distractions, chatting, smoking weed, and not doing that much. Ideally, I prefer remote sessions where each participant works when they have time, at the peak of their focus.

The other benefit of working remotely is collaborating with anyone, anywhere. In my case, my collaborators are often in different countries.

If you want to learn how to make music fast, work with someone who knows their way. When you swap projects, knowledge will be shared. You will find collaborators in people who do something you love and do something well that you don’t. Someone who complements you will do better than someone at your level or who has the same ways as you.

Now, here’s a twist. Sometimes, it’s good to work with someone with zero music-making experience who is in good spirits and will provide you with some ideas. I find it inspiring to be sitting in the studio with someone who will go, “I imagine the song to do this, and that can go there.” then you do what you can with that information, and whatever happens, it gets you to a place you would not explore on your own. A beginner is often enthusiastic about things you might be jaded about, giving you an appreciation for things you got bored with.

During a recent retreat, we did a jam with four people. While this wasn’t new to me, everyone else had never tried that before, and they were mind-blown by what we were doing. There was no preparation at all. We just improvised, and everything felt natural and fun. What felt like 10 minutes was almost 2 hours of weird music. That was energizing, and we all shared the music that we saw fit with others.


Templates and References

In my fast pace of music-making, I’m having two initial sessions. One is building a base idea, and the other is creating a skeleton song. As you have learned from this blog, fetching, developing, and organizing ideas should be the base of your work, and it takes a lot of time to find the ones you love. But that shouldn’t stop you either from advancing within your music-making.

Building songs from basic ideas is a good starting point; sometimes, the main idea appears as you work on them.

You will be creative by working it out and not by waiting to feel creative.


This is where templates are handy. I like to save a finished song as a template, but first, I remove it from all the sounds while keeping the MIDI and effects. If you think about it, in the 1970s, people organized a mixing board for an entire album recording, which kept uniformity across the project. It would also often be recorded in a unique studio.

Keeping the song as a template speeds up your organizing for the follow-up song(s).



I once saw someone on Instagram saying everyone should DJ, and I agree. I don’t mean that everyone should perform as a DJ in clubs, but more for self-educational purposes and because it’s fun. It opens you up to many exciting understandings of how electronic music works. If you disagree, fair enough, so we should agree on one point: anyone who makes electronic music for DJs should at least learn and play as a DJ themselves.

In the last months, I went back into DJ mode and found a new range of inspiration. Plus, playing unfinished music in Rekordbox alone pointed out flaws in the arrangements and the mix that I initially felt were ok. It even altered my workflow, where I would make a skeleton arrangement for a song and then directly drop it in Rekordbox to play it with music I love so I could see what happens, what works, and what does not.

So, in a way, stepping out of Ableton Live and going into Rekordbox is a shortcut and also a headache saver.

Everyone should learn how to DJ. There is a lot to learn and it gives you appreciation for the art, for the music while educating you on how music is made. Just as much as everyone should learn how to play piano.



I’ve discussed this multiple times, but when you start making music, I recommend starting by making one template per studio session. From simple to complex, creating a template ensures that you structure future sessions, organize what you do each time you start a song, and store potential techniques to explore.

Here are some ideas to explore:

  • Mixing template: Create a template of multiple pre-made channels with effects for mixing.
  • Minimal (or any genre) template: Have a template with a collection of kicks, synth presets, and other sounds ready for you to put in the spirit of making one genre.
  • Sound scrubbing: Build a template with different tools for altering and destroying samples, such as granulators, distortion, modulators and samplers.
  • Complex routing: Perhaps you’d like to explore weird techniques of gating and side-chaining with some complex routing made in advance.
  • Pad collection: Load up a bunch of synths and samplers to have complex textures in layers.
  • Percussion swapper: Open multiple drum kits and send the same midi to various kits so you can preview your options.


The beauty of having options in a template means two possible points: the first is that you can open a template and start working on it or import channels from a project you are currently working on.


Macros and Systems


Quite often, when I open up the projects from clients, I see they use a chain of effects. Some make no sense, while others are interesting, but however it works, I never see them being grouped as macros. I’m always surprised how so few people miss the opportunity to use one of the most powerful aspects of Ableton. Not only is it easy to group that rig of effects, but who knows if it can be used later on in another song.

Turning multiple effects into a macro means:

  • You can map essential parameters of the effect to knobs so you can control them with PUSH or quickly have access to the knobs, all centralized in one place.
  • Save parameters as global presets to have different colours quickly.
  • Randomize your rack for unexpected results.
  • Modulate elements from one spot.

I’d encourage you to add this as a habit, as it will automatically pay off in the short term.


Systems are a bit like macros but a bit more advanced, so they are not easy for a newcomer to explore. What I refer to as a system is when you have built a macro that generates content for your music. This falls under the umbrella of generative content but uses macros. The advantage of generative tools are to create ideas to add to your music. It can be related to percussion or melodies or weird glitches. I have a lot of generative tools I always pull out when the idea “something’s missing” pops into my mind.

Photo by Marc Sendra Martorell on Unsplash