Mixing Issues And Solutions

As a mastering engineer, I’m exposed to dealing with mixes every day, and as we know, quality masters are directly linked to the mixes’ strengths. When in the mastering stage, I’m dealing with a stereo file, which means I can make adjustments but also have limitations. If the mixed file has all its issues fixed, I can focus on bringing the best of the song to life. On the other hand, if there are some issues, I might have to fix them the best I can, but that will also blur the song’s best part(s).

Asking the client to fix some issues is part of my job. How about a blog post to cover the most common problems I deal with?

Before I start, I’d like to say that mixing is an art that takes years and years to get the most out of. While you can take many different classes, practicing and exposing yourself to many other issues is the best way to learn. Sending them to me for mastering trains yourself to how specific tests come out in the end.


Some clients send me music every week for mastering. Not because they want to release the song but because they want to see what it will be like. They constantly practice and tweak their songs and start new ones, and those are the ones who learn to mix fast.


But like a client asked me recently, “Will I always have to depend on someone for learning to mix?”

I replied, “No, but you need to learn the basics first and then the rest will be much easier.”

But before you read this post, I encourage you to watch this video I recorded for clients.



The most common mixing issues I deal with in mastering


As a reader, you probably expect easy pointers to what you do wrong within your mixing session, but some of the issues come from external factors. If those aren’t addressed, you’ll have the same problems no matter what you do with your software or how you use your plugins. This is why, quite often, after listening to the first 20 seconds of a song, I already know in what context the producer is working.

This leads to the first most problematic issue I deal with every day.


Lack of experience with mix-translation


What is mix translation?

One develops this skill when they know how their sound will be projected into the world outside the studio. Mix translation requires spending time in the outside world, listening to different types of music, then returning to the studio and listening to the same songs to see how they sound. Your ears eventually understand that if you have your low end at a certain level in the studio, it will have a particular impact in a club or a car. Some people rely on their car to see if the track sounds right, which is, in a way, a form of mixed translation.

But this has a particular twist. If your studio doesn’t have appropriately adjusted settings, your monitoring will trick you into misleading directions. Or even worse, it might mask some issues or enhance parts that don’t translate well.


Does this mean you need a studio with a full range of acoustic treatments and a room correction by Sonar Works?


The answer is no.


I wouldn’t say I like Sonar Works’ plugin because I would rather get used to an imperfect signal than deal with a plugin-induced flat tone. Some like it, and that’s good for them, but honestly, it’s not something you need. You need a sub or Subpac to understand your low end if you do music where the low end is essential. Get a pair of headphones you love that are not consumer grade and get to know them well.


A client kept asking me to boost the sub, and I eventually found out he had no sub. He had a nasty surprise when he got to play the track in a local club.


Many clients have mixes with too much of a certain range (ex. exaggerated low end) which will have repercussion of be sounding wrong in certain clubs and will for DJs to have to readjust their EQ on the mixer to match other songs they mix.


When clients receive the master of their track, they listen to it in their studio and sometimes feel it’s wrong. That is because they have mixed their song to fit the studio’s flaws, and once those are fixed, then something will feel off. The right way to listen to a master is to compare it to a third-party song that we know sounds right. You can also listen on headphones where there’s no external acoustic disruption.



The easiest solution is to get yourself a wide array of reference tracks. Some people don’t like working with them, but using and knowing them properly will resolve many issues regarding presence, impact, loudness, tone, and general impression. While I work with a client, I usually propose a master that is, according to my understanding, the best presentation possible. Still, if I miss the aesthetic, a reference will significantly help. It goes beyond the words and explanations of a client as it is a concrete demonstration of the wanted result.


That reference cannot be a client’s track. It must be from a third party with whom we agree sounds excellent. Tracks from the client will sound right in his studio because they were made there.


As mentioned, knowing your environment and going out will help you understand mix translation.


If you handle this first point, it will resolve many issues. But I see other problems, no matter if you hold that point, so let’s continue.


Low-End Clarity


Having a good understanding of the low end is the key to many dance music-related electronic music. How the sub, bass, and kick perform in a club or a festival drives a crowd and keeps energy. I recently brought my son to a local festival where he heard electronic music loud, and he was so impressed by how the bass felt that it gave him a new understanding of why I love the genre and why people get into dancing.

On the opposite side, if the low end lacks clarity, the mushiness will have a sluggish effect on the people listening, mainly because it will lose its power and punch.


What is low-end clarity?

The low end refers to a frequency range of about 150Hz and below. This covers the kick, part of the bass, and the sub. The bass can start at around 250Hz and go as low as 30Hz. The kick can start high, around 1.5kHz (for the transient) to 20Hz. But its punch will be between 200Hz and 20Hz, depending on the genre, which all have a different recipe for handling the kick. The sub is pretty much under 30hz.

Considering how these three main sounds cover and share presence within that range, they can easily overlap, causing confusion. It can easily be disruptive once one masters if one masks another.



One can do multiple things, but the first solution is to handle this right from the start when you’re in the arrangement stage and sound design.

  • Adjust your sound’s length so they don’t overlap. This is within the ADSR, where you can cut the tail of one sound so it doesn’t hit another.
  • Amplitude modulation is another option if you’re struggling with the length. This means you can use side-chaining compression or a tool like Trackspacer to make one sound that should be the leader to force others to duck when it plays. While Trackspacer is the easiest to use, that can also be done with Pro-Q, Fuser, Shaperbox, but those require a bit more tweaking to get a satisfying result.
  • You can also clear your low-end by learning to use a Gate. The gate helps create space, muting anything under a certain threshold. This means it will silence the tail of certain sounds. My favourite Gate is included in the Neutron Suite.
  • Considering your low end has limited space, consider having a shorter kick if you have a longer bass or vice versa.
  • Cutting the unnecessary frequencies for each sound can also help, but it starts with the amplitude first.


Gain Staging


For many, this music production and mixing aspect remains a bit esoteric. Even for myself, it was confusing for years, mainly because no one would adequately explain it to me. Eventually, I understood it independently, which was good because now I can describe it easily to anyone.


What is Gain Staging?

Let’s summarize it to the essential: it’s about giving enough loudness during the mixing stage so that once I master it, I don’t have to compensate and boost it too much. That is not just for the general loudness of the track but also per frequency sections, such as the low end or the mids.


Why is this a problem?

Once I have mastered it, I’m left with only a few options to compensate for the mix’s loudness to hit the commercial levels the market needs. If the mix given has a loudness of -19 LUFS, I need to compensate by adding 9 to 10 LUFS, which is quite a lot. This means that the level differences between sounds and the depth, noise floor, and relationship between all the sounds will be altered drastically, giving my client a shock.

Also, sometimes the loudness is almost perfect, but the low end might not have the required density. I must focus on that zone alone, which can alter the track’s direction.



Gain staging is a series of different actions one can do right from the beginning once samples are selected. When you load up a sound, it is essential to normalize it so it hits zero unity, then check its RMS level to see how much power it has. There’s a difference between the peak loudness and the RMS. The last one is about its density. You can stimulate the density with distortion in one of its numerous forms: compression, distortion, saturation.

This means that plugins such as pre-amps, emulations of hardware, overdrive, and waveshaping, to name a few, can help a sound pop out of the mix because it is thicker. See it as if you would put the sound in bold, where it is dense and thick compared to a standard font.

One mistake I often see with clients’ mixes is applying compression at the end of the chain, either on buses or the master. While that can be useful for glueing multiple sounds simultaneously, it also significantly reduces your dynamic range, killing punch if not used properly.


Harshness, Resonances and  Transients


This one covers three issues at once because they’re related. The umbrella that covers them all at once would be named harshness.

We all know when a song sounds unpleasant, but what causes it?


Generally speaking, harshness means that when you listen to the song, it feels uncomfortable or worse; it slightly hurts the ears. This is a given in 99% of contexts because you want people to listen to an enjoyable experience. The last 1% is about some noise, punk and Lofi music, where the uncomfortable feel is enjoyed because it creates tension. But even with those genres, there is a threshold on what human ears will handle.


What makes a song harsh is related to one or the combination of different characteristics. One of them is poorly handled transients that feel sharp and will feel like a stabbing to the ear drum. Transients come from the ADSR of a sound where the attack might be too sharp, paired with annoying frequencies. Some people think, de facto, that 3kHz is automatically uncomfortable, but sometimes, that frequency can be ear-pleasing if boosted. The envelope of the sound is sharp, and the concentration/density at a specific spot might be affected. It is just like putting bold in something ugly.


In sound design, different sound sources help replicate real-world instruments. For instance, noise or inharmonic content can replicate a hihat or a snare. Poorly managed noise, such as white noise, which covers a full range, can be sharp. Picking a filter and applying an ADSR to it can help manage that.

Other sources, such as feedback, which can be helpful for non-linear sound design, can be beautiful but can create resonances. That type of sound, if handled properly, can add an organic feel to your sound, but if you exaggerate, it will be uncomfortable. This is why that resonance on a filter can be ear-pleasing at a certain level, which is the same for boosting EQ’s filter.


When I work on a master, I call myself the general ear’s advocate. I’m the wall between the general public and the client’s song. I adjusted the song so that it felt suitable for the average Joe. It can sometimes be shocking for a client to hear their song fixed, where I removed all the uncomfortable points.




Quite often, clients or people I coach ask me which online ear trainer they should try to be able to spot problems in their music. My reply confuses you as I suggest not to use any since, in my humble opinion, they won’t train you for that. The real issue is that many clients don’t understand the harshness for multiple reasons.

  • You will lose the criticism if your monitoring equipment masks your song’s harshness. This is why consumer headphones or, sometimes, hi-fi make everything sound perfect.
  • Your ears eventually adjust to imperfection if you overexpose something to them. In other words, if you listen to an ugly song in a loop, your brain will trick you. It’s nice because it’s the only option to not go mental by listening to that loop.
  • Comparing your music to well-adjusted music is a cross-validation system that will reveal imperfection. If you AB your music, you can feel something is wrong with your sounds. Then, what should you do?


No tool will directly educate you about resonance, but some will give you hints. A plugin like Soothe is a good eye-opener because it shows you potential resonances and controls them dynamically. Different alternatives are cheaper. But honestly, a good way to educate yourself on the harshness and rough mixes is to trust your intuition that something is wrong and then follow this routine:

  • Using a 3-band EQ, isolate one of the three primary ranges (Low, Mid, High) to pinpoint the issue’s approximate location.
  • While you pinpoint the range, pay attention to which sounds are playing.
  • Mute some of the channels to find which one is causing the issue. Once you mute one that seems to impact the ear’s comfort, you know you have found the problem.
  • Sometimes, the problem comes from combining multiple sounds playing simultaneously. If you solo the sound, you won’t have a problem, but playing with others creates a concentration of frequencies that hurts your ears. You can group those channels at once and then apply an EQ cut at the frequency where it hurts. The methodology is the same: put an EQ dip of 6dB to start with and then scrub the area to see if a position makes it more comfortable. Once you find it, adjust it to -3dB to see if that works. Adjust to taste from there.


Consider removing a sample if you must EQ out 3-4 points at 3- 5 dB. This usually means the sample is plain garbage (for your song).

You can also manage transients with a transient shaper or use a compressor with a short attack to control the problematic envelope of certain sounds.


Stereo Width and Depth


Wide mixes are impressive—I get it—but that can also be an issue in some listening contexts. Those issues mean loss of punch and power; some sounds become ghosts by disappearing or losing considerable loudness. In a stereo signal, there are the Left and Right (LR), but there is also the Mono signal and the Sides (MS).

The mono signal is distributed in both speakers. If you go very close to a speaker and hear only that one, you should distinctively hear the mono and panned signals. When the two speakers are positioned, the mono signal will appear right before you (center), so your ears perceive a stereo representation. On headphones, the mono signal feels right up to your nose or in the middle of your head.

The right and left signals are encoded in the specific signal, which is the same on headphones.

The Side signal, once isolated, will feel on each signal but will have the mono signal muted. It’s a hard one to describe. On headphones, it can feel like hearing the ambience of a space alone, almost tricking your ears that you can listen to behind and around your head.


There are many wideners out there that play with psycho-acoustics to trick your ears. The signal is wider, but this can blur out your sounds to a point where they will phase. What we call phasing issues is that the sound cancels itself out because it can’t be properly represented in the stereo image. I could go deeper in the description, but you must know this.

One of the issues I often deal with is the mono signal being too weak compared to the sides. Sometimes, it can be where the side signal, but only a specific frequency, is louder than its mono signal. In the opposite scenario, the sides are too weak, and I will try to open them to give some presence. If I did that, I would never exaggerate it.



This is a tricky one. Using a tool that shows your mixe’s MS balance is best. You can also learn to spot if sounds are phasing with a spectrometer. I’d encourage you to get the free vst Span by Voxengo.


General recommendations for enhancing your mixes


Some healthy habits you can start when you make music will directly impact your mix’s quality. I will share a few of them here as bonus content. These tips don’t necessarily address a specific problem but will help you achieve consistency and better results after mastering them.


Mixing Flat / Using an FFT

Keeping an FFT reader on your master bus, such as SPAN, will give you an idea of whether the tone of your song is slanted or flat. For mastering, it’s easier to deal with a mix that is flat than one that is slanted (dark or bright). Having a flat mix gives me the chance to propose to the client a specific direction that will be best for the given song. If the song has an exaggerated tone, and I have to fix the tone, the client will automatically believe I messed up the song.


Testing in Mono


I’d encourage you to test your song in mono during the mixing stage. Multiple plugins, including the Utility plugin from Ableton, can convert a stereo to mono. When your song is in mono, try to see how certain sounds are heard compared to when in stereo. If the sounds in mono signal drastically get attenuated, you must accentuate its presence to solidify its level. You might have overused some phase-inducing plugins, and it might be good to mellow that out.


A/B your music

Drop a few songs directly in your arrangement section to use them for referencing. You can then A/B your song with that one and compare the tone, levels, and width. You can also check the arrangements, which sometimes reveal flaws in yours.


Learn to DJ and use Rekordbox

This might sound strange if you’re only producing, but if you learn to DJ, this will be helpful in how you prepare tracks. When you DJ music you love and then play yours, does it feel right? Is there a gap? Not only can DJing be a fun hobby, but it is an activity that will significantly help with your mixing and arrangements. I consider this essential if you aspire to make dance music-related music. It is a way to put yourself in a DJ’s shoes.


Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash


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, Archive.org, 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

Slice Everything

After a few years of pausing teaching 1-2-1 beginner’s classes, I took a few lately to get back in touch with how it feels when you start making music. One of the reasons I wasn’t taking beginners was that it became redundant to me, and I preferred taking intermediate to advanced producers instead because of the challenge and because, at that level, different problems require some creative approach. Beginners require guidance, help with navigation, workflow, and debunking myths about music making and basic concepts. At the same time, I now realize that I take the challenge differently; I aim to teach them the most with as little as possible.


One approach I take is to see their progression with levels, like video games or Dungeons and Dragons (if you know me, I’m a big D&D fan, playing weekly). In this post, I’ll approach one technique people are constantly overlooking, and whatever level you are, it is undoubtedly something to apply: Slicing.


Sampling, Resampling and Hip Hop


At a beginner’s level, people are looking to familiarize themselves with the tools and navigation of Ableton Live (or DAW). I always insist that if you focus on hardware, you go back to a DAW, as there are a lot of concepts to learn first, and using a computer is far simpler than learning gear. Part of that navigation includes using clips, loops, and simple sounds and building songs with those to understand how arrangements work and simple theory.


At that level, you can’t yet aspire to sound like what you hope for, nor does someone who plays the piano for the first time practice scales. If you want to make songs, you need to practice making songs out of whatever you find. But sampling, resampling and remixing can go a long way. Some producers make a career out of those techniques.


Everyone wants to make songs but no one want to learn how to make them. They all want to skip the practice because they think they have it all figured out.


Hip-hop is a good example. The philosophy and basis of production include sampling old records or any music whatsoever and arranging them, often on an MPC. The logic comes down to “grab and juggle, rearrange to taste.”

Creatively, it is the ideal ground-breaking approach: You take what you love and then arrange it in your way.


I’ve been following this artist, Jon Makes Beats, who applies this efficiently. He often samples records, usually quite corny (apparently many of them were bought at a Salvation Army for a few bucks), rearranges them, adds beats (often from rearranged loops), plays some notes on top, and then booms (usually presets, which he says he’s okay with)—all that is recorded in one shot. To me, this feels like perfect, successful studio time.


Watch all his videos, and it’s impossible not to get inspired by the simplicity of his approach. But also, he has some good, down-to-earth tips that are aligned with mine.


The central concept is simple: once you have your samples, you have the material to tell your story in another way. I’ll share some points and ideas for you to try.


Numerous notable artists have made amazing things with samples, but two who come to mind are the Beastie Boys and Daft Punk. In the Apple TV documentary, The Beastie Boys share how one of their early hit songs relied on three samples as the basis; the rest was a drum machine and their rapping. On the other hand, Daft Punk layered multiple little samples from various records to achieve a song. Those 2 are good opposite examples, but both did so much with taken ideas used creatively.



Creating your own Slicing preset

I wasn’t super happy with the sampling presets in Ableton Live, so I created my own. When I slice a loop, I want, by default, access to a specific macro mapped to what I usually use.


First, if you’re unfamiliar with slicing, you can do so by taking any loop you have, and then, when you right-click, a menu will appear. From there, you pick “Slice to Midi Track.”



Then, you’ll be prompted on what preset to use for the slicing.


You’ll then get a drum rack with each sample (slice) assigned to the rack’s pads. A Midi clip will also be generated with a note pointing to a specific slice. If you play the clip, you’ll hear your original clip, but now you can rearrange the clip so the notes come in a different order. You can also pick one sample.



They’re all OK for vanilla slicing, but the rack’s macros feel underwhelming. Making your preset is so easy and fun that I’ll explain how I made mine so you can do your own.

Create your slicing preset

First, open an empty MIDI channel.

Second, place a Drum Rack and add a Simpler on the C1 pad.



Third, you can map some parameters of the Simpler to the Macro-knobs of the Drum Rack. This means that when you slice your clip, each slice will have its own Simpler, but a simple mapped knob will control all of the same parameters. This has pros and cons. On the positive side, this means that you can, for instance, maintain the length of all the slices, making them short or long. But if some clips are intended to be short while others are long, that can be tricky.

Some of my knobs are controlling these parameters: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, Volume on the lower right side. Then, the Filter’s Frequency and Resonance. Make sure that you uncheck the Loop and Snap options.




The last step is to save this new preset in the right folder so it can be used in the slicing option.

You drop the drum rack in the User Folder, under Defaults, in the folder “Slicing.” You can then rename it whatever you want, like mine below, “My Basic Slicer.”



If you slice a clip to midi, your new preset will appear in the list.


You’re now set to go!

Now, let’s do a few little experiments.


Slice the Ugly Into Beauty


Sometimes, you might have bizarre and ugly recordings of a synth or perhaps a dissonant effect. I’m particularly interested in those because you can get some unusual melodies or percussion once you slice them. I find there is something poetic in transforming something you’d automatically discard and finding a new, unexpected life.

One issue might be that it might not have transients to be detected, so you might want to slice it into forced regions. I’d encourage you to try different settings, but it could be 1/4 or 1/8, depending on your desired size. Ensure the sample you’re slicing isn’t too long; otherwise, you’ll end up with too many slices, which won’t be interesting to work with.



From there, you can see what slices came out, modify the length, and discover new patterns.

TIP: You can try a sequencer before the drum rack to generate sequences without the MIDI clip. Some fun sequencers exist, such as Rozzer and Snake.


Slicing Melodies

This technique comes from Hip-Hop. They usually slice a melody into more extended regions and then, by playing a MIDI instrument, play the song with a different articulation or change the order of the notes. But you can also take a more abstract approach, have shorter notes, play them randomly, and see if it makes sense.

To do this, people would select a region size that is 1/2 or 1 bar long. But if you’re into Micro-House music, you’d go for tiny regions.

TIP 1: Get a MIDI controller to experiment with playing the regions.

TIP 2: Use the internal LFOs of the Sampler to add some life to your sequence.



Swapping Sounds

In Ableton Live 12 (if you have it), the drum rack has a new option that allows you to swap all sounds for a new selection of similar ones. This can be a rabbit hole because you’ll start with a few sounds, and then you’ll end up discovering plenty of alternatives. You can lock some sounds you like and then dice roll the other out.

To do this, you’ll first need to go into the sample list and consolidate the slices; otherwise, they won’t be detected as single slices.



TIP: Whatever slicing you do, if you use transient mode, mainly for anything percussive, you’ll have a midi DNA of where each transient falls on the grid. You can also use one slicer’s midi and pass it to another. This means that the rhythm of one slicing pattern can trigger the order of another. This leads to rearranged sequences and a fun, unsteady swing.


Third-Party Samplers


It’s also fun to explore third-party VSTs beyond Ableton. There are quite a few out there, but I’ll share my favourites. Not that you won’t be able to create a slicing preset with those. The slicing presets can only be made with the native sampler/simpler from Ableton.


Life / XO

This plugin is XO’s little perfect companion. If you don’t know about XO, it’s probably one of the best drum machines and samplers. XO excels at creating percussive sequences, giving you variations with sounds and patterns. It also visually organizes your collection of samples by category and family, allowing you to find similar samples quickly. Life takes this to another level where you can resample your samples internally and then create new sequences out of them but with many variations options. It also has this option as an app on your smartphone to record sounds anywhere and then link them to your DAW. It is awe-inspiring.

TIP: Use both with automation to really bring your sequences to life.

TIP2: These are essentials if you have the budget.


Serato Sample

For DJs to play their sets digitally, Serato has been around for a while. It started with a Vynil encoder where they could beat-match music from their computer. This evolved in 20 years, and now digital mixing is a standard for many. DJing for hip-hop artists who do DMC scratching competitions is an art, and Serato developed a sampler version for artists who want to explore sampling parts in production. This plugin is highly rated because it offers simplicity and easy workflow.




The guys at AudioModern have a series of excellent studio tools I use regularly. Loopmix is quite fun as it’s designed to be used with loops. The idea is to use multiple loops (ideally, it works better with percussion), and then it will slice them to recreate new sequences, blending the different sources. It’s pretty impressive what you can do with this live but also in the studio if you want to recycle the loops you have.


Dawesome Novum

I’m not too familiar with this one, as I only saw demos, but from what I understand, it decomposes the samples into layers. Instead of slicing them in time, it does it on a spectrum layer. This means you can decompose your sample into layers. It’s on my wishlist, and I’m resisting trying the demo because I know I’ll buy it in a glimpse. This is the kind of tool you’ll want if you love drones, textures, moods and anything ethereal sounding.


I look forward to hearing what you’ll do with this technique. Please share your experiments.



Photo by MW on Unsplash




Using Imperfection As a Leverage

The last few weeks have been quite exciting for me. This year so far has brought me a lot of joy when it comes to music. After being at the service of my clients on a full-time schedule for the last nine years, I realized that bringing the spotlight on myself was essential for my creativity and sanity. Moreover, after teaching and explaining concepts for that long, it was time for me to dive into my needs and apply them.


But what ignited much passion recently was that I was invited to play a DJ set, which at first was a bit unsettling, but it turned out to be a positive thing as I dove into digital mixing. I haven’t DJ a set since 2011 and didn’t have fun either. As someone who feels like himself when playing live, DJin feels like a limited version of my creative self. But using Pioneer’s Rekordbox and a controller, I realized that things have changed a lot since and that it’s pretty exciting.


I’m fortunate to have a label (Archipel), and many friends, which made my music collection quite rich, so playing that music felt like rediscovering two things: layering music and creative storytelling.

Most importantly, it reminded me that if you make music for DJs, you will benefit from DJing yourself to know what works or not with your art.


I made a few realizations while improvising music, which I’ll share in this post.


Tracks vs Songs


One of the first things that come to mind when mixing music is that if the music is too full or too arranged, it is hard to layer it over other music. One term we use in music production is “stripped-down music” for tracks that are generally more repetitive and, on first look, feel a bit underwhelming. If you’re into layering music, those songs are a DJ’s best friend. This comes as eye-opening as I am into tightly executed arrangements, and now, when I mix, I tend to search for those mellow songs to mix in just for the texture it brings.

Some songs that I love listening to become a nightmare to mix because they’re overly busy, and relying on the EQ to attenuate some frequency range brings down way too much from that song.


Clients who are worried their music is boring don’t realize that it might actually be a good thing because a song that is slightly repetitive and not so exciting can actually be an excellent tool for a DJ.


When minimal was at its peak in the early 2000s, I remember journalist Philip Sherburne describing minimal techno as “music that feels unfinished but released anyway,” he wasn’t wrong. It was primarily because leading DJs would layer all kinds of songs simultaneously as a performance. Richie Hawtin was the leader of this, as Algorithm, Mike Shannon… I’d say it is an art to find the right balance, and in this interview, Hawtin explained that for his Concept:96, he was focusing on working with elements essential to the song, discarding anything else.

Many people forget that DJ tracks aren’t necessarily made to be listened to independently. You may if you want, but it might be slightly underwhelming. If it is, it’s perhaps done right, which is mind-boggling for many producers who often stress that people might get bored.


I’m blantantly going to point out EDM as the main actor for making overly arranged music, creating a standard that contaminated other genres. If EDM brought people on board to the electronic scene, it also confused the new people that it is the way music should be made.


The strength of music that is filled with risers, swooshes, reverse, effects, drops, and breaks is that you’ll have a crowd that is paying attention, and it will also remove intervention for the DJ to do… or maybe they will induce more action, creating a wall of noise. I don’t despise this genre, but it is not what I want from music. I’m more interested in a hypnotic effect, subtle transitions and a mysterious music excursion.


Back to unfinished songs, I’m not even observing that music that is not so well mixed can also engage in mixing as their imperfection can be blended into a song. I mainly refer to songs with weird filtering or sloppy low-end. Of course, on their own, it’s a bit rough, but as a third deck song, as a way to complement what’s happening, it adds a layer of frequencies that can be a nice colour. Well-mixed songs can carry a set, but there is room for imperfectly mixed songs to be added, as long as you don’t leave them on their playing.


Negative Space In Arrangements


This brings me to negative space, or “holes.” These are voluntary spaces, silences, and blanks you leave in your patterns or longer phrases. The beauty of these silences comes to life when mixing another song, where some aspects of song B reply to elements of song A. When you think this way, this opens up a whole range of options:


  • Negative space in percussion patterns: Instead of having a full line of an element playing, you could mute half or a quarter of the bar to have space for other percussion.
  • Space in section: You can see your melodies and patterns by sections where they can play for 1 to 4 bars, then go mute. You can also alternate melodies every X bar instead of having them play throughout the song (a common mistake I see in arrangements).
  • Less transition, more spontaneous elements: You don’t need to have sounds at every transition. Have it less, and instead, use decorative elements here and there. When mixing with another song, these elements might converse with another song.
  • Reduce your checklist: Sometimes I feel like a song has a checklist of all the elements it needs to be “full,” so why not leave some out? You could leave out the claps, arp, bass, or something you usually put in de facto. Most other songs have those elements, so leaving an “essential out” is a soft way to create tension.
  • One-note melodies: We often trick ourselves into thinking melodies need multiple notes to be fun, but using one note can go a long way. It can also be layered with another song with 1-2 notes, creating a new melody. Harmony happens when multiple notes are combined, so having a track with one note complements other songs. One-note sequences are quite helpful in the intro or outro of a song.


Breakdowns, Drops, Effect


Now, let’s discuss things I don’t like about mixing. The first one I need to mention is something I’ve been saying for a long time: breaks.

I don’t understand why each song has a breakdown. Especially long ones. Having a moment with less energy can be fun and offer a different flavour to how the song is built, but you don’t always need a long pause in your music. It has become too easy just always to have breakdowns, as when there is then a drop, people react. There are other ways to do that, and each song has a long break, which gets tiring. As I said in past posts in this blog, it’s the DJ’s job to know when the best moment to drop the energy is, and if you do it for them, it can get irritating.


I found myself using hot cues to skip breaks, and in some cases, I’m now creating edits of the songs where I remove them. Once removed, it feels even like it shouldn’t be there.


Once again, in EDM, one of the main ideas of a breakdown is that once the drop happens, it should propose a new twist (ex., change of percussion pattern or introduction of a new sound). I like that in some way, but not in every song. This is something to be considered for repetitive music, which is in the last third of a song, to add something new and complementary.

This also goes for effects, swooshes, and risers, which are all over the top and unnecessary. Again, I removed some of them in songs I’d want to play.

I’m starting to like “empty-sounding songs,” pretty straightforward ones. Is that a return to my 90’s roots? Perhaps yes.


Arrangement Techniques


There are multiple ways to write arrangements for DJs who, like me, are into layers and long mixing sequences. You can search my blog with the arrangement topic to find a bunch, but I’ll share the ones I’m currently using. Yes, at the moment, I’m lost in a rabbit hole of making DJ-tools songs for my pleasure and enjoying it quite a bit.


1. Find a track you like as a reference, play it in the background of your arrangement, and build your song to fit over it. I recommend isolating the last 2-3 minutes of the reference and then developing your intro over it. This is particularly useful if you struggle with how to start a song.


2. Decorate your track using the reference song and place your “events” at moments where it complements it. For instance, you could add a few notes to answer the ones of the arrangement or place a vocal at another point. These are fun for a DJ to use because as the song goes, they can loop part of your track and layer it over the song that is playing. Sometimes, for longer tracks, where the DJ is waiting for the last part to mix in a new one, there are a few minutes to kill, so if you provide something playful, the DJ can be creative and do subtle mixing or crossfader tricks.


3. Add Bonus content. When your song is done playing, add a few seconds of silence and then the effects, risers, or whatever you want. That way, you can load the track twice, and the second one can be used to decorate the first one.


4. Test your music. Rekordbox is free to download and useful for testing. Load up your references and newly done tracks, then layer them to see how it goes. You can also do that in Ableton or your DAW. Adjust. I don’t think the first version you will do will be the best.


5. Live Jam. This one is where you can have a lot of fun and be less intellectual. Have your reference play, and then gather a bunch of loops you can jam with. The idea is to jam those loops over the reference. See this as if you were the DJ but with more control. Another way to approach this would be that you’re collaborating. Mute the reference and listen to what you have. It might feel a bit weird on its own, but you’ll have a layer to work around as you can build your core song around your playful jam. You don’t have to keep it all. You can trim the best parts.


Leave your comments below if you have other suggestions and ideas. I’d love to read them.


Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash





Ableton MIDI Tools And Workflow Optimization

Whatever your level of mastery of Ableton Live is, you might have occasionally seen some advanced tutorials on YouTube and wondered if these were for you. While I will cover some of the advanced techniques I use below, I want to introduce the topic of what advanced techniques are and why you’d like to use them. It’s one thing to be interested in them, but sometimes, simple might be even more powerful than something advanced and complicated unless you want to do something complicated.

Whenever I have students who ask about advanced techniques, we always end up in a rabbit hole conversation about what is advanced in the first place or why one would want to use that. We talk about ambient music, IDM, EDM, or music that seems to be advanced. The thing is, techniques are always divided into categories, and that’s where it all begins.

  • Live performance.
  • Arrangements.
  • Sound Design.
  • Mixing.

While music production is a non-linear series of phases that go round and round, you initially use a technique to replicate a specific effect/sound or solve a roadblock. To know which technique you want or need to use, you’ll first need to be able to name the issue you’re facing. That might be difficult because sometimes, we don’t even know we have an issue.


Circular learning Instead of Linear


One of the issues many students who work with me have faced with traditional learning or online classes is that they use a linear approach to teaching and a mono-directional state of lesson sharing. The linear approach is basically like cooking, where you follow steps on the how-to with a result at the end. This issue in electronic music-making is that experiences are more like a tree of possibilities than a unique result. Think of a tree as an entity with multiple roots merging into a core and expanding in multiple branches. It’s the same with music: your roots come from various spaces, and your future should lean towards a wide expansion of possibilities instead of a one-directional place.

Mono-directional lessons mean that you receive information and then apply it. I don’t believe in that method so much because I’m curious, always wanting to know more. Curiosity is one of the most important traits for learning electronic music. I prefer a bi-directional method, which means I will get to know the student, where he’s coming from, how he learns and where he wants to go.

The approach we use is circular when it comes to learning, and it is mainly about understanding the roadblocks and then using strategies to overcome them. This will lead to explore techniques.

Notes from a private class I gave. Working, learning in a circular motion.

As you can see, we start by keeping the student in a state of flow, but when they encounter a roadblock, we have a strategy for finding solutions within an approach.

Now, let’s see how some techniques will work for them.

Problem Solving and Fixing them


It’s one thing to encounter technical difficulties, but it’s another thing to face technical limitations. Sometimes, you don’t know that you don’t know there is a problem, and that’s tricky. In teaching, passing all the knowledge to a student never proved to work. One of the best ways to learn is to start making a song, a miniature or a little live experiment.

As Live came to 2024 with a new version (12), one of the first things that came to my attention was how the whole midi section evolved with the direct implementation of max patches within the clip’s properties. Not long after the new version was out, two developers proposed a series of advanced tools, and I’ll explain below some of the potential issues they’re covering.


MIDI Tools by Phillip Meyer

The first one that piqued my curiosity was Phillip’s MIDI Tools collection. As the name states, it’s a collection of MIDI-oriented tools divided into two categories.

The categories are new in Live 12. They consist of containers that transform signals or create new ideas. This approach is similar to modular synths, where you have sources and modifiers. So, it is not alien to anyone who comes from that world. It was like that in version 11, but it was not explained in that fashion.

In a way, the new version of Live goes to its roots: playing live.

The tools Meyer offers are numerous. Here they are and what they do.




Category: Generator

What it does: Mainly used for rhythmical generation. Creating abnormal patterns in an unusual way

What issue it can help with: Breaking your percussion habits, making breakbeats or strange beats. Useful for breaking writer’s block.

I think this one is my favourite. You say how many beats or notes you want and then play with the sliders. Depending on the position given, the notes will be placed proportionally. It’s not euclidean sequencing; it’s a logic of its own.




Phase Pattern

Category: Generator

What it does: Creates sequences logarithmically.

What issue it can help with: It can create a bouncing ball effect, meaning that beats can take speed or change halfway. This is useful for breaks, transitions, effects, and rolls.

This one is fun. It is a good way to create elastic-sounding patterns where things speed up, and it can also be a way to change pace during a song.






Turing Machine

Category: Generator

What it does: Emulates what the Turing machine does in the modular world.

What issue it can help with: Coming up with new melodies and patterns. It is excellent for breaking writer’s block or providing complementary, supportive ideas.

If you’re unfamiliar with what the Turing machine does, I’d encourage you to look at this. It’s a system invented by Allan Turing during WWII to decypher the Nazi codes. Now, we can use it to generate sequences, melodies or patterns.





Category: Generator

What it does: Makes multiple patterns at once.

What issue it can help with: Making complex sequences, percussive or melodic.

If you’re unfamiliar with polyrhythms, I would encourage you to look into this. Basically, polyrhythms are a way of programming patterns that aren’t the same length, making the sequence non-linear and not always falling under the same loop. It can have a hypnotic effect and confuse people about where an idea starts and ends, typical in African percussion. This generator uses Euclidean algorithms to create its sequences.






Category: Transformer

What it does: It takes an idea, and it can propose alternatives upon certain conditions.

What issue it can help with: Finding different variations for a sequence.

Why settle on an idea when you can have unlimited alternatives and choose the best for your arrangements? This transformer will do exactly this.




Category: Transformer

What it does: Similar to condition but time-related. It takes an initial idea and then develops it, fades it out gradually. See it as an intelligent note-enhancing tool.

What issue it can help with: It can be a good way to develop an idea unexpectedly.

This one is similar to the conditions. It works well in the Arrangement section, where you take an idea and then see multiple ideas evolve from an initial idea. It’s not condition-based but more of a way to have an idea evolve.



Category: Transformer

What it does: It takes a note and subdivides it.

What issue it can help with: it’s not a problem that it fixes, but it makes ratcheting out of anything.

This technique has been popular with Trap lately. It is made as a buddy for the Blocks tool.




Category: Transformer

What it does: Gives a melody to pattern or life in different ways

What issue it can help with: Turn a sequence you generated into a melody. You can easily draw pitch or other characteristics and see how it goes.

It is a spontaneous way to create melodies and transform quick patterns into something else, automatically giving them a second life.







Pattern Transform

Category: transformer

What it does: Take a pattern and, upon certain rules, revise melodies and make decisions for you.

What issue it can help with: Slight modifications to a hook can help you create alternatives for other sections of your song.

See it as a condition-based decision-making assistant.



Category: transformer

What it does: Subdivise a note, but it is condition-based.

What issue it can help with: Similar to Divs but with an approach similar to condition.

Ideal for complex IDM micro glitch patterns.




Category: transformer

What it does: It’s a humanizer.

What issue it can help with: To break from a robotic, stiff sequence and induce it with a swing and a human fee.




Category: transformer

What it does: Take a pattern and then shift it around, either pitch, duration, velocity, etc.

What issue it can help with: Useful for having variations on a sequence or to test the shift of its characteristics across a loop.






These tools are what I would call a good selection of roadblock removers. They’re not basic, but anyone can use them, and with a bit of patience, they can provide solid ideas or help move forward to variations.

I would say they’re part of my essentials.

Basquiat Work Ethics

Coming from a period when few people made electronic music before its art was democratized, meeting people who were making music was difficult as not many people had the opportunity to produce it. You’d meet someone who would produce music, and it felt like you’d have a lot to talk about because they might have similar gear or setup, so you’d hope to be able to share insights.

Nowadays, we have been experiencing an opening of opportunities where software makes it easier to produce music. With AI, people can skip the creation process and have music custom-tailored to their imagination. I see a feeling of jadedness about the new generation among older producers.

As a friend and fellow musician said:

Making music doesn’t make you special anymore. Everyone can do it.


In parallel, students asked me how they could elevate their craft above that of the average hobbyist. To answer this, I looked into the case of Jean-Michel Basquiat.


Basquiat, An Urban Artist


Basquiat was known for his prolific output and unique artistic style, combining street art, graffiti, and fine art elements. Despite his short life, Basquiat created a vast body of work that continues to influence contemporary art.

One aspect of Basquiat’s work ethic was his relentless dedication to his craft. He was known to spend countless hours in his studio, often working late into the night or early morning. A deep passion for expression and creativity drove this commitment to his art.

Basquiat’s work ethic also reflected his intense focus and determination. He urgently approached each piece, channelling his energy into spontaneous and expressive brushstrokes. This intensity allowed him to capture raw emotions and ideas on canvas, resulting in visually striking and intellectually stimulating artworks.


While prolific, he made a name for himself that we still relate to nowadays. If you analyze his work, you will see that he used multiple ways to make a name for himself that can be applied to music-making.

Let’s look into the points that made him rise to the status he built.


Source Material


In the video, the narrator talks about how Basquiat found a book that served as an inspiration base. Basquiat uses a collection of icons, logos, and images on a specific page in many of his artworks. It was his vocabulary, and it became his motor as well. If his pieces were set around a theme, you’d see these same icons being omnipresent. This is a way of always having a collection of repetitive ideas that, in a way, established his brand.


The way I teach music is not too far from that approach. I encourage any artist I work with to build a set of references and allocate a lot of time to finding samples that ignite excitement. Services like Splice offer vast items, such as samples, AI sketch generators, plugins and other tools. Compared to jazz, electronic music has too many sounds to pick up, and it’s easy to get lost in which sound one should pick to make a new song.

Your source material could be divided into 2 main categories:

  • Place holders. These are sounds you use by default in all your initial ideas. Back then, people would only have money to buy a 909 or a 303, which was the sound they would use de facto. As we now have access to everything, it is helpful to have a template go to sounds you use as a starting point, and then you can swap later on.
  • Identity. These are more about representing you. Some artists have identity sounds that you can immediately recognize in the first minute of listening to their song. These can be a selection of sounds, presets, or specific effects.


Very often, people buy hardware or soft synths randomly. It’s quite handy to use a demo to test it. But if you use some samples, they are often tagged with the synth’s name used to create them. It can also be reverse-engineered.

If you feel like samples aren’t you, remember that everything has been sampled somehow. Having quality samples trains your ears on what quality is. This is crucial for sound design learning.

If you read this blog, these concepts have been covered many times.


Steal Like An Artist


There’s one point in the video where Basquiat explains where some quotes he wrote come from, which are from some books or movies. Some images, are inspired by artworks he saw. He didn’t copy them, he stole them from a context and brought them into his world.

(Art) comes down to tastes. You basically want to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then bring those things to what you’re doing.

Steve Jobs

This is true for many things. To cook great-tasting food, you need to eat exceptional food. The same is true for sounds. I often feel more comfortable with the idea that I’m a curator than a musician. My music is a collection of ideas I love from random sources.

Your inspiration comes from your references. Nothing one has done that wasn’t inspired by someone else’s work. The fact that you do a genre comes from hearing that genre in a context that inspired you. So, you might as well start a collection of inspiring songs. It can be for one sound, one reverb, the way the transitions are done, or chord progression. If there’s one thing in a song you like, put it in your reference folder.

Then, you analyze your references. Take tons of notes, and try to imitate. Ask friends how something is done. Search Splice for similar-sounding sounds.


All these experiments build your imagination, which leads to core ideas to keep. It can take 50 ideas to find one exceptionally satisfying. Try to make many of them and blatantly get inspiration from everywhere.

Hip-hop artists are more comfortable taking ideas as they always sample other people. I have to say I’ve been seeing many clients remix pop music in the last year, so the bootleg aspect is becoming an option. However, remember to respect the work of anyone you directly sample.


Have A Message


One of the messages Basquiat had that motivated him was that there weren’t enough black artists in the art world. He wanted to change that and involve himself, making it the center of his work. The strength of having a message is its appeal for the media to look into what you have to say, and it rallies followers who resonate with it.


Punk music has its anarchist message, and hip hop has a gang-related message for some artists, while for others, it’s about the struggle of people in the current world. House music has also had a history of representing a safe space for queer people to dance to. Whatever genre you embrace, there’s a history of its upbringing, and sometimes people forget the political roots of it. While knowing the backstory is not an obligation, you can also piggyback a genre to bring your story and values.


Having a message and a vision will help bring a sense to your music, and in times when you might hit a wall with inspiration, your message will drive more inspiration.




If you read this blog or work with me, you know that speed is one element I believe in. Ideas come and go, sometimes very quickly and don’t always remain. Having the speed to bring your ideas together will help you catch ideas on the fly, perhaps so that you can finish them later but, most importantly, to see if they make sense. It’s one thing to have an idea; it’s an idea to make it work properly.


With Basquiat, he was working fast. Blazing fast. In the video, they share that his meeting with Warhol stimulated a lot of creativity and that at one point, JM did a self-portrait of them in a fast moment and then brought it back to Andy, who was amazed by how fast he was. One of the reasons why artists are slow nowadays comes from poor organization and lack of methodology. The more you are organized in managing your time and art, the faster you become. Music production is a series of phases, and if you sit down to make music and want to do it all at once, you’ll be hit by decision fatigue.


The second obstacle is ego. That part of yourself always has the impression it has something to prove, to control and to be something you are not. That leads to procrastination and distraction. My view of music making is fueled by fun in all parts. When fun is present, you are in the flow.


Flow is key to success.

Study, Memorize, Internalize


The last part of the video is where I saw the strongest parallel with what, as an artist, I do. In my free time, I listen to all kinds of music, radio, and movies and study many tutorials on YouTube. I think I watch about 10 per day. I take a lot of notes from those, and then when in front of my computer, I will test new findings or revisit techniques I was doing to give it a new twist. For each song, I started with a technique exploration, and I developed new ideas by practicing.


Saving macros has become something that I just now do always. I will map some parameters to the knobs of the macro and then have fun creating presets by randomizing or just tweaking with a controller.

Doing these sketches touches everything above:

  • Increases speed.
  • I have more control over my vocabulary, coming closer to my message.
  • Ease integration of ideas that I “steal” or get inspired from.


Quitting Streaming and Selling Directly

I’m not sure if you’ve been following trends lately, but there’s been a backlash against streaming sites. I know it’s new, as the resentment towards those platforms has been intense ever since Spotify became the first leading one, with a ridiculously low amount back to artists, but it seems there’s been a change in the narrative lately.

Where it started


From the various videos I’ve seen on YouTube, it seems like it started with Kanye West’s rejection from the different platforms where he advertised during the Super Bowl, which led to huge traffic to his site.



After watching that video, I’ve seen more and more news going in that direction, but that wasn’t new. In late 2023, since I spent time on forums, Reddit, and Facebook, I’ve seen a wave of comments from artists who were fed up and wanted to sell their music themselves more and more. The direction people were going for was to quit all streaming sites and head to Bandcamp alone with a personal shop.


I’ll share some personal thoughts about this in a post that is a bit more philosophical than technical.


The early Peer 2 Peer Era


As I was making music in the late 90s, I remember working one day, and some of my colleagues were saying they hadn’t been listening to the radio anymore since they downloaded their music instead. Knowing you could access all the songs you wanted for free was intriguing and shocking. I remember browsing for some music, mainly pop material, and barely any electronic music I liked besides The Chemical Brothers. It didn’t take long for all the music CDs to appear. Months after I checked, it fueled some internal conflict about all this. But what was clear then was that all the geeks and real music lovers I knew were keeping an eye on the coming songs.




Then I discovered the website MP3.com, where artists post their music and meet others. See it as the ancestor of Soundcloud but around 1999 or 2000. A handful of people were doing the same kind of music as I was, and it was useful for creating a little community. Not long after I was on there, I got an enigmatic message from a German guy explaining what Netlabels were and asking me if I wanted to join his under the name of Thinner. It was small, and the concept of netlabels was still in progress.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Netlabel concept, the idea was to use the highly popular stream of downloads to the advantage of artists by inserting your freshly made music in there. The logic was that since people were all getting the new music, we could benefit by adding ours. We were okay with not making any sales; it was purely to ensure our music would be heard.

And it worked.


The Thinner wave


Thinner got big at one point, hitting 40k downloads on the first days of a release. Everything was hosted on the Archive.org site, where other Netlabels also appeared. German media started looking into it and covering it. Since I was the Canadian representative, local media has approached me to learn more about it. Radiohead did the same thing not long after with a free release, and the media went wild for it. Ironically, when I joined Thinner, I had local DJs telling me it was a bad move, that I would never gain respect from serious labels, and that I would burn myself out.

The exact opposite happened. My first European tours were directly linked to my Thinner releases, and when I was performing, people would come to me, all talking about their favorite songs from my albums.

Not long after, I got signed to Hawtin’s M_nus label, which was sort of the first time someone who got known from Netlabels transitioned to a bigger vinyl label. I feel that then, people started giving some credit to the movement Thinner created.

This experience shaped how I saw Spotify appear. I remember at the peak of Thinner, Sebastien Redenz was already saying that the best way to make it sustainable was to sell songs for 1 cent. He had it in mind, and that observation prepared me for the Spotify model.

Piracy Music and Soulseek


In pair with Netlabels, most people still download music, mostly torrents or Soulseek (Still used now). I think that, with the mentality of the late 90s, people were downloading with no shame. It created a community, and while hanging out on Soulseek, I made some friends abroad who eventually got me gigs locally. I used it to share my music. Some of my precious releases leaked, and I preferred not to since it was an agreement with the label, and I saw the community from another angle. I remember someone who got the release told me that “Music is made to be free anyway.” That was a bit disappointing for them, and later on, that same person got a release out and complained on Facebook that people were sharing their music on Soulseek.


There are many ambivalent emotions regarding that, and in the end, I think it comes down to the artist to decide how their music should be shared, which is sort of what I see nowadays with the Spotify backlash.


Bandcamp and Direct Selling


Since the early 2000s, I think only one shop I experienced did things right: Bandcamp. I mean, as of a business model, because their anti-trust approach was quite disappointing. That said, it’s not perfect, and some parts are a bit frustrating, but most of it is spot-on for what, as artists, we need. Even the share of money works. I’ve always been frustrated that shops like Beatport don’t let you pick a price for your release, which I find quite dumb. If you’re a label, there are numerous tools for selling, and it works well.

I wish there was more control over bootlegging. Now and then, you see someone reselling an artist’s music without shame, but it usually gets a lot of hate.

Selling your music from a website has some flaws:

  • Costs for a secure site
  • A shopping system that evolves with the market and remains accessible
  • Updates
  • Creating traffic
  • Marketing

Those are the little parts of it, and you’re venturing yourself into the entrepreneur’s path, which is hard. I often say this to clients: until people tell you they want to buy your music, there’s no reason for you to want to sell it. Many people get depressed from their music not selling…


So, is it worth it?

Like I said, not until there is a demand. You need to feed your community first, making sure people around you love your music and will talk about it. That requires a lot of time, dedication, and patience. Few people can afford an ad at the Super Bowl, so aiming for little things first can make a difference.

But I think it could be worth it for a label that has sales, but Bandcamp is where it should start. It’s quite common to find releases on Bandcamp that have no sales. I think it’s better to wait before putting your music there. Recently, Deezer removed 26 million songs that had never been played (or were problematic), and the overflow of music is not helping anyone.


The Other Model

In parallel to all this, I’ve seen another new movement, in a way. On a topic thread, someone commented:


Music fans are basically abusive. You tell them you’re being exploited, they say they care but then continue doing it. That’s no surprise if you see how people continue buying at H&M or getting the latest smart phone. I don’t really want to give my music abroad, I want to keep it to my friends.


The conversation was about what would happen if musicians had the other mentality of not wanting to share their music with the whole world. Instead, they focused on immediate contacts who wanted to listen and play the music. There was a consensus that they’d rather give the music to 5 people who want to listen than pay Tunecore or Distrokid to have their music everywhere and see it was played 10 times. Rarity creates value, not total accessibility.


Why would someone pay for something they can have in a snap of a finger?


This conversation continued for a while, and I noticed some friends and clients going in the same direction. I played music on a friend’s birthday and checked the content of my friend’s USB stick. He had a folder with around 50 songs of an artist I had never heard from. They were all outstanding. I later checked streaming sites or shops, and none of those songs were there. My friend told me about a few artists who make songs every day and don’t sell them. Instead, they pass their music to DJs they like.


You’ll ask, what is the business model here?

I don’t think there is one, or at least it’s unclear. Some people have accepted that they won’t turn their music into a business until people are interested in buying or catching a label’s eye. They know they want their music to be played by DJs, who will eventually get someone’s attention. I think that is the motivation beyond commercializing their music. I like that a lot. It’s a follow-up version of the Netlabels, but more aimed at community building than desperately wanting to get everyone’s attention. That guy made a point, and here I am talking about him.

Perhaps, as musicians and artists, our approach must be more experimental. Running a shop is one, but I don’t think we have found the right way yet. We need more of a community with shops… Which is what Bandcamp is.

Let’s see what the future holds.


Music Timbre Essentials

(Photo by Ayush Kumar on Unsplash)


When we dive into electronic music, one concept continually shapes our audio landscape, and you might not even know what it is: timbre.

Often described as the “color” or “tone quality” of sound, timbre is the characteristic that distinguishes one instrument or sound source from another, even when they’re playing the same pitch at the same volume. In this article, we will approach what I have learned about timbre in electronic music, focusing on how synthesizers and envelope design play pivotal roles in its creation.

Why is it important to understand what Timbre is about?

Well, if you’re interested in sound design, this should be your entrance to that world. If you know how it works, then you’ll have an understanding of how sounds are made. This means you can then extrapolate your imagination’s bleeps into real-life bloops.

Pigment from Arturia

Understanding Timbre


At its core, timbre is on a multi-axis, covering the aspects of sound. It has various factors such as harmonics, dynamics,  overtones, attack, decay, sustain, and release. These elements collectively shape the fingerprint of a sound, allowing us to discern between a piano, a trumpet, or a synthesizer.

To give you an example, you can play the same C2 on all those instruments, but your ear would be able to identify both the notes as well as what are the instruments. That is because the ear understands timbre’s multiple elements as unique.

In detail, those elements that will determine a sound’s color would be:

  • It’s the head. The very beginning of a sound will contain dynamic information that will let you understand what it is. For example, a drum and a piano are both percussive instruments but sound completely different.
  • Spectral profile. The way a sound is composed will be a collection of different tones, harmonics, and overtones. That also involves noise and inharmonicity. The last point, also known as noise, defines a certain amount of non-linear components, that are random and don’t follow a precise pattern.
  • Dynamics. This is how the sound changes over time. Of course, this is related to the envelope of that sound (ADSR).

Synthesis and Timbre


In early 2024, I decided to join the Synthesis class of Sarah Belle Reid. I was a bit doubtful at first because since I started making music, in the early 90’s, I’ve learned everything by myself and continue learning every day as well. Being under the impression that you can have access to all knowledge gives you a lot of drive but also creates a blindsight where you also have information you didn’t know you don’t know.

These are some of the things people consult me a lot for: lack of vocabulary, lack of understanding of concepts that are badly explained online and being pointed at what a specific sound, sounds like.

Back to Reid’s class. It starts with the basic knowledge of sound itself and goes through each element related to sound, then proceeds with a demonstration. Seeing, hearing, and being explained these concepts, helps being able to perceive sound from a very technical point of view. It’s one thing to understand it but it’s another thing to have vocabulary.

Timbre was one of the most important points of the class for me. It’s not with a simple blog post that I can go through all the main elements regarding timbre but I’d point out that the aha moment was to review how I use a spectrogram.

Seeing the sound from that angle helped me understand what timbre is about. It’s a concept that felt easy to read about but not necessarily easy to grasp.


Here are my 2 tips:

  1. Check the frequency response of the beginning of a sound’s information.
  2. Observe how the sound fades out and how the frequencies shape slowly.

Knowing that the beginning shapes an important part of your sound, this is a direct inspiration on how to use your ADSR envelope to shape or alter the shape of sounds you have. The amplitude of your sound can be shaped by a first envelope and a second one may shape filtering or other elements.


As for creating the timbre of a sound, you’ll have to combine multiple oscillators, noise, and modulations to mimic the spectral content.


Let’s go deeper into the envelope and content synthesis.

Envelope Design and Dynamic Techniques


At the heart of timbral manipulation lies envelope design—an important point of sound shaping in electronic music. You might use it with compression but it is also there for design. Envelopes lead the evolution of a sound over time, dictating its amplitude, frequency, and spectral content. Understanding envelope parameters, particularly attack, decay, sustain, and release (ADSR), is crucial for crafting dynamic and expressive sounds.


Attack: The onset of a sound, characterized by its initial transient, sets the stage for our auditory perception. A sharp attack imbues a sound with immediacy and presence, while a gradual attack imparts a softer, more ethereal quality.

Decay: Following the attack, the decay phase determines how quickly the sound’s intensity diminishes. A longer decay sustains the sound, while a shorter decay yields a percussive or plucked character.

Sustain: Once the decay phase concludes, the sustain segment maintains a constant amplitude until the sound is released. Adjusting the sustain level allows for sustained or staccato articulations.

Release: As the sound fades into silence, the release phase governs the duration of its decay. A shorter release yields a crisp, abrupt ending, while a longer release imparts a lingering decay.

Sounds of the real world or from instruments are rarely static. They often are never the same thing when played a few times, but they’ll be changing a bit too on different aspects: spectral variation, amplitude modulation, pitch. In the modular world, the use of LFOs and envelopes is handy to modify those aspects. You will want to use them to have slight variations.

The soft synth Pigments is very well made in that aspect where it will have a lot of different modulations possible which can then be routed to a lot of different parameters.

Dynamic Use and Filtering


In addition to envelope design, dynamic use, and filtering contribute significantly to timbral variation. Dynamic modulation techniques, such as velocity sensitivity and aftertouch, introduce expressive nuances to performances. Meanwhile, filtering—via low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, or notch filters—shapes the spectral content of a sound, emphasizing or attenuating specific frequencies to sculpt its timbre further.

A good way to push the filtering is to use colored filters such as MS20 emulation or vactrol. To understand LPG (Low Pass Gate) is also another option.



Ever since I got myself a Freak Module from Vult, it brought my sound elsewhere. It has multiple filter emulation, some saturation, and a duplex mode where you can have chained filters or different filters in stereo mode. It’s pretty powerful.


In the ever-evolving world of electronic music, timbre is something to understand if you want to define your sound and personal signature. By understanding the power of synthesizers, mastering envelope design, and employing dynamic techniques and filtering, musicians and producers alike can unlock new creative possibilities. Through this article, we’ve partly covered into the heart of timbral exploration in electronic music, uncovering the intricate interplay between synthesis, envelope design, dynamics, and filtering.  With this knowledge, may you define on your sound design skills, sculpting timbral tones that redefine who you are. Continue searching for more details and let me know if you have questions.

Miniature Songs Concept

Sometimes I find really lovely videos with production techniques that I love and after practicing it, I thought I’d share it with you so you can benefit from this finding. In this case, it’s about the concept of miniatures and also how this pairs with some sound design principles I’ve been applying. Recently I joined Sarah Belle Reid’s Sound and Synthesis program which turned out to be insightful. Once I started diving into sound design and its mechanics, I not only started understanding sound’s DNA from a different angle but also in the context of a song.



What are miniatures?

I was recently browsing YouTube when I found this video that got me excited. Miniature is a step back from making songs and has the perspective of using a sound in a tiny bubble concept. Think of it as a 10-second to 1-minute idea. Nothing more. It’s not about trying to cram in as many elements as possible but more of taking one sound and see how to you can pull out the most from it.

When I teach music production, there is more exercise that I like to suggest to students which is to take a very basic sound (sample) and to turn it into a “main idea.”

To do so, I’d suggest picking first a random sound, preferably something you consider boring, and then playing it repeatedly to find a pattern from it. Change the pitch perhaps, but sometimes, leaving it to its original pitch will be enough. See how you can make a phrase from it and make a song (1-2min) from that alone. Sometimes I see an eyebrow being raised in doubt but then I explain that any sound, on its own, can be a song.

For example, John Cage made a song for hand clapping:


So back to miniatures.

Think of tiny ideas that work, ideally with 1 to 2 sounds. Watch the video below:


The clickbait title, at first, had me roll my eyes but then I checked it to find something that was pretty fun. To summarize it, he suggests that you write down ideas on a card, which will create a little challenge, as a miniature idea. Those prompts have certain criteria:

So this would be an example:


We often forget that songs are a collection of sounds and sounds that evolve on their own, maybe for a short lapse or during the entire song. The idea of creating miniature becomes useful because you’re creating ideas that can later be included in a song. Thinking of music production in a modular way (not modular synth) can help you work on different elements of your songs before diving into arrangements.

One of my principal sources of guilty pleasure is to find fun loops on Splice as a starting point so building my loops is valuable for making songs later.


Envelopes and macro envelopes

One element that we approached in sound design is how envelopes shape sounds as their shape. But when thinking of miniatures or songs, it can be useful to think of a macro envelope. What I mean here is how you have an evolution within the entire song.

One exercise Sarah gave us for a performance is to draw the shape of how your song or pattern evolves over the entire experience. It could start abruptly, then fade, and then increasingly get louder until the end. If you’re a Shaperbox user like me, you know you can use its internal envelopes to shape amplitude or filter over a long period. It becomes handy if you want slow modulation repeating.


If you want some Miniature ideas, I’d encourage you to watch the video up there. I got some instant inspiration for my sounds.


Recycle Your Old Projects

Sometimes I’m baffled by two things when I work with clients:

  1. They start from scratch each time they make a new song.
  2. They let finished projects asleep once over (and never reuse them).

In both cases, there’s a huge loss of time and energy. But when I explain them that each of their projects are a gold mine of opportunities sleeping on their hard drive, I see their faces lighting up. If you think about it, a song has often a lot of leftover material that won’t be used plus, think of all the common elements all your songs have, so why do one person not create a way to have the computer use resources to create that material.

The way I approach making music, ultimately speaking, is to be able to first find a very original idea and then put it in context quickly so you can work to give it a timeline.


Why speeding up your workflow?


Interestingly enough, as an artist and coach, I often teach that creativity is a super slow process and that trying to rush things might not be a best idea. But there’s also the paradox that it’s important to grasp an idea and make the most of it, then to move on. The idea of speeding your process is to ease your expression in order to not get lost in technicalities. One of the place many people loose time is in the details, clarifying technical details and such.

If a song is an idea, put on a timeline, it is also easy to get a lot of distance from this idea if you are more technical than artistic about it.


The strategies below are meant to ease the technical part by focusing on organization.




The first way to speed up your process is to think forward. Just like this movement where people would pay for a coffee for a future client who would be low on cash, the best way to speed the next session is to organize it in the one you’re working on. I’ll explain habits and strategies that will be helpful down the road.


One effective method is to utilize the import feature from the Ableton Live browser. For example, if you’ve developed a compelling chain of effects in a previous project, save it as a macro. These macros can then be easily imported into new projects, giving you a head start with tried and tested sounds.


Template Creation


Beyond importing specific elements, consider creating templates based on your most successful projects. These templates can include your preferred routing, default effects chains, and even placeholder instruments. Starting a new project with these templates can dramatically reduce setup time, allowing you to dive straight into the creative process.

  • If you notice a routine and habit, turn it into a template where you can import what’s needed.
  • Useful arrangements or mixing templates are essentials.
  • Templates are basically like a recipe that you can reimport channels or arrangement section, adjust to taste and then, save again as a new template.
  • See them as “Global Presets.”



TIP: There are different types of templates to start with. Analyze your last 10 projects to see what’s always there de facto.


Creating a Channel of ‘Leftovers’

Another innovative method is to create a special channel in your DAW for ‘leftovers’ – bits and pieces from previous projects that didn’t make the final cut but still have potential. This could be a half-finished melody, an interesting sound effect, a discarded vocal pattern or a unique drum pattern. By saving these leftovers, you create a personal sound library that’s not only original but also infused with your signature style. Whenever you’re stuck or need inspiration, dive into this channel and discover elements that can spark new ideas.

There’s always been a non-written rule that one shouldn’t use presets and should re-invent themselves for each projects. While this answers a need to always have non-repetitive ideas from song to song, it can also be extremely time consuming. A good way is to use your leftovers as a starting point for a future project.

  • Leftovers are basically what you want them to be. I tend to hoard on anything unused. You’d be surprised the uses I’ve found for some sounds.
  • Instant inspiration comes from ideas you thought silly: re-pitch, stretch, slice, filter, EQ wildly… or heavily process them.
  • Decide of your own inner rules on how many times you use a sound. There’s no right or wrong.


TIP: Export your leftovers normalized so they sound full and ready for future projects.


Remixing Your Own Tracks


Sometimes, the best way to recycle is by revisiting your own tracks. Remixing a track you’ve previously produced can be an enlightening experience. Isolate individual elements that stood out and reimagine them in a new context. This not only breathes new life into your existing work but also expands your creative boundaries.

I always smile when a client tell me they can’t decide if one decision is best or another, regarding their track. Perhaps both ideas are good so why not make 2 versions?

You can have as many versions as you wish from your songs. In the 80’s and 90’s, some songs would sometimes have 3-4 variations which was really playful for DJs in how they could use and re-use a song.

Some ideas for new remixes could be:

  • Instrumental or with a vocal
  • Change of scale
  • Beatless or with different percussion set.
  • Collaborate with a musician for adding live take.

TIP: Try combining 3-4 songs into one.


Systematic Sound Design Sessions


Allocate specific sessions solely for sound design, separate from your songwriting or track-building sessions. During these sessions, focus on creating unique sounds, textures, or rhythms without the pressure of fitting them into a current project. Save these creations in an organized library.

Spending time organizing your sounds is also a useful way to make it easier for later on.

When working on new music, you can tap into this library for inspiration or elements to incorporate, significantly speeding up the creative process.

  • Take the time to understand complex presets on sounds you love.
  • Cross-pollinate the preset parameter of one synth to another.
  • Test demos of a synth you would love to acquire and record your tests to audio.

Collaborative Workflows


Encourage collaboration with other artists or sound designers. Sometimes, a fresh perspective can lead to unexpected and inspiring results. Collaborations can result in a shared library of sounds and ideas, offering a wider palette of elements to draw from when starting new projects.

  • I love to share a Dropbox folder with someone. As both of us can share projects there, you can see them being updated on each other’s sides.
  • Ask someone who has musical knowledge to revise and reinterprete a melody of yours with an acoustic instrument.
  • Befriend producers from other genres and see what they can provide for feedback.


TIP: Share a Dropbox or Google drive with friends.


Regular Review and Curation of Existing Projects


Schedule regular sessions to review your past projects that aren’t released. This is not just to reminisce but to actively search for reusable elements – be it a catchy hook, a unique synth sound, or an effective drum pattern. By doing this, you not only remind yourself of your past work but also build a readily accessible repository of ideas and sounds.

People who work with me knows I love to bring all my projects to 90% of completion instead of 100%. The logic behind this is simple: I like to gather a bunch of songs on a specific day or upon a need and then wrap them all up at once. This resolves multiple issues: coherence across a release, avoiding repetitive structures, better originality, etc.

  • Revise the kick of a project for a whole new approach on the direction of a song: harder, smoother.
  • Mute all channels that aren’t part of the hook to avoid clutter. This is easier to do if you are emotionally distant from your project.
  • Try a shorter version of your song to keep it straight to the essential (eg. radio ready mixes are 3 min long).


Incorporating Field Recordings and Unconventional Sound Sources


Sometimes, the most inspiring sounds come from the world around us. Regularly record sounds from your environment – these can be anything from street noises to natural ambience. These unique sounds can spark new ideas or add an original flavor to your music. There’s a beautiful plugin named Life which comes with a mobile app that sync up with the software on your computer. Not only you can grab sounds from everywhere but the software will chop it, while giving it a structure. The results are impressive.

  • When you are someone public such as a restaurant, pay attention to the music in the background. What do you hear when in a new context? Think of how your music would translate.
  • Try to listen to melodies from your environment. There can be hidden melodies from a street performer, from people talking around you or from a car passing by.
  • Explore noise and shape them to percussion.



Routine Exploration of New Tools and Habits


While it’s important to have a familiar toolkit, regularly experimenting with new plugins, instruments, or software can bring a fresh perspective to your work. This doesn’t mean always buying the latest gear, but rather exploring different tools, perhaps through demos or free versions, to keep your creative approach dynamic.

Exploring new tools means, perhaps, exploring mobile apps that can do sounds. There’s a large myth over those as many things they’re not good enough but you’d be surprised how many of them are extremely solid enough to make ideas. Not only the interface is lovely but the fact that you’re not in front of your computer is a different outlook on what you do. You can explore on your mobile shop to check apps that are tagged as music related and you’ll see synths, drum machines or weird DAWs. You can also check on VR headsets for the same kind of tools to explore.



Mind Mapping and Conceptual Workflows


Sometimes, the block isn’t in the production but in the conceptual phase. Employ techniques like mind mapping to outline the themes, emotions, or stories you want to convey in your music. This pre-production step can provide a clear direction and help in choosing or creating elements that align with your vision.

For this year, Mind Mapping is all rage for me. I’ve been starting to put down to image concepts, how I work in audio. Sometimes to mind map what you do gives you some insights you can’t think of when you only always do music on it’s own.

One method I learned is named “Sticky Steps.” Basically you start with the end and then roll back with little steps on how to get there. I like to think of it as a reverse engineering method. It’s possible that some steps, you will lack the knowledge to explain or know how to do it which is why you can contact me for instance, or ask friends.


I hope this kickstarts your new year in good manner. Don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions below.

The Road Map To Learn Music Production

One thing I noticed with people who want to learn how to make electronic music, is that they face a lack of information on where to start. I stumbled upon an interview with Mr.Beast recently where he was suggesting that if you want to learn about how to make viral videos, you need to start by practicing making videos. His suggestions sorts of overlap how I teach music where the importance of practicing is more important than, let’s say, finish songs perfectly. He was suggesting that one could aim at making 100 videos where they practice one element in each, trying to improve by 1% instead of overtaking something huge to start with. But mostly, to remain a bit private about the whole thing until you become more solid at what you do.

Songs are stories based on a personal finding. If you think about you sharing a personal story to a friend, you’ll focus your story on one element and you might, in your storytelling, bring it to a final punch. Music is a bit similar but for many people who start making music, they really don’t want to disappoint or want to look like a beginner. So they try too hard, in most cases.

As you advance in learning music production, you don’t know that there are many different techniques out there unless you find them by searching or by someone who tells you. You might not know that your music has different issues unless reviewed by an experienced mentor. So it can be quite confusing.

This is why I decided to take on Mr. Beast idea of 100 projects and made a list for you here.


There is no right or wrong way to use it. It’s basically 100 ideas that you can take. Most of them also come with a Youtube video you can look at to learn about the technique to practice. As for projects or song, I would say that try to make songs that are between 1 to 5 minutes long. It’s not something to impress, but for your own development. I added enough videos and links per project for you to practice one technique. Try your best to use it but you can of course start at one point and end up in a totally different result. There are no rules here.

This project is directly linked to my Patreon Program. There’s the “Road Map” tiers that allows you to join for constant support.

Building the Basics – Projects 1 to 10

Loops, MIDI, and Arrangements

Making electronic music usually starts by using samples, loops and MIDI. Let’s start with the basis.


Round 1: Loops and Basic Arrangements (Projects 1-3)

This is the introduction, I would encourage you to watch my own personal beginner video.

I would encourage you to get a subscription to Splice to get some loops and sounds. You can also visit Freesounds.org to get free ideas but the quality can be questionable sometimes.

If the song key and scale confuses you, this article will help. Also this video.


Project 1 – Loop Exploration

  • Title: “Loop Groove”
  • BPM: 100
  • Duration: 1-2 Min.
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Importing, duplicating, and arranging pre-made loops effectively. The focus here is to import a few different loops and play in the arranger section. See how you can place them to create a timeline. This is the most basic introduction.


Project 2 – Loop Transformation

  • Title: “Loop Evolution”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 1-2 min.
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Modifying loops, adding fades, and creating variations. Try slicing loops and re-arrange them into different versions of themselves.


Project 3 – Basic Arrangement

  • Title: “Simple Structure”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Building song structure with loops, including patterns, sections, and hooks. Try to aim at having distinct sections such as verse, pre-verse, chorus, bridge, outro.


Round 2: MIDI Basics (Projects 4-6)


Have a look at this tutorial and practice them fundamentals of midi for the next projects.


Project 4 – Introduction to MIDI

  • Title: “MIDI Essentials”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 2 min.
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Understanding MIDI, note input, and basic MIDI editing. Use a soft synth like Operator to receive notes and start doing melodies using a key and scale.


Project 5 – Melodies with MIDI

  • Title: “Melodic MIDI”
  • BPM: 130
  • Duration: 2 min.
  • Key: E Major
  • Scale: Mixolydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Creating melodies using MIDI, exploring notes and scales. Open a loop that is a melody and you can try either reproducing it (a bit more advanced) or complement it. Make sure to know the root key of that loop. Extract a melody from a loop.


Project 6 – Rhythm with MIDI

  • Title: “Rhythmic MIDI”
  • BPM: 85
  • Duration: 2 min.
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Working on rhythm using MIDI, gates, triggers, and velocity control. Create your percussion instead of loops. Extract percussion from a loop. Explore rhythm signatures.


Round 3: Diving in Arrangements (Projects 7-10)

If you followed my initial tutorial, I explain some basis. There are countless tutorials about arrangements on Youtube. Here’s one to check.


Project 7 – Advanced Arrangement

  • Title: “Arrangement Intro”
  • BPM: 115
  • Duration: 2-3 min.
  • Key: Bb Major
  • Scale: Dorian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Adding variation arrangements, silences, and dynamic patterns (introducing call and answer). Learn how to play with automations.


Project 8 – MIDI Patterns and Hooks

  • Title: “MIDI Patterns”
  • BPM: 105
  • Duration: 2-3 min.
  • Key: C Minor
  • Scale: Phrygian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Crafting MIDI patterns and hooks for your tracks. Listen to a song you know and try to understand what the hook is.


Project 9 – MIDI Automation

  • Title: “MIDI Automation”
  • BPM: 125
  • Duration: 2-3 min.
  • Key: F Major
  • Scale: Lydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Exploring MIDI automation for expressive control.


Project 10 – Milestone: Song Creation

  • Title: “Your First Track”
  • BPM: 140
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: E Minor
  • Scale: Locrian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Apply everything learned to create your first complete song.

These first 10 projects will provide a solid foundation in loops, MIDI, and basic arrangements. After completing these, the student will have the skills needed to create a complete track.



Building the Basics – Projects 11 to 20

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, and References


Round 4: Loops and Advanced Arrangements with References (Projects 11-13)

There are multiple videos on how to use references and this is a good one.

For this exercise of working with a reference track, I would encourage you to get samples from Splice and try to match your selected song.


Project 11 – Loop Experimentation with References

  • Title: “Reference Grooves”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference intro
  • Duration: your decision.
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Importing loops, analyzing reference tracks, and applying similar arrangements. Use swing and grooves.


Project 12 – Loop Chopping and Slicing with References

  • Title: “Chopped References”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track’s percussion
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Slicing and rearranging loops while referencing a track to recreate a similar hook.


Project 13 – Advanced Arrangements with References

  • Title: “Reference Arrangements”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track’s sections, transitions.
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Creating arrangements inspired by reference tracks in order to reproduce the breakdown. Focus on A/B the reference to compare levels of sounds.


Round 5: MIDI Advancements with References (Projects 14-16)

Project 14 – Harmony and Chords with References

  • Title: “Harmonic References”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Analyzing and recreating chord progressions from reference tracks. Use the Chord tool in Ableton.


Project 15 – Advanced Melodies with MIDI and References

  • Title: “Melodic References”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Crafting intricate melodies inspired by reference tracks.


Project 16 – MIDI Expressiveness with References


Round 6: Applying MIDI and Arrangements with References (Projects 17-20)

The idea here is to take your reference and while it’s in the arrangement section, try tapping down some midi notes along the reference to reproduce notes, percussion or anything else, to hit at the same time.


Project 17 – Combining MIDI and Loops with References

  • Title: “Hybrid References”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 2-3 min.
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Combine MIDI elements with loops inspired by referencing the track’s bass.


Project 18 – Layering and Texture with References

  • Title: “Textural References”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Creating textures and layers using references. Learn how to use field recordings for backgrounds.


Project 19 – Advanced Arrangement Techniques with References

  • Title: “Reference more”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 2-3 min
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Focus on the hits and spontaneous sounds that happens every now and then.


Project 20 – Milestone: Advanced Track with References

  • Title: “Elevated Creations”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 2-3 min
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create an advanced track with reference track influence.


Building the Basics – Projects 21 to 30

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, and Effects

Round 6: Loops and MIDI with Effects (Projects 21-23)


Project 21 – Loop Manipulation with Delay

  • Title: “Delay Loops”
  • BPM: 100
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Importing loops, applying delay effects, and creative arrangement. Focus on the different types of delay plugins and have fun tweaking parameters.


Project 22 – MIDI Effects: Arpeggios and Phaser

  • Title: “Arpeggiated Phases”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Using MIDI for arpeggios and applying phaser effects.


Project 23 – Effects-Driven Arrangements

  • Title: “Effects Arrangements”
  • BPM: 120
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Creating arrangements with effects-driven transitions, where you use automation to change the delay’s parameters as the song evolve.


Round 8: MIDI Mastery with Effects (Projects 24-26)

Project 24 – MIDI and Reverb for Atmosphere

  • Title: “Reverberant Atmosphere”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Using MIDI to create atmospheric sounds with reverb.


Project 25 – MIDI and Delay for Texture

  • Title: “Delayed Textures”
  • BPM: 130
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: E Major
  • Scale: Mixolydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Crafting textured soundscapes with MIDI melodies and delay/reverb effects.


Project 26 – MIDI and Flanger for Movement

  • Title: “Flanged Movement”
  • BPM: 85
  • Duration: 3-4 min.
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Adding movement to MIDI percussive elements using flanger effect.


Round 9: Advanced Arrangements with Effects (Projects 27-29)

Project 27 – Arrangement and Filter Sweeps

  • Title: “Filter Swept Arrangements”
  • BPM: 115
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: Bb Major
  • Scale: Dorian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Creating arrangements with filter sweeps. Play with the filter on different elements to practice opening and closing frequecies.


Project 28 – Arrangement and Stereo Panning

  • Title: “Panned Arrangements”
  • BPM: 105
  • Duration: 3-4 min.
  • Key: C Minor
  • Scale: Phrygian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Adding depth and movement to arrangements with stereo panning (auto-pan). Turn the auto-pan into a tremolo.


Project 29 – Milestone: Advanced Track with Effects

  • Title: “Effects-Driven Mastery”
  • BPM: 125
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: F Major
  • Scale: Lydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create an advanced track with a focus on effects. Explore the use of Chorus.


Project 30 – Remixing and Effects

  • Title: “Remix and Effects Showcase”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Remixing a track while integrating Beat-repeat effects techniques.

These projects will allow students to explore the creative possibilities of effects while further enhancing their skills in loops, MIDI, arrangements, and references. If you have any specific effects or tools you’d like to emphasize in any of these projects, please let me know, and we can tailor them accordingly.



Building the Basics – Projects 31 to 35

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, and Modulation


Round 10: Modulation Essentials (Projects 31-35)

Project 31 – LFO Modulation on Synth

  • Title: “Synth LFO Groove”
  • BPM: 100
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Using LFO modulation to add movement to a synth sound


Project 32 – Envelopes for Dynamic MIDI

  • Title: “Dynamic MIDI Envelopes”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Applying envelopes to shape the dynamics of MIDI elements


Project 33 – Effects and Envelopes for Vocal Processing

  • Title: “Vocal Envelope Processing”
  • BPM: 120
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Using envelopes in combination with effects for vocal manipulation. Learn how to use Shifter. You could use filters or reverb as something to be modified.


Project 34 – Advanced LFO Techniques on Effects

  • Title: “LFO x LFO”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Applying LFO modulation to another LFO parameter for creative sound design. Use the Shaper tool.


Project 35 – Modulation Showcase and Milestone

  • Title: “Modulation Mastery”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: Your pick.
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Learn to hear modulation into songs you know. Try to reproduce one sound effect. Explore effects on Splice.


Building the Basics – Projects 36 to 40

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, and Compression


Round 11: EQ, Filters, and Compression Techniques (Projects 36-40)


Project 36 – Basic EQ for Mix Clarity

  • Title: “Mix Clarity with EQ”
  • BPM: 100
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Get familiar with the Equilizer, by playing with the shelving EQ and low pass, high pass.


Project 37 – Filter Sweeps and Dynamic Filtering

  • Title: “Dynamic Filtering”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Use the envelope on the filter as well as the drive and it’s integrated LFO.


Project 38 – Sidechaining

  • Title: “Sidechain Exploration”
  • BPM: 120
  • Duration: 3-4 min.
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Get familiar with the different options of side-chaining: autofilter, compression, gate.


Project 39 – Parallel Compression for Drums

  • Title: “Punchy Drum Compression”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Using parallel compression to beef sounds.


Project 40 – Mastering with EQ and Compression

  • Title: “Mastering Techniques”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: free
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Applying EQ and compression in the mastering stage to achieve a polished sound


Building the Basics – Projects 41 to 45

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, and Mono


Round 12: Side-Chain Compression, Low-End Mixing, Gates, and Mono (Projects 41-45)


Project 41 – Basic Side-Chain Compression

  • Title: “Creating Space with Side-Chain”
  • BPM: 100
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Using side-chain compression to create rhythmic space in a mix.


Project 42 – Mixing the Low End

  • Title: “Low-End Clarity”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Techniques for mixing and enhancing the low-frequency elements in a track by side-chaining the bass with the kick.


Project 43 – Alternative Side-Chain Techniques

  • Title: “Alternative Side-Chain”
  • BPM: 120
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Exploring advanced side-chain compression techniques by using the Shaper tool, Envelope Follower or the LFO.


Project 44 – Gate and Expansion for Drum Control

  • Title: “Drum Control with Gate”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 3 min
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Using gates and expansion to shape drum sounds and control dynamics.


Project 45 – Mono Compatibility and Stereo Imaging

  • Title: “Mono and Stereo Balance”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Achieving mono compatibility and optimizing stereo imaging in a mix. Learn how to use the Utility.


Getting At Ease – Projects 46 to 55

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, and Return Channels


Round 13: Advanced Mixing and Routing (Projects 46-55)


Project 46 – Grouping and Bussing Drums

  • Title: “Drum Group Processing”
  • BPM: 100
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Grouping and bussing individual drum elements for cohesive processing. Learn how to route sound.


Project 47 – Parallel Processing Techniques/ Return Channels

  • Title: “Parallel Magic”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Utilizing parallel processing to add depth and character to tracks with the sends.


Project 48 – Routing and Effects Sends

  • Title: “More Effects Sends and Returns”
  • BPM: 120
  • Duration: 3 min
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Explore more routing, return channels and feedback.


Project 49 – Mixing Lead Synths and Vocals

  • Title: “Lead Mixing”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Using groups, learn how to apply side-chain to open up space for a lead.


Project 50 – Advanced Bus Processing

  • Title: “Bus Driver”
  • BPM: 85
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Utilizing buses and groups for mixing.


Project 51 – Return Channels and Reverb

  • Title: “Return Channel Reverb”
  • BPM: 115
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: Bb Major
  • Scale: Dorian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Incorporating return channels and reverb for spatial effects. Use 2 return channels with one set to Hall and the other, short reverb. Send various channels towards them.


Project 52 – Mixing with Reference Tracks

  • Title: “Mixing References”
  • BPM: 105
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: C Minor
  • Scale: Phrygian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Learn about Gain staging and adjust your channel’s level to these.


Project 53 – Effects and Mixing

  • Title: “Dynamic EQ”
  • BPM: 125
  • Duration: 3 min.
  • Key: F Major
  • Scale: Lydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Learn how to use dynamic EQ in ableton.


Project 54 – Vocal Production and Harmonies

  • Title: “Vocal Production Excellence”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Learn the main effects used for vocal treatement: Shifter, Delay, Reverb, Chorus/ensemble.


Project 55 – Milestone: Mix and Routing in action

  • Title: “Mix and Routing Exercice”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create an advanced mix with intricate routing and processing


Sound Design – Projects 56 to 65

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, and Sound Design

Going Modular has been in trend in the last years and the concept got momentum with the arrival of VCV Rack. One of the best way to learn about modular techniques, is to install VCV which is free as a stand alone DAW. I learned more about sound design with it than years studying it.

Round 14: Advanced Sound Design and Modular Concepts (Projects 56-65)


Project 56 – Envelope Follower and Generator


Project 57 – Reset, Trigger, and Gating

  • Title: “Reset and Trigger Techniques”
  • BPM: 110
  • Duration: 5 min.
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Exploring reset, trigger, and gating concepts in sound design.


Project 58 – Types of Oscillators

  • Title: “Oscillator Exploration”
  • BPM: 120
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Learning about different types of oscillators and their sonic characteristics while exploring Analog.


Project 59 – Noise Generation and Manipulation

  • Title: “Noise Crafting”
  • BPM: 95
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Creating and manipulating noise for texture and character. Use Drift for playing with it.


Project 60 – Modulation Techniques

  • Title: “Modulation Magic”
  • BPM: 85
  • Duration: 4 min
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Exploring modulation sources and techniques in sound design.


Project 61 – Sound Design with Modular Synths

  • Title: “Modular Soundscapes”
  • BPM: 115
  • Duration: 5 min.
  • Key: Bb Major
  • Scale: Dorian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Creating soundscapes and textures using modular synthesizers.


Project 62 – Advanced Envelope Control

  • Title: “Enveloping Envelope”
  • BPM: 105
  • Duration: 3 min
  • Key: C Minor
  • Scale: Phrygian Mode
  • Element to Practice: envelope control for expressive sound design.


Project 63 – Complex Oscillator Modulation

  • Title: “Complex Oscillator Artistry”
  • BPM: 125
  • Duration: 6 min.
  • Key: F Major
  • Scale: Lydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Using complex oscillators and modulation sources for intricate soundscapes using Drift and Wavetable.


Project 64 – Creative Noise Techniques

  • Title: “Noise Sculpting”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Duration: 4 min.
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Employing creative noise techniques to shape unique sounds.


Project 65 – Milestone: Advanced Sound Design

  • Title: “Sound Design Mastery”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create an advanced sound design piece

These projects will allow students to explore the fascinating world of sound design, modular concepts, and synthesis techniques, enabling them to craft unique and expressive sonic textures.


Next Level – Projects 66 to 70

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, Sound Design, Resampling, Recording, and Voice Manipulation


Round 15: Resampling, Recording, and Voice Manipulation (Projects 66-70)

For these projects, the duration doesn’t matter as long as you can build ideas over a few minutes. From here, try to always have an introduction, middle part and outro.

You’ll want to try to have a hook per song as well as supporting ideas. You know enough from here to be able to create songs and should now put a bit more energy to get them as done as possible.


Project 66 – Creative Resampling Techniques

  • Title: “Resampling Magic”
  • BPM: 100
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Exploring creative resampling methods to transform audio.


Project 67 – Field Recording and Sampling

  • Title: “Field to Sound”
  • BPM: 110
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Capturing and incorporating field recordings into music production. Learn how to simply use your smart phone to record sounds and import them.


Project 68 – Vocal Recording and Processing

  • Title: “Vocal Doctor”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Recording and processing vocals with resampling.


Project 69 – Voice Manipulation and Sampling

  • Title: “Voice Transformation”
  • BPM: 95
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Manipulating and resampling voice recordings for unique textures from the clip’s warp mode.


Project 70 – Resampled Soundscapes

  • Title: “Resampled Soundscapes”
  • BPM: 85
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Creating intricate soundscapes through resampling and manipulation.


More Sound Design – Projects 71 to 75

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, Sound Design, Resampling, Recording, Voice Manipulation, Reverb, Delays, Resonances, and Granular Synthesis


Round 16: Spatial Effects and Granular Synthesis (Projects 71-75)


Project 71 – Reverb and Space Design

  • Title: “Spatial Reverb Design”
  • BPM: 100
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Creating immersive spatial effects with Convolution reverb.


Project 72 – Delay Techniques and Echoes

  • Title: “Echo Exploration”
  • BPM: 110
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Exploring various delay techniques to create echoes and rhythmic patterns.


Project 73 – Resonance Manipulation

  • Title: “Resonance Magic”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Manipulating resonances for unique sonic character


Project 74 – Granular Synthesis and Texture

  • Title: “Granular Textures”
  • BPM: 95
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Creating textures using granular synthesis techniques


Project 75 – Granular Soundscapes and Milestone

  • Title: “Granular Soundscapes Mastery”
  • BPM: 85
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create Spaced out madness!


Space, the final frontier – Projects 76 to 80

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, Sound Design, Resampling, Recording, Voice Manipulation, Reverb, Delays, Resonances, Granular Synthesis, Panning, Depth, and Spatial Movement


Round 17: Panning, Depth, and Spatial Movement (Projects 76-80)


Project 76 – Panning and Stereo Imaging Basics

  • Title: “Stereo Magic”
  • BPM: 100
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Exploring basic panning techniques, width and stereo imaging without phasing.


Project 77 – Depth and Spatial Effects

  • Title: “Creating Depth”
  • BPM: 110
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Adding depth to mixes using spatial effects and techniques.


Project 78 – Automating Panning and Movement

  • Title: “Automated Movement”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Automating panning and creating dynamic spatial movement, with doppler.


Project 79 – 3D Audio and Surround Sound

  • Title: “3D Audio Adventure”
  • BPM: 95
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Exploring 3D audio concepts and surround sound techniques.


Project 80 – Milestone: Advanced Spatial Design

  • Title: “Spatial Mastery”
  • BPM: 85
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create a spatially designed piece.


Mixing fun – Projects 81 to 85

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, Sound Design, Resampling, Recording, Voice Manipulation, Reverb, Delays, Resonances, Granular Synthesis, Panning, Depth, Spatial Movement, Transients, and Sustain


Round 18: Transients and Sustain Exercises (Projects 81-85)


Project 81 – Transient Shaping Basics

  • Title: “Transients 101”
  • BPM: 100
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Introduction to transient shaping techniques.


Project 82 – Sustain Enhancement

  • Title: “Sustain Elevation”
  • BPM: 110
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Techniques to enhance and control the sustain of sounds using compression.


Project 83 – Dynamic Transient Effects

  • Title: “Dynamic Transients”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Creating dynamic effects using transient manipulation.


Project 84 – Sustain Tailoring

  • Title: “Tailored Sustain”
  • BPM: 95
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Fine-tuning sustain characteristics for specific sounds with doubling.


Project 85 – Transients and Sustain Integration

  • Title: “Transients and Sustain Job”
  • BPM: 85
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Apply transient and sustain concepts to create an advanced, dynamic mix.


Wrapping up – Projects 86 to 95

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, Sound Design, Resampling, Recording, Voice Manipulation, Reverb, Delays, Resonances, Granular Synthesis, Panning, Depth, Spatial Movement, Transients, Sustain, and Pattern Programming


Round 19: Pattern Programming and Articulation (Projects 86-95)


Project 86 – Rhythmic Pattern Articulation

  • Title: “Rhythmic Expressions”
  • BPM: 100
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Exploring articulation in rhythmic patterns

Project 87 – Melodic Phrase Dynamics

  • Title: “Melodic Phrasing Mastery”
  • BPM: 110
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Adding dynamics and expression to melodic phrases

Project 88 – Groove and Swing Patterns

  • Title: “Groove and Swing Artistry”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Programming groovy and swinging patterns with articulation

Project 89 – Percussive Pattern Precision

  • Title: “Percussive Precision”
  • BPM: 95
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Creating precise and dynamic percussive patterns

Project 90 – Advanced Pattern Programming

  • Title: “Pattern Programming Excellence”
  • BPM: 85
  • Key: F# Minor
  • Scale: Harmonic Minor
  • Element to Practice: Apply all concepts learned to create intricate and expressive musical patterns

Project 91 – Polyrhythmic Explorations

  • Title: “Polyrhythmic Adventures”
  • BPM: 105
  • Key: C Minor
  • Scale: Phrygian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Exploring polyrhythmic patterns with articulation

Project 92 – Expressive Arpeggios and Runs

  • Title: “Arpeggio Artistry”
  • BPM: 115
  • Key: Bb Major
  • Scale: Dorian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Adding expressiveness to arpeggios and runs in patterns

Project 93 – Vocal Phrasing and Expression

  • Title: “Vocal Phrasing Mastery”
  • BPM: 125
  • Key: F Major
  • Scale: Lydian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Applying articulation and expression to vocal phrasing

Project 94 – Dynamic Pattern Building

  • Title: “Dynamic Pattern Construction”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Building dynamic and evolving patterns with articulation

Project 95 – Milestone: Pattern Programming and Articulation

  • Title: “Pattern Articulation Masterpiece”
  • BPM: Analyze and match reference track
  • Key: Analyze and match reference track
  • Element to Practice: Showcase mastery of pattern programming with expressive articulation


Using Ableton to make music with/for you – Projects 96 to 100

Loops, MIDI, Arrangements, References, Effects, Modulation, EQ, Filters, Compression, Side-chain Compression, Mixing the Low End, Gates, Mono, Mixing Techniques, Routing, Groups, Buses, Return Channels, Sound Design, Resampling, Recording, Voice Manipulation, Reverb, Delays, Resonances, Granular Synthesis, Panning, Depth, Spatial Movement, Transients, Sustain, Pattern Programming, and Generative Music

This is my favorite topic of all. I can talk about this forever and also play around with this for hours.

Round 20: Generative Music, Melodies, Probabilities, and Randomness (Projects 96-100)


Project 96 – Introduction to Generative Melodies

  • Title: “Generative Melodies Introduction”
  • BPM: 100
  • Key: C Major
  • Scale: Minor Pentatonic
  • Element to Practice: Exploring the basics of generative melody creation.


Project 97 – Probability-Based Melodic Patterns

  • Title: “Probabilistic Melodies”
  • BPM: 110
  • Key: D Major
  • Scale: Major Scale
  • Element to Practice: Creating melodic patterns using probability-driven techniques


Project 98 – Randomness and Melodic Exploration

  • Title: “Random Melodic Journeys”
  • BPM: 120
  • Key: G Minor
  • Scale: Natural Minor
  • Element to Practice: Using randomness to explore unique melodic possibilities


Project 99 – Generative Harmonies and Chords

  • Title: “Generative Harmony Adventures”
  • BPM: 95
  • Key: A Minor
  • Scale: Aeolian Mode
  • Element to Practice: Exploring generative harmonies and chords


Project 100 – Milestone: Generative Music and Final project

– Title: “Final Project”

    • – BPM: Analyze and match reference track
    • – Key: Analyze and match reference track
    • – Element to Practice: Generate ideas randomly and with the techniques learnt then make a whole song with it.


Congratulation if you went through all the exercises. You should now have a strong basis to know your way into making a song. There are so many topics that could have been covered. If you have any suggestions to add, let me know in the comments.





Upgrading Melodies with Articulation

In the diverse and ever-evolving world of electronic music, countless aspiring artists and producers are diving headfirst into the sea of music creation. With technology at their fingertips, creating music has never been more accessible. However, this ease of access can sometimes lead to a contentment with simplicity, especially for those who may not have a traditional background in music theory or composition. Yet, the realm of music, with its deep roots and intricate branches, offers a vast landscape of possibilities waiting to be explored.

It’s no wonder that trained musicians are often overlooking electronic music and will say it’s not “real music.”

I find that what makes an artist sound pro in their melodies compared to someone who start is often related to articulation, which we will cover in this post.

For many, the journey into music production begins with loops – those repeating sections of sound that form the backbone of many electronic tracks. Loops are the building blocks, the starting points from which entire tracks can emerge. But what happens when the novelty of looping fades, and the desire to craft something more complex and personal arises? This is where the concept of articulation comes into play, offering a gateway to elevate a simple loop into a rich tapestry of sound.

(Inside note: At the moment of writing this, Ableton just announced version 12 of Live. Some of the elements mentioned below will be covered in solid ways for that version but since I haven’t tested it yet, I can’t really expand on it yet.)

Articulation in Music to Elevate your ideas


Articulation in music refers to how notes are played or sung, influencing their transition, duration, and overall character. In electronic music, articulation can transform a basic loop into a nuanced and dynamic piece. If we were to compare two extremes, we could put on one side, loopy techno as not very articulate and on the other extreme, an experienced, jazz vocalist.

It is much more than just accent and velocity as many think. Those are just a fraction of what’s possible.

Let’s delve into the different types of articulation and how they can add depth and complexity to your music.


  • Staccato: This indicates that notes are played sharply and detached from each other. Staccato notes are typically short, light, and separate.
    • I find that in the low end range, kicks and bass notes have a much better clarity when short. You might not want short basses or kicks all the time, so you could alternate the gate length to have variation.
    • Melodies that are staccato work well with arpeggios  and bring a fast mood to a song, excitement and movement.
    • In melodies, staccato also gives the impression of bringing a delicate touch.
  • Legato: Opposite to staccato, legato articulation means that notes are played smoothly and connected, with no noticeable break in between. This often creates a flowing, lyrical quality in the music.
  • Accent: An accent mark indicates that a note should be played with more emphasis or force compared to the surrounding notes. It stands out due to a stronger attack. We often use it in percussion as we mark where the groove has emphasis.
    • Accents in a pattern accentuate the groove. If you are using some grooves, they also enhance accents at given points so consider that.
    • It can also be described as adding an assertive tone to a note.
  • Tenuto: This suggests that a note should be sustained for its full value, or slightly longer, often with a slight emphasis. It can add a sense of weight and importance to a note.
    • When programming a pattern, I like to keep my high point velocity around 100 (of 127) which gives headroom for notes with emphasis.
  • Marcato: This is a stronger form of an accent, where the note is played much louder and with a sharper attack. Marcato often creates a more pronounced and emphatic sound.
    • That one would be at 127 in velocity.
    • In music, there can be a part in marcato, meaning that a section is played with stronger impact.
  • Fermata: This indicates that a note or a rest should be held longer than its usual duration. The exact length is typically left to the discretion of the performer or conductor.
    • What makes a groove, an articulation are pauses. It’s good for dynamic range but just like when someone talks, pauses are crucial to understand the sense of a phrase.
  • Portato: Also known as mezzo staccato, it’s a combination of legato and staccato. Notes are played somewhat detached, but not as sharply as staccato, and with a connection similar to legato.
  • Glissando: This is when a performer glides from one note to another, playing all the intermediate pitches. This is common in string instruments and the voice.
    • Often used for acid basslines.
  • Slur: Notes are being played, blended all together. I think it’s similar to a legato but it’s of a way of creating “syllables” sound where they’re a bit mashed up.
  • Trill: A rapid alternation between a note and the one above it, creating a fluttering sound.
    • I like to do this with a 2 notes arp.


Now, let’s explore how to apply these articulations in digital audio workstations like Ableton and modular environments like VCV Rack.



Staccato: In Ableton, you can achieve staccato by shortening the length of MIDI notes. You might also use a fast attack and release in an envelope on a synthesizer. There’s a MIDI tool named Note Length that can you can use to modify the duration. Any synths has an ADSR envelope and by playing with the decay/release, you can control the length, making any sound shorter, into staccato.

In VCV Rack, consider using a gate modifier or an envelope generator with a short decay to create sharp, short sounds.

When and why to use: Useful when you want to to introduce movement and a sense a density, in a rhythmical way. Short notes fill a space as well as leaving room for other elements. A good example would be tribal music.


Legato: For legato, ensure that MIDI notes overlap slightly in Ableton, and use a synth with a glide or portamento setting to smoothly transition between notes. When you use a midi clip, there’s an option for Legato that will stretch all notes to their longest option until it meets another note.

In VCV Rack, you can use a longer envelope decay and sustain, with a portamento module for smooth pitch transitions.

When and why to use: This can be good for thick melodies, pads, longer synth notes which create a nice background or the front part of a song.


Accent: In Ableton, you can increase the velocity of specific MIDI notes to create accents. You might also automate volume or use a transient shaper plugin. In VCV Rack, use a velocity sequencer module to modulate the amplitude or filter cutoff for accented notes. I like to pictur

When and why to use: As said, it’s useful in a groove but it can also be a sporadic moment in a song as well to create a sense of dramatic impact with a feel of heavy impact.


Tenuto: Emulate tenuto in Ableton by extending the length of MIDI notes slightly and using a slight increase in velocity. In VCV Rack, a combination of longer gate times and subtle amplitude modulation can help achieve this sustained emphasis.

When and why to use: Little arps do well to bring secondary melodies, enhancing, supporting the main one or simply to add decoration.


Marcato: For marcato, increase the velocity significantly in Ableton, and consider using a sharper attack on your envelope. In VCV Rack, use a combination of high-velocity settings and an envelope generator with a quick attack and a moderate decay.

When and why to use: Snappier attack on a sound makes it a bit more aggressive but is again, another way to induce drama and intensity in a melody.


Fermata: This is more about performance expression. In Ableton, you can extend the length of a note where a fermata occurs and perhaps automate a slight increase in volume or reverb. In VCV Rack, you might manually control the length of a note using a gate or hold module.

When and why to use: That’s an alternative way to bring


Portato: Combine the techniques of staccato and legato. In Ableton, this might mean programming MIDI notes with moderate length and slight overlap, and using a synth with a bit of glide. In VCV Rack, set up an envelope with a moderately fast decay and a bit of sustain, with a slight glide between notes.

Glissando: In Ableton, you can use pitch bend automation or a glide/portamento setting on a synthesizer. In VCV Rack, use a portamento or glide module, and create a sequence where the pitch CV smoothly transitions from one note to another.

Trill: In Ableton, program rapid alternation between two MIDI notes. You might also use an arpeggiator set to a high rate. In VCV Rack, use a fast LFO or a sequencer to alternate between two pitches rapidly.


Exercises and Applications

  1. Experiment with Velocity: In both Ableton and VCV Rack, play around with the velocity of each note. Notice how changing the force behind a note alters the emotion and energy of your loop.
  2. Change Note Lengths: Experiment with shortening and lengthening notes within your loop. Observe how these changes affect the rhythm and flow.
  3. Use Automation for Dynamics: Automate volume, filters, or effects to add movement and life to your loops.
  4. Layer Different Articulations: Layer loops with different articulations. For instance, combine a staccato bassline with a legato lead melody.
  5. Play with Effects: Use reverb, delay, and modulation effects to enhance your articulations. A staccato note with a tail of reverb can create an entirely different feel.
  6. Morph Your Loops: Take a simple loop and create several variations, each with a different articulation style. This practice not only enhances your skills but also provides a plethora of material to work with. I do this as comping for effects but you can do this with midi notes as well.

By incorporating these articulations into your music production, even the simplest loops can blossom into complex, emotive

Reverse Engeneering Sounds

Every now and then, you might be like me and stubble on a song that either wow or confuse you for the different sounds it has or for a particular effect. You might be spending a few hours or days listening back to the song wondering how it was done, perhaps search online. But then you face your first limitation: your vocabulary. Yes, that part of yourself that hear a specific sound, might not know exactly how to name it. Then, this creates a gap in how you can explain it to someone or search for its nature, through search engines. In my case, I’m lucking enough to know enough about sound processing to be able to name it and so many times, someone booked me for an hour to ask me about a specific sound but then felt disappointed that I explained it in less than 2 minutes. I swear this happens a lot. But then I see them feeling a relief that what they thought impossible becomes something they can now add to their song in the making.


The first rule of audio reverse engineering is to be curious and open. But also, persistent and patient.

The second is to not be afraid to ask for help.

The third is to understand that it often takes 9 fails (in average) to succeed (the 10:1 ratio).


That said, It took me a while but I compiled how I work when I try to reverse engineer sounds so that you can consider this as a way of understanding more how you work. The more you understand sounds, the more control you’ll have over your own sound design.


Understanding the Sound


As simple as this sound, understand the sound starts with paying attention, isolating a moment within a song and be able to name which family it belongs to. In terms of families, there are a few that I use, which are related in how I label sounds (or how most online sample stores as Splice or Loopcloud use).

Drums: kicks, snare, hats, claps, toms, cymbals, breaks, fills, acoustic. These can be electronic based or acoustic. You’d see them on drum machines quite often.

Percussion: Shakers, conga, tambourine, bongos, djembe, bells. This is mostly the large amount of world traditional percussion related sounds.

Synths: Pads, stabs, chords, leads, arp, analog, fx, plucks. Basically, the sounds are the results of synthesis from a synth through sound design.

Vocal: All the types you can imagine and think of, that aren’t synthesis related.

Effects: Noise, risers, sweeps, impact, textures, atmosphere, field recordings. In general, they don’t really have a tone/recognizable root key but they might have one.

Brass/Woodwind: Sax, trumpet, trombone, flute, harmonica. Wind based instruments, mostly not synthesis related.

Guitar: Electric, clean, acoustic, distorted, riff.

Keys: piano, electric piano, wurtlizer, organ, classic, organ. Anything sounding close to a piano.

Bass: Sub, acoustic, analog, synth, wobble, saw, distorted, acid. Anything mid-low or low in frequencies.
Strings: Violin, cello, orchestral, staccato.

Some family overlaps, especially in electronic music, as many of the sounds can be created with a synth in one way or another but to name the base, perceived family is usually where it all starts.


Listening Carefully: The audio engineer will first listen to the sound repeatedly to understand its characteristics. This includes identifying the pitch, timbre, duration, and envelope (attack, decay, sustain, and release phases) of the sound.

Once you have the family, you need to define it’s nature through these characteristics. These will be helpful to either recreate or modify a specific sound. Whenever you start by designing a sound, these elements are the basis of where you start.

Example: Simply zoom on the isolated sound to start with can reveal some of those details: duration and envelope are very clear.


In this example, we see this sound has a fast attack, pretty high decay and sustain but super short release (as there are no tail).









This sound also has a fast attach and a high decay, the sustain is fairly short and it seems the release is mid point. We see there is some sort of texture on the sound as there’s some noisy looking texture that stretches. This could mean that this sound was made by adding a layer to the original sound design.







Spectral Analysis: Using spectral analysis tools, the engineer can visually inspect the frequencies present in the sound. This helps in understanding the balance of fundamental frequencies and overtones.


In this example, the sound has a root key of C1 that is this huge bump in the low end area. After that bump, we see the complexity of the harmonics and overtones.

Understanding the overtones and harmonics is a strong indication of the content of the sound. It’s also telling us that this sound isn’t filtered. If it is, it might be in parallel otherwise we wouldn’t see the harmonics going up all the way there. If you don’t have a good one, I’d recommend getting the free SPAN.

Replicating the Sound


Identifying the Source: The engineer tries to determine the source of the sound. Is it a natural sound, a synthetic sound from a synthesizer, or perhaps a processed sound with effects?

This is where it gets complicated, especially if you’re new to sound design. Whenever I teach sound design, I encourage people to spend some time testing different oscillators and synthesis method. Each companies who build synths also work on having a particular sound and sometimes it’s just not possible to find out what it is. So the best attitude possible at first is to remain open and to try multiple iterations. But it won’t be possible to understand the sound if you haven’t exposed yourself to many of them. Spending a lot of time playing with various synths, emulations and checking online demos of synths can be a very essential activity to train your ears.

Using an oscilloscope is also super useful to “see” the sound if the wave form wasn’t clear enough from the file itself.

Consider foleys! This type of sound is what you see with sound artists that create the effects for movies by manipulating items in order to create a new sound. Perhaps you could be creative and use items in your kitchen to recreate the sound or even with your mouth, try to “say” or imitate the sound in order to see how it sounds like. Maybe you’ll feel silly but it can be pretty interesting in the end.

Synthesis: If the sound is synthetic, the engineer may use synthesizers to recreate it. This involves selecting the appropriate waveform (sine, square, triangle, sawtooth), setting the envelopes, and modulating the sound using LFOs (Low-Frequency Oscillators) and filters.

We saw on this blog that LFOs and envelopes are related to movement in sound so once your have worked on finding the possible sound source, the next is to hear the movement in it. This will let you know how to organize your movement settings.

One of the most useful and powerful tool you can use for modulation is Shaperbox. It has all the different tools for modulation. It has provided me a lot of insight on modulation and sound just by playing with it so it is not just useful for sound design, it is also educational.


Sampling: If the sound is natural or too complex to synthesize from scratch, the engineer might resort to sampling. This involves recording the sound, if possible, or finding a similar sound and then manipulating it to match the original.

Sometimes sampling the sound you want to replicate and play with it within a sampler can reveal details that you initially missed.


Processing the Sound


It’s rare that a sound as is gets our attention. It often is the case that it will have a color. We can process the sound by adding some effects that can twist the phase or open up the spectrum.


Effects Chain: The engineer will then use an array of effects to process the sound. Common tools include equalization (EQ) to adjust frequency balances, compression to manage dynamics, reverb and delay for space and depth, and possibly distortion or saturation for character.

Handy tools are multi-effect tools. Lifeline is one fun effect that can drastically or subtly alter the dull sound into a new one.


Layering Sounds: Often, the desired sound is a combination of several layers. The engineer might blend multiple sounds together to create a complex sound.

When it comes to layering, I like to use the arrangement side of Ableton to do it. You can also use an envelope follower to use the envelope of your desired target and apply it to the sound layers you’re working on. When layering, EQs and filters are your best assets.


Iterative Tweaking

A/B Testing: Throughout the process, the engineer will frequently compare their recreated sound to the original (A/B testing), making small adjustments to get closer to the desired outcome.

Some useful tool to understand the composition of the sound can also be an oscilloscope. Melda has one here for you for free otherwise, again in Shaperbox, you can find one which is very useful to have hands on the design.


Resampling over and over: The engineer might create “feedback loops”, where the processed sound is re-recorded into the system and processed again for more complex effects. What we mean here is not a literal feedback loop which is pretty hard on the ear but more of a resampling of a resampling into something new. This approach is a good way to hunt down variations of what you work on and go further down the rabbit hole of variations.



Final Comparison and Tweaking


After doing A/B testing for a while, you should at some point closer to the target in mind. One thing in mind as for searching for your ideal replication is to come up with something close and also be open to variations to it. Save as many presets as possible by turning multiple effects into a macro. You want to be able to recall your processing into future sounds and if you applied some processing, that is “make-up” that you can apply to other sounds of yours, which will open a new array of possibilities.


Fine-Tuning: Even once the sound seems close to the original, additional fine-tuning is often necessary to capture the nuances that make the sound unique. Sometimes that means to swap some effects (swap reverb X with another) to get subtle new outcomes. Even a musical EQ can change the identity in a little way. A lot of the best outcome is the sum of multiple tiny tweaks.

Environment Matching: The engineer also considers the environment in which the sound will be used. A sound in isolation might seem perfect but could require adjustments to fit into a mix or to match the acoustics of a particular space. Using a convolution reverb can be giving an idea what the sound could be like elsewhere.

Reverse-engineering a sound is as much an art as it is a science. Audio engineers need to have a keen ear, a deep understanding of audio synthesis and signal processing, and patience to iterate until the sound matches their goal. It’s a challenging but highly rewarding process that often leads to the creation of innovative sounds and effects.

Lessons I Learnt From Hosting A Music Producer’s Retreat

I don’t know about you but when you’re passionate about music, it’s both a blessing and a curse. In one way, it occupies a lot of space mentally and can become a bit obsessive, while it also creates this need to connect with others about it (so you know you’re not crazy). If I look at how things are at the moment, to connect and meet other musicians in the real world, we face limitations on where you can come across them. Perhaps you can meet them in a café, or a record store, but it’s not a sure thing. Realistically speaking, you’ll depend on clubs and festivals to have most music-oriented discussions.

But let’s be real here, the options are limited. Raves and clubs are fun but they’re also recess time where having a chat might be distorted by the loud music, noisy atmosphere, and perhaps distorted by mind-altering substances.

There was a time where I had the chance to have access to a rich community in Montreal, way before social media, where we would hang out after events (not after-parties) to make a meal and talk. We would do studio sessions, collaborate, and share tips. Nowadays, it’s still possible and while social media can give you access to anyone, it won’t assure you that you’ll be able to connect properly afterwards.

The idea of making retreats came to a friend named Fred and I, years ago, where we wanted to leave the city with friends and do a weekend of intense music immersion. We did 2 events and they were successful. We had to stop because of the pandemic but since I moved to the countryside, it became clear to me that I had to continue doing them, but in my home. The idea was to give access to my house, have people stay for a weekend, give workshops, share, discover friends’ music, and see where that leads us to.

I learned a lot in the last two retreats I did and I’d like to share some insights but also, some tips if you want to organize one with your friends.


Lesson I learnt #1: Being in the same place as other musicians for a moment opens up music options and leads you to be curious.

Why make a music producer’s retreat?


There are multiple reasons why one would want to make one. The first is to escape your routine and immerse yourself in a connection with your music, allowing you to start projects and/or finish them. I would say that people who come to the retreat will mostly be motivated to be in a space where others work on music. It’s not alien to say that if you’re surrounded by other people making music, it gives you an inner boost to do the same.

Collaborating and discovering music are also other reasons to throw a retreat.

But whatever you choose to do, I remind participants that there is no right or wrong way to do it. There’s also the option to not do much else than just being around people. However, if you use your time, it will have an impact later on.


Lesson I learnt #2: The reason why I do retreats is to connect with people who have the same intentions as I do, which is sharing passion.


The Loneliness of the Musician

It’s not new, but being alone in the studio is often a hard situation. There’s something frustrating about discovering new ideas but having no one around to hear it or validate it. Modern electronic musicians often go towards that genre because they can be a one-man band as you can get to results quickly but this means that success, or failures, will also be lived alone. Having fellow friends and a community is important to go far in the long run as your network will introduce you to new ideas and opportunities, and spending time in a place over a weekend, sharing fun moments, food, and discussions is a great way to build a community.

Lesson I learnt #3: My writer’s block and tendency to fall into a rabbit hole go away during a retreat.


Technical validation and diversity

Being around other musicians brings the opportunity to see how they work, what tools they use, and which plugins solve certain issues. It’s also a moment where gear can be shared, and you can see how each person handles it, giving it a new perspective.

Ironically, in the last years, I’ve always seen some producers being very secretive to how they work and the gear they use. I find that silly.

No one is the beholder of new techniques and there is nothing done that isn’t already known. Pretty much anything and everything is covered online, either in a blog, forum, or simply on YouTube. Holding on to how you work, in my opinion, reveals a good dose of anxiety and insecurity. There is this explanation that keeping secrets to keep your mysterious image is a thing, to which I say that it just takes a few audio engineers to reverse the knowledge. The only thing that no one can take away from you is your soul, your identity. Tools and techniques are simply there for that part of yourself to express itself. The more you open up to others, share what you know, and create dialogs, you’ll be rewarded by meeting like-minded people who will consolidate what you know with ideas you didn’t think about… because you were self-centered.

That said, people around me during a retreat are always a bit surprised and happy to find out that I have no secrets, and the only thing I want is to see others succeed. The teaching mindset goes beyond immediate success; I want to plant seeds in people’s minds to see what will emerge later. There have been so many times when people that I have coached have come back to me later on with ideas that inspired me while I struggled with writer’s block.

Lesson I learnt #4: Explaining concepts to others help me understand what I do.

The Impact on Creativity


One thing I noticed with people attending is how a sense of flow emerges by the last day. Flow is a mental state where people get into a zone where they create freely and where everything falls in place; where technical limitations seem to disappear and of course, lots of fun happens.

This flow state seems like the ideal way to create. While a continuous flow state may be too good to be true, if we can reach that state once in a while, it is, to me, one of the real goals of the retreat. Because once you experience that state and how you got there, you know you can bring back with you, this way of being as a musician.

Offering workshops is then a gentle push to unlock frustrations. I make sure these workshops are aligned with the technical level of the participants where I can offer tips on what they struggle with.

While we often search for big impacts to feel we have changed as an artist, I notice that the sum of many little tweaks provides more long-lasting results.

Lesson I learnt 5: Ironically, most of us make music to connect with others while we don’t organize enough community related events. Once reunited, goals of finishing songs or other related validation tasks become more than secondary.

Where to organize a music producer’s retreat

Any location could technically work to host a music producer’s retreat, but I would stress the importance of it being at least 1 hour away from home and ideally, in the countryside. There are many benefits from being able to take a break, go outside for a walk, and step back from anything that is too human-influenced (roads, concrete, asphalt, buildings, etc). In my case, I’m in the countryside with lots of land where we can easily walk for an hour before you get to see most of it. It’s like a big park, more or less, but wild and open. Sure, you can record sounds, but one of the important parts is to be able to breathe fresh air.

One option is to rent a cabin with friends. I would encourage you to have people who are in the same mindset as you. You can then have a space for music making and another for eating, and relaxing.

Space is important and having a place where you feel comfortable and inspired is crucial for the ambience.

Lesson I learnt 6: The ideal place is one you know. If you can find a place you’ve been and love, it will be successful.

Intention and commitment while at a music producer’s retreat

It’s easy to get this part wrong but it is probably the most important. One thing we clarify with this retreat is that it’s not a space and time to party. This is something accessible in other ways and the retreat is a commitment to get things done. Therefore, we have this no alcohol policy as well as a curfew at a certain time. Not only did I have no resistance from attendees, but everyone was extremely happy we did this once the weekend was over.

At the opening of the weekend, we had a meal where we all discussed our needs, our goals, and things we would like to do. As everyone talked, I noticed that there was some shyness at first but as we had multiple talks over the meals, by the end of the weekend, people were more and more open to sharing insights, struggles, or exciting finds. We all have the same difficulties in the end, which is why if one opens up, others will relate and follow suit.

Lesson I learnt 7: Having a moderator, leader or experienced musician is the best way to face difficulty while also making sure you can hold space for intentions to remain real.

Unexpected wins

To finish this post, I have learned that working on a song over the weekend isn’t the most ideal approach, I believe. I think there is much more to gain by trying to organize all your songs, macros, and presets and update all of those sleeping tunes in your backup drive. Being curious, trying new techniques, and facing some parts of music-making that are challenging are some of the best things to be in a context where you are supported.

Topics that were very useful and that participants enjoyed:

  • Techniques to start new songs and create unlimited hooks.
  • Sound design and reverse engineering ideas.
  • How to organize an idea into effective arrangements.
  • Mixing a song in 20 minutes.

Lesson I learnt 8: Always accept that there is something you might know enough or properly. Remaining open is a way to always grow.


Testimonials from Participants: Let’s hear directly from those who’ve attended:

  • Marino: “I had an unforgettable weekend at Pheek’s retreat. It was more than just music; I learned a lot of things, met wonderful people from different backgrounds, all of whom share the same passion as me – music. Pheek welcomed us with love and kindness in an amazing landscape, always there to help when we faced creative roadblocks. I recommend it to anyone wishing to develop their skills while leaving their comfort zone.”
  • North Motion: “My experience was simply fantastic. I had the opportunity to meet many artists who, like me, are passionate about electronic music. Beyond the skills I learned, I formed great friendships. Pheek’s retreat offers exceptional facilities in a breathtaking location, and J-P’s knowledge and hospitality are unmatched. I give it a perfect 10/10.”

Turning Efficiency Into Art With Ableton Templates


Production template here

Mixing template here.

Every musician, regardless of their experience level, has felt the excitement of sudden inspiration. It’s an ethereal sensation, demanding immediate translation into audible reality. Yet, how often do we find ourselves navigating from scratch through our Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), struggling to set up the basics when all we want to do is create?

Here, the power of templates in DAWs like Ableton Live becomes apparent.

If you haven’t started using templates, I would like to encourage you to do adopt them into your routine. At first, this might be difficult to master, but with some practice, this routine will pay off.


So, what’s a template (if you aren’t familiar)?

It is a project with or without material, that can be used as a starting point. Instead of starting with a new project, which would be 0% in a scale of work out of 100%, a template would be more like 10% or even 40% towards the completed piece of music. This may be confusing because 40% done usually means having a lot of material in a project. However, when everything is organized properly, you are way farther ahead than you imagine.

Creating an Ableton template

To create a template, all you have to do is open a project, go to the File Menu, and select “Save As Template.”

This will allow you to have your finished project as a starting point to start new projects, vastly speeding up the process and giving you a consistent sound.

Two ways to organize an Ableton template:

Two ways I usually organize a template is to either create a project where I organize in advance everything I need like channels with plugins and settings already set to what I usually do, macros, return channels, and master bus ready. Once this is all prepared, I save it as a template.

The other way is to take a successful project, remove all clips, audio, and automation, and then save it as a template.

However, this isn’t an exact science. It’s also fun to save projects with automations and or other weird settings and save it as a template, as inspired by Matthew Herbert Manifesto.

Starting Fresh vs. Jump-Starting with Ableton Templates


There are pros and cons when staring fresh vs jump starting a project with template.

Many musicians will start fresh every time, perhaps because they don’t know about the idea of using templates or perhaps because they just know that way. Starting fresh offers valuable practice, fostering familiarity with their DAW tools, and enabling a tailored approach to every project. However, there’s a flip side: it’s time-consuming.

Imagine being a painter and having to craft your brush every time you felt the urge to paint. While understanding your tools is essential, it’s equally crucial to be ready when inspiration strikes.

The solution? Find a balance.

By all means, start fresh when the situation permits. But also arm yourself with templates to expedite the process when needed.

Template Idea: Create a project where you add multiple midi channels with each armed with your favourite synths. For each synth, hit cmd+G to turn it into a macro (Group) and map your favourite synth parameters to each knobs. This will ease hands-on control or hit randomize for some new inspiration.

TIP: I would encourage you to grab this selection of free modulators named Mod Squad 2. This has so many useful, essential tools to add to your template.


Ableton Templates: More Than Just a Shortcut


At first glance, a template might seem like just a preset, a way to save time. But there’s no problem with presets and trust me, it is not cheating!

While templates are certainly is a time-saver, it’s actually much more. Think of a template as a supporting musician friend, always ready to jam when you are. With templates, you can:

  • Create Macros: Setting up macros that you frequently use ensures you have immediate access to your preferred settings and controls.
  • Organize Routing: Advanced routing configurations, once set, can be easily replicated across projects.
  • Form Groups: Grouping tracks or instruments that often go together saves time and offers a clearer view of your project.
  • Pre-set Effects and Plugins: Having your go-to effects and plugins already loaded lets you dive straight into tweaking sounds.

Ableton Template Idea: Create your own mixing template by creating 5 groups that will host your project’s channels. You can then drag and drop them in each groups. Those can have multiple plugins of your choice. You can even create a mixing template with multiple channel presets and then you can drag and drop them from your browser.

The Art of Crafting Abelton Templates

It’s not just about having templates but about having effective templates. An ideal template should inspire creativity, not box it. Here’s how:

  • Diverse Templates for Diverse Needs: Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, consider multiple templates for various purposes: mixing, sound design, production, and perhaps a comprehensive one, like my “mothership” concept.
  • Incorporate Modulation Elements: Add pre-configured modulation tools that respond and interact with what you introduce. Tools like envelope followers or audio scrubbers, such as the ones Manifest Audio offers, can automatically detect and modulate sounds, adding depth and dynamics to your music.
  • Think Support, Not Supplant: A template should never feel like it’s directing your music. Instead, it should feel like a base on which you can build. The best templates enhance creativity, not limit it.

When Ableton Templates Truly Shine

The true test of a template’s efficacy is in its ability to enhance creativity. If using a template feels like you’ve brought an extra pair of hands into your studio, aiding and elevating your music, then you’ve hit the sweet spot. It’s not about replacing the organic process of music creation but about having tools that streamline it.

In the world of digital music production, where the landscape is vast and the tools are many, templates emerge as a beacon of efficiency. They are not just about speeding up the process but about enhancing the very essence of creativity. They ensure that when inspiration strikes, you’re not just ready but equipped to let your ideas soar. Embrace the power of templates, and watch as your music production process transforms from mere creation to pure artistry.



Production template here

Mixing template here.

Crafting Club-Ready Tracks

It’s no secret that I’m an engineer for mostly electronic musicians but whoever comes to me for mastering, one of my main task is to make sure their music sound solid in club/festival context. In the last years, it’s been impressive how bedroom producers, not just pros, will have their music played in a context where the music is loud. This is due to the rising number of people who turns themselves into DJs and then this opens door to play in a local pub, party or club.

But it’s the same for producers. There’s been more and more people making music and for a lot of them, their hopes is to be played by DJs, not just in a podcast, but in moment where it can be heard by more than a handful of people. That becomes a test of the quality of their production and mixing.

But it can also be falling flat if the track isn’t following some basic standards.

I’ve been asked to go through a checklist of points that can help anyone to avoid feeling frustrated with their music.


1. Tone: The Foundation of Sound

When preparing music for clubs, tone is paramount. Many producers overemphasize certain frequencies because it sounds good at home, leading to mixes that are either too shrill or too muddy. Having the wrong music references, not understanding that all clubs are different can lead artists to pick some bad decisions.

Aim for a more balanced, flatter tone.

While there’s room for experimentation, avoid excessive highs, which can sound harsh, and overly pronounced lows, which can leave your track sounding hollow or muddy. A balanced tone ensures your track will work across various sound systems and club environments. This would apply to home listening as well.

TIP: I love to put an EQ on the master bus to see the tone of my track. If it tends to have one section higher than the rest, that is not always a good sign. If there are some peaks over 10k, this can be pretty harsh on a big sound system. If your low end is louder than your mids, by more than 4dB, you can expect your song to lack presence in a club. The melodies will sound behind.


2. Loudness and Density: Power Without Overpowering


Loudness is undeniably crucial in a club setting, but it’s a balance as well as a double-edge sword. While ensuring your track has punch, remember DJs need some wiggle room for gain staging during transitions. The goal isn’t just about raw volume, but rather the density within specific frequency areas, especially the low end. While a track that’s slightly quieter isn’t an issue, it should have the right energy and weight in crucial frequency areas.

DJs should know how to do gain staging. When they complain the track isn’t loud enough because they had to turn the gain up, I’d suspect that they might know that this is absolutely normal to have differences. Tracks that aren’t as loud will have more dynamic range, giving the track more details, punch and ultimately, life.

To reach a certain loudness level, the mix will need gain staging done right and then, in mastering, compress and limit more. Loud music means sounds bleed into one another.

TIP: After years and years of mastering, playing and attending, I find that -10LUFS is sort of the ultimate sweet spot. Some will argue that music should be louder but I believe not.


3. Mono Signal: The Unsung Hero in Club Tracks


While stereo spread adds richness and dimension to tracks on headphones or home systems, the mono signal is a powerhouse in a club setting. Songs that rely too heavily on stereo spread without considering their mono compatibility often lose potency on club systems. Prioritize the main elements in your mix to be mono-compatible, ensuring they drive the track without muddying the sound.

Sounds that should have some presence in the mono signal: Kick, Bass, clap/snare and melodic content between 200 and 800hz.

TIP: Create a return channel, add a utility plugin set to mono and then send your different sounds towards that channel. This will solidify your mono signal as you’re either doubling or enhancing your sounds’ presence.


4. Resonances: Subtle Saboteurs


High resonances can wreak havoc when played on large sound systems, turning subtle tones into screeching sounds. I often say that as a mastering engineer, I hunt those. Resonances can come from various sources such as resonance on a filter or the use of sine waves. I won’t get into details about what they are exactly but they’re sort of the type of sound, just like distortion, that sort of sound amazing at the right dose.

It’s vital to control and tame these, ensuring that your track remains pleasant and consistent across various volume levels and systems.

I’d add in parallel to this, as a 4-B, transients. Those are also to be careful with.

TIP: Using an EQ, you might want to tame the resonances but if you can’t spot them because this concept is not easy for you, don’t hesitate to start by putting in solo each sound and find the ones that have a “eeee” sound in it (it can be pitched high or low). We often find resonances into synths, because they often have either a sine wave oscillator or a filter with resonance.


5. Clarity: Space is the Place


Every sound in your mix should have its designated space, both in the stereo field and in the frequency spectrum. Overcrowding with prolonged decays or excessive reverb leads to a soupy, unclear mix. By ensuring that each element has room to breathe, your track will retain punch, definition, and that coveted dance floor energy.

TIP: Gating is your best ally in mixing. You can remove tails and reduce the decay of sounds with it which helps much.


6. Phasing: The Silent Song-Wrecker


Phasing issues can lead to essential elements of your track disappearing, especially during mono playback. This phenomenon is exacerbated by phase-inducing effects like flangers, phasers, chorus, delays, and reverbs. By understanding and addressing phasing, you ensure that your song’s core elements remain consistent across all playback scenarios.


A good way to find out if one sound is phasing in your project is by using a Correlation Meter such as SPAN (it’s free!). You’ll see this moving meter and basically, you want it to stay from 0 to +1. If it goes into negative, you’ll have phasing. Another way is to put a mono utility on your sound to see if it loses a lot of power or disappear completely.

TIP: How to fix is a bit tricky but you can start by lowering the stereo width, remove effects or make them drier.

7. Low-End Clarity: Making Your Bass Dance


The relationship between your kick and bass is akin to a dance. These elements should groove seamlessly, complementing rather than conflicting with each other. Using techniques like gating or side-chaining can ensure that these foundational elements coexist harmoniously, driving the rhythm without muddying the mix.

In the recent years, I have been enjoying shorter kicks beyond long powerful ones. There’s too many issues with using long kicks and in a club, they eat up too much space to be interesting enough. Short kicks support well a song and leaves you plenty of space for lower notes of a bass.

Rumbles, depending of the genre you’re making, might be a problem. You might have a DC Offset as well so I would highly recommend cutting (highpassing) at 20hz to block the garbage down there. Most clubs but at 30hz anyway but cutting at 20 is a good safeguard and will also provide some headroom for your mix.

Align the phase of your kick and bass! Simple trick that does a good little difference in some cases.

TIP: For people that heavily rely on side-chaining for making both work, I always say that arrangements are the root of mixing. In other words, if you program/design your kick and bass properly at the beginning, then it will be cleaner and you won’t have to fix it with gizmos.

Club environments pose unique challenges for electronic music producers. By taking into account these seven pivotal factors, you can ensure your tracks not only sound great in the studio but also shine on the dance floor. Remember, a club-ready track is a synergy of balance, clarity, and energy. Aim for these, and you’ll have club-goers moving to your beat in no time.