Tag Archive for: analog

How To Have Fun Making Music

Sometimes making music can be a chore. To people on the outside looking in, music seems like an enthralling, exciting, fun experience, but anyone who is a composer knows that making music takes focus, dedication, and frankly, at times, can be pretty boring, and stay boring. That’s why it’s important to know some techniques for how to have fun making music, just in case you fall into one of these creative ruts. What I’m about to share isn’t the definitive way for how to have fun making music, but rather things that I have done for a while that take the pressure off, and just allow me to be creatively expressive without all of the arduous parts. 

Having The Ideal Setup Does Not Guarantee Fun Or Even Ease

I have written about this to death, but it deserves to be mentioned again. So many creatives think that they need the perfect setup in order to have fun. They think they need that new module for their Eurorack, or that new audio interface, or the latest poly-synth, and then, and only then, will they have the ideal creative experience. This is just so, so untrue. Every new piece of gear you get has a learning curve. 

Unfortunately, the world of electronic music is not entirely standardized, so things won’t be immediately intuitive even if they are relatively similar to something you’ve already owned. Chances are that thing you already owned will allow for easier, more fun creative expression since you already know it. But, the cognitive fallacy that new equals good is just that, a fallacy. There is even a term for it in cognitive psychology – “appeal to novelty.” 

Therefore, if you really want to know how to have fun making music, use my first advice would be to use something familiar.


Work With Loops 

Go on Loopcloud and just start grabbing loops. The more complete the loop, the better. The goal here isn’t to make something super original, the goal here is to have a good time making music. Now drop those loops into session view in Ableton, and start triggering loops and see what happens. Maybe MIDI map some basic effects like delay, reverb, flanger, gate, pitch bend, and a filter. Then MIDI map the volume faders on the clip’s channels. Then start triggering loops! Fade the clips in and out, change the wet-dry on the effects, bend the pitch, and make the sound melt. Think of it kind of like DJing, but in a compositional sense.

Loopcloud Makes Everything Easy

Working with Loopcloud makes the process of choosing clips easier, as they have built-in search filters and algorithms that help identify contextually similar loops for you to play around with. All you have to do is click “find similar sounds” and Loopcloud can filter to you either harmonically or rhythmically similar sounds that will work well together. Then, with their native plugin, you can load the samples directly into the DAW without having to download the files, and sort them, allowing for seamless integration, and immediate use. 

Another great thing is that this quick sorting loop function teaches you how to have fun making music that’s not the same as what you’d normally make. Maybe you’re a minimal house DJ, but you have a penchant for disco house – yet not a lot of experience with it. Well, with loops, it’s easy to throw together something that sounds good without the time or practice it takes to create something from scratch. 

THis Isn’t About Art, It’s About Fun

Some people might take artistic integrity into question here, but we’re having fun, not creating our magnum opus. If you can’t get over that, think of it like DJing. When you’re DJing, you’re not only playing your music, your play other people’s music, just like other people made these loops. However, what you create will ultimately be more unique, and also royalty-free. 

You may even like it and use it later in a more serious composition, but for now, the goal is to figure out how to have fun making music.


How To Have Fun Making Music With An Artificial Crowd

An artificial crowd, you say, Pheek? Yes, an artificial crowd! In this day and age, we have access to a plethora of crowds that will dance no matter what we do! How, you ask? Simple, by putting on YouTube videos of dancing crowds, and jamming to them. They don’t care what you do, they’re going to have a good time anyways! So, load up your smart TV, your projector, or even an auxiliary computer screen, load up a long video of people gyrating to some 90’s acid house, put that shit on mute, and start jamming.


Just Start Jamming

Better yet, keep the audio playing on the video of the crowd dancing, load up your favorite gear, and start jamming over it, like you’re just an accompaniment instrument to the mix. If you’re really fancy, you can route the audio through Ableton using a virtual audio cable. You can add fills of effects, tap in drum patterns, play auxiliary basslines or leads, load in some samples from Loopcloud! Basically, whatever your imagination can conjure on the fly, do it! Just make sure you press record.

Then once you’ve recorded all of these, you’ll have a fresh sample bank of new ideas that you can incorporate into fresh productions. Now, all that fun time was actually spent being productive, rather than frivolously. You also got some solid practice in!

I’ve been doing this technique for 15 or so years, and it has lead to a plethora of new material and inspiration. 


Download A Ton Of Plugin Demos

This is a fun one. Basically, download the demos of a bunch of plugins that you would otherwise not use. Then grab a loop, or sound from somewhere, or make one quickly from scratch. Then load in the plugins, and start stacking them on top of each other and see what happens. Start flicking through presets on all of them, adjust knobs, and create massive, cacophonies of sound. Now filter those sounds, and see what happens. Maybe resample them, and then throw more plugins on top, while dropping the pitch. 


How My Follows Have Fun Making Music

lotech/hijack says, “Honestly I find exploring and experimenting makes it fun. Don’t approach it as a process. Just remember that you love music and the feelings you get as a listener. Then go at it with that mindset. Works for me (usually).”

a photo of a facebook post that describes how lotech/hijack has fun making music.

Camilo Jesus Ramirez says, “After years of making music I get the most of me when I don’t push myself to do it, I only do music when i feel to, sometimes I don’t touch a project in months and sometimes everyday non-stop, the fun comes when I feel in the mood”

a photo of a Facebook post saying how Camilo has fun making music. You can read the text in this article above.

Steve Moss laments, “Every time I buy new gear or a new synth I tell my wife: ok now I’m complete. My wife tells me: that’s what you say every time and you’re never complete! Hahaha.”

A Facebook post of how Steve learns how to have fun making music.

Pierre Deniel simply replies, “LSD.” I guess that’s one way too.

Steve knows how to have fun making music - it's with LSD, that psychonaught.


There Are Many Ways To Know How To Have Fun Making Music

There are many ways to have a fun, enthralling musical experience that doesn’t involve thinking too deeply, or seriously about the process. 

To reiterate, it all starts with having something that you don’t have to troubleshoot too much. It’s easy for the fun to be sucked out if you have to spend your time learning, or fixing something. Therefore, start on gear you’re familiar with.

The next step to having fun is to try something without expectation. Don’t be afraid of dabbling in new genres, especially with an amazing tool like Loopcloud which allows you to load in, find, and sort samples in a heartbeat. 

Don’t be afraid to try new plugins either, and do things that don’t make sense. At the end of the day, nobody really cares how you made something, as long as you make it.

The real magic here is that if you record it, you’ll be left with so much unique stuff that you can use in your future work. Never underestimate the usefulness of just having fun.

Ableton-Hardware Hybrid Setup

Producers often get comfortable in the computer and feel they are not getting enough, so they decide to invest in hardware.

Once you get good at something, it’s only natural to want to upgrade to the next level. You may get that feeling that you aren’t getting enough out of it, or that the medium is limiting in some way. With my students, often this feeling means leaping from a DAW like Abelton to a hardware-based setup. 

They often think that by doing so, they’re going to unlock a richer sound, and a more intuitive, instrumental interface. They believe they will be liberated, able to just jam out compositions without having to rely on an “unnatural” mouse click or MIDI mapping inside a DAW. 

The truth is that once they make this leap, and ditch Ableton for an Electron Octatrak, and a modular, they often find themselves being even more limited by the foreign user interface and the fact that modular doesn’t have an “undo” button, or patch saves.

That’s why I always recommend that they use an Ableton-hardware hybrid setup that incorporates the best of both worlds, where the tactile, plug and play nature of hardware meets the convenience of being able to easily save, and revert back to settings on the computer. 

Over the years, I think I have a pretty rounded philosophy of how to tackle this integration, which I would like to share with you in this post.

However, let’s talk about hardware first, so that you can understand its strengths and weaknesses. 

A photo of a simple example of an Ableton-hardware hybrid setup.


Myths About Hardware

It automatically Sounds Better

Just because something is hardware, doesn’t mean that it’s going to mythically sound better. In some cases, analog summing can fix some issues and enhance certain things but it can also be sounding different than digital and since our ears are used to the digital realm, it might be misleading. It’s not 2005 anymore; virtual instruments have grown leaps and bounds over the years. Even to a trained ear, it’s hard to tell the difference between an emulated TB303 and the Roland Cloud version. Analog does have charm and specific texture but it’s different than digital. Some people get confused once in front of certain pieces of gear.

However, there are things that happen with the sound in hardware that is difficult to emulate in software. For instance, the “ghost in the sound’ – that almost invisible hand that creates random, happy accidents due to the fact that you are working with pure electrical current, rather than a binary representation of it. 

This “hand” often results in sounds that are impossible to replicate, existing for only as long as they project from the speakers. To me, this is the magic of hardware – that unpredictability that exists for a fleeting moment, until it’s gone, never to be heard again, unless you capture it. 

In other words, analog has a sound that digital doesn’t have and that’s an aesthetic that pleases many people. Believe it or not, some people really do prefer the digital sound, mostly because our ears have got used to it.

However, what is this capability worth, if you can’t capture it properly? That’s why it’s imperative when buying hardware that you also buy a solid audio interface to be able to record the sound at the highest fidelity. Because at the end of the day, your hardware will only sound as good as the weakest part of the chain.

It’s More Intuitive

This is another fallacy. If anything, analog hardware can create a new set of problems, with the main problem being that you can’t just pull up a setting or patch. You also can’t revert back to a previous setting if something gets all messed up. 

Instead, you have to work backward in order to figure out where it went wrong. And if it’s analog, chances are that due to the “ghost in the machine” you won’t be able to get back to where you were. This results in endless hours of fruitless tinkering.

This also poses problems for live performance as well. I remember when I was performing at MUTEK with a modular setup. I was in the middle of soundcheck, jamming on my modular, getting lost in the frequencies. Then at the end of the check, I realized that I had to repatch everything back to where I wanted it for the beginning of the set. It was frustrating, to say the least. On a computer, I could have just reloaded the project. 

If you’re allergic to the mouse and sceen, perhaps hardware might be closer to your needs but it doesn’t mean it will be easier.

It’s DAWless

What is an MPC, Octotrak, Deluge if not a Digital Audio Workstation? They are digital, process audio, and they are a workshop. If anything, you are just substituting an intuitive interface that looks like a laptop, for a complicated interface that looks like a box with buttons on it (wait, isn’t that what a laptop is; just a box with buttons?). 

If you can’t stand the aesthetic of a laptop and want something sleeker, then that is your right as a creative. Just know, it’s way harder to drop a drum sample into an MPC than Ableton assisted by a Push or Maschine. If you hate the look of a laptop on stage, disguise it in a case.


How To Get The Most Out Of Your Hardware

Learn One Piece At A Time

People will often buy a lot of gear all at once without understanding their needs. Unless you are copying someone’s setup exactly from a YouTube video, and want their exact same sound, chances are people want their own thing to fit their artistic vision. 

So people will often be like ok, I need a synth, a drum machine, a set of effects, and a “brain” that I can route this all into. Then they set this all up, and realize that they are totally overwhelmed and have no idea how to use it, because there is no blueprint for it.

That’s why I recommend starting out with one piece of gear and getting really good at it. Once you know how it plays, then you can start thinking about the next part of the chain. 

So, let’s say you start with an analog synth. First, you must understand where all the filters are, and what they do. Understand how the oscillators sound, and how you can route them. Then you can consider your next addition.

So if you got a synth, the next thing you’re probably going to want is a way to sequence it. That is often a drum machine with a VC gate that can signal the synth to play (or not play) certain parameters. I recommend Beatstep Pro (Arturia) or Pioneer DJ Toraiz Squid. Of course, there are many you could add but those 2 are very versatile and fast to learn.

Once you figure that out, maybe you want an effect in order to get some more character out of the synth. Make sure that the effects that you buy are exactly what you want by testing it on the sequenced synthesizer. If they don’t create exactly what you want, then get new ones. No need to move on until you figure this out. 

By moving on too soon, you may just get tangled in your new setup, and not realize how to use it. Now you’re $5,000 deep into a headache, and not any more or less creative.

However, if you understand your pieces inside and out before expanding the chain, then you will run into fewer obstacles.

Record Everything

Remember, often with analog hardware, what you made will only exist at that moment. You may never be able to record that again. Therefore, make sure that you have plenty of space on whatever device you are recording onto because you should be recording nearly everything.

This works especially well if your creative process is to create a bunch of loops, and then assemble your loops into a song.

Truth be told, hardware doesn’t require endless MIDI mappings, and clicking, and is more instrumental, in a lot of ways. The knobs are properly dialed in with the circuits, and the keys are weighted to interact with the synth in ways that a standard MIDI controller may not be. Therefore, the loops that you create may very well be more interesting than anything you could have made with a soft-synth. 

Make Sure Your Recording Is Clean

Like I mentioned before, you need a good audio interface. I recommend Focusrite Scarlett or SSL2. These record at a high sample rate, and will capture the purest representation of what’s outputting from your setup. 

Also, you have to record it properly. Therefore, the signal has to come as close as possible to 0dB because the noise floor will always be the same on hardware. So if you’re recording at -6dB as you would with digital instruments, when your hardware recording is loaded into your “brain”, it will not seem loud enough in many cases. 

That’s because -6dB in the physical world is quiet. So, naturally, you will turn it up. However, when you turn it up you add 6dB of noise to the recording. Maybe you want this noise, but it won’t be accurate to the fidelity of your original recording. Therefore, always make sure that when recording, that it is as close to 0DB as possible.  

Realize You Will Be A Noob, Again

Just because you were a proficient Ableton user, doesn’t mean you will be a proficient hardware user. You will have to pick up the user manual again and start watching copious YouTube videos in order to get back up to speed. 

Your first stuff will probably sound terrible. This may be discouraging, but this is the reality you will have to accept. Just because you made electronic music “in the box”, doesn’t mean you will be able to “out of the box”

another photo of an Ableton-hardware hybrid setup

How To Get The Most Out Of An ABleton-Hardware Hybrid Setup


For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume you’re proficient with your DAW. In this article, we’ll use Ableton as our primary example. 

Play To Each Other’s Strengths

The goal with a hybrid setup is to buy what the computer can’t give you, and/or compliment what you’re doing on the computer with hardware. 

As you know, the process in Ableton is pretty intuitive, and not destructive in nature. If you screw something up, you can always undo, or revert to a previous version of the project.

It’s also way easier to visualize a song’s arrangement on Ableton than it is on an MPC. 

However, perhaps you like the playability of the MPC. Well, there is a solution to that – it’s called Ableton Push. I use it for basically everything; it’s amazing. It adds that tactile instrumentation that’s missing when dealing with a mouse. Additionally, all its MIDI mappings are designed to be standardized and intuitive with Ableton. 

Use Ableton As A Band Member

A good way to use Ableton in conjunction with your hardware is to use it as a session musician/band member. Write out a basic structure of a song on Ableton, MIDI clock it with your hardware, and then route your hardware into channels, and start jamming. Inside Ableton you can also create some complex effects chains that can modulate the hardware in unexpected ways, giving you something entirely fresh.

Use Ableton To Preserve Sounds

Another way you can use Ableton to compliment your hardware in an Ableton-hardware hybrid setup is to be able to have multiple versions of the same project that contains all the hardware loops that you recorded. Since Ableton’s environment isn’t destructive to waveforms like something like the MPC would be due to its limited hard drive space, you can modify the waveforms, without having to have multiple large files. Instead, you just have individual projects for different versions of the recording. 

Split Your Time Into Technical And Creative Sessions

This kind of works whether you are pure hardware, or using an Ableton-hardware hybrid setup. The fact remains, whenever you are integrating analog gear, there will be a setup process. You can’t just load settings. So you have to get all your patches set up, your effects set up and properly bypassed, your sequencer running, and your patterns in order. You then have to make sure that everything is playing back close to 0dB to avoid the dreaded noise. 

This will consume a good amount of brainpower. 

Therefore, once this is all ready, make sure to take a break. Go drink a beer, meditate, exercise, or do whatever you do to reset your mind.

Then come back and start jamming and being creative with your Ableton-hardware hybrid setup.

MIDI Controllers Are Your Friend

MIDI mapping is really easy on Ableton. Sure, it takes a little bit of time to set up, but it’s often nothing compared to the amount of time you will be tweaking hardware to get a similar result. Therefore, get some MIDI faders and knobs to control some internal processes in Ableton. 

MIDI will create that tactile sensation that hardware provides. The Push is, once again, a great way of accomplishing this, since it’s intuitive with Ableton. However, some people don’t want to spend that much money on a MIDI controller. In that case, there are dozens of great controllers out there that allow you to essentially create your own instruments on the fly.

Some suggestions: AKAI midimix, Novation Launch Control

These mappings will also affect your hardware as well, since you can map them to different internal faders that change the sound of the hardware, such as channel volume, or surgical EQ parameters. 


Ultimately, do what works best for your creative process. These are just my recommendations from my experiences using both exclusively, and then integrating the two. Just remember, there is a learning curve with everything, and things that were true for one, will not be for the other. There is no magic bullet when it comes to making music. Hardware won’t make you amazing, software won’t make you amazing. Only talent and dedication will.

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