Tag Archive for: arrangements

My Music Doesn’t Sound Like Me

Does this happen to you? You start a project with an idea and a direction, “I’m going to make a techno track”, you fire up a drum machine, get a baseline going, start jamming, looking for sounds, creating a groove, and an hour later you listen back to an 8 bar loop that sounds totally different than what you set out to make? “My music doesn’t sound like me”. Yeah, it happens to a lot of people, and it can be really frustrating to make music that sounds totally alien to you.

There is a special kind of disappointment that comes with not being able to make the kind of music you want to create. Many producers I’ve worked with talk about starting a project with one direction in mind but as the track evolves they find the sounds they’ve chosen and feel of the song completely opposite to their original direction.

Why does this keep happening? What is going on here?

From experiencing this myself, I understand the confusion. I want to suggest looking at this situation from another perspective, which I believe will be much more positive, and productive for you as a producer. It’s all about context.

Firstly, our moods and our thoughts are always changing. We are dynamic, and there are multiple versions of us. What I mean is, you are one person when driving with very loud music on, there is one while enjoying music at a party, there is another you while listening to music made for earphones. There is a big difference between the person you are enjoying music and the person you are when making music. Both matter, both are ok.
Tip– as soon as you start a project, save it right away with a name that describes the genre or feel of the song you want to create. A name as straightforward as “techno …. ” or “house ….” is easy enough.

It’s helpful to start your productions with a clear focus and intent in mind – otherwise, it’s quite easy to drift off. That being said, my personal opinion is that drifting is a good thing, and goes hand in hand with being in the moment, and more in touch with the YOU who is in the studio in that moment.
If you are truly in touch with your emotions or follow the sounds you are excited by, drifting off into other directions is going to happen. It’s simply a process of discovery.

The way I see music is similar to the birth of a strange, alien creature that has come out from nowhere. Even if the music you’ve created sounds completely foreign to you, it’s important to be patient with the material as later in the production or mixing phases, you learn to gently tame something raw and undeveloped into an evolved creature with a unique personality. If your music sounds a little different than what you set out to do, I believe that’s a good thing.

If you’ve been reading my posts over time, you’ll know I strongly encourage The Bonsai Method, and the habit of not spending too much time on any one track. Working quickly and finishing fast will significantly sharpen up your production skills, and you’ll be a much more prolific producer for it. You want your sounds to be a little raw, out of control, and strange. These sounds are the unsculpted gems you can only do when you stop censoring yourself. This is the stuff you are striving for.

Embrace unexpected results, and embrace change.

Imagine the number of ideas you’ll have to work with if you start 20 tracks from scratch as opposed to trying to polish one song for 20 hours. Spending too much time on one track will often take away from the rawness of your initial recording. This liveliness is precisely the sound that made us excited in the first place, and it’s important to embrace these unexpected noises, rhythms, and grooves. Taking away all the rough  charm of your material could be compared to photoshopping a beautiful and natural adult woman’s body into the thinness of a child to achive some measure of perfection. Here are a few essential tips to starting your tracks off right ~

Your work is whatever you want it to be.

As a people, we are always evolving, and our tastes in music will evolve as well. It’s ideal for your music to sound alien to you and progress yet understand that your progression may happen in an order you can’t predict. Through time and work, who you really are as a musician will begin to take shape.

Hearing the music you’ve made in the past is like looking at pictures of yourself from another time. It leaves a stamp. Find the photos of yourself from the past and pay attention to the ones you love. They might be aesthetically good, but I’ll bet that your favorite images will be the ones that recall a particular moment in your life. See it with raw, original sounds you find. The ones that are bold are the sounds that will stand out through years and perhaps bring you unexpected attention.

Tip: Bounce a version of your track before saving and closing your project. Compare how it evolves. Share it to people who know you. See what freak them…

As always let me know if you have any suggestions or questions about this post and leave a comment below and tell me what projects you are working on right now.

JP

SEE ALSO : Deconstructing A Reference Track

Templates As Seeds

As a producer, you’re likely trying to balance several tasks all at once while working on your music. If you’re spending time to look through four or five reverbs in search of the perfect sound, setting up buses and groups to pre-mix your tracks while you arrange it, or just feeling frozen looking at a blank project screen and finding it hard to get going, it’s no wonder you aren’t as productive as you’d like to be.

Good news, this post is all about setting yourself up to win before you begin. Begin to see your templates as seeds. 

Many DAWs can be setup to load a template as an initial starting point. Reason will propose a pre-made environment, and Studio One will propose if you’d like to setup a project for mixing to speed up your getting started time. Ableton Live doesn’t have that feature by default, but you can easily change that to open a custom startup project.

Even though most DAWs have this helpful feature, that wasn’t enough for me. But it felt like I could do better.

In one way this is a follow-up post to the previous Bonsai Technique that I shared a few weeks back. It was super popular, and many people sent in comments about how it really helped them develop tracks from little ideas. Now, I’d like to follow up with this idea as I realized that many people are missing out on the fun of using a template to get their projects started. Also, there are a few things we can add in that will also be valuable for your next productions. Let’s have a look at the techniques to get rolling fast.

I’m going to suggest something simple in essence, but it’s very effective to get new projects sounding great right from step one.

Start your next project using the last song used. I heard about this technique from Matthew Herbert’s manifesto, and it got me inspired. Herbert would pick up the mixing board where he left things off from the last session. Why is this a good idea?
Starting from the last mix would provide a faster workflow but also, the random EQs, compression, effects, would be set to something he would never have set up beforehand. I thought this concept was brilliant and began doing this myself. Very often I would start with the last project loaded but would make the next song right after the end of the previous one. The same configuration and settings for the kick, percussion etc… were the same, which often led me into directions I didn’t expect at all. This is a big advantage. 

Consider keeping the effects on each channel as is, but drop your new clips into existing channels at random. In some situations, I also would copy the arrangement of one song and paste it into another song’s arrangement view. Very strange results would come up, often leading to unexpected yet very usable sound design results. I often have one “mother” project which will be a safe place for me to develop and grow these ideas. Then I will copy some loops into another project’s arrangement view, and sometimes move the clips between channels to see which one fits the best. I even did the exercise of dropping a full arrangement into another project keeping it as intact as possible. From there I wouldn’t even listen to it before bouncing it out. I’d then listen to it weeks later and get blown away. I made a handful of tracks from my album Intra or White Raven this way.
Next, challenge yourself to keep your bus routing and groups intact. It’s great to have pre-made sends channels or busses that you can re-use quickly. Of course, an easy way would be to be to assemble a macro of the chain of effects you’ve used, but I like the idea of opening a template and have no idea what effects would be awaiting me. I will sometimes swap my most used effects with others I newly acquired or some I’ve forgotten about. It’s often nice to dig up older, legacy plugins that can bring up a particular grain to your sound.

Clear your finished project from the clips and save it as a template.

One exercise you can start applying today would be:

  1. Create a folder for your templates.
  2. Each time you finish a song, you do a “save as…” to that folder. You’ll then clean it from the clips in the Arranger view. I will often leave what I call ‘leftover’ sounds that weren’t used in the project. I’ll set these clips in the session view in a channel named “Leftovers.” Doing this allows you to re-purpose those sounds, which may be a perfect fit in your new project.
  3. Midi clips could be left there as well because it is usually interesting to have on hand some midi material you can quickly throw new sounds onto and see what it gets that sounds like.

Now, an extra tip, which is to make a template for the design of an EP/LP. As you know, it’s always great to have a common feel for an entire release, and one of the things I would recommend would be in the way you apply your effects.

  • Reverb. Either you pick a reverb from one specific company (ex. Altiverb) and use some presets to get started, or you try to remain in the same family of space such as Plates.
  • Delays. Using the same plugin but changing the delay speed.
  • Saturation. Try to pick one type and stick to it. I recommend applying this through a send channel where you have more control over how each sound is colored.
  • Compression/EQ. Some apply a distinct color and are more or less transparent. It can be a good idea to keep the same type of combination through your channels.

As always I want to hear your feedback on anything mentioned in this post. Feel free to share this post or leave a comment below and tell me how these creative, and time-saving techniques are working for you. 

 

 

SEE ALSO :  Pointers To Define Your Sound

Bouncing stems and mix

Recently I’ve been weighing the benefits of focusing on just one part of my production process exclusively, or, working on all the steps of a production simultaneously – arranging, mixing, pre-mastering, etc.. Very often producers ask me to explain a perfect workflow recipe and the truth is, there really isn’t a one size fits all answer.

But in theory, there are 2 main approaches I’ve been seeing in production to make a song.

  1. Classic way. Which involves taking one phase at a time but with the option to roll back to go fix something.
  2. Modern way. You go from one phase to the other in no particular order, as your needs change. You’ll mix as your arrange, change sounds of the percussion to match a melody, add saturation for aesthetics, etc.

One of Ableton’s feature that I find killer is the option to export all channels as separate stems. It really is great for so many reasons but also allows your to really divide the production from the mixdown, which you could do in another DAW.

There are many reasons why you’d like to do your mixdown into another DAW. One of the reason is, you’re basically blending, what I call, software grains. Think of the various apps on your smartphone that offer various filters for your images, where you can go from one to another, taking advantage of each strength. I would say it’s the same for DAWs.

  • Workflow. Each DAW has its own workflow, appearance, feel. Sometimes, just a change of platform is enough to, psychologically, feel your track in a different way. There are countless researches that have been done in between DAW, to which has the best sound, but in terms of summing, if you take a file with nothing on it and bounce it, they will all provide the exact same file. Where there will be a difference is on automation, interface and that alone can make you behave differently in a mix situation. There’s also all the macros and gizmos they all offer too.
  • Native plugins. Again, this might be a game changer. This of an any DAW, they will offer different plugins doing different things. Now, just for compression and EQ, it becomes a serious business. Mostly because there’s a big difference between what you see and hear, plus no one really does things the same way.

That last point is crucial here. You can take the same compressor concept (ex. FET compression), but it will sound different from one company to another. There are no real universal standards on how to approach compression or EQing. An EQ can show you a curve but the filter in the back might slightly be different to give a color, for instance.

So, when it comes to Ableton, I now export all channels as stems to do the mixdown. No more mixing as a arrange. I put a wall between the 2 phases. Some of the reasons are:

  • It liberates CPU usage. No surprises here. When you deal with a heavy load of VST’s and plugins it can often be a lot to manage. The act of bouncing out and mixing stems will force you to focus on only mix related plugins such as EQ and compression. No more delays, chorus and reverb adjustments. At this stage, you’ll focus on the volume levels alone.
  • It put’s an end to the endless adjustments you can make to every sound. You’ll have the option of correcting that little hihat detail that’s been bothering after hearing your track 100 times, but honestly, someone who has just heard your song for the first time will interpret that sound as part of the track, not as a mistake. It’s good to put an end to endless changes and adjustments and move on to finishing your production. Professionals keep their eye on the prize and get things done.
  • The audio summing seems to reveal imperfections. I’m not sure what’s happening here but sometimes, when you bounce the stems, things are just slightly different. I can’t pinpoint why and in theory, it’s not supposed to be but sometimes, it does sound slightly different. In fact, once you bounce it, that’s when you know exactly how it will be so it’s interesting to bounce all channels apart.
  • Ability to use other DAWs. As described earlier, this is the ultimate way to move from one platform to another. You’ll be to leverage the strength of each DAW.
    Build live sets or NI Stems. Having stems on hand can be useful to create live sets. Native Instruments offers a technology for creating a stems release to be played in Traktor, which is really cool, and super in demand by many of the world’s top dj’s.
  • Backup and remixing. Having stems is the ultimate way to have a real backup of your music. In 10 years time no one can predict what technology will be available, but having stems will prove useful as a way to be used with any new technology.

All an all, try it and see for yourself. Bouncing stems can only bring advantages to your workflow and I’d love to hear about it.

SEE ALSO : Use a main project for organizing yourself 

Two birds one stone. Separating ideas.

I’m really excited to share a killer new exercise with you that I know will help you become really creative and productive. I’m using this exercise in my own productions and it’s a little like the Bonsai Method I wrote about in my last post. The key focus of this exercise is to duplicate your output in different ways with big benefits. Let’s call it Two birds one stone, and trust me, the takeaway from this exercise is huge.

This technique will improve your productivity in the studio, aid you in finishing more music, train your ears to produce better music, and creating tracks DJ’s will find easier to play and mix. 

When people ask me to listen to their tracks and provide feedback, most of the time I feel there is enough material in one track to make two entirely different songs.Why do I feel this way? DJ’s often prefer to mix tracks that are often stripped back, and have less sounds going on. They do so in order to blend one track with a complimentary one to make something new, and create an original mix. For your tracks to please the DJ consider producing songs that are less busy, and have less sounds going on. Doing this will give the sounds you do have more room to breathe, flex, and develop dynamically. These tracks that follow this production style allow the DJ to creatively mix and eq their tracks in very creative ways.

The objective in this exercise is to take whatever song you have and find a way to separate the elements in order to make 2 different songs out of the original idea.

When producing music, think of your track as a tool, and less of a song to be played on it’s own from start to finish. To some degree, let it be incomplete, and be created as part of an equation that will sum up to something out of your control. As a creator of music, it might be difficult to conceive but I believe that letting tracks be something someone else can mould and play with will attract the right person who can do the most with that track.
Related: How to create tracky music blog post.

Another interesting element in spreading your ideas across two tracks is that in doing so you’ll create a sister, or b-side for the initial track (hence the two birds one stone reference). When you are playing these tracks live you’ll know and hear they’re meant to work together well, hand in hand.

Now let’s get to business and see how to do so.

ideas, ableton, productivity, how to

 

  1. Select a track that you want to use for this exercise. It could be a track that you feel a little lost on, or some long forgotten project that was never finished.
  2. session view, arrangements, ableton

    Session view in Ableton

    Bring all your sounds to the session view. (This will make it easier to see what’s going on).

  3. Mute all percussions that are not related to the main idea of the song. Although, sometimes a conga or snare could be part of the hook, if so try to mute it and see how much of the main idea is affected.
  4. Organize your sounds in 2 groups. There’s no good or bad way to select the sounds, but by splitting the group you’ll see some sounds are complementary to the other. Sometimes, certain sounds are calling, and some are answering to the other, and for those, you want to separate in two different groups.
  5. Activate the crossfader option so you can see/hear the A/B.

    ableton crossfade

    Make sure the “x” is in yellow to activate the crossfader

  6. Assign your sounds to either A or B on the crossfader. Don’t assign any of the percussions on the crossfader.
  7. Do a “Save as…” to create a sibling to this project.

 

After you’ve gone through the previous steps you should be able to play with the crossfader and hear how well the sounds blend together. Hearing things in the middle of the crossfader will give you an idea of what a DJ will hear if he/she merges both ideas.

Let’s go back to your new project. Since you already have the percussion from the original track, you can use the sprouting technique to create complementary beats. Once you have main idea, you may then mute or delete the original percussions and you’ll have your second track’s main idea.
In both cases you’ll need to play with compression and perhaps add a bit more material to get your track moving along. But now, the great thing is, you have created two totally new tracks from one that might have been sleeping in your HD. It’s a killer two track combo ready to go. Win-win.

I hope this post will get you into the habit of creating tracks that avoid the busyness that often robs  a track from reaching it’s fullest potential. It’s natural to come to a point where your track has too many ideas going on and will begin to lack direction, which is the perfect time to use this technique.

The two birds one stone technique will improve your productivity in the studio, aid you in finishing more music, train your ears to produce better music, and creating tracks DJ’s will find easier to play and mix. 

As always let me know if you have any suggestions or questions about this post and leave a comment below and tell me what projects you’ve been working on.

JP

SEE ALSO : Pheek Talk 3: Productivity Tips 

The Art of Keeping People on Their Toes

You know when you discover music that breaks the mould, and you can’t stop listening to it? When there’s just something special about it that keeps you playing it on repeat? There are actually certain recipes for giving music its power, and a lot of it has to do with keeping people on their toes. Here are some techniques for keeping your music fresh and innovative.

Known and new anchors

Genres are largely distinguished by a specific set of sounds, rhythms, or structural arrangements. For instance, deep dub techno has its signature rich pad sounds that you won’t really hear in, say, trance music, which is more known for the heavy use of arpeggiated synths. Some deep house uses the same pads as techno, but you can still differentiate the two because of its structure and percussion samples.

When producers want to create in a specific genre, they’ll sometimes repeat what has worked before by getting all the sounds right. If you stick to the tried and true though, you’ll need to really up your game to get noticed because you’ll be repeating the same old formula.

Introducing sounds that are less common to the genre can be a great way to shake things up. You could bring in foreign percussions that aren’t usually associated with the style, or samples that might throw people off. New anchors, or a sense of novelty, always create interest for listeners.

Technological novelty

I follow a few sites religiously to keep up with the latest news about new effects, DAWs, and the like. Keeping current lets you get ahead of the curve and stay fresh and innovative. This might sound like a silly example, but people like Cher in her hit “Believe”, or Daft Punk with “Around the World”, showed how using forward-thinking technology at the right time can help you make it huge. You might go “meh” at those songs today, but when they came out, it was a big deal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yca6UsllwYs

 

Balancing surprises

If you browse the web for information on what makes music addictive, you’ll read that the brain seeks out elements that balance predictability with a sense of surprise. If you’re kept just slightly off balance, but still feel you’re on stable ground, you can get the dramatic sense of venturing on some sort of journey while facing obstacles you can overcome. Many people experience a sense of travelling when listening to music, and it’s even been shown that music can produce some of the same hormones as ingesting drugs.

If you’re creative with them, these common production-related tips will help you generate tons of new ideas:

The 1-2 punch technique. I’ve been doing theater for years, and this popular trick is used to surprise people or make them laugh. I’ve noticed how it’s used in movies, advertisements and of course, music. The idea is simple: you produce a cool idea, trick or sound that pleases or surprises the audience. This sound or idea should be one of the main elements of your song. After a certain while, you’ll repeat it a second time, which generates a sense of satisfaction in the listener. Wait a little while longer, and on the third time, when the listener is expecting it to repeat again, you deliver either a different sound or a new variation to throw them off. This usually never fails.

Repetition and counter-rep. In the same vein, when you build the  structure of your song, you’ll need to order the sounds in a specific way to give your audio vocabulary some logic, which brings you into a conversation with the listener. Repetition lulls the listener into a comfort zone. It’s where things are smooth, predictable, even hypnotic. Now, in your repetition, it’s fun to play with timing and counter-balance. One sound will appear, then another will reply or echo the first sound, but as an offset element. Usually, the echo can be off and playful, which gives you a lot of room to build layers that add colour and intrigue to your song.

Be wild. This is a favourite of mine. To get the most out of it requires that you get inspiration from other genres that you might not listen to. In my case, I’ve sometimes listened to contemporary classical, weird jazz, or bluegrass to see what and how things are made. Then I try to apply an element or principle into my own music, either pertaining to the structure, percussions, breakdown, or intro. There’s a lot to be learned from other genres.

SEE ALSO :  Creating Timeless Music