Tag Archive for: DJing

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





Becoming A Touring DJ Post-Pandemic

After being locked away for over a year, many artists are left with a trove of new music they released over the pandemic. And naturally, many of these artists want to play it out to new audiences. This brings up the question of becoming a touring DJ, which has become most professional musicians’ primary form of income. 

However, with the underground electronic music scene being just that – underground – it’s not as easy to figure out where to tour, especially when much of the world is still closed down. That’s why it seemed like a good idea to reiterate the steps you need to take in order to get noticed in order to become a touring DJ.


North America Isn’t Europe

Becoming a touring DJ in North America is different from, let’s say, Germany. In Germany, club culture is one that’s not only government-sanctioned as being a cultural institution, it’s also not time restricted like in North America. In Germany, techno clubs start on Thursday evening and go all the way through the weekend, non-stop. However, in North America, clubs frequently close at 2 AM, with some exceptions that may go until 4 AM. 

There are after-hours spots, but it’s not like someone researching a tour can easily find the promoter’s contact information. Plus, the world can be a little exclusive, due to its secrecy. 


My Tale Of Touring

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to become a touring DJ in North America. Before Facebook, I knew of all of the shows happening in Montreal, and I would frequent them. This got my name out there, and eventually, I was making lots of musical friends and acquaintances, who would then book me for the shows. 

Through this, I started gathering fans and learned how to communicate with promoters and venue owners, always presenting myself in a professional manner. After a while, people would come out to see me specifically, and instead of standing in the corner waiting for the headliner, they would be on the floor tearing it up. Thus this encouraged more people to dance, and after a while, people visiting from out of town started to take notice. 

this is a photo that represents the metaphor of building bridges, which is necessary to becoming a touring DJ

Becoming A Touring DJ Is About Building Bridges

Promoters in the United States and Ontario would often come to Montreal events, and they would reach out to the promoter to figure out who I was and book me outside of my normal domain for parties that I had never heard of (even if they were within driving distance, and naively thought I knew all the events within driving distance). 

Then, while playing these places, maybe I noticed other DJs on the bill and invited them to come play one of the events in Montreal. This is how cross-pollination of scenes happens, and creates regional touring circuits for people to play on.


Becoming A Touring DJ Is Conditional – You Must Provide Value

However, becoming a touring DJ can only happen for developing artists if certain conditions are met. First, they must play in their city and become sort of a local hero. This allows them to have content that can be shared with other promoters showing that they can rock a crowd. This is important because in this day and age content is king, and videos showing you smash a show is a great way to prove to people who haven’t heard of you that you’re someone worth paying attention to.

To play locally, you must also provide value for the scene beyond the music you play. Be a patron of the arts, and go to shows. Write about public-facing shows in blogs. Do promotion for the shows by flyering and posting on social media. Show that you care about the development of the scene; form a symbiotic relationship. You’d be amazed at the power of reciprocity once you approach the promoter in a respectful, professional capacity asking for gigs. However, you HAVE TO ASK. If you don’t ask, you will never become a touring DJ.


The First Follower Concept

Even after all of this, realize that your first gigs will not be glamorous. You’ll be sleeping on couches, playing for almost nothing (and/or free), and saying yes to pretty much everything. You will not sleep much, you will not make much, and you will play on a lot of empty floors. However, eventually, people will start to congregate if the right conditions are in place. 

This is the first follower concept – something that Derek Sivers, the founder of CDBaby evangelizes. This is best exemplified by this video of his where a lone dancer on a hill starts ferociously dancing to the groove. Then another follower notices the infectiousness of their moves and joins in. Then a third, then a fourth. After about a dozen people start dancing, critical mass forms, and like a flock of seagulls to a piece of bread on the beach, they swarm.

This is what you must have at every one of your shows – someone who is willing to be the first mover. If you’re playing out of town, this may be especially difficult. Therefore, do your best to at first play shows that are within traveling distance of your friends and fans. Incentivize them to come out with guest lists, or other giveaways. 


Playing For Exposure

I’m about to say something controversial. Something that in certain circles will result in a strong amount of backlash. So where we go… when a promoter says that playing a gig for free, or relatively little, will be good exposure, if you’re at the beginning of your career, they’re right. However, it’s only worth it if you can get that “first follower.” If you just play to people who are sitting at the bar, there will be no exposure – instead, you will be a glorified jukebox. Nobody gives a shit about the jukebox. If you’re not able to bring out someone who is willing to go buck wild on the floor for you, then the gig probably won’t do much for your exposure, and won’t help you on your journey to becoming a touring DJ.


Branding Is Everything 

Ever wondered why promoters are willing to shell out $3k for a visa plus the booking fee to get a European to come to play a local club, despite there being locals that can play just as well, if not better? Branding, unfortunately. 

It’s easier to sell the romanticism of a European DJ who commands a spot in a culture that appreciates them, rather than booking a local who doesn’t have the same aura surrounding them. People may not even know their music, however, they have tens of thousands of followers, videos of them playing the crowd, and a press kit that would make any up-and-coming artist jealous. 

Just by having this, they have the social proof and authority necessary to get curious minds to take a leap. Compare this to a local DJ who has none of this, despite the convenience of being around. Additionally, the scarcity of the European artist contributes to their appeal. Compare that to a local who is always available. 

A photo of a DJ touring


Other Ways To Become A Touring DJ

Throw Your Own Party

There really is only one shortcut to this, and it takes some upfront capital investment. The way? Throw your own show, and book artists from out of town that will consider booking you. Then spend money and time on promoting it, and promoting it hard. Partner with other local artists who already pull a crowd. Partner with other promoters and venue owners. Work out a revenue-sharing agreement.

Then, since it’s your event, put yourself in a good slot that has a crowd and make sure you have friends there who are willing to record you rocking the crowd. Then, afterward, make sure to ask the out-of-towners if you’d be willing to do some gig trades, where you play their city in return for them playing yours. You can then use the footage of this party in order to solicit gig trades from people you’ve never met as well since it shows to them that you can throw a hell of a time.


Get A Booking Agent

This is easier said than done. Most of the time you can’t just outright hire a booking agent, since they usually work on commission. However, every once in a while, you can convince someone to try and book you if you have enough rapport. 

The problem is, let’s say you are able to get a booking agent without clout. Unless they have a reputation where their word guarantees a good party, you have to have the branding that they can sell. You have to have a press kit, you have to have photos and videos of parties you played, you have to have a social media presence that is constantly growing and being updated. You are, unfortunately, a product just like a box of cereal, or a car. 


I Guess I’m An Idealist, Too

I was really hoping that the pandemic would move scenes more local, as the lack of plane travel, and travel, in general, showed its impact on our air quality. However, often this leads to unexpected consequences. The lack of pollution has cleared the skies, and somehow, impossibly, warmed the planet. Yet, in this same article, it was concluded that even though the planet warmed a little, the impact on people’s lives is positive, with less dying of air pollution. 

Hopefully, with a little education, we can reduce our carbon footprint of touring, and at the same time build up local scenes. It just seems that things are going to go back to as they were before. 


Creating tension in music

Electronic music—oriented for dance-floors—mainly relies on the use of tension to create excitement. I was recently asked how I personally approach tension-building in my work. In this post I’d like to share my point of view on the subject, but before writing this I also spent some time reading articles about tension in music to see how it’s approached by others. To my surprise, I didn’t find anything I could really relate to. Many approaches to creating tension use common, established techniques, and it seems like most of the advice about this topic was for rock-type music. While the techniques I read about are interesting, I firmly believe that you need to understand the reasons behind creating tension in music first, and once you understand them, you might find that things I discuss in this post are still relevant 10 years from now. Personally, I’ve been approaching tension-building in my music the same way for the last 20 years, from a philosophical point of view.

There’s a moment that stands out to me most with regards to my first true understanding of tension in electronic music. I spent the first few years of my DJ career as the opening act. I’d be the minimal dude that plays mellow, heady, trippy stuff, which—at the time in Montreal’s scene—meant opening slots. No complaints here though; this part of my career is when I learned the most about playing live. Opening a show is one of the most misunderstood roles in live music; it’s far more important than most people think.

When people start arriving at a show, the club is empty and there’s already a bit of awkwardness and natural tension mixed in with the audience’s excitement and anticipation. People arrive with expectations, and the opening artist is usually there to set the mood and to build a foundation for what the night will become (which includes not playing too uptempo if the floor is empty). Creating sonic comfort as the opening act is essential.

It’s difficult to create tension if you haven’t yet created a trusting relationship with the people at the event while performing. You’ve probably read many times that the best DJs are the ones that know how to read a crowd—and there’s a reason for this; you have to be aware of the audience’s needs and how to fulfill them, but also of how to create anticipation before addressing those needs: this is tension-building.

Now, it’s important to understand that there are three main tension-building scenarios in music:

  1. Circumstantial. In a given context, some natural tension/excitement might already exist, such as playing your last song before the headliner plays. Those 5 minutes will be naturally more tense as people’s eyes and ears are getting ready for the main act, and the music is supporting this anticipation.
  2. DJ-related. When a DJ knows how to play a track at the right moment and combine it with something else to create an experience, then the music becomes part of a puzzle.
  3. Music-made. This type of tension is created within a song itself, sonically via producing.

When you understand that your music might be heard in these three different contexts, it can give you a better idea of what sort of tension might be best for you personally to create. For instance, perhaps you only want to create music that will rely on the skilled hands of a DJ to really be effective—this doesn’t mean your song is made to be less interesting; skilled DJs search for these kinds of tracks as “tools” for their sets! When someone thinks a song is boring or too “simple”, I’d reply that usually it’s because it’s being listened to out of context, and someone like Villalobos or Hawtin could easily turn a simple track into a bomb by dropping it at the right time. I made an album on my label Climat that was quite experimental, and it was reported that Ricardo played some of the weirdest cuts in the middle of his sets and people would cheer…I doubt many acts can do that with a purely experimental track. That said, music that’s made for DJs to use as a tool has to be very clean from a technical point of view, which means that you need to have your sections very spaced out and have elements that come in repetitively at regular intervals. For example, your 4-bar sections could always end with a snare roll to indicate you’re finishing a section. This organization in your arrangement becomes a track that can be easily layered without confusion, for both the crowd and the artist.

If you think that most of your tracks are for DJs and are meant to be played in clubs, it’s important to test your tracks yourself in a DJ set to see how they go. You’ll want to determine if the tracks are easy to layer or not and to see what you can do with them.

When it comes to creating elements in a track through producing that can create tension, it’s essential to understand that tension rises as an expectation of something to happen (or not). If you write a song so that there’s a specific sound at a specific point every bar, if you have have a bar or two where you leave it out, this can create anticipation and tension. So from a technical point of view, there are some specific tension-producing techniques that can work well when implemented properly:

  • Breakdowns. I’d say that techno between end the of 90s until about 2009 usually had at least one breakdown with “stuff” happening. Breakdowns can include things like cutting the kick out or removing lower frequencies—applied for about 4 bars or so—then a drop would follow. A few years after, people started to get really fed up with this approach, and many producers realized that it was actually more effective not to include a breakdown, and to let the DJs create their own breakdowns by cutting the lows at a moment better suited to their own personal set(s). That said, cutting the lows often still works well.
  • Volume changes. When you introduce a new element into a song, you can either fade it in or simply drop in the sound at 100% volume. A fade will create tension as it the sound becomes louder and louder, while a drop-in is useful to create surprises, which is also a good way to resolve tension. One of the most misused techniques when it comes to volume changes is to have a variation in the volume of an entire section, then having the following section louder. When this is done properly, the contrast is a good way to create an explosion.
  • Decay. Sounds that have their decay increase over time seem bigger and more powerful, especially if you approach changes progressively. Reverb use is also a way of adding decay, and if you add a very large one to short sounds, they’ll become longer, creating tension.
  • From maximal to minimal. Having a lot of sounds happening at the same time and then trimming them down to the essentials will create an “emptiness” that people become familiar; they will anticipate resolution to a “fuller” mix. The density change is something that can be physically felt in a club setting. This is why everyone was using the white noise technique to create excitement for a while; it was a good way to resolve a moment of emptiness.
  • Pitch. Playing with the pitch of a melody or sound is a good head trip, and if you play with it subtly, it can really create uneasiness and tension. Some genres use pitch manipulation in an extreme way by slowly modulating pitch to its highest point, but to me, this technique becomes irritating and predictable after a while.
  • Pattern changes. If you’ve established your groove with a certain pattern and then introduce a hole or change, it will create tension.

Now, is there a particular duration for a tension-building section that might make it work better?

Yes and no. I’m lucky and have had the chance to hear and see many of my songs in a club setting. I’ve had many attempts at tension-building fail, and some succeed. Shorter tension-builders work better than longer ones. Also, keep in mind that some songs will play better if you don’t try to add tension to them at all. I think that 2-bar moments are great for tension-building because it also gives the DJs some time to play within them. If you make your tension-builder too long, you’re making the DJ work hard and potentially fail. Think about tension-building like a sauce—if it’s all premade, you have less room to add your own stuff. Don’t overdo it in your own productions; developing a sense of trust with the DJs who will be playing your work is essential. When people listen to minimal music and say it’s boring, it’s something I take with a grain of salt—perhaps at home in your living room it might be, but in the right context (such as a club), it might be more than enough.

SEE ALSO : Building a great groove

Choosing a genre for your music

Every now and then I encounter people I work with who have trouble choosing a genre to produce in because they like a wide variety of different genres and have too many ideas. I’ve also experienced this myself in my early years of DJing, and it was a bit of an issue for my sets. Given my early experiences, I’m well situated to understand how it can feel to have too many ideas and to have trouble settling on a specific genre or style. I’d like to discuss how you can deal with this problem in your own music-making.

As a DJ in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was very much interested in emotional music and techno. There was some commercial dance music that I would dig and mix with techno in my sets, but the reactions I’d get when I’d do this were often not very good. There are legendary DJs like Laurent Garnier who are masters of surfing different genres in a single set, going from one to another seamlessly and having people love it, but this is an art in itself. To understand how to do this, you have to understand how the music you’re playing is made and how it works, in terms of rhythms and harmonies. But once you do, anything is possible. Now, software like Traktor or Mixed In Key can help with this type of mixing; the flexibility we have now with modern technology provides us with many options to constantly reinvent ourselves.

But what about music-making and producing as opposed to DJing? How can you choose a genre to make if you are interested in many?

I like to have a very open mind about producing in terms of taking influences from multiple genres and styles; I’d say that it can actually be something positive once you understand how your brain works. Many people feel that cross-breeding genres will end up a mess, but just like DJing, it can work. Let me discuss how:

One genre, one alias

A very simple way to approach producing in multiple genres is to use the Uwe Schmidt (Atom) approach where you make and explore making music in one genre, under one alias. Schmidt has a ridiculous amount of aliases he’s been using to make all the music he’s inspired to. He doesn’t hold back, he just makes music and will do whatever he feels like doing in-studio. He might make techno some days, but also has a funny salsa-flavoured house project under the alias Senor Coconut. I’ve always felt that making music should be comparable to an ultimate feeling of freedom. If you don’t feel free, your brain is stuck on something. I think that easiest way to approach solve feeling stuck is to make music using my parallel production technique. When you save your projects, make sure to have folders or categories so you know what project sounds like what.

The advantages of working in parallel this way include:

  • You’ll never run into limitations or lack inspiration.
  • Learning techniques from multiple genres can be a very enriching experience.
  • You get to play with different sounds and tools in each session which will never be boring.
  • Exploring different genres can ultimately lead you to new breeds of styles, spawned from mixing two worlds together which creates your own original identity.
  • Perhaps you’re not aware that you are very good at making a specific genre until you’ve explored it.

However, there are also disadvantages to working on multiple styles in parallel such as:

  • It might take longer to get recognition in one genre if you’re all over the place. “Jack of all trades, master of nothing” holds true.
  • You might never get really solid at working in any genre. Each genre has different approaches and techniques which can take time to master.
  • Getting gigs might become confusing for promoters.
  • Managing multiple accounts/identites on Soundcloud or elsewhere can be a bit of an issue.

So, where should you start with deciding on your genre(s)?

I’ll speak for myself and say that for me, things started to make sense once I saw Plastikman do a live set in 1998 (I’ve said this in countless posts, sorry). I realized that what happened that day was a barrage of multiple personal insights:

  • His set was so inspiring, sounded so new, innovative, and different than everything else, that I fell in love with the sound. It was some sort of deep minimal, with a dub approach. My mind had a reaction of “OMG when this set is over, where am I going to hear this again?!” Back then, when a show was done, it was over. Insight 1: After this show, my brain felt I needed to make music to feed itself.
  • One of the other things that inspired me was how he was using panning and the stereo image to have sounds move in the space in real time. It was truly an exciting experience to hear movement. I felt that I had not heard this enough before and not in a live context. Insight 2: My inspiration came from seeing and hearing this creativity and exploration of new sounds.
  • A last point that’s important here was that this event was well attended and people really understood what was going on and dancing and enjoying the set. I was in awe to see that. Some events I play, people are on the dance floor talking the entire time which drives me bonkers. Insight 3: I wanted to be part of this community of people who liked exploratory music.

When you decide on a genre, there are different things to keep in mind: what are you making? Who are you making it for? Why are you making it? If you’re making music in multiple different genres, your purpose might not be clear, but once it is, it will make more sense for you to trim your genres of interest down to only a few (ideally, just two). I like to encourage people to be interested in two styles because you might get bored of one, or it will become difficult to introduce new elements to your routine.

There’s another important thing to keep in mind when choosing a genre to work in: before you get really good at it, that genre might go “out of style.”

Is working in an outdated style a bad thing, though? Well, when you love something deeply, you usually don’t care if it’s less popular because that genre is you in the end. However, if your goals are releases, bookings, etc., it might get tricky. When minimal techno’s popularity started waning around 2009, many DJs and producers all jumped on the house bandwagon – sometimes not even liking it – they felt they needed to make house if they still wanted to get booked.

To summarize, I think that if you’re not yet set on one or two genres, there’s a part of you that’s still searching for your style. It might take time to figure it out, but I believe that going out and really enjoying music, then listening to it at home, will help you narrow down your search.

SEE ALSO : Experimentation in music: how far can you go?

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.


SEE ALSO : Pheek Talk 3: Productivity Tips 

Getting Lost in the Sea of Tracks

Searching for music these days has become a real skill. I was in a few music stores recently browsing for new tracks for an upcoming DJ gig, and I realized just how counter-intuitive the experience had become — not only because music stores are, in general, a huge mess, but also because the noise factor was so high that I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. By “noise factor,” I’m referring to the ratio of songs I found that were irrelevant to my search.

sea of tracks, music production, crowd, vacationsWe can attribute part of this to the accessibility of music softwares today, which helped democratize electronic music by bringing production within reach for so many people. Part of it can also be blamed on the fact that launching a label has become so simple that basically anyone with the resources can start one. It might seem ironic for a music production blog to point this out, but this is the reality. I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you’re someone who is dedicated to your art and is looking to really make something happen.

But how do you find your way through this wall of noise?

Consumers have more difficulty than ever finding the music they like. Scroll back in time and you’ll understand that the invention of records was to answer a simple need: to be able to play something again. Once that need was met, a lot of the innovations were centred on making the music sound better. robot, missing hubRadio appeared later as a way of broadcasting over distances. Then, at the same time as music was becoming easier to make, the internet came along to dramatically expand its accessibility and reach, leading to an overall decrease in the quality of what’s available. The sea of music out there today is the result of this over-proliferation caused by these technological advances all converging at the same time. For the consumer faced with thousands of new songs daily, it can be very disorienting. One’s community of peers therefore become an important reference.

Artists have difficulty finding appropriate labels to release their music. If you’ve overcome the technical challenges and are now hunting for a label, you might feel overwhelmed. Like I explained in a previous post, you’ll have to spend a considerable amount of time in music shops and online just trying to pinpoint which labels are a good fit for your sound. But with so little time and so many choices, finding what you’re looking for can be a huge challenge.

What seems to be missing is a hub between both parties.

So what’s the solution?

headphones, music, selectiveStop searching elsewhere, rely on your network. I have a few people who I follow attentively on Spotify or Soundcloud. These guys seem to either have a great radar or amazing connections, because they’re always finding gems. I’ve been told that a great way to keep up to date is to follow as many artists as you can, and then cut out those who are idle too long or change styles abruptly. I also ask my friends who are DJs or label owners to share their recent discoveries with me every now and then, and I do the same. Very efficient.

Find influencers. Influencers are individuals who seem to be at the intersection of multiple networks, who are followed by many people and will make waves with their track picks in charts or podcasts. Each genre has its own influencers, of course. Perhaps check a site like Resident Advisor to get an idea of who they think is trending currently.

SEE ALSO : The New Face Of Albums 

Find a track tester for your productions

This might be one important post, so consider taking 5 minutes to go through it carefully. You probably already know how important it is to test the music you’re creating, but the big question is, how do you test your music effectively?

you need DJs who will test your music properly

First, there are a few traps people fall into. I’ve said it many times, but succumbing to the myth that your music isn’t important if it isn’t signed to a label is a very common mistake — even for experienced producers. No joke. The truth is that your music is important simply because it’s yours. It deserves real love and attention, and that means proper treatment.

So how do you make sure to test your music properly?

In a word: you need beta-testers.

Track testers are experienced DJs who regularly play in all kinds of events, both big and small. The fact that someone plays often will ensure that your music gets inserted into their sets alongside other tracks, and that it will be heard by live crowds. The great news is that thanks to the internet, you can work with DJs across the globe and test its reception in different countries.

Here are a few tips on how to proceed:

Find a track tester to test your music properly Follow artists/DJs on Soundcloud. I’ve said it in past posts, but the importance of connecting with people on Soundcloud can’t be overstated. If you follow artists and DJs and engage with them, you can make some great contacts that will be beneficial to you both. Find people who enjoy, support, and comment on the music you really love. This is a good way to make sure the people you invest your time and energy into genuinely share the same tastes, which is a crucial factor in finding your beta-tester.

Share music in private. If you’ve gotten into the game of sending music to labels only to have your experiences end in frustration, then working in a one-on-one setting can be much more interesting. Don’t just send a random link to a DJ though. Take the time to connect with the person first, and then share a track after you’ve made contact. It feels special to receive music privately after a nice introduction — and even more so if the music fits.

Get feedback and tweak. This part is a bit trickier. If you want the DJ to play your song in a club, you’ll need to let them download it first. Be sure your mixdown is right, and it’s even better if the track is mastered too. Once the track is played, try to follow up to get some feedback. Be clear that you’re not fishing for compliments, but that you’re genuinely seeking constructive criticism. This is the only way to improve your track.

And very importantly, make sure the person will not share the track with their DJ friends! 

difficult producerYou have no control over this of course, and that’s why you need to be extra careful about whom you share your music with. I’ve seen some really awkward situations where unreleased material accidentally got into the hands of a vast network of people. There are even online groups where members create pools of music to be shared abroad. If your music finds it way into one of these groups, the good news is that you’ll be known by a lot of music collectors (who for the most part aren’t DJs). The bad news, though, is that your track will have been burned, and there’s basically no way to release it after that.

So sometimes, a smart strategy could be to sacrifice a great track you feel could get you attention, even if it means giving it away. If it works, then the benefit in the end could be much higher than the loss. I myself have done this multiple times with netlabels, and it often paid off.


SEE MORE:  Guide to shameless self-promotion

Make the Leap from DJ to Producer

Many people dream of being able to enjoy a self-sustaining life while working as a DJ or music producer. If you’re a DJ, you might be contemplating the idea of jumping into production. Both avenues can lead you to doing it full time, but not if you do it half-way. Make it your passion.

It’s always a bit delicate to talk about how to get started in a new hobby like making electronic music. There’s so much to cover, as there’s an extremely wide range of options to consider. While I already discussed how to get started with your equipment and such, I feel we can take the topic a bit further.

DJs often think about how they can make it to the next level, and it’s obvious to me that getting into production is the best choice you could make.

Channel your ideas into making your own music

Have you ever loved a track but didn’t like a certain part of it, and then arranged a hack in Traktor to get past that part, only to still not be happy with the result? Well this is actually very common, and as there are so many tracks being released every day, you can spend way too much time just finding the tools you need to make your sets.

So, while everyone is playing the top 10 on Beatport, you might want to pour your time and energies instead into looking through some of your unreleased material (or maybe starting to make some).

I do have to say that there’s nothing quite like playing your own music, and having people ask you what it is because they’ve never heard it before.

That’s the power of being a producer and making your own music.


DJ experience will help you as a new producer

With your DJing experience, you know what tracks will work well.

Not all producers are DJs, but if you are only producing, it might be a good idea to learn how to play in clubs. You’ll get to know how certain things sound on big systems and what it’s like to have a track that doesn’t create the proper momentum in a given space. Those things are hard to learn if you’re just hanging out in the studio and receiving feedback from your Soundcloud friends.

Listening to and mixing music, and seeing how a live crowd responds, is a valuable experience that will improve your studio work as a producer.


If you can score a deal with a label, you’ll get access to a whole new network of contacts, which can mean more gigs.

It’s not easy to be able to tour as a DJ, as it demands you work hard to expand your network. Making your own music is kind of like sending a business card out into the world, and the more people play it, the more it will travel around. If you work things out, it will be the leverage that gets you out there and travelling too. This is why the quality of your production work will matter so much, and so the more effort you put into getting things right, the better it will pay off.

Lastly, if you’re already a DJ, you’ll have a head start. There are many things you’ll know, from what a loop is, to how sound works in general, to having a basic understanding of technicalities.

So there’s just no reason not to try to produce; in no time at all, production will become your new playground.


Making the leap from DJ to producer can be easier if you know producers

Shortcuts to make the leap into production

Team up with another producer first. If you know people who produce, one of the best ways to start is to hang out with them one evening and participate in making music. If they have gear, you can try to ask questions. And if they’re open minded you can make a track with them, or at least make a sketch of a song.

The idea here is to see how it feels to you and if you like it. If you get excited, there’s a good chance it might be for you.

Also, this person will be able to give you pointers on what to get first.

Watch tutorials, use demos. There are many softwares out there that will let you try before you buy. Be sure to wait until you have a good period of time to actually try it out properly before choosing to install. If you’re in school and exams are coming, for example, you might want to wait so as not to sabotage your efforts, both in music learning and classes. Plus, there are tons of videos out there on how to start a track or how to get started. The number one mistake people do is to buy a DAW because someone told them to without trying it first. I’ve learned the hard way, trust me.

Remix. Before making you own tracks, try remixing and playing with loops. This is the fastest way to get something done at first. You can get parts on various sites such as this one. Eventually you’ll make your own when you get to see how people do it.