Tag Archive for: hardware

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.

The Modular Trap

The modular synthesis game is a big one right now, and for good reason. Sound designers and synth heads that want to take their sound design to the next level will find no shortage of fantastic modules to collect, and nothing is stopping you from patching together the tweaked out system of your dreams.
That being said the road to modular isn’t without its problems, and before you rush out and get started building a rig of your own I want to share some insights you might find helpful before you dive into the Modular Trap.

Intellijel Rubicon

I’ve spent a good while lately test driving a modular system of my own. I’ve been using the Intellijel Rubicon, and I can attest to many of the uniquely modular things people get excited about – all the hands-on messy fun that make modular such a unique experience, the unique, fat, and rich sound, the many fun surprises that come along with a somewhat unpredictable modular environment. Even with software like Reaktor, Reason, or Softube Modular, the sounds you can generate just can’t be done the same way without real life patch cords and eurorack modules. In my opinion, these are some of the pros about using a modular setup:
The quality of the sound coming from modular is somewhat different and pure. The Intellijel Rubicon I’ve been using seems to have a unique and pure sound, quite different than that from any sine waves I’ve heard from a soft synth. It’s hard to describe but I can honestly feel it more deeply – just like an analog mixdown will be slightly different than a digital one. If like me, you really are fascinated by sounds, you can easily become seduced by this.
Hands-on material plunges its user in a state of flow that can be addictive –. To get anywhere within Modular setup you must be actively involved in every step – patching one module to another, over and over, in different ways requires your full commitment and attention – it’s very engaging. Time can be lost easily when creating music this way, and being so focused on sound feels amazing, it’s truly addictive.
Community – You don’t have to look hard to find helpful, and engaging modular communities online.  You’ll soon learn how to use your modules in creative ways you hadn’t known were possible. Take the time to be a part of these groups as the knowledge shared within these discussions will be precious to you if you’re just starting out.
Knowledge – In educational terms, I feel working with a modular system of any size is one of the best ways to teach yourself how sound can be altered and modified. With automatic results you will train your ears to understand how one module can significantly affect another, and how combining several modulators can create truly strange and trippy sounds

So far it’s all good and fun, but when the initial buzz wears off, you’ll likely find yourself surprised by a few things you might not have anticipated earlier. Here are a few drawbacks to working with a modular setup.

Cost can be a limiting setback. Building a modular rig of your own can and will get expensive. Just the price of patch cords needed for every module alone could very well make you sweat, and you’ll of course also need a case, output, input, VCAs, modulators, oscillators, LFOs, filters…, and that’s just the beginning.
Time Investment. I can’t complain about losing yourself for hours in synthesis, but it’s pretty easy to do with a cool rig begging for your attention. Like any other tool in your arsenal you’ll want to be productive and useful with it, so knowing how to create the sounds you need quickly will take some getting used to.
Steep learning curve. For many producers used to creating sound entirely within software, getting things up and running can be a little more complicated to set up.
Overwhelming options – with dozens of companies producing filters, effects, and everything in between for Eurorack, you might get the feeling that you’ll never have enough for what you want or need.

All that being said, I recommend taking an opportunity to get hands-on with a modular system. But before you build a rack of your own do yourself a favour and ask yourself this ~

Exactly what you want out of this?

What I mean is, are you performing live? are you a sound designer looking for unique and original sounds for your projects and work? are you creating a rig for your enjoyment during your off hours? Those questions are important to know because you can then begin planning with help from a site called Modular Grid – a website and resource that will prove to be incredibly helpful in answering questions about getting started.

One last note – I feel like there are many ideas about ‘going modular’ that are quite misleading, and not at all true. I often hear

“how much easier it is to make music using modular synths, how you’ll be taken more seriously as an artist, and how so many more opportunities will come to you if you can build the ultimate rig…”

Reaktor Blocks: A killer alternative.

As I pointed out earlier, setting up a modular system is going to take a lot of time, plenty of money, and a steep learning curve you wouldn’t anticipate at first. Look at software systems like Reaktor where you can patch together virtually anything you can do with the same modular components. Reaktor is just $199 usd, and requires a modest computer, that’s it. Many people love the look of their ever-growing systems, but many less so are becoming well-respected musicians using modular gear. There are a few role models out there who have accomplished a lot with their analogue toys yet on the flip side there are way more people who are only spitting out random bleeps and farts, feeling mid-ground between fascination and frustration. That’s all fine if bleeps are your thing but the tidal wave of fan mail probably isn’t coming in as fast as you hoped it would. And lastly, building the ultimate rig is in many ways a never-ending race. As soon as your newest filter or VCA arrives you’ve already decided you need another component to make it even better, and you’re almost never satisfied with what you have.

Other possible alternatives: Softube Modular, Reason, Bitwig, VCF Rack (Free).

The consensus is in – Modular is awesome, addictive, and a great way to learn about synthesis. Its also true that building a rig of your own is extremely pricey and not necessarily more productive in the end. Since this blog is about productivity, creativity and tackling anything that stops us from getting there I hope my impressions about going Modular will help make your experience getting started a positive one.

I want to hear about your experiences, hit me up about your thoughts, impressions, or anything else by leaving a comment below.

Cheers ~ JP

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