Tag Archive for: music coaching

Using and Choosing an Alias

Artist aliases have a colourful history that goes back centuries. Long before techno, stage names and pen names were common in music and literature especially, with artists often wanting to separate their david Bowiepublic personas from their private identities. Voltaire (aka François-Marie Arouet) and Bob Dylan (born Zimmerman) both wanted to break away from their pasts. David Bowie (born David Robert Jones) wanted to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, later the lead singer of The Monkees. And many of history’s biggest musicians and authors have wanted to disguise their genders (if women) or ethnic origins. There are as many motivations as there are people and contexts.

At the beginning of techno music, virtually everyone had an alias. It was part of the culture of techno for producers to want to remain faceless, with the idea that techno was supposed to be all about the music, instead of the egos. At the risk of getting too nostalgic, it was one of the things that made techno different.
One of the beautiful things with aliases is that they allow artists to channel one musical direction into a distinct brand, which frees them to explore many different projects or genres without fear of confusing or alienating their followers.
Two of the biggest examples in electronic music are Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman moniker and Aphex Twin, each with their own identifiable sound and even logo. Some artists, like Daft Punk, will take the concept even further, donning elaborate costumes during live performances to avoid ever showing their faces.
For artists like these  — or like Bowie, who probably opened the door for these kinds of stage personas — using an alias can be a way to get around personal fears or insecurities and achieve complete creative freedom. In the 1990s, against the backdrop of Detroit’s urban decay, the city’s underground techno scene went all in on aliases, with many artists channelling superhero personas or other fictional characters to envision the future of music in a dystopic world.

So let’s say you’ve decided to use an alias. That’s likely the easy part. But how do you find the right one for you?

When it comes to techno music, there are often trends with aliases. One recent one was to remove the vowels and place all letters in caps. Another was to swap the first letters of the first and last names. But if you’re like for something more original, here are some tips for finding your own alias:

If you already have a nickname, use it. The whole idea behind an alias is that it’s something that is unique to you, and that people will quickly associate with your music. If your friends (especially those in your music circles) have given you a nickname because they think it expresses something interesting or special about you, they might just be onto something.

Use a vocal imitation of a sound (an onomatopoeia). Not many people know this, but I got my own alias by using an onomatopoeia (like swish, hiss, buzz, etc.) for a sound that I felt captured the feel of my music. There are no official spellings for sounds because everyone will hear them differently, so you can get really creative with this.

Do a random article search on Wikipedia. This might sound a bit strange, considering that I just said how important it was for an alias to be something unique to you. As a springboard to further research or new ideas though, Wikipedia can be a great resource. Just enter the first keyword that comes to mind and go from there, jumping off from article to article whenever something piques your interest.

Have fun with languages. If you’re having difficulty finding the right alias in your language, why not explore a different one? This can be especially fitting if you have a multicultural background yourself or speak different languages, or even if you just have a special bond with another culture and feel that its language speaks to you in some way.

Whether you follow one of these approaches or find your own, the important part to remember is that your alias is your brand. It should translate something essential about your music, and be striking and original enough that people will hear it and immediately think of you.

Have fun with it! The process of choosing an alias can be extremely constructive, since it invites you to explore what your music is all about.

SEE ALSO :  The next big thing? 


How to Create a Deep Kick

One of the most important parts of electronic music today is the quality of kicks. Back when I started making techno in the 90s, kicks had greater or lesser importance. You could use a drum machine like a 909, select a kick, and that was pretty much it.

Things have drastically changed.

The rise of the Funktion One and the emergence of better sound systems in clubs led producers to create kicks that were better defined. Club-goers began to show more interest in the well-crafted kicks, and producers have responded by putting a whole lot more work into the design of their low end.

Music fans know a great kick by the nice body sensation that gets you up and moving on the dance floor. But to better understand what goes into making a beautiful kick, you’ll need a bit of a sense of how sound is used in clubs.

four voices sound systemVoices. By voices, we’re referring to how the sound is defined. The typical club will have a sub and a top. Since some tops have 2 voices, the average sound system would feature 3 voices at most. But while most of the kick is heard in the low end (ie, the sub), it actually comes through all voices. One thing new producers sometimes won’t realize is that hearing the kick is more about increasing the presence of the mids than about boosting the low ends.

Crossovers. This technical term refers to the frequency setting used to divide two voices. For example, the sub usually covers a frequency range going from 20hZ to roughly 80-100hZ. The mids will fall between that first crossover and the next one, which will define the frequency range covered by the highs.

Why it matters. Because knowing how sound is used in clubs will allow you to produce music that sounds the best it possibly can. And the more your music stands out for its technical quality, the closer you’ll be to standing alongside the top producers who have mastered their sound.

DJ mixers. If you look at DJ mixers like the Xone series by Allen & Heath, you’ll note they support 4 voices, with separate knobs for the lows, low-mids, high-mids, and highs. These mixers are a good way to get a better sense of how DJs will control your sound when playing it live.



What is a deep kick?

In more underground and non-commercial strains of techno music, deeper kicks are central to crafting that deeper, warm sound. Physically, you feel deep kicks heavier in the lower part of the body, hitting you below the hips for extra warmth.

There are different kinds of kicks:

The full kick: This one covers the frequencies ranging from super-low all the way up into the high-mids. It is very punchy, well-defined, and direct.

The mid-kick: Popular in lo-fi music, the mid-kick, as the name suggests, occupies more of the mids. The lower end of the song might be covered by a bass, or might not be as present in the genre. This one punches you right in the chest. It’s punchy, but lacks thump.

The low-kick: This one places the accent on the sub part of the kick. This means the bass won’t be struggling there, since it will move up to the lowest end of the mids. This one has less punch, and creates a warmer effect by landing below the hips.

One thing about kicks that often gets overlooked: you’ll benefit a lot by finalizing your kick as the last part of your mixdown. Why? Because until the track is completely finished, you can’t exactly know your track’s needs. This is a detail, but an important one. Try it, and you’ll see that adding the kick last can produce incredible results.

Once you determine your track’s needs, you can use these tricks to make your own kicks. I’ve also created a macro that should make things a lot easier, but first, here are some important tips:

Synthesize the sub. Use Operator or your favourite VST synth to create the low end. Using a sine wave can be a really effective way to create that warmth.


Layer another kick for the mids. Use a sample of a kick you like for the mids. This means you need to cut its lowest end to avoid conflict with the sub. The simpler the lows, the better the results.

Saturation. This is not really a trick, so much as something to use freely and without hesitation. Saturation will add warmth and oumph.

EQ. A good method here is to slightly cut down the 160-to-200hZ range. This little hole you’ll create will allow the crossovers to breathe, and will open more room for the lows. You can lightly boost it around 1khZ to help define the transient and attack.


Compression. Use at the end of your chain to glue everything together.

Pheek deepkick maker, kick maker, deep kick, kick drum machine, analog


Here is the macro I created to help get you started. Having playing with it. Download it here: [download id=”30199″]

Let me know what you think of it!



SEE ALSO :  Sound design: create the sounds you imagine inside your head  

The Science Behind Tracky Music

I will always remember that day in 1989 when I went to the local record shop after school to see if they had received some rare techno records that had just been released. There were about 5 of us in town who were eager to get our hands on them, and it was a race to who would grab them first. This might sound surreal to you if you’re younger, but those were the days when each record you bought was precious. You’d often even buy the ones you were unsure of in case you liked it later… or because you didn’t want other DJs to have it. Funny, eh? We were at the opposite edge from our current times with music accessibility.

vinyl records, store, shoppingSo that day, I was listening to records in the “Techno – Fresh Arrivals” section of the shop. There were these 3 odd-looking ones (I still have them) with no information on them but colours. The green one had the same loop playing all the way through, from beginning to end. There were basically no variations, from what I could tell. “This is really weird!” I thought. I didn’t get the purpose of it. Then I listened to the second record — same concept, different colour. Last record, same thing. Puzzled, something inside of me pushed me to buy them. There was something about those records I just couldn’t pass up.

That was the first time I bought tracky records. 1989

I got to a friend’s place and we started to mix them, and suddenly it all started to make sense. The music was always changing, but very subtly. The records were mind-boggling, and I fell in love with them. We discovered we didn’t need songs — we had the tools to build our own stories. It was exhilarating.

dj, tattoos, tweak, tracky, techno, musicTracky music was a revelation. It taught us that no music is boring if correctly used, and that techno is not necessarily made to be listened to as is, but used as raw material.

See, the thing about tracky records is that they’re used with others in order to create something completely new. Have you ever heard of 1 + 1 = 3?  One record, mixed with another, makes 3 different layers (the 3rd layer is created by combining the other 2).

Making tracky music poses some challenges and the number one is, how to not be boring with simplistic elements.

There are some basic rules for making tracky music, but the great news is that breaking them is where the fun really starts.

  1. Organized for DJs. The more organized your track is, the easier it will be to mix. This is why it’s important to place redundant elements in multiples of 4. Very useful.
  2. Micro vs macro repetition. Start by the smallest loop possible, and then expand it. You can start by the smallest, simplest kick-hats-snare combo, for example, and then start adding a sound looped on a longer scale to make the small loop feel scaleable. The careful addition, spread over time, will allow the listener to process it and make the repetition feel more palatable. But it’s not about making music for listening, it’s about making music as raw material for someone else.
  3. Subtle variations. Try making automations that last over 1 minute or longer. This will create the subtle impression that something is going on, but since the changes are happening so slowly, it will be super hard to pinpoint exactly what. Some things you can automate: EQ gain, filtering, panning, volume gain, effect wet/dry.
  4. Arrangement surprises. Mix a number of predictable arrangements with more destabilizing ones. For instance, you can throw a clap in every 3 bars so the listener will come to expect it, and then later remove one clap to throw them off, before finally bringing it back in.
  5. Develop your vocabulary. This is a huge topic in itself. For now though, you need to know that 1 bar of tracky music may have its own vocabulary, and that it’s important to be consistent about it. So every 32 bars, for example, you could insert a little silence to accentuate the transition. If you mute something, you are muting a part of a sentence. This will be explored in greater detail in a future post…


Here are some great artists whose tracks you can use as references: Mountain People, Gez Varley, Barac, Mike Ink.



SEE ALSO : Self-Imposed Rules For Arrangements

Dealing with Past Mistakes

I was chatting with a producer friend of mine recently, and he mentioned that he was currently contacting some record labels he had released with in the past to ask them to remove his music from digital stores. I didn’t get why he would ask for such a thing, but he explained that he felt embarrassed by his past tracks and that he didn’t want them to represent him anymore.

“What was I thinking? I have no idea, but it’s embarrassing!” he explained.

He said he feels that most of the music he made back then was directionless and tailored for specific labels, and that it has nothing to do with the artist he is now. So the big question is: do I live with the past, or do I try to erase the music that I don’t want to be associated with anymore?

Well, let’s try to unpack what happened in order to avoid falling into the same trap. What were the main factors that caused my friend to react towards his past in this way?

You're never reallyalone in thisTechnical challenges. This one is pretty obvious. Let’s say you start making music, and one of your main focuses is to release on label X. All of your efforts will logically be channelled towards making music that’s an aesthetic fit for the label. But then again, you’re only just starting to produce. So you’ll find samples and presets that sound alike, try to make everything fit together, and then when you think it’s ready, send it off. You have no idea though how many demos we (as record labels) receive from people who didn’t do their homework, and who haven’t listened to our last 3-4 releases to see if their productions are up to par. For example, most problems my friend had were related to the mixdown and arrangements, which are due to simple lack of experience. As you produce, you gain experience and whatever you release will always reflect where you were technically, at that point of your life. You can remove it from stores, but not from people’s computers.

Lack of music testers. Have you played your music for people who you know are reliable sources of criticism? This might sound obvious, but a lot of producers will just finish a track and send it off to a label right away. This is a very bad habit to develop, because a second pair of ears might be the best tool out there for gaining a fresh perspective on potential issues with your tracks.

You might think you can disown the problem by relying on the label owner to take care of the technical aspects, but the truth is that a lot of label owners aren’t always technically savvy. This is how my friend and I were wondering, “How did the label owner let that get past them without sending it back to have those issues fixed?” Mainly because it’s up to the artist to ensure their track is solid enough for them to be proud of — and for it to pass muster with reliable critics too.

music direction, compassLack of direction. This one is tricky. How do you know if the music you’re making now will still hold up in 4-5 years from now? Well, you’ll never really know. But making timeless music should be more of your goal than making music that would sell, at the precise moment. Many DJs change styles and genres every year, whether because they jump from one bandwagon to the next to chase the trends, because they’re lacking gigs and choose to adjust their sets, or simply because they get bored. This can become a real issue, because if a release takes a few months to a year to get published, then by the time your music is out, you’ll have already moved on. For producers, this presents one big existential question: “What is my voice?”

If you’re spending most of your time trying to sound like others, you’ll be trailing behind all the time, trying to adjust yourself to their sound even after they’ve moved on. This is not an issue if you’re sounding like yourself.

But how do you know what your voice is?

This is a difficult question to answer. If listeners can recognize your sound from one song to another, there’s a good chance that you’ve found it. And if you tend to return instinctively to a particular musical direction when you’re having fun in the studio, this can also be a strong indication of your voice.

Try these tips to find your own voice:

  • Don’t buy samples anymore. Try to make your own.
  • Don’t use presets. Again, make your own.
  • Pick a few effects you love and use them in all your productions.
  • Spend time learning sound design.
  • Build a reference folder with tracks that inspire you no matter what.

In conclusion, I’d really encourage you not to remove music you made in the past. It is you, and old productions can be very useful for keeping track of how much you have evolved. Besides, some people might have loved what you made, and keeping the music out there is a good way to reach appropriate people.

Get A Free Music Coach

[Important update, August 2017: The Free program is being redesigned and put on pause. You can still register to get the free Ableton Live Template and get news on when it starts again.]

I made an important decision to remove my newsletter and change it into free music coaching for every subscriber. Sounds crazy? Maybe. But also fun!

A little bit of help to make great things happen

What exactly is a coach?

While you can google for the definition, you may also summarize it with a simple explanation:

“It’s someone who helps you reach your goal(s).”


We can add in there self-improvement, knowledge transfer, experience sharing and technical advising. The same applies to a music coach. While it’s pretty common in sports or at work, we often overlook it when it comes to arts. But why not include it?

Ever since I started making electronic music, I’d say that my best stretches in learning often happened when I was in touch with someone who could address my questions. I’d go to them to learn:

  • How to use a specific production technique.
  • How to focus on finishing a song, a project.
  • Tips on sound design.
  • How to expand my network.


Anyone can be your music coach. Just reach out and ask.The great thing with helping others is that it opens doors on many things, like when you pause for a moment to find the right terms to arrive at the best explanation possible, and you end up improving your own understanding in the process. Ever since I had a music coach, I’ve been really interested in returning the help, mainly because I asked so many friends how to do things.

It’s been quite fascinating to see how electronics have evolved to make it easier for people to attain their goals of producing electronic music. As time’s gone on and the technologies have become cheaper, it’s become increasingly accessible to make music through computers or machines. The democratization of music has opened the doors for many people to make their dream come true by making music.

But this also raises some questions:

  • What should I get to start making music?
  • Which technology is best suited for me?
  • How do I start a song once I’m equipped?
  • Is this song really done or should I add something?

These issues can be hard to nail down, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Everyone is different, both in personality but also in terms of how they deal with technology. Some are more tech-savvy than others.


The role of a music coach can be summarized as:

A music coach helps you set goals and achieve your objectives

Helping you set goals. The best way to not get lost is to choose a destination. A journey has multiple destinations and a music coach can help break down your long-term dream into multiple mini-milestones. With a plan in mind, it becomes easier to not let your mind run wild and become unproductive.

Understanding your limits while expanding your strengths. One of the first steps in any new hobby, activity or interest is to take a look at yourself. While some skills are transposable from other areas into your new field of interest, you’ll also need to take stock of your own limitations. Quickly identifying your weak points is a good way to motivate you into developing new skills. If you run up against your own limitations in any area, there could also be solutions you’re not yet aware of.

Structuring your workflow. The technique behind all techniques is to coordinate the different parts so that things fall neatly into place. If you mess with your production order, you might run into an episode of counter-productivity.

Being present. A coach is someone that can reply to your questions, listen, encourage, and drive. This part is the most crucial one.


If you’re interested in taking advantage of my free coaching, join my mailing list and we’ll get you started!