Record Your Arrangements Live

 

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I’ve started recording myself performing arrangements live. Ever since I started using push 2 I always found myself crafting up full grooves very fast and at some point in that process I would begin muting certain elements like the kick or a hi hat, then fading in or filtering a sample I used.

I would literally jam on this for a while without recording anything. Then when it came time to arrange my track I would either map out a few scenes in ableton’s session view and just trigger different clips and scenes, or I would just copy the entire loop to the first 8 bars and use the traditional copy and paste method so many house and electronic producers use.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach but I felt it only led to my arrangements sounding static and less natural. Not only that, I would spend hours trying to re create that live feel I was able to capture in a few minutes just jamming with my push.

So I finally decided if I want to finish my tracks faster and inject a more human vibe on my beats I was going to start recording everything I do live.

Here’s a screen shot of how a typical session looks right after a live arrangement jam.

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Notice how every clip goes on for a entire track length. Thats because i’m using the mutes as my way of cutting the clips I don’t want to use at those points in the track. Messy I know but very effective. The reason why this approach to arranging is so effective is because I’m performing my track live. In doing so I’m able to capture every little move I make really feel how my track will evolve. Like DJ’ing in a way. And if I were to actually perform my music with push, in a live setting, this is most likely how I would rock it.

Editing

The next step is to edit your arrangement down to a proper length track. Now there are a few ways you can do this. One way is you can stem each part out to audio and import the parts back into a fresh session. This way allows you to edit the separate audio stems without all the MIDI and automation. The other way is to do quick rough edits right in the MIDI session. Then once you’re happy with the arrangement you can stem the separate parts out to audio. And the final way you can do this is to mix down your track before you record your live arrangement. Then only export the 2-track WAV file. The only problem with this is method is if I need to make mix adjustments I have to go back to the original session.

Here’s a screen shot of the same track edited down.

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I’m still trying different methods, I guess I’ll eventually figure out which method works best for me. Regardless, recording my arrangements live has helped me not only finish tracks a heck of a lot faster, but has added another layer of feel into my tracks which I felt was missing in the past.

Try this out, I guarantee it will help give your beats a more human feel and improve how quickly you get out of the loop.

Joe

I’ve Relaunched my label

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I know its been a long time since my last blog post but Ive been busy. In November of last year I picked up Push 2 from Ableton and ever since I haven’t been able to leave this thing alone. Honestly, this is one incredible piece of hardware, especially for sampling and straight up beat making. It makes me wonder how I even made music before owning one.

Because making tracks on push is so much fun I’ve been making a ton of music. So I finally decided it was time to bring back the label side of SLM. This time I plan on using the label purely as a creative outlet for releasing my own tracks. Since I have so many unfinished ideas and am constantly banging out new ones, almost daily, the choice to start putting out my work made sense.

As for genre, expect a lot of house music along with some experimental electronic music and even hip hop as well.

My releases are available at all the major online shops. Ive listed a few of the most popular ones below.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/the-soul-single/id1118065552
Traxsource: http://www.traxsource.com/label/28563/sub-level-music
Beatport: https://www.beatport.com/label/sub-level-music/56425
Junodownload: http://www.junodownload.com/labels/Sub+Level+Music/releases/

Joe

Free Ableton Effect Racks – Stereo Width Tools

Here are three simple Ableton racks to add width to your mix. I find myself using a combination of these techniques on just about every mix I do these days and it always seems to work nicely.

1. Haas

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This is the haas effect in its most basic form. The rack consists of a simple delay and utility device. The simple delay is used to delay the right signal (right speaker) by 10-50 ms (milliseconds) which is alot for this type of effect. However, I’ve placed the utility after the delay and created a macro to “dial back” the amount of width just incase its too much for your mix.

This rack works best on open hats, single percussion elements, lead synths, pads and strings.

2. Mid/Side

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This is two utility devices on two separate chains. The first chains utility width is set to 0 % making the signal mono, and the second chains utility width set to 200 % for only the side information. Want more side (stereo) frequency content, boost the “side” macro or attenuate the “mid” macro. Want more middle (mono) frequency content, boost the “mid” macro or attenuate the “side” macro.

This rack works great on busy percussive loops with a lot of stereo movement. Its also great for removing  middle frequency information from elements like pads and lead synths to help them sit wider in the mix. Beside being used in mixing, I also use it in mastering if I need a touch more width in the mix without affecting the middle frequencies.

3. Wide bass

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This rack is a combination of the haas effect + EQ only affecting the mid to high frequencies, and a utility set to 0% (mono) + EQ which only affects the low frequencies split up into 2 chains. This is probably one of my favourite techniques to use in a mix. I often receive bass tracks that have a lot of  stereo modulation happening which is typically from effects like chorus, flangers and/or phasers. This is great but if your not carful with these types of bass sounds, they can cause phase issues in your mix. On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes I get bass tracks where you can obviously here the modulation happening but the bass was put in mono which then loses all that nice stereo modulation from left to right. This can take away from how big and rich the baseline can actually sound in a mix.

The thing about these types of bass sounds is that you want the best of both worlds. Nice, solid, centred bottom end, and big, wide upper mid to top end. Some tracks require this type of treatment and the wide bass tool is all you’ll ever need to achieve this.

Ive prepared an Ableton project which consists of 3 example sets for each technique. The project was created in Ableton Live 9.5.

To save the presets, just click on the disk button above the macro controls and it will be added to your user library.

Enjoy

Download  Stereo Width Tools for Ableton

Joe

 

 

Scratch Tracks

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If you have scratch tracks, send them to me.

This is how I work with just about every artist. The artist will record themselves singing their song, or humming a melody idea into their phone or laptop. Then, send me the scratch audio track for me to build the entire instrumental around.

As rough as the initial idea is, it tells me a lot about where I can take the song. I can figure out the tempo, find the right chords to fit with the vocals, and from the timing of how the vocalist delvers on the scratch track, I can work out the rhythm as well.

I find when working with scratch tracks, its good to line up the audio with your DAW’s timeline. That way you can get a sense of where the different sections are in the song. I.e. – verse, chorus, breakdowns, bridge etc, and plan the instrumentation as well as how to increase and decrease the energy of the song.

But further to a scratch track just being a basic idea or demo, it can also help you understand the emotion behind the song. Even though scratch tracks are rarely good enough in sound quality to use on a final mix, the feeling is always present and more then enough musical information to begin building the composition.

When you feel emotion from a raw piece of audio, you can decide on what type of sounds to choose for the composition. This is also known as the theme of the song. Is the song dark and mysterious or happy and energetic. The scratch track should guide you to choosing the tone of your sound selection and make musical decisions with more ease.

Joe

Getting started in Electronic Music

This post was originally answered on Quora.

Electronic music unlike other genres is one of the most experimental and free styles of music to work in. This isn’t to say that other forms of music dont involve experimentation. However, from my experience, electronic music is probably the least formulaic as opposed to the scientific prof of formula success in pop music.

You don’t necessarily need to know exactly what genre or sub-genre you want to make at first. And I recommend not even worrying too much about genre. Rather, be willing to get lost in the process of experimentation and creating sound.

I’ve broken down some areas I would focus on at first (in no particular order).

Taste

This goes for anything creative, but I thought I would talk briefly about how it relates to music production. Be willing to listen to many forums of music, old, new and especially styles outside of the genres you want to make. This will give you a much broader sound palette to choose from in terms of influences. Some of the best producers I know of have always been able to innovate and re- invent their sound by not limiting themselves to one style or influence.

Tools (The bare minimum)

I would start with the bare minimum in terms of tools. That way you don’t  distract yourself with all the technical stuff and focus on learning the fundamentals of what you have and most importantly, making music.

This is what I started with and still use today. I have updated my setup but my studio still remains minimal and lite on tech.

  • A fast computer
  • Affordable sound card
  • Affordable studio monitors and/or headphones
  • A MIDI controller
  • DAW such as Ableton, Logic, Reason etc

Once you have the essential tools. Forget about seeking new ones and focus on learning what you have. Believe me, even if the stock devices don’t look as fancy as some VST’s doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of getting the job done. Not to mention how much time goes into searching for and trying out new toys. Time that could be used making music.

Sound Design Basics

You’ll want to learn basic drum programming and understanding of layering and rhythm. A basic understanding of synthesis and sampling is also important if you want to make electronic music. Know what oscillators are and how to use the different wave shapes which are generated from them to create your own tones. Learn how you can use filters and envelope (attack, decay, sustain, release) to shape your own sound patches.

Composition

Although a knowledge of music theory helps, it isn’t essential. I do feel the ability to recognize harmony and melody, and to know what feels right vs what distracts you from the song, is a much more important skill set. Electronic music is heavily based around sounds. The more interesting your sounds are, the better. With that said, chord progressions and melodies are generally pretty simple.

Study bar lengths and how to increase and decrease energy. This goes for all forms of music however, tension and release play a big part in electronic music. Mainly because the majority of the time, it is played for an audience at clubs and festivals. So the arrangements are usually very predictable. Usually built around 8,16 and 32 bar sections.

Mixing (and other fundamentals)

Its arguable that mixing has become very much integrated into the sound design stage. It plays a important role in how a sound is shaped. So I would recommend learning some basic mixing techniques. If in the end you find your strong areas are in composition and sound design, and struggle to get a balanced mix, then I would recommend hiring a mix engineer to give your music a final balance before mastering.

Once you know the fundamentals, everything really comes down to your ideas, how creative they are, how unique they are etc. This is the case for pretty much anything. So learn the technical stuff, learn the essentials and the rest comes down to your own imagination.

Joe

Personality types and collaboration

On one side of the spectrum you have introverted personality types. Introverts by nature tend to work best alone. Relating this to music collaboration, introverts might find themselves creating their best work in solitude. This is because they gain their physical and mental energy inward (usually alone and in quiet environments). The internet has opened up many collaboration opportunities for introverts. This is due to being able to communicate creative ideas remotely, yet still allowing for the necessary time and space to come up with musical ideas without the distractions and pressures of a group dynamic or scheduled sessions.

On the other hand, extroverts might find themselves creating their best work around others. This is because they gain their physical and mental energy outward (usually around lots of people or rowdy environments). And while the internet has opened up many collaboration opportunities for introverts, extroverts might look at online collaboration as a hindrance. Because extroverts gain their energy outward, remote collaboration might make them feel isolated and not fully part of the creative process.

It’s important to understand that there are benefits to both types and no one is stronger or better than the other. Many of our worlds innovation is a perfect example of how introvert and extrovert collaboration have huge benefits. Take Steve Jobs and Steve Wazniak, founders of apple. Jobs being the front man and Waznaik working behind the scenes on the more technical side of the process.

“To illustrate this ideal yin-and-yang balance, Cain considers the famous introvert-extrovert partnership between Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs of Apple. Crabapple’s Steve Jobs is a bespectacled dog, whose dazzling showman persona is balanced out by self-identified introvert Steve Wozniak, a bearded cat alone in a Hewlett Packard cubicle. Wozniak worked quietly by himself for months producing what turned into the Apple computer. It was Jobs who became a household name while taking this product global, but he couldn’t have done it without the quiet guy.”

Carey Dunne

Failing to accept these differences usually leads to weakened creativity for those who work best alone. An aspect of collaboration many extroverts fail to see. I just want to say for the record, this post is not intended to beat up on those who prefer group collaboration. I feel in some rare cases they are essential to the creative process. However, no one person is hard wired the same and effective collaboration doesn’t always have to be a group sport.

In this video, Susan Cain points out this issue perfectly.

Joe

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