What realization(s) improved your music from something that was alright to something you are proud of? Maybe it’s a sequencing technique? Perhaps some high-level philosophy about life that extended into music-making? Was there a new workflow that opened the floodgates? If there’s already a thread, please let me know.
My first aha moment in electronic music was discovering the power of muting tracks.
The following one was sculpting loops with plocks
Learning how to mix/master a track was the most rewarding aspect, I believe.
I’m still working towards next level though.
I guess there were two things.
Do simple arrangements.
Music is the space between the notes
This is actually something that took me years from the point I knew I wanted to simplify my tracks until I really got there, because I liked my tracks with huge fx chains, complicated synth patches and glitchy drums which basically created a wall of sound that was almost impossible to mix.
No place left to breath for the music.
How important the arrangement and choice of instruments/synth patches are for getting a good mix and also how important gain staging, levels and panning are.
kick on a separate out on a separate channel on the mixer, rest hardware side chained. only did this a few days because too much wiring and I like being with elektron toys only.
techno on 128. when I do 120 I feel good at home but the second I take it outside it feels too slow
My top 3:
- Less is more. When I learned to say what I wanted to say with as few tracks/sounds as possible.
- Look for the happy accidents. When I learned to stop trying to control everything.
- Work quickly, even the best loop in the world will suck after 48hours straight. When I learned to finish shit.
Compression is a great and powerful tool. But use it responsibly. I hear so many amateur (and some pro!) tracks that just lay it on so thick that the dynamic range is basically gone.
Learning how to subtly use compression will help make your tracks pop a bit more!
- Going all hardware, no computer. Sounds cliche but making music is (for me) an auditory experience. I spent 20 years making music on computers because it seemed to make sense. But it was music created with my eyes. When I started using dedicated hardware, I was suddenly making music like I did when I first learned guitar, with my ears. And my music improved greatly as a result.
- Embracing accidents and experimentation. It is the imperfections that makes art, nature, and music beautiful. Perfection is boring and predictable. Do things differently and embrace the beauty of imperfection.
- Elektron. DT. OT. Using trigs to create rhythmic variations using thru machines to process external gear and samples has changed the way I view signal chain. The way of Elektron practically begs you to make something interesting. And everyone seems to do it a little differently. Here’s to doing things differently.
The most powerful thing in music is the moment of chromatic change. Sounds trivial but it seems to be less obvious to electronic music producers
Can you elaborate ?
It’s been an ongoing process of learning over a long time, but two things really stand out for me:
Less is more when it comes to eq, compression etc. I once had a lecturer challenge us to do an entire mix only using levels and panning - and it was a real eye opener (for me at least). Until then I’d been shoehorning everything into the mix with the eqs, which left everything sounding thin. Focusing on getting the levels right and only using eq when absolutely necessary resulted in a significantly better sounding mix.
When I first discovered DAW sequencing, it was like a whole new world opened up for me. I could get my ideas out without having to learn to play! But I’ve realised that using the piano roll for everything makes it sound too artificial and lifeless. It’s boring to listen to. Sure, I could do micro-edits on timing, velocity etc to make things a little more lifelike. But what would be far better is to learn to play the damned keyboard. Still working on this one.
I have been doing this for a long time (almost 40 years) so there have been a few. Some of the most important have been (in no particular order):
Realising that my heroes often relied on gear and techniques that were no better than what I had at my own disposal. This was really important for me, as it disallowed any excuses I could have made for my own inadequacies.
Learning scales. Learning about harmony… heck, just about any new morsel of music theory that I can get my thick head around has provided an “a-ha” moment. I am most definitely not a muso, so it has been a long, ongoing process.
Realising that I could use Melodyne (or similar) to write a guide vocal. I have always been crap at writing vocal melodies, and I am almost as crappy at singing along with, say, a piano, guitar or other instrument. Programs like Melodyne allowed me to rework my limited vocal melodies into something more interesting. I could then use that re-worked track as a guide vocal to help me track the actual vocal tracks. It’s much easier for me to sing in tune to my own voice than it is to an instrument. The guide vocal is then usually jettisoned in the final mix. A true game-changer for me.
Parameter locks. Seriously. This was what I was doing with my massive modular system for years. Discovering that there were instruments that already did it? That changed everything.
The first time I played a Haken Continuum. Longtime readers of this forum may have seen my proclamations that the Continuum changed my music for the better by introducing me to an entirely new and expressive form of playing.
Realising that most synths/samplers were essentially variations on the same subtractive synthesis techniques that I had been using since 1980. Sure, there were also FM and additive and such, but samplers, wavetable, and sample-playback instruments were all pretty much based on the same ideas. This resolved a lot of head scratching, and allowed me to stop thinking of synths as mysterious, and start cursing manufacturers for coming up with an endless slew of trademarked names for the same things.
That’s enough for now, but there are loads more.
I think realizing that using some really short simple patterns can be really powerful. Especially when playing it off more complex stuff. Basically applies to everything but for a long time I though why would I ever use less than 64 steps and a ton of complexity. Contrast is amazing. Just like how a lofi sample cuts through a mix of hifi sounds beautifully, a simple 3 notes over 12 steps can help the complexities stand out and not turn into a pile of mud.
For me, 90% of the emotional hit from a song comes from chord changes, and key changes, which are really just fancy chord changes. The right change in the right place can mean everything.
That, and realizing that no song needs to be longer than 3 minutes
- Way way back when a good friend introduced me to using sends instead of just plugging fx directly on everything. It seems basic now, but starting to think of everything in the mix as one sound instead of just stuff happening in parallel, was a big conceptual eye and ear opener.
- Various painful experiences working with theater and performance art teaching me that shorter and tighter in far the most cases are better. (Exceptions apply, but most of us are not Éliane Radigue!)
- Discovering the Elektron boxes.
Agreed 120mis terribly slow I always start at 129 Jeff Mills fan lol
Less is more
Buying the octatrack & later investing in a solid analog mixer my gawd the power of Input pre-amplifier drive control, hybrid filter/swept bell EQ geesus only took me 10 years to just save the cash & bite the bullet I can skip the daw which I never fancy & glue a whole track straight onto my Martinez recorder
1/ Dropping computer DAW and tons of VST to work only with gears
2/ Dropping gears to work only with DT.
Yep, it’s kind of less is more. I found using only one machine make me learn it deeper, like it more and more and I think I make better loop.
Also, learned to not use so much conditional trig to keep the loop easy to understand by the brain.
3/ Stop wrinting melodies, because I have absolutely no knowledge in music theory and I don’t want to learn. I have no keyboard. Using samples of melodies done on beatifuls instruments help me to get a much much better beats.
tune your drums, not just the kick, but the whole set.
learn how to synthesize your sounds instead of using presets.
use analog hardware synths instead of software plugins.