Chills – Goggin1

What Did I learn?

Overdrive – I had my default channel strip setup with Abelton’s Saturator but never really felt like I could get the sound I wanted so tried one I had seen Komonazmuk use in a Computer Music Masterclass. As soon as I cranked up the Air Windows Drive 2, I could hear it fill out and warm up each track I slapped it on so it has now replaced the saturator in my strip.

Placement – Something as simple as slight panning on hats and percussion can really give some width and clear room for things to hit straight down the centre such as the sub, kick and main snare layer. I tend to only nudge them to about 10-30 either side so they don’t get lost when summed to mono.

Slow Down For Recording – I’ve been really enjoying the hands on feel of my new controller keyboard, not only for the automation control but the ability to play in melodies and riffs. However, trying to record in a relatively complex pattern is really hard when working at 174 bpm, especially as I’m not a trained pianist. The simple solution I found was to drop the DAW global tempo to around 120 bpm, play in your melody, then whack the tempo back up.

Use Track Delay For Groove –  By shifting the whole track back or forward a few milliseconds, you can give things an entirely different feel. I nudged my bass slightly back to avoid it hitting at exactly the same time as the kick but also because it just felt good there. This is an alternative to the Groove Pool which can get quite complex and is great to use on non-percussive elements.

Layering – Sometimes, saturation and overdrive aren’t enough to fill out the sound as there may be certain frequencies lacking. By layering a sound which has the desired frequencies you get the best of both worlds. Initially, the kick was just one sample but was getting lost when played in context. By adding a higher ‘click’ layer, it was able to poke out a bit more.

Bass also benefits from this technique, for example in this tune, there is a mono’d sub layer (Low passed around 130Hz), a mid layer that has a slight chorus on to give it some width (High passed around 2-300) and then a final top layer which has width, distortion a dash of reverb (High passed to sit on top of the mid). The crossover frequencies aren’t set in stone, just adjust until it sits well.

Try 3rd Party Plug-ins – When I first switched to Ableton from Logic around early 2013, I decided to stick to using the native plug-ins. I wanted to master the techniques before I worried about sonic characteristics and I wanted to keep the strain on my CPU as low as possible.

After over a year, I feel I have a basic understanding of what each one does and have been trying out freeware alternatives. Some I deleted after a few hours, but others have stayed in the arsenal. Recently, I switched to the Drive 2 overdrive as mentioned above and started to use the Blue Cat Chorus  set up on a send to give things width.

There really are some great sounding plug-ins around that don’t cost a penny. Resound has done a superb list of The 25 Best Free VST / AU Plugins for PC and Mac if you are unsure where to start looking. A great site to subscribe to if you haven’t already.

Sketch Out Track – Drawing out your rough arrangement of 16s and filter movements (on breaks and builds) will give you a visual aid of how you envision your final track to look / sound like. As I was playing around in session view, I jotted some ideas down so when I got round to arrangement, I had the ideas ready to execute. I remember seeing Goldie using this as a tool once and can definitely see the benefits of having a reference point.

Balance Push & Pull – I recently bought an eBook on Tension & Energy in Electronic Dance Music and I must say, it was well worth the £9 investment. It explains the concepts behind tension and release (or the push and the pull). I learnt you need to make sure arrangement energy, tension & release is balanced either side of the drop. Try to avoid having a massive drop preceded by a lame build up and vice versa. Ironically, after reading this I decided to deliberately do the opposite of this advice although I guess this adds to the tension and expectation. Rules are there to be broken.

I also recommend subscribing to the EDMprod site as it is full of valuable pointers and even though it is centered around a different genre, the advice is still transferable.

Give Transitions ‘Breathing Space’ – Rather than have parts continue right up until the end of the 16 bars try to fade / filter out, pull them back or give them a tail so they don’t end abruptly. I find this mainly applies to musical parts but can also be used for drums and FX. Removing some low end or aiming for a short silence of a bar or measure before the drop will also help break things up a little.

Mix As You Go – Up until now, I’ve been saving all mixing until the final session but now I’m more confident what I need to do with each track, I’ve started doing it as I go along. Swift adjustments such as panning, overdrive, EQ, controlling the width, compression and limiting (all done on my default channel strip to save loading each one in every time) can be done in a few seconds and then revisited at a later session if needed. As well as being quicker, it gives you a better idea of what the finished article will sound like.

What Do I need To Work On?

Buildups & Tension – My transitions are improving with each completed track, but I still feel I could do more with my build-ups and breakdowns. I’ll spend some time playing around with pitched risers and similar sounds as it’s something I have avoided using up until now. Although I have a stash of samples, I feel learning to synthesize them will give me more control.

Goggin1 can be purchased at the Diffrent Bandcamp.

Chills – Hittin Switches

What Did I Learn?

Take your time layering – Try not to rush through each drum sound just to get to the exciting part. Spending a little longer selecting the right second layer for the kick, snare and hat will fill the frequency spectrum and solidify the backbone of the track ready to put your other elements around it.

Get the crude arrangement done ASAP – Having the rough outline gives you the basis to move forward but I also find it a mental checkpoint. Once this is done, it’s almost downhill from here as you can listen, makes notes, then tweak all the way until you finish.

You don’t have to fill the frequency spectrum – A lot of tutorials (myself included) bang on about this but sometimes it’s fun and interesting to go against the grain. This track is the most minimal composition I have made so far but I still think it works as a piece of music.

Enjoy the happy accidents – The concept of this track came about but muting just one track accidentally. As soon as it happened, I knew where I wanted to take things. This was after a few days of not really feeling the original sketch, but I kept at it until inspiration struck.

Don’t use massive vocal samples in the intro – I kept it to just a few bars on this one after someone pointed out that one of my other tunes was quite busy when being mixed. As I haven’t actually got round to DJing any of my tunes yet, I’d never actually considered this but it makes perfect sense. It would annoy me and clutter the mix between the 2 tunes slightly so, in future, I will either cut them shorter, make a small breakdown at the start to fit them in or keep the longer ones for the main breakdown.

Save as often as possible – Nothing kills a session quicker than a crash, especially if you are in the zone and done a fair few tweaks since your last save. It hasn’t happened to me in ages but Ableton did crash on me during the making of this track and promptly reminded me to keep on top of your CTRL S.

Monitor mix at low volumes – As well as getting your track to sound great loud, turn it right down at points too and you soon see which elements are prominent and need adjusting. If it sounds good at this volume it will sound great when you crank it back up.

What Do I Need To Work On?

Envelope automation – Something a bit different from filter automation to keep things evolving over time.

Making 128s – I’ve seen Ill Gates use these and they are essentially a drum rack full of kicks, snares (or whatever you like) that can be easily selected and auditioned. My sample selection could be improved sometimes so having 128 samples ready to try out at the turn of a knob should make the selection process quicker, easier and more precise.

Chills – Valley Girl

What Did I Learn?

Practice makes it easier – I’ve been aiming to complete a tune a week for the last few months and although I haven’t managed each and every week, when I have started one, I’ve seen it through to the end and built up quite a catalogue. Considering I made 3 tunes in the previous 12 months, I’m now on 18 and counting [This post originally written in July 2014]. When I first started, I was going blindly from step to step but after doing the process for a while, I’ve built a decent workflow and my ears are trained to a reasonable level of EQ ability. The creation and arrangement on this one took approximately 5-6 hours (I always mixdown on a fresh pair of ears so avoid ‘completing a track all in one day) and the mental battle is definitely getting easier.

A good mix requires good EQ plug ins – During the mixdown stage I noticed a bit of low-end creeping in on one of the channels whilst checking SPAN. I checked the Ableton EQ on the channel and it was high-passed accordingly but some content was not being cut completely. For the first time, I decided to try a free third party EQ alternative called Tokyo Dawn SlikEQ and it sorted the problem instantly. I have managed to get my mixes sounding ok by using the native EQ up to now but now think it’s time to upgrade and take it to the next sonic level.

Take your time with the mixdown – Sometimes I rush through this and do it on instinct but this time I spent a while clipping a few peaks (using a combo of Airwindows Clip2 and s(m)exoscope) to increase RMS. I didn’t go overboard and ensured it kept some punch / attack, but this reduced the dynamic range of the track as a whole by a few .dB and therefore making it perceived a little louder.

Believe in your own ability – Confidence is key with most thing in life and especially so in the creative worlds. Try to ignore thoughts of ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘I’ll never top my last tune’ and just get going. I have found 9 times out of 10, I  always manage to equal if not improve on previous efforts and on the time I don’t, I’ve improved my technique in some way.

Daily To Do List – Whenever I sit down first thing, I ensure I have a checklist of what I think I need to do on the track. This gives me a starting point rather than having too many options. It also improves focus and gives me some idea of an end point to keep me motivated. If I can see the finish line, I find I’m more likely to finish the composition.

What Do I Need To Work On?

Bass creation – Synthesis and modulation instead of samples. This keep cropping up and would open up a few more doors rather than being somewhat restricted by a set piece of pre-made audio.

2 Tracks Featured In Fabriclive x Bukem In Session Mix

The latest mix promoting LTJ Bukem at the legendary Fabric nightclub in London has been done by Stamina. I have always sent him my latest creations as he is a regular on one of the production forums I frequent. His feedback is something I always value as he is a world renowned artist and it was a big surprise when I found out he had played not one, but two of my productions in his latest mix.

‘In Too Deep’ (19:00) and ‘Valley Girl’ (44:30) feature alongside such established labels as Dispatch and Shogun and classic tracks such as ‘Charade’ by Grooverider and ‘Dirty Harry’ by Adam F. The mix has a great vibe to it and was also recorded in Fabric so that’s quite a cool claim too. Click the link below for the article on Fabric’s website, full tracklisting and downloadable Soundcloud link:

Stamina – FABRICLIVE x Bukem In Session Mix

Chills – Start With A

What Did I Learn?

Get hands on. As I have been on the move a bit over the last year, my setup has been kept pretty  portable so I have been using either the mouse or the QWERTY keyboard to enter notes. Although this is fine, I decided to finally plump for a MIDI controller that had minimal latency and more feel to it. I opted for the Novation Launchkey 25 as I didn’t really need anything bigger and it had auto mappings for Ableton. As soon as I plugged it in I found myself playing for ages with the assignable knobs and excited by the limitless possibilities of parameters to automate. Not only will this help with arrangement ideas, it adds a human element to the performance and it’s fun.

There are no rules. Do what comes naturally when you are playing riffs or arranging sounds. Although it’s good to have a rough workflow, try not to copy or emulate other artists or styles too much. There is no wrong way to do things. Deliberately trying a different approach keeps the creative process fresh and the results will give your productions a unique sound. So, rather than comparing your output to other artists (and probably being disappointed with the outcome), you can get on with your own thing and only use yourself and your previous efforts as a benchmark.

Momentum. This one took a while to finish off as I left it a while between sessions. The longer you leave it, the less likely you are to finish it off so I always try to keep the momentum going and complete in a few days. I actually got bored of hearing it near the end but remembered when I first made it that I was bouncing around the room so at one point I was loving it. I used that reference point as motivation to finish it but it is fairly common for producers to lose interest during the final stages. You just have to remember that your potential crowd still hasn’t heard it yet so they aren’t as bored of it as you may be.

Control the stereo field. I recently attended the excellent Digitallabz production seminar in Bristol where the legendary Optical did a talk covering his methods. He suggested converting all your sounds into mono first and then mould the stereo spread to your liking rather than plumping with how the sounds comes as is. Not only will this help prevent masking etc but it will keep some of the power needed down the middle for mono club playback. Another related tip I picked up via Fanu was to HP EQ the sides (up to about 150-200Hz) using the Mid/Side option on Ableton’s EQ.

Keep template up to date. I think I slightly procrastinated on this track as I knew my sends weren’t up to date and had the wrong settings. Before each new piece I start I usually try to make sure my workflow and template are prepped accordingly so I can crack on with making music.

What Do I Need To Work On?

Riffs. Although a lot of my music is sample based, I haven’t thrown much into a sampler to jam with (in favour of plonking the one-shot on the arrangement page). By playing a riff, it keeps things musically interesting and opens up possibilities for different variations throughout the tune. Now I have a controller to do this with, I will aim to incorporate this more into my creation process from now on.

Start With A can be purchased at the Diffrent Bandcamp.

Chills – Searching For

What Did I Learn?

Energy changes. One of the main skills of arrangement (along with tension) is to switch up the energy between the sections. By deleting a few notes from the original 16 bar clip you make a less busy version of the audio or MIDI. Do this a few times with a few other minor variances and you have 3 versions of essentially the same riff or pattern but with enough difference to be noticeable between main sections. These builds in energy help structure the track in terms of peaks and troughs.

In all honesty, you can probably get away with having just 2 versions (an a and a B section or chorus and a verse) but having 3 gives you more to play with.

The best way to do it is make the busiest and energetic 16 bars you can then strip back from there. What I have been doing before now is making a relatively busy 16 then looking for more tracks to add and was running out of ideas and into masking (more than one sound covering the same frequency range). The whole track doesn’t have to be as good as the main 16, keep the main 16 as the peak.

Turnarounds. These are changes in the riff or MIDI that occur in the last 2 or 4 bars of the 16 and can be done in either by note changes or processing. Not only do they defer from the repetition of the original 2 or 4 bar riff but they indicate that a change is about to occur in the next 16 bars. Previously, I was only really using FX to signify a change but using turnarounds alongside the high end ear candy really does the job of gluing  2 sections together.

What Do I Need To Work On?

Creating interest from existing elements. Rather than adding more and more tracks, modifying existing sounds will be more cohesive and hint at whats to come rather than have new sounds appearing from nowhere. As mentioned above, the ability to make a B section and intro from the main 16 bar chorus is an arrangement skill I still need to work at.


Chills – In Too Deep

What Did I Learn?

Mixdown drums early. I tend to start with my drums, add music and fx then go back and mixdown. This time I mixed down the drums first before I progressed and it helped the track take shape. The drums (along with the bass) are the most important element so having them firing on all cylinders gives you the backbone to layer everything else on top.

Loop 8 bars when making main theme. Although my main ‘themes’ tend to be 2 or 4 bars, I found looping 8 bars (so 2 or 3 repeated themes at a time) gave a better perspective when it came to adding other elements that only appear once over 4 or 8 bars. Putting them all in and looping over 2 bars became crowded so spreading them out helped me zoom out and hear what it sounds like in context.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t over complicate things, if the vibe is working, don’t add any more for the sake of it. I was going to add a few more elements at the end of the 16 bar phrase for transition but ended up deleting ones I already had in there and I think it sounds better for it. Don’t over do it here with edits, fills, reverbed percussion and extra FX. Clearing room helped the bass turnaround become more noticeable and assisted in making the vocal poke through a bit more.

Importance of referencing. I don’t use reference tracks as often as I should but did this time around. One problem I was having was finding a tune like mine to compare to. My sound is becoming quite unique but rather than find a track that sounds similar to mine, I opted for a track that had a mixdown I wanted to aspire to. Even after the first minute of A/B testing, I noticed a few things needed tweaking. The cymbals were too prominent and the tops lacked a bit of air and its subtle nuances like that I wouldn’t have picked up on without having a benchmark to compare against.

Remove resonant frequencies. I wrote about this early on in my creative endeavours when I made Mindful, but it still applies as it is one of the most important aspects of production to keep an eye/ear on. Annoyingly, you don’t tend to spot them straight off the bat but when you do sweep and take them out, you find your sounds are a lot more pleasing and sit better in the mix.

Lighting. I randomly left the curtains drawn one morning, but quite enjoyed the ambience so turned on a desk light and cracked on. The darker room got me in the creative mood a bit more and also helped minimise distractions as it was quite a nice day outside. I was determined to get this track put to bed so did what I needed to do to get it done.

What Do I Need To Work On?

Stripping back. Keeping a minimal amount of elements and giving what’s left more space to hit harder.