So, I’ve finally taken the plunge into the world of music production.
Nowadays, the term “DJ” is more synonymous with electronic dance music (EDM) producers – think Martin Garrix, or David Guetta. These producers take up DJing as a secondary skill, so that they can showcase their productions live at festivals.
I consider myself a DJ and turntablist first – like Jazzy Jeff, MakJ, and A-Trak. To me, production is a secondary, but necessary skill in today’s market. So, I grabbed a copy of Ableton Live and went at it.
I’ve found homes with the sax, guitar, bass, drums, steel drums, and ukulele. With a primarily jazz and blues background, improv is nothing new to me. Translating that to production can’t be that hard, right?
Wrong. Here’s 10 things I learned on my first go-around.
1. You’re going to feel like a caveman discovering fire.
I honestly don’t think there’s a better way to describe this. You’re going to open up Ableton for the first time, see a grey screen with lots of rectangles, and watch your brain dripping on the floor as it melts out of your head.
2. YouTube is going to be your best friend.
Tutorials, tutorials, tutorials! One of the best ways to learn is to learn by watching. Grab a notebook, load up a video, and get ready to take notes – watch how people on YouTube assemble and layer samples to create super simple beats.
3. Always use high-quality samples.
We may not all end up like Kygo, going from Soundcloud to Summer Stages instantly, but you should always use the best samples and packs that are available to you. I once had a teacher in high school who told me “if you’re not using the best tools you can, you’re not going to feel inclined to create the best work you can.” I’ve sworn by that motto since. When a promoter or venue hears your tracks on their phone, and they like the way it sounds, you’ll want to be sure it’s going to sound just as good on their mainstage, right?
4. Establish a workflow.
Just like waking up, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed in the morning, you’ve gotta figure out a routine that works, and stick to it. Whether it’s laying out an entire song, or starting with a drop, or even setting up your instruments, find your flow and stick to it.
5. Create your own drum racks.
Be honest with yourself up front – the preset 808s in Ableton are nifty, but they’re not going to do you much. Set yourself apart from the get go, make a rack or two, and create your sound. Then, make a copy of your drum rack and tweak it, fine tune it, and really make it yours.
6. Find a friend and have them walk you through a methodology.
If you’re lucky, you can dip into your network for tips, tricks and creative criticism. It’s like the first day of school – it’s that much easier with a friend. I’m lucky enough to call DJ LaPatilla a close friend. He’s played his tracks at EDC Vegas and his advice is with its weight in gold.
7. Don’t go crazy.
Remember what you learned back in school – KISS. KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID! If you have something that doesn’t work, layering isn’t always going to make it better. If anything, you’re just adding mud to the mess.
8. Warping will be the bane of your existence.
Working with vocals is a pain. There, I said it. The learning curve for warping acapellas and samples is steep, but so worth it when all is said and done.
9. Learn music theory, song structure, and basic sound engineering principles.
This one should be first on the list. If you don’t have a musical background (and yes, being a musician is more than playing an instrument) then pick up a music theory textbook! Read it twice. Then read it again, and read to comprehend and understand. Electronic music is music, by definition. It has melody, harmony, form, rhythm, instrumentation, and dynamics. Know the role each plays.
10. Don’t quit.
I can’t stress this one enough. Electronic music production is just like learning another instrument – the learning curve will be steep at first, but it can only get easier and more intuitive the more you work at it. Start as many projects as you can. Finish tracks. Learn mastering skills. The only way to learn is to jump right in and sink or swim!
So, after a few weeks, I managed to churn out my first mashup! Check it out here.
What did you learn on your first production go-around? Let me know below.
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