Set Systems Not Goals

So this is a post completely inspired (read ripped) from a really interesting Youtube video a friend of mine sent me. It provides a really interesting perspective on how best to use and set goals, as well as a framework that allows you to take action and get positive feedback every step of the way along your journey.

So if we look at this – lets break down how this could work for music production, improving your skills, finishing and releasing that album or EP, getting more gigs and DJ sets etc... the list goes on.

In the following passage I have adapted the main message from the video and applied it to music production.

“I am a music producer – my goal is to finish this EP, but I'm not going to think about it that way. Eventually I will have enough tracks for my EP but I am not going to think of it this way. Instead, my system will be that for an hour every morning I will sit in my studio and produce music. It doesn't matter what this looks like now, I am not going to evaluate the number or quality of my tracks at this stage. What I can do is just say here is my system, an hour a day in the studio and I will do what I can trusting that the result's will follow”

I think this is a much healthier realistic approach to producing on music. No creative, no matter what their field or level of accomplishment has or will ever be able to consistently produce great results on demand without fail. So by sticking to your system, rewarding yourself for this, and watching your quantity and quality of work take care of itself, you will be happier, more motivated and most likely reach your goal much faster that by only focusing on the fact that you haven't achieved the goal yet.

This shares some similarities to installing a Cycle of Success in your work.

How to be a better producer: Templates

The aim of this article is to help you build a maintain a good production template in your DAW of choice. I use Ableton Live, so this is the DAW I will be using for this tutorial. Most of the things I cover will be transferable to other DAW's but might require a bit of research on your part to achieve the same results.

Why a template?

As you are no doubt aware, inspiration at its best is fleeting, and at its worst seemingly non existent. An idea might pop into your head for a few minutes and if you don't get it down quickly, its gone. Or you might be familiar with the feeling of boredom and despair as you open up a new blank project in your DAW. What do I do from here? Where are my sounds? Spending a heap of time finding sounds and devices you regularly use is not only frustrating, its a big time waster and it doesn't do your muse any favours. Having a good template in place means you are always ready to work as soon as inspiration strikes, with sounds that you know you like, and everything is ready to go. It removes another layer of decision making, and another obstacle to being in a flow state.

What makes a good template?

In my opinion a good template has the following;

  • A basic set of sounds that you can use right away to start capturing ideas and inspiration as soon as it strikes

  • A bunch of plugins or settings set up in a way that some of the more mundane production tasks are done for you

  • Enough content to get going, but too much content that you are repeating yourself and making cookie cutter music

  • A set of arrangement tools to help you with structure.

Many templates (both paid and free) that you will be able to get from various sources online to me usually tend to contain too much content. They will essentially be pre produced tracks in their own right and while this can be useful for learning it generally leads to cookie cutter music and a lack of originality on your part. So, we want something that sits somewhere between the two extremes of a blank project and a finished production. I'll run through my personal production template below, and explain my thought process behind it so you can create one specific to your needs. While I started with one template, I have now created a bunch of different ones for different tasks, for example I have a production template, a remix template (similar to my production but with more audio tracks and less of my own devices and settings), multiple arrangement templates of songs that I like and know work on the floor, a sound design template and so on and so forth. Just create one for now to get used to the process and then move on from there.

My Production Template

This is the screen that I am presented with when I load up a new project. My though process behind this was, “What do I need to get going straight away? What do I use all the time in my music and what are certain things that I find myself doing all the time?”

Lets break it down -

Tracks In General: For all of my tracks there were a few things I did. Referring to my thought process earlier, I made default audio and midi tracks set up how I like and made them default. First, I expanded the width of each track out so I could see the dB numbers on the meters, which I always do when mixing. Then I levelled each track to -12dB so I know that I'll have good headroom, this prevents clipping and is also for mixing. I also then loaded any instrument racks that I know I would need (more on this when we get to specific tracks) and then loaded an EQ8, Compressor, and Utility device on each track, and I use these pretty much every time on every track. I also then disabled them so that they wont all load up at once when the project opens, saving more time. Once I had set one one midi track, and one audio track up the way that I liked it, I right clicked on the header and went “Save As Default”. That means that whenever I make a new audio or midi track the same settings come up each time.

Drum Tracks: I looked at all my previous tunes and worked out what I commonly used. I have two kick drum tracks, with 4/4 floor clips programmed in off the bat. I have one for a 909 coming from Drumazon (check out my video on kick drums here), an 808 coming from the default Ableton rack. I've mapped all the controls that I use the most into racks so that I can quickly put together variations on 909 and 808 kick drums ready to go in my tune. I've also got my Kick Verb send set up and ready to go. I levelled the hi hat tracks down a little because I tend to find they sit below my other drums, so its a good starting point. I've got a off hat (on the 3 of every beat) and a 16th (one every 16) programmed and put into each track so they are ready to go. These a pre loaded with basic 808 and 909 hats, with racked macro controls to get instant variation on my hats. I have a ride channel set up in an identical way. Then I have 2 percussion channels set up – with a empty simpler on them ready to load different samples. I haven't been using many claps or snares lately so I haven't included them. I also haven't grouped my drums together. This is just the way that I like to work, if you do commonly use drum buss compression or would like them to be grouped together by all means to that, there's nothing wrong with that I just prefer to do that later if I need to. The final thing I did for my drum racks was to name them all, and colour them according to my colour system (see my post on organisation here)

Bass Track: Next I have my bass track. On here I've got an instance of the excellent TAL Bassline 101 which is a recreation of the Roland SH 101. I recently got this plugin and have been rinsing this for basses for the last couple of months. I've yet to rack it up as its super easy to program. I used to have Operator on here but feel free to put whatever you most commonly use for bass on here.

Idea One & Idea Two: These are my main core ideas or themes for the track. I find that usually I only use one or two main themes in my tracks, so I put two tracks in. This is a good example of providing a halfway point. They don't contain any sounds yet because those main themes could come from a bunch of different places, a plugin, a sample, a bunch of recorded or re sampled audio – but it gives me a place to capture them and helps me to mentally be aware that I need to move on from my drums at some point

(I spend AGES making drums).

Pad / Texture: I'll almost always have at least one pad or texture sound in my music. Often times I will start with a big pad or texture to provide me with some context while I start writing the other elements of my track. I might replace it later, or keep it the same, but either way I usually use Omnisphere 2 for this task, so I have that loaded with a blank patch ready to go.

Empty Audio Tracks: More and more these days I am getting into re sampling and found that I was often having to create a bunch of different audio tracks. I usually re sample my kick verb, and often generate ideas by running sounds through things like Reaktor or a bunch of free mangler plugins that I'll record back so I have created 3 channels ready to go.

Sends / Returns: I then have my basic sends and returns set up. On A I have a small room reverb that I tend to use to gel my drums together and add space. I often change this depending on the track later but any small room is a good starting place. Then I have a similar reverb set up but for longer spaces, and I've dropped EQ's after them to clean up the bottom end and roll off a little of the tops. Then I've got a delay coming from Echoboy, so I've got some basic delays running when I need them, and then the kick verb mentioned earlier. I've also taken these channels down by 6 dB or so to make sure they aren't filling up the mix when mi writing.

Master Channel: On my master I've got an instance of the excellent Molot compressor which I use to glue my mix together. I'll usually set this once 'I've got something going that I like. I'm nearly always using the same settings so I've set a good starting point on this that I can adjust to the track later on in the process. That goes into Izotopes Ozone Limiter. Its not active by default, but at the end of the mix process ill just drag this down a bit so I'm getting an impression of some basic mastering. That runs into smexoscope so that I can easily see what's happening with the transients of my track (incredibly useful in all stages of production) and then finally a spectrum analyser that I can look at.

All of my instruments, samplers, sends and returns, and mastering channel plugins (except the limiter) are on by default when the project loads. The rest of the plugins are disabled to help with loading times. I've also set the temp to 130 which is usually what I am working on these days. When I had all my gear (I recently moved to Australia so its all back in the UK now) I have everything routed into my sound card and all other relevant routings in the I/O section ready to go.

This is a really good middle point for me – the things that I know I use all the time (basic drum patterns and certain instruments and effects) are all there, but I am not looking at complete arrangements and pre programmed midi parts or samples that are going to lead me in certain directions.

Once I set everything up how I liked it I then when to Preferences → File Folder and went “Save Current Set as Default”. I also made a Templates folder and saved this as Production Template in there, along with my other templates mentioned earlier on.

This is one of those things that you can do when you're not necessarily feeling inspired to write a tune, and will massively speed up your workflow when you start using it. I usually update my template when I start using a new plugin or technique regularly, or I am feeling bored and want to switch up the way that I'm working. So – get your template sorted, and get back to capturing those ideas and making music!



How to be a better producer: Get Organized

If you think about it, making a tune is essentially one long list of decisions. It starts of with big questions “Which type of music am I going to make?”, “What DAW am I going to use?” and quickly becomes increasingly smaller levels of decisions making “What plugin am I using for the bass line?” “What patch am I going to use?” “How do I tune this oscillator?” “What filter type am I using?” “How do I EQ this part to fit In the track?” “Do I turn it up a single dB?” and so on. Why is this important?

It's well known to science types that willpower is a finite resource, and that enough decision making will result in decision fatigue, or the inability to make proper decisions. In much the same way that your ears get tired when mixing for extended periods of time, your brain works in the same way. So one of the key things to help you to become a better producer is to get organized with your projects. Think about it – every time you have to make a decision about something you are using up your brain power, and that'll mean that you'll get fatigued quicker, and work slower. Being organized might seem like a nightmare task in the beginning, especially if you are not used to it, but by slowly being a little bit more organised every time you work you'll get more efficient when you work.

So with that in mind, here is a list of improvement's that will help you stay organized and focused.

Project Organization – Naming and Colouring Tracks

I would say this is one of the most common things that I see in clients when I start to work with them. Their projects are all over the place. Nothing is named, everything is random colours, and there is no sense of ownership over the project. You end up spending ages trying to find your tracks each time, and your using a heap of brainpower keeping these things in your head. So with that in mind - decide on a colour system. And track order for your tracks. Mine goes like this from top to bottom;

Drums and Percussion top of the project – green.

Bass – Orange

Main parts or melodic instruments – Blue

Pads or Atmospheres – Purple

Vocals – Beigey skin colour

One shots or FX – Pink

Sends, Returns, Parallel channels – Yellow

Master Channel – Red

When I started to do this it took me a while to remember to do this each time, but once I got used to it it became second nature, but now finding a track takes 2 seconds, and I save time and brainpower each time. It also looks legit and helps you get an idea of what's actually going on in your tracks.

Make your own library

Start making your own library of sounds that you use all the time. The simplest way to do this is to go back through all of the projects that you have worked on and save any of the sounds that you like into a folder on your drive. If your working in Ableton, just group any sounds native or third party and any relative effects into a rack and save it into your user library. Don't worry about meticulous organisation straight away. Just keep dragging sounds in until you've got too many to navigate and then start making sub folders to put them in. Again just go as simple as you need. IE. start with “My sounds”. When you've got to many, make a “Drums” folder. Whack all your drums in there. Then when you've got too many drums, make a “Kicks” folder and stick your kicks in. Just do as much as you need to right now. This will help you to build your own signature sound in time, and you'll spend less time finding the sounds that you like so that when inspiration strikes you can get your ideas out quickly.

and keep it clean!

No one cares where your bass came from. What you DO care about is what kinda sound it is. Calling something “Moog Square envelope bass” means nothing to your creative self - “Gully Grime Growl” on the other hand is going to be much more useful and recognizable to you when you quickly need to get a bass sound in. While your at it, make sure you can easily access the different folders and libraries that you have on your computer. Got a bunch of a capella's that you use all the time? Drag that folder into your DAW's browser or make a short cut to it so you can get there in one click and not spend 5 minutes clicking through folders while your ideas fade away.

Get your gear in order

This is another biggie. I remember I used to go to a friends place to make music all the time and he had a mouse with a cable that was really short. I used to constantly try to move the mouse around outside of the cables length and would snag it on the keyboard all the time. These little things would bother me all the time I would become less focused and more distracted. So with that in mind – Make sure your gear is all working properly, get those couple of extra cables you've been needing since you got that new synth, and make sure everything that you use regularly is in easy reach. You don't need to spring clean your studio every week (in fact being overly tidy could be less creative but just make sure you're not wasting time trying to fix things when you could be making music.

Get your DAW in order

Dodgy plugins? Soundcard drivers out of date? Computer crashing all the time? Do yourself a favour and spend a few hours sorting all this stuff out. An unreliable computer is not only annoying but really unproductive. Make sure that everything is running smoothly so you can make music for hours on end without crashes and interruptions

Have a template

This is something that I will be dedicating a single article to as there is a fair bit to go through, but its worth doing a bit of research your self around this. Many companies sell or give away templates for different DAW's and genre's. These can be great learning tools but I highly recommend that you make your own.

So I hope this article has given you some motivation to get your self organized. Take half an hour and start getting organized. You'll save a heap of time and energy and you'll be that one step closer to being a better producer. 

Kick Series PT 3 - Conclusion

Well after alot of faffing about with recording and uploading Youtube videos its finally here! There's a good 45 minutes of solid discussion and demonstrations on how I do my kick drums now. Everything from building them, to getting them to sit into your track and develop a sense of space and depth with them is covered. Hopefully you get something out of this! 



Kick Drum Series PT 2 "Techno Big Room Reverb Kick"

Well this week was not so great! Just goes to show that all best intentions can be derailed by our old friend the common cold... 

Moving into Part 2 of this series I am revisiting another post I did for GEMP not long after the "Everything I Know About Kick Drums" article last week. I remember this being a really big turning point for me in my production. Alot of this was collected from various posts around the web but most especially subsekt's the hole - which is a wealth of techno production knowledge well worth going through. 

This technique pretty much opened the door to how I do my kick's now and although I have refined the formula somewhat the technique in the article will still get you a really decent kick drum. In the next post i'll be exploring my current way of making these types of kick drums, from source selection to processing chains and mixing tips.. enjoy!

Kick Drum Series PT 1 "Everything I Know About Kick Drums"

So for any of you that know me personally you will know my inherent fascination with those oh so great parts of any good tune - the kick drum. I've been known to spend days and days on end working on kick drums and its something that I am constantly improving and working on as a technique. I've decided this be a good place to start with my blog so I am starting a multi part series on all aspects of the humble kick drum. July marks the 1 year anniversary of a 12 page document that I wrote for the excellent Facebook group for which I am one of the moderators - Group for Electronic Music Production or GEMP for short. The group itself is full of a big group of different producers from all different genre's and a regular goldmine of knowledge and feedback. 

The document was called Everything I Know About Kick Drums and at the time was just that, the entirety of my accumulated knowledge on kick drums. It covers everything from samples and layering to mixing and perspective. While my methods have evolved somewhat since then (more on this in future posts) it's still a pretty comprehensive document and many people have commented on how useful it has been for them, so I'd thought I'd share it here.


I hope you get some use out of it! I'm also happy to answer any questions you might have on the subject so just ping me an email or give me a call! 

Until next time.. 

On Beginnings

Well this is a first for me! A website, a blog post, a new city, a new country, a new beginning. I am mainly just writing this to have as test material for the new blog but I have a feeling that I will end up using this space quite alot. I've got alot to do - fix up the website, carry on developing course materials, get myself out there. This is a start, and it feels good! I've got a few students already, an ace coach to help me on my way and a clear vision. BOOM. Lets get shit done.