How to fail your way to success
To dispel any myths you might be thinking. Music production didn’t come naturally to me. It took years of making some pretty embarrassing mistakes & getting my ass handed to me to learn what works & what doesn’t.
I also was pretty financially unstable through much of my music life & made some pretty poor decisions just trying to keep a bit of money in my pocket. The reason for me sharing these stories is in hopes that you see that if I was able to pull my head out of my own ass & figure things out, you should have no problem reaching your goals.
My EQing nightmare
So I found myself on the other side of town dropping off a mixing job (the worst mixing job on the planet) to a hip hop act when I was living in Riverside, California. I was in the middle of a rough neighborhood with not enough gas or money to get me home. I needed to be paid for the job ($100).
You’ll want to file this under “don’t take on an impossible job because you are desperate to make rent”.
See, it wasn’t entirely my fault. I took on a job that would have been impossible for anyone. The idiot factor is thinking I could work with the files I got, regardless.
They had delivered me stems (mixes of all the separate instruments) that were actually not separated. every instrument, instead of being solo’d was the full stereo mixdown of the song (a bad mixdown at that). We didn’t have internet at the time, so if you get a project in the mail that isn’t right, you can’t just ask for an update to be delivered through dropbox.
I should have made a call & had them get me something proper to work with, but money being so tight, I opted to try to carve away EQ to somewhat attempt to have the fundamentals of each instrument for mixing purposes. I was almost proud of myself for being so “resourceful”. I know what you’re thinking. I’m the biggest idiot on the planet & deserve to die from 1000 spork wounds.
Needless to say, the mix I delivered sounded awful (did I think they wouldn’t notice?) and there I was stranded with a bunch of pissed off hip hop guys looking at me. I thought I might lose a kneecap that day. I had to beg for money to get me home. As I said before, I made it here on fumes. By the grace of the giant spaghetti monster in the sky, they took pity on me & gave me $5 to get home.
Never again would I make such a dumb mistake… or would I?
An idiot’s story part 2
Somehow, I was still getting work. I guess I had done some decent work as well. Mostly with electronic bands with guitars & word got around that my bedroom was a cheap place to get a song done. I think I had some ads out of Craigslist as well that were getting me phone calls ( I had dial up internet by this time).
So I get a call from Cracka. A cracked out white kid who wanted to be the next Eminem & who was I to say no? Sure, the friends he brought over were pretty sketchy, but I was getting paid in cash & they didn’t steal anything. It could be worse.
So, I was being hired to make the beats & everything. I think they had some samples on cd, but that’s about it. I was pretty good at programming drum machines & working my sampler, but I wasn’t very educated on proper hip hop tones.
When I sent this guy home with a rough mix, he called back particularly unhappy with the kick drum. He wanted it to be big, deep & punchy without too much boom & he questioned if I could give him a tone that would compete with bigger artists.
Never turning down a challenge that was paying, I told him I’d get him a wicked kick that would thump any car stereo…and I did, kinda.
Back in the studio I went through my kick samples, looking for the right sound, but it was eluding me. I’d have to make my own out of what I had. I had heard stories about other producers layering drum sounds to get a bigger sound. If that was the trick, I would layer a crapload of kicks together. 26 to be exact.
Yep, that’s right, I went with the more is better approach. If they wanted a kick, I would give them the biggest fuck off kick they’d ever heard.
Did I roll off any EQ on any of the layers? Oh, hell no.
Did I edit the length of any of the sounds? You kidding? Who needs that?
I strictly was using volume levels. A little of this one & a bit more of that one. It’s so embarrassing for me to recall being proud of myself. I even got a pat on the back when Cracka heard it by itself.
Little did he (or I) realize that this sound was taking up so many frequencies that were cancelling eachother out that kick would be all that you would hear in this mix. It sounded so big & aggressive, that nothing could compete with it. Vocals, bass, everything got drowned out.
Since everybody was so focused on the sound of the kick, nobody really noticed how bad the overall mix sounded. Not long after, I didn’t get calls from him anymore.
How am I still here?
Somehow by some small miracle, I got my head together over the next couple of years and went on to do some good work that I’m proud of, working with industrial bands, new age artists, pop, rap, electronica & R&B, I learned to adjust my skills & add much to my producer’s toolbox.
I think it’s really been about not saying no to anyone & trying to put my head into the space of the artist or band. With that much exposure, I was able to fail my way forward, picking up little bread crumbs of information with each new project.
These days I am much more selective about what I work on & who I work with. I also found myself better as a mixing engineer than I am with recording. Plus, it’s nice to not have to go through all the arguing that bands go through in that process. I get my stems & am left to myself until I have something to share.
If you can learn anything from this, I hope that it’s that anyone can learn to do this & that some people take longer than others. Luckily there are so many resources out there that were never available when I started, that can get you from point A to point Z much faster & with far fewer idiot mistakes.
Hopefully, as an electronic artist, my kicks & mixing techniques are noticeably better. I’m still always learning though.
happy music making,
Marina has quickly become one of my favorite Deep Tech/Tech House artists. She has incredible instincts for dancefloor grooves & tones that sound fantastic through a huge club soundsystem. She has built quite a name for herself, signing tracks to Baile Musik, Innocent Music, Albatory, Deep Tech records & many more. Recently she started her own highly regarded label Thanq.
Marina has also submitted a special Producer Kit that has just been released!
You can check that out Here
Q1: You are becoming quite well known internationally for both your DJing & your music production. How would you say one feeds into the other & how are you able to balance both?
MK: I feel both goes really well together. In the studio you are alone and can be really creative and behind the decks, you are exposed to a crowd & you need to be really open and giving, loving them through music.
The more gigs you have its harder to find energy for the studio, coz you need to be full to create something, at least in my case. I have more problems balancing healthy life routine with gigs and travels.
Q2: In the dance scene especially, networking seems to be key. Although it’s important to be yourself with people & not be insincere, are there any tips you’d like to give on connecting with people?
MK: In my experience connecting is letting the connection happen, I don’t like to push it. Im not an expert in this field coz I never write to people just to write them, just to connect.
I think the best connections happen live, but of course you can click with somebody through messages easily, for me its all about the vibe. I feel you can’t push the connection, maybe Im wrong.
Q3: Do you have any studio or personal rituals or habits that help you get inspired, stay inspired & have the focus to see a song to the end?
MK: Hmm this is a hard one. Finishing tracks is always hard but I find it easier if you stick with it. If I don’t finish something while its hot, I don’t feel it anymore after some time has passed. I have the best view from my studio, so that is quite helpful.
I think persistency is the key, not finding excuses not to finish it. Its never going to be perfect. I always say to myself, its the best you can do in this moment.
Q4: Is there anything that goes on in your head before you start a new song that prepares you for the task ahead? Do you have a certain approach that gets you moving quickly?
MK: No, I always start blank with just a kick. That gets me in the mood. I usually have a label in mind or if I don’t work for anybody specific, I have like a mood idea I want to achieve.
Q5: Do you set music related goals, or do you just write when ideas hit you?
MK: I usually have a list of tracks I need to make for this and that label. Usually it’s the stuff I already promised I would do, but when I don’t care about that list, I just write what I feel like at the moment, and it usually gets me in the direction I wasn’t expecting.
Q6: What was your greatest songwriting challenge when you started? What is your greatest now? If you’ve overcome them, how was that done?
MK: Arrangement. I never had problems with making cool ideas but arranging was always difficult. Now not any more. Now I do it much more quickly, at least the ruff sketch but now I have problems with the fear that something is missing, that it can be much better but I don’t see it or hear it. Then its good to send to other people or just to leave it for some time.
Q7: We originally connected within my Ableton Producer’s Playground when you sent me an unfinished loop, which I publicly took to completion. I was then able to discover some of the wonderful work you had been doing. How was your experience in the group, and would you recommend it to others?
MK: Yeah for sure, the group is full of knowledge that is being shared between members, so I really liked that. Its not just you trying to teach something but the whole collective trying to share what they already know.
I liked that you are encouraging people to get involved. There is a huge knowledge base at your site and I encourage people to use it if they want to progress.
Q8: You have a great ability to create infectious rhythms in your songs without sounding “over the top”. Would you be interested in sharing your approach to rhythm & sound layering?
MK: Thanks, I didn’t know that. I like to think that the small sounds are important. The sounds also need to fit together really good, thats also important. I love to layer stuff yeah, for more power but I don’t have a special secret, just use your ears, make grooves, pan things and use different kinds of reverbs to add variety of spaces.
Q9: Do you have a specific sound design approach or do you just mess about until something strikes your attention? Have you built a library of presets that can get you moving on a track quickly?
MK: I always have like a goal to built a library but its never fun you know. When I turn on the Ableton I want to make something fun and make a great track, can’t seem to find the time to just sit and work for the sake of future work.
From the other hand, I’m scared that if I make a library, I will start to sound the same. I still always start from blank, just mess around with everything, really trying to be creative and not to think much.
Later I do the critical work, delete the stuff that is bad, make a ruff arrangement and see what else do I need. But, yeah, would love to have a to go drum racks at least, so simple in Ableton today and I suggest you do it.
Q10: Are there any production details that you think new producers miss that you feel have a big impact on the final result?
MK: Yeah, background noises maybe, small sounds that make the track feel alive. I think people easily forget that the tracks need to sound organic as possible to be attractive.
For me to keep it alive through the track is the key, and I use a lot of automation, fills and background noises. And yeah, layer your kicks!
Q11: In your opinion, what are the necessary elements for a quality track?
MK: The hook, the catch, something. It can be the vibe, the sound, the loop or the vocal, but for me it has to have something special to call it a good track.
Q12: How often do “accidents” play a role it your music?
MK: Very very often and I love it! Its the most fun part. I love when that things happen. Sometimes your project crashes and its the worst thing, and you get so upset that you stop thinking somehow you are just angry, and later you find out that it had to happen so you could find this sound you were aiming for.
I love it when I don’t expect anything, I just try to work and not give up on this track, and this is when most of the “accidents” happen. You do something, or open something or think of something that it blends so perfectly that it lifts your whole mode up for the next few days
Q13: What have you been working on currently & what is next for you?
MK: I’ve been working on my EP for my new Label ThanQ Music and finishing some unfinished work. I’ve been trying to incorporate Maschine in my routine but I realized I don’t really need it, its just more clicks.
I have a new track out for Deep Tech 100th release with some really nice artists, I also have one track for Amazing music and some unreleased stuff waiting for the lights!
Marina Karamarko Bio
Marina Karamarko (aka Miss Soulfly) is fresh blood of electronic music scene, always playing from the heart with the tendency to spread all over you and into you with a mission to leave you with a full heart before going home. With her unique style and charisma she instantly wins the dance floors.
It started in 2006. After quickly winning some local DJ competitions, the gigs just kept on coming.? In 2008 she gained an Audio Engineering Diploma at SAE University of Ljubljana and since has been collecting more knowledge and experiences as a sound engineer and producer.
Marina has played many clubs and open air events all over Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Switzerland and Germany.
In 2012, she joined the Innocent Music label and management organization which she has released with. She has also bene on labels such as Blacksoul Music, Tekyon Music, Melomane, Pixel Tree, Body Music & Baccara, just to name a few.
In the past few years, she received great support from artists such as Steve Lawler, Hector Couto, Philip Arruda, Paco Osuna, Maceo Plex, Someone Else, Hugo, D-Formation & Philipp Ort.
In 2013 she won the Croatian finals of the “Burn studios residency contest” and spent 2 weeks in Ibiza, joining the Burn residency bootcamp program, where she successfully got in to the finals.
Working with great artists such as Steve Lawler, Solomun, Maceo Plex, Hot Chip and many others has expended her knowledge and experience & opened the doors she only dreamed of.
Marina’s first international breakthrough was in the summer of 2013, when she got a residency on Ibiza as a resident DJ in highly respected club Sankeys, where she played on ViVA Warriors night with Steve Lawler, Darius Syrian, Sante, Phillip Bader, Guti, Robert Dietz, Detlef, Anek and many more.
Her capacity for understanding the music, its layers and a natural ability to entertain and connect is the reason people never forget and always want more. Her status as a successful female DJ combined with her professionalism and hard work has gained her respect with her colleagues and clubbers.
Check out Marina Karamarko at these links:
I’ve just released my first full length book (200-250 pages depending on reading device) which is sure to help music producers using any DAW. Unlike a lot of my material, which is Ableton Live specific, I wanted to make this book a bit more universal to help any music producer reach the goal of finishing more music & being much happier with the results.
As the title hints at, this book is about your creative habits & how they can make or break your music making attempts, regardless of how much technical knowledge you might currently have. Using the simple techniques laid out in this book, I was able to go from writing 4-5 songs or remixes a year (none released), to 49 finished tracks in a single year, many of them currently released to several labels & many more to be signed in the near future!
It’s taken me over 25 years of making music to find what works (and what doesn’t) & although there is no magic bullet (so please stop looking), this book is sure to improve your creativity and output.
The book currently sells for $9.99 on Amazon but I will start the promo soon after I’ve got everything in order. It won’t last long, so be sure to sign up to the mailing list below & you’ll be the first to know when the free promo starts.
I could have simply done a discounted promo & made a few dollars, but I really want to get this book into as many hands as possible, especially those who have followed & supported my work over the years. I think you will love it!
My hope is that you share it & give it an honest review on amazon, as that is the life blood of this book’s success & longevity. If that sounds like a fair trade to you, pop in your email & I’ll let you know immediately when the promotion starts. Make sure to confirm your subscription.
Finish an EP in the next 30 days
There is so much information out there for aspiring music producers.
Tips, Tricks, Techniques & Secrets galore.
A lot of money is being spent in DAWs, synths, effects, hardware & training in hopes that these will be the correct moves toward a path of success in music.
I am 100% behind making an investment in yourself, which I can attest can dramatically speed up the process of going from A to Z. The downside is that it’s very easy to overload yourself with so much information, that you once again find yourself stuck.
There are simply too many options & everyone has differing opinions of what that option should be. With all of this going on, it’s easy to become a neverending follower & never have the confidence to follow your own voice.
Sometimes more information can make you weaker.
I personally went years knowing more about production than most of my peers, but accomplishing far less. I’d finish a couple songs or remixes here and there, but nothing that would help be develop me own voice in the scene. I was following instead of leading & I constantly had a fear that I needed to know more before I could write a quality tune that a label would actually want to sign.
When I finally got my head together & made a commitment to writing more songs & developing my own sound, I realized it wasn’t all these tip & tricks that made the difference. It was knowing the essentials for my sound & clearing my head of everything else.
There are so many cool tricks & neat equipment out there to tempt you that if you don’t know your own vision, you can easily be derailed. I’ve seen it happen far too many times to many of my peers & of course myself.
A new path
In developing new habits & new ways of approaching my music making, I had to figure out what wasn’t working with my current approach. This wasn’t easy to detect at first. Nothing seemed broken, it just seemed that the end result wasn’t happening.
When I finally did discover my own pitfalls, I realized the solutions were not going to come from a new Synth or plugin, not from more youtube videos & not from hanging out in forums.
It was my creative habits that needed to shift. I needed to create a ritual that was applied in a specific order. Like unlocking a safe, changing the order of your process will change your results dramatically.
Before even opening my DAW, I spent several days getting my brain tuned for the work ahead. I didn’t want to go strong for 3 days only to start making excuses on the 4th. I also knew that I had to let go of perfection and overthinking.
Want to hate your song before you ever share it? Overthink every detail endlessly. Put it on the sidelines when things get difficult. This is a sure path to failure.
When I finally did open Ableton, I knew I was committed & refused to give in when things got difficult. Since I had heard about the 80/20 rule & how it applies to every aspect of your life, I began to analyze the 20% of my music production habits that were giving me 80% of my best results. Most of the remaining 80% of habits I was able to put away, or completely ignore.
I stopped listening to my 16 bar loops endlessly. That was a waste of time. I’d open the session, give it a couple listens & then decide what I was going to get done in the next hour. I turned off all distractions, set a timer & went to work.
Like everybody, I went through some serious challenges, but instead of stopping, I forced myself to actually think creatively. Instead of asking “how would (fill in the blank) solve this problem?” I instead thought “How can I solve this challenge with the set of tools I currently have?”
Surprisingly, by asking better questions, my brain was much more useful & resourceful. Of course, when I was completely stuck after using all my resources, I would give myself 15 minutes to hunt for a solution & immediately after I had found a technique, I got back to my song & immediately put it to use.
By setting a timer, I was made much more aware of my progress & what time was being wasted. My music production predictably went through the roof!
I found that by repeatedly coming up with solutions to songwriting challenges, my brain stopped stressing & I was almost able to sleepwalk my way through problems that would have stopped me dead in my tracks.
The power of repetition can not be underestimated
Where are you?
So where are you on your music making journey?
Are you full of shitloads of information that isn’t serving you well?
Have you taken courses & still find yourself lacking willpower & focus?
Have you finished a few songs, but just aren’t happy with the results?
Maybe you’ve never even learned Ableton, but have dreams of finishing songs, getting signed & playing music out at some of the world’s best nightclubs.
I assure you that with an attitude & habit change, you are much closer than you think. I ‘d like to help you plant that creative seed & reach your potential.
Can you write an EP in the next 30 days?
I think the better question is “Are you willing to put in the work required to finish an EP in the next 30 days?”.
There is no doubt in my mind that if you answered yes to that question, that you can most certainly accomplish this, even if you have never used Ableton before.
Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve been privately working on a very intense Master Course that promises exactly that. I feel like this is my life’s work up to this point & will be the most focused music making course I’ve ever made!
I’m very proud of my past work & know that it all has helped 1000’s of people, but after finishing 52 songs in 13 months, I feel I had a LOT more to say on the subject.
If you are completely new to Ableton Live or if you just haven’t gotten the results you are looking for yet, I’d love for you to be among to first to experience my new course.
Not for everyone
Like anything, this intense course is not for everyone reading this.
Some of you are just hobbyists, others are already cranking out amazing songs & some of you just aren’t committed enough to go through this Master Course.
This course will require at least 1 hour of your time everyday for 30 days.
Each day there will be handbooks, detailed video training, homework & then a Q&A session for anyone who has further questions. I will be completely active during the whole process, making sure that everybody stays on track & understands each module of training.
This course will require a lot of effort on your part & I am committed to putting even more effort in to make sure everyone stays involved, motivated & focused.
There will also be a private group that you will have lifetime access to, so you can all continue to help each other & have me there to guide you further as well. We can all not only help each other finish songs but also share contacts & connections to put your music in the right hands so it gets released on good record label & get professional feedback to help you get even better.
I still have about 40-50 hours of work before the Master-Course is finalized, so if you would like to know more about this as I get closer to a release date, I encourage you to sign up for the waiting list (totally free).
You will get updates as we get closer to launch & I’ll be sharing an outline of the course, so you will have an idea of how things will be laid out (as I said before, it’s going to be intense!). I look forward to helping a small group of people take their passion to a whole new level.
Sign Up Below