Posts Tagged ‘abletonvids’

Secrets to holding a listeners attention

Secrets to holding a listeners attention

I wanted to talk today about music that is based on repeating loops. The challenge many of us have when making songs based on either premade or self made loops of 1, 2, 4 or 8 bars is that it can be difficult to keeps things sounding interesting and exciting. I run into this scenario quite a bit and I’d like to share some tip sand ideas to help you improve the flow and interest of your tracks.


Filters and resonance is probably the most obvious way to keep interest in a part that loops. Closing a hi pass filter can can create a feeling of tension or repressed energy and opening the filter creates a nice release. Depending on the part, this can be very intentional and noticeable or subtle. Either way it can keep the listeners attention as the ears are impeccable at distinguishing minor changes and fluctuations. 2 or 3 builds in your song can go a long way to keep your track interesting.


An LFO (or Low frequency oscillator) is a fantastic way to create subtle movement in your loop or midi part. If you are working with a synth, adding an lfo to panning, filter or pitch is usually possible directly on your hardware or soft synth. It doesn’t take much give a sound more life. Sometimes you can’t really notice exactly what is happening with your sound but you instinctually just know that it sounds more interesting. If you are working with a sampled loop, you may need to add an effect that offers lfo movement. Ableton’s built in effects offer alot of options in this arena. Adding something as simple as a chorus or flanger at a low “wet” percentage can really help. For more randomness I wouldn’t sync the lfo to tempo. A slow lfo that repeats out of sync with the tempo will keep the lfo’s themselves from being too loopy.

Duplicate and Layer

I use this technique alot. There are one of a few things I might do to keep things interesting. I will duplicate my loop and make the duplicate an octave higher or lower to introduce different frequency information. Often times I’ll go an octave higher and filter out most of the low frequency content so it doesn’t clash with the original part or other parts in the song. Then I’ll add some dirt with a type of distortion or saturator. Next I’ll automate the volume subtly so hints of it comes in and out of the mix. I may make it more noticeable during breakdowns and buildups. You can also add a layer that is a harmonic of the original. I like trying to repitch a dupicated layer 7 semitones above the original. See what works for you.

Also something to look into is duplicating your part and reversing it. Then find the parts that sound interesting and cut them up and strategically place them in interesting places. It will often assist and enhance the feel and movement of the loop if not overdone.


This can be similar to the last tip. You would simply create interesting fx chains on several return tracks. One might use bit reduction and erosion. Another might introduce an interesting delay or Reverb, while another has a chorus or phaser. Ableton has some really creative effects, so definitely mix and match. It’s best to put the wet/dry on 100% as you don’t want to send the original track back into itself in most cases. Once you have those chains, each of your tracks, including your loop track will have send knobs in your session view. Your track sends are just as automatable as volume or panning, so automate subtle hints of each effect in different points of your song. This is certain to keep things interesting. Just make sure not to get lost here. You were probably attracted to the original loop for a reason, so make sure you aren’t diluting what makes the part great.

Attack, decay, release times

This is another technique that can make a huge impact on your synth part. unfortunately, you won’t have this option with a sampled loop, but I’ll give you a tip that might still help. If you are using a synth, you are sure to have Attack, Decay, sustain and release. In most cases, I like to back off my sustain and release to the lowest setting and then tweak the decay between long and short times. It’s great to open the decay up during builds and breaks and then back it off when things kick back in. This can bring your sound from choppy to washy. Experimenting with the attack can create interesting results at times too. Just like I said before, make sure you don’t lose perspective of the loop that inspired you in the first place. If you are working with a sample, you can drag in a Gate effect and experiment with the threshold. Sometimes this can create a similar effect.


This is a dance producers secret weapon and can easily be overused but the movement and groove it can give a part can’t be denied.  Subtly (or more noticeably) syncing a loop to the kick can certainly help keep things interesting. Naturally when the kicks drop out, so does the sidechain effect which is pretty popular in dance music. Whether you choose a standard noticeable approach or or something more subtle, the listeners ears will thank you. Also experiment with sidechaining to other parts in your song for interesting results.

Outside the loop

Although there are many many things you can do to make a repeating loop sound interesting, there is also something to be said about building interest outside the loop. In general, the listener is not going to want to hear a static loop for more than 8 bars. There are things outside the loop that obviously need to stay interesting as well. Filter rises, swells, evolving ambient sounds and high frequency sounds are some of my favorite ways to keep interest. Many songs, for example, will put a crash at every 8 to 16 bars. Surprisingly, that one sound can reset your interest in listening to a loop for another 8 to 16 bars (depending on how interesting the loop itself is). On top of that though, reverse sounds and weird noises run through reverb and delay can really create space and depth in your track. Another favorite trick of mine is stretching audio. Whether it be a vocal sample or, well, pretty much anything, you can really get some amazing drones with tons of subtle movement. Heck, even try stretching your loop itself. You can do some pretty massive stretching in Ableton but I prefer a fantastic free program called Paul Stretch which you may recognize from an earlier post of mine. It does some fantastic things and can bring endless fun!

I know there are ways to keep a track free from too many effects and dry sounding without losing interest as well, and that would have alot to do with drum programming, groove quantizing and knowing when to add another layer of hihats or when to drop the kick for dramatic effect. Hip Hop is really good at this, but remember, most hip hop is only a few minutes long and has vocals throughout. Getting the same results on a 7 minute track without vocals is much more challenging. I’m certainly not an authority on this approach, but I admire those who are able to take a minimal approach and keep things interesting and engaging.

Other things to note for keeping interest are counter melodies. Being able to change the attention from one melody to another can keep listener interest for a far longer time. Just make sure both parts have movement and have areas in the song where each is more noticable than the other as well as a part where both parts are layered pretty evenly. That alone gives you 3 movements for your track.

Last but not least, changing just 1 note in your bassline can make a dramatic effect if done in the right place. Don’t underestimate the power the bass plays on a melodic loop. Changing the key of your bass, or just a note here and there can do wonders to keep interest.

Use you best judgement

All of these techniques are simply suggestions and it’s really going to come down to your personal style and what you would like to accomplish. Some technique might not benefit your track at all, or perhaps you’ve found the perfect loop that needs very little to keep interesting. You are the master of your own craft and ultimately, you make the rules. All I am hoping to do is empower you to be the best YOU possible.

Below is a video I posted not long ago, but I thought I would add it to this post as it lead me to writing this blog and might give you some other ideas.

Creating Evolving Loops/Soundscapes

This is a simple way to take 1 boring midi loop and make it much more interesting through layering the same part through different effects chains. I also show you a trick of creating automation for each layer that loops at odd times. If you think of running several tape loops all at different lengths, when played together, the sounds never combine the same way twice. This makes things more pleasing and interesting to the ears.

Below is a video showing you this process in Ableton Live 8.
(Right click and Save as)

Feel free to download the song file to see exactly how I approached this:

Song File

Happy Music Making,


My 30 day video producing Journal

My 30 day video producing Journal

For those of you who are following me on Twitter over the last 30 days, you may have seen me tweet about an experiment I started on the 1st of August.  This idea has been running through my head all year and I kept putting it off because I was honestly a bit afraid of embarrassing myself publicly by agreeing to let you watch my songwriting process for 30 days straight.

One major hurdle was the fact that I have never produced music everyday for this length of time and wasn’t sure what the outcome would be if I forced myself to create when I wasn’t particularly inspired. Would inspiration show up or would I be left showing you 30 days worth of “go nowhere” ideas? That can’t be good for anyone’s ego.  :-)

Another fear was that you might not learn much from this process. I don’t purposely do complex things just for the sake of it, so most of my process is experimenting with layers of simple ideas until I find something that works. I didn’t want you watching me use the same techniques over and over and thinking “I thought he was gonna show me some crazy stuff” and being disappointed.

Then I had a thought…..

These excuses were the exact reason nobody else has done something like this before and if that’s the case, this must be common with most everyone that creates. Maybe by showing my strengths and weaknesses I might be able to pull others outside of their comfort zone. Maybe this will show you some of the essential things to learn instead of you feeling like you have to know everything before allowing yourself to start.

Through this process I’ve been motivated, unmotivated, grumpy, anxious, unorganized, inspired, bored, confused and slightly embarrassed at times. Despite all that I was able to complete 2 songs & a DJ mix I am pretty happy with. That has got to count for something. I’ve also become that much better at fighting through resistance and getting to the other side. I may talk more specifically about my struggles as I share this 30 day process. If I can create in the state of mind I was in on some days, you definitely can too!

So here’s how this is going to work…

At some point soon I will be posting 1 video on my blog a day for 30 days. Almost all the videos are 30 minutes of longer, while some are well over an hour. Each day 1 video will be up to watch for free for 24 hours (or until the next video takes it’s place). So for 30 days you will have a new video to watch. I’ve edited the videos a bit to keep them more focused so you don’t watch me go off on tangents that are unnecessary. You will however see me do some things that don’t get used at all in the final process. I figured it was important to include that so you can pretty much watch the whole creative process.

For those who find value in this collection, I will later make it available if you want to purchase it. It will include all the samples used and all the Ableton song files from each day as well as the 2 completed songs and DJ mix (obviously seperated tracks from my DJ mix will not be included).

Don’t call this a tutorial

Although there is alot to learn from this collection of videos, it was put together without any planning and therefore is not like any other collection I have made. This isn’t a “how to make a (choose your style) song” but rather an relatively honest approach to some ways I approach making music.  I do however limit myself to just Ableton’s internal effects and instruments. These limitations take me outside my comfort zone which I thought was a good challenge. I wanted to be working with tools that all Ableton users have access to so everyone can not only follow along but stop thinking they need more stuff before they can start creating professional sounding music. In another track I built the song just using samples and internal effects. I also go through the process of preparing a song to play live in Ableton and build a DJ mix.  Do to the 20ish hours of footage, I haven’t done the type of editing I usually do. Sometimes you’ll find me in the “zone” and I stop talking about what I’m doing and I just DO, although I try my best to fill you in or why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I am thinking at the time.

I hope this lets some of you inside my head creatively and shows you some building blocks, techniques and tools that you can apply to your work. I certainly didn’t invent any of the techniques, so it’s only fair that I pass along what I know so you can take it and figure out a way to do it better. … Then I can learn from you  :-)

Keep your eye on this blog and make sure to follow me on Twitter if you want up to the moment updates.

Til then,

Happy Music Making,


Dancefloor essentials

Essentials when making tracks for the Dancefloor

When it comes to writing electronic music for clubs,  it’s often a good idea to have a few things in mind before you tackle that track.

Who is this track for?

What DJ’s would I want playing this track?

What should I use as a reference to keep me on track?

Although plagarism is most likely going to make you look like a sad imitator, not knowing the proper structure and elements that make a track in a certain style work can also make you look pretty amateur.


For me, it’s not about plagarism or theft (unless you consider any type of sampling to be theft), it’s about understanding the template before you randomly bang out a few loops and expect a dancefloor hit to result. It’s like knowing which colors compliment eachother on canvas to get a certain result. As much as we would like to take credit for being the sole influence of every great piece of work we’ve done, every style of music has a template. Breaking rules can be pretty important in expanding a sound and pushing boundaries but push too far and you’re either in another subgenre of music or your song gives the impression that it has somehow missed the mark. This can be that either  too much is going on, not enough is going on, or that the structure leaves you feeling bored or overstimulated.

In business they say that if you want to be successful, you should model someone who is already successful in your field. I think the same goes for music.

For me, I’d be a bit like a train without a track without some sort of template. I usually don’t have a template when I am jamming ideas, but once I get into arrangement and mixing mode, I definitely have a reference, format or template in mind.

Usually I let templates assist me when it comes to figuring out the elements I need for a complete track. Without having something to reference, I can easily fill the song with too much in one area and not enough in another area. So I may listen to a track for guidance, even if it’s one of my own completed songs. I’ll map out the elements something like this:








*lead or hook

*cut up bits

*”build up” sounds


This, of course, is a very basic list off the top of my head, but it’s good enough for this example. With these I take a loose mental note of the basic frequency ranges of each part. This can expose holes in my frequency spectrum and lead me to know if I need to play that pad an octave higher or lower etc.

It’s important to not try to fill up all the frequencies at all times. Without some gaps, it’ll be difficult to build excitement. It’s important to know how few elements the track can run on and stay sonically interesting. Leaving a hole in the high frequencies, for example, can make room for those high hats that come in on the offbeat at certain peak points in the track.

Given these elements above, I would make sure that each part in my song either fell directly into one of these categories or was playing a neccesary support role to one of these elements. A bass for example might need 3 elements working together to get the right sound. Typically each layer will consist of a different frequency range where when put together make one rich, dynamic sound.

If you are playing 3 different parts in the same bass frequency, you’re most likely going to want to either cut something, or re-EQ one of the parts so they don’t interfere with eachother. Interference causes a lack of clarity and the overall impact is likely to suffer.

DJ mixes vs songs

When it comes to building a template of sounds, I prefer to listen to a Live DJ mix instead of individual songs from a DJ I would like playing my track. The reason for this is manyfold.

For one, you are able to find common themes and patterns in the overall sound of the mix instead of taking direct influence from one artist alone. You are also able to hear the elements of the songs that are being highlighted in the mix and which are not being used.

It may turn out that a DJ needs to re-edit or layer a track for it to work on the dancefloor. If you are able to listen to a 4+ hour mix, you can really get an idea how the DJ builds his set in a live situation instead of the snapshot that is given on a commercial DJ mix CD.

This also gives you the ability to know whether your style is best suited for the early, mid or late portion of a set. Where individual tracks come in handy is when looking for inspiration in the arrangement of your song.

I recently took this approach with a track of mine. I produce with a partner under the name Innerstate (not to be confused by the trance artists under the same name). We hadn’t made a new track as partners in several years and although we both are more skilled at making music now than we were in the past, it definitely took us a bit to find our feet.

Ask a DJ

A DJ that has been (and continues to be) a big supporter of our tracks was coming to LA which is pretty close to us and we didn’t want to show up empty handed this time. This put a fire under our asses but also put us in a bit of a rush as we only had 3 days to complete an unfinished track idea.

To make a long story short, we missed the boat on the 1st version of we delivered. I wouldn’t say it was crap but it certainly wasn’t up to the standard people have grown to expect from us. It was also missing the elements that this particular DJ was drawn to, elements that had become a trademark for us.

Our first reaction was to be a bit defensive of the new direction we had taken but we soon realized that sometimes it’s important to hear from a fan or your work to keep you on track.

We took some time to listen to actual live mixes from him which surprisingly had some of our tracks in them. It was nice to know they still worked with current DJ sets on top notch sound systems. This brought back to mind what the name “Innerstate” was all about for us. We realized that not only did we have the wrong elements, the EQ’ing was too “in your face” for this style of music.

We went into a bit of panic and feeling like we failed, but once that passed, we went about to find our own way of expressing the right elements and getting rid of the ones that weren’t working.

I’m happy to say that version 2 of our track was massively improved, and we learned a whole lot from the whole process. Everyone we shared it with gave it great feedback. There will likely be a few more minor tweaks but it’s pretty normal for any producer to have their songs “road tested” before they settle on a final mix. If you have a friend that DJ’s in well established clubs around the world, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by listening to what they have to say. This of course, is assuming s/he plays the kind of music you make.

I wrote this blog to expose some of my own weaknesses in hopes that you won’t give up when you have struggles. Almost everytime I write a new track, I feel like a beginner all over again. I wonder exactly how I managed to get that sound in my last track and if I can pull off something as interesting or more interesting than that in my new track.

Writing music for the public can be pretty scary. Putting something out into the world is your way of saying “I think this is good and I’m gambling my reputation on it”. Don’t let that scare you off though, every artist is going through the same thing, so you’re in very good company.

Happy music making,


Are you a creative consumer or producer?

Are you a creative consumer or producer?

Let’s face it. We’ve all become information junkies. We constantly feed our faces with new tricks and new toys. We are constantly looking for the next thing. The new synth, that new effect, the new, well… anything.

Here’s the problem folks, it’s slowing you down from the real goal. If you aren’t finishing songs, soundtracks or projects, now you have your culprit.

In an attempt to become more productive you read blogs, watch videos and buy whatever seems to give you more power than you already have. The problem is that the appetite is never quenched. I’m of course referring to myself as well. I’ll use information gathering as an excuse to not create and then I’ll convince myself that without this new tool I can’t create. You end up in a constant cycle of upgrading instead of finding a consistant workflow.

Have you become an addicted consumer instead of a creative producer?

Now I am all about new technology, no doubt about it. I am also all about finding new information that I can put to use, but that is where the flaw is. We watch the videos, we read the blogs, we download the new plugin but we are pulling in more information than we can possibly put to use?

A change in thinking

If this behavior is going to stop we need to accept that too much information works against you. It gives you too many choices. It also takes away your sense of discovery when you are in a creative mode. By the time you have a situation that would benefit from a certain technique, you may already be bored by it or paranoid that this trick isn’t modern enough or is overused.

I think this behavior happens with a lot of musicians (something I’ve already stated that I am not). The reason for this is that many musicians learn how to play before they just start playing. They learn all the rules and they learn all the chords. By the time they actually start making music, they are trying to reach outside their current level of skill because they are bored to tears of all the things they have already learned. They restrict themselves from many of the basics in search of that magic, but rarely find it.

When I started playing guitar I tried learning from a chord book but tossed it after only a few days. I had learned a few basic bar chords and I was off and running. I had confidence in simplicity and wasn’t afraid to do something just because it’s easy. Luckily for me, I was drawn to bands that used simplicity to their favor. If I had something in my head that I couldn’t play, then and only then would I hunt for a new skill, technique or expand my chord knowledge. This gave me the ability to feel the magic of every new discovery and tool. I didn’t feel forced to grow any more than my natural pace. I rarely heard a song and had to rush home to learn how it was played. I was just doing my own thing and developing my own sound.

Now I find myself getting into the trap of information gathering. I’m constantly working on skills that I’ll never put to use. another downside is that I rarely have the exciting feeling of discovery when I finally use a new trick. Being a blogger and a producer (and a DJ), it’s easy for me to get caught up with what is new, but I feel it would be more beneficial to myself and my readers if I put to use each new thing I learn or each new tool I access before hunting for the next thing. I also think it’s going to be important to wait for a problem before I go hunting for a solution.

Ask yourself, is this a tool I am going to use today? Does the project I am currently working on require this tool or information to complete it? Does filling my head with this new information make me more productive now or less productive? What information and tools do you have right now that you still haven’t put to use? Might it be more beneficial to implement some of those one at a time? Maybe you would benefit by removing several tools to open up some space to new ones.

Just because a tool is great for someone else and has them super excited doesn’t mean it’s going to work that way for you. Realize your addiction might be to someone’s excitement and  not necessarily the information being presented. Another trap is trying to fit this new tool or idea into your work. This can be frustrating and slow you down because in your head you may be thinking “this is supposed to be amazing, what am I doing wrong”?, when the real issue is that it’s not a match for your way of creating.

A challenge

Make a deal with yourself. If you spend 30 minutes learning a new trick, you’ve got to spend at least 30 minutes putting it to use. If the skill requires more time, decide whether you will dump the new trick or take the time to perfect it. Don’t make the mistake of putting this on the backburner while hunting for new information or tools.

I hope this brings you closer to a very productive 2010.

To your continued joy and productivity in your creative works!

happy music making,