February 4, 2014

It's Process Day!!!

by Chris Randall

My attempts at creative endeavors over the weekend were utterly and completely foiled by hardware (not software!) problems. My Maschine Studio got crashy all the sudden, I had to whittle a new tape loop for the echo, the old Doepfer modules/Stackables problem reared its head, and basically everything was conspiring to keep me from making music.

However, creativity struck last night and I was able to pull things together on a track I've been making on and off for a couple weeks now. Just for fun, I let the GoPro Hero 3+ run while I was trying to come up with a part on the DK Synergy for this track. So the video above is actually a snapshot of my writing process, not a finished and arranged song (or real-time improv, like most of my videos, although it does smell like that.) When I'm doing a track with full production that isn't real-time, I like to separate the parts out in the Clip view in Live, blow up the UI so I can run it from the touchscreen, and dick around with different arrangement ideas while I'm trolling for sounds, and that's essentially what I'm doing in the above video.

Sidebar: the DK Synergy is a strange and wonderful beast, and I dearly love owning and playing it, but Jesus fuck the fan in that thing is loud. Something needs to be done about it.

I'm intrigued to learn about your writing process. Since electronic music is almost more about sound design than songwriting, do you play parts first, then do sound programming like me? Or do you come up with cool sounds, then figure out how to use them? Or some other method entirely?


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Feb.04.2014 @ 8:44 PM
(I don't care what you say, Randall. I'm still pulling for the Big Beat revival.)

Feb.04.2014 @ 9:27 PM
For me, it's usually some hybrid of the two approaches. Sometimes my songs start on guitar or bass and I'll take that to the keyboard to transcribe into MIDI for translation into some kind of non-acoustic sound. Then there's times where I just start with a beat and see what comes of it. Other times I'll start on the modular without any idea of what I'm doing and see what I can build.

Now that I wrote it out it seems pretty fucking hapless, but there certainly is a method to the madness.

Feb.04.2014 @ 11:44 PM
If I'm starting with a lyrical idea or motif, I will write using the guitar. It's the instrument I've been playing the longest so I don't get distracted by technique. Therefore at first a lot of my song songs start off as folkish twaddle or rather bog standard rock/punk structures. Then I then attempt to deconstruct them to something more personal, better suited to my tastes and strengths.

But being not much of a singer, most of what I work on is instrumental music. So, yeah, building off a sound or experiment, coaxing it into an arrangement. Chasing the hook.

Chasing the hook. The hook. Be it a beat. A guitar figure. A bass part. Some lonesome piano chords w/ evocative reverb. Or just the fascinating sonic result of farting around with technology. Hell, happy accidents. The bit that sticks in my head and dictates the framework of a song. As we all know, this can produce a shit ton of banal nodding, but so can writing a song about how no one understands you and adding a middle 16 pentatonic guitar solo.

Feb.05.2014 @ 4:49 AM
Like the sounds.

That touch-screen monitor with Ableton grabs my attention. Want!

I've not been producing tracks for much more than a year. I start with the drums and then mess around with sounds, browsing presets and experimenting with effects to make interesting sounds. Add a few variations to the drum patterns then improvise with keys, live drum-pattern selections and other variations and then tighten things up a bit. Most of all I intend to have fun. If it's not fun then it's for another time. I'm just learning so every time I sit down productively I'm learning something new. I'm quite interested introducing some random.

One thing recently I was having fun with was having random notes filtered through scales, and possibly some chords. It produced some interesting music, to me anyway. I could let the computer do more and just pick stuff I like. I suspect that's how a lot of electronica has been produced.

Feb.05.2014 @ 6:00 AM
The first 28 seconds made me think this song was gonna be dub as fuck... the bassline, the beeps.. you can do an alternate version and throw reggae chord hits in it ...


inspiration strikes.. 9 times out of 10 its a break or bassline i start out with... after a few hours I save a final version of the unfinished tune where it will sit in a folder indefinitely... In hindsight, things been this way since I went DAW and took my hands off of physical instruments...

Feb.05.2014 @ 7:09 AM
Chris Randall
I have a love-hate relationship with Live on the big touchscreen. It is obviously not designed at all for that context, so there are a lot of problems.

First, unless I blow the UI up to 175% or more, it's almost impossible to hit the tiny clip trigger buttons. Even at that size, on a 27" monitor, you can plainly see me miss one at 1:57. I miss them all the time.

Second, the knob and fader controls almost act like switches when you control them from a touchscreen. There is no fine control, and also you can't see the control when you're adjusting it because your finger is over it.

Third, in Arrange view, any time you touch a track, it triggers the little edge detection for resizing the track. So you intuitively go to grab a blank spot to scroll, and instead you end up with a really tall track.

There's a ton of other stuff. It's basically not as cool as you'd think, long story short. I haven't tried Bitwig Studio on the touchscreen yet; whether it responds well mostly depends on which UI kit they used. This is why I end up writing my own apps in Cinder to control various things using OSC and M4L. I haven't done one yet for the Session view of Live itself, as that'd be a lot of work. But it's on my agenda.


Feb.05.2014 @ 7:27 AM
Have you read the book "The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook" yet ? This is a gem about "hacking" the songwriting process.

link [www.amazon.com]

Anyway, my process is not that original too. In general I have an idea of something (a bass line, a drum part etc.) and I'm trying different things around it to make it sound better and better. I'm not that good to throw whole songs directly from my head, I'm better in finding interesting things with improvisation and preset browsing... And Live is very interesting to experiment things about the structure of the song.

Feb.05.2014 @ 7:29 AM
I first choose preset that is good enough and then play the parts. Sometimes i just use plain piano sounds when playing and program the synth sound later.

I make electronic music but i spend most of the time making the track rather than sound design as i have so limited time for music. I envy CR for being able to do such simple music. I have to put billion parts to one track and have multiple sections with A's and B's and such.

I have not finished more than track or two a year for past three years. For 2014 i'm trying to do something different. I just turned 39 and thought that i will do at least two albums before i'm 40 :)

So i joined to Weekly Beats challenge and now i have to finnish track every week. DL for submitting weekly track for me is 2am Sunday night. So every sunday evening i have been mixing and uploading new track until 1:30AM. Then to sleep and wake up 7am to day job. It's gonna be sleepless 2014 for me.

Doing these weekly tracks is great for inspiration. As there is real DL i need to get something done. Anything. So anything goes. I can always say "Hey, i did this in one evening!" :D So cheesy tracks and melodies it is! As in my "real" music projects there is no room for cheese. Here is my weekly shit if anyone cares: link [weeklybeats.com]

Feb.05.2014 @ 7:34 AM
My process is no process now . Most times I start with sound creation this leads to riffs and parts . Other times I sit around and make patches ( or pics for the analogs now ) and come back to them on the rare days when the musical construct just pours out .
When I was all in the box I had a ver modular way of doing things :
Patch and sound design sessions . Playing and sequencing sessions recorded to midi loops . then 40/60 writing arranging session . This was quite a productive way at the time , but as with all process it got stale and had to go or maybe it worked too well and I had to turn it on its ear for the love of chaos or self sabotage ?

Feb.05.2014 @ 8:29 AM
My process is if I start with beats I never finish the damn thing because it has no soul, and if I start with a concept or idea I'm working toward, I have a 50% chance of getting pretty far. But I like making beats.

The real reason I'm commenting is the touch screen idea. Ableton has an incredibly rigid and desktop-oriented UI, but there are a crap-tonne new systems being built to run windows and multi-touch. I think that's an opportunity for someone, either a) bitwig creates some alternative UI that is more touch-friendly, or someone creates a software controller 'front-end' touch-friendly mainstage-y thing for Ableton. Discuss.

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