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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ReverbNation: 'The War of Art' by Steven Pressfield

I was recently asked by a comrade in arms this question: "How did Ranger School best prepare you for a career in the music industry?"

I don't get to share much with many fans about my previous life as a US Army Infantry Officer, so I wanted to make an honest attempt at answering this one: 

Really good question, we should post this up on Reverb Nation:

At first I never really thought there was a harmony that existed, because it doesn't seem logical that the two worlds of highly intensive military training and creative songwriting/music production mesh together. A good friend of mine and fellow electronic music artist Anomaly (US) recently shared a great book titled 'The War of Art by Steven Pressfield' that changed my mind on this particular subject. Pressfield is a bestselling author and his second major novel was 'Gates of Fire,' which oddly enough, I believe all cadets are still exposed to at my alma mater: The United States Military Academy at West Point.

'The War of Art' focuses on the "examination of internal obstacles to success," then shows how to "identify, defeat and unlock the inner barriers to creativity." Within that construct, Pressfield also talks a lot about the differences between amateurs and professionals, then explains how to properly transition to a higher pro level. As it pertains to Ranger School, there is a chapter in the book titled 'How to Be Miserable' that struck home with me. Pressfield spent some time in the Marines; this is an excerpt where Pressfield shares his experiences and how they made him a better author:

"The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.

This is invaluable for an artist.

The Artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell."

There's never a finite path or easy road to establish yourself in the music biz, that's for sure. Somehow I will always think back to those 8 months I spent battling to earn my tab (normally a 2 month course) and say to myself "as bad as things seem, surely they won't get as bad as Ranger School..." Beyond that, I believe earning the tab gave me a solid measure of my mental and physical limits - so now I am able to draw strength and inspiration from the positive aspects of that brutal scenario.

It's a difficult transition and a unique fit, but understanding both worlds can creatively work to the artist's advantage. Thanks for reading!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

ReverbNation: Newcomer EDM Producer Tips/Advice

I was recently asked on Reverb Nation: "What newcomer advice would you give to a person that would be interested in taking his/her first step to EDM music production?"

I thought this would make for a good first blog and wrote down a few of my ideas. Read below:

Thanks for your question! Everyone starts out in music differently, so this exact answer will vary from person to person:
I like to think of producing electronic music in two components; creative and technical. In a traditional sense of putting out a record, most bands would not move beyond the recorded performance of their track in a studio, which would ultimately be mixed down and mastered aka 'produced' by an engineer. In the world of electronic music, the producer is really bridging the gap between creative songwriting and technically mixing down and possibly mastering the track, so creation involves all three processes. The main reason for this I believe, is the advancement in computer processing power and accessibility of software emulations of expensive and rare hardware outboard gear. Today on a laptop, we have the power and capabilities in terms of music production technology that would have previously existed in the form of large machines taking up an entire studio not that long ago. 

Creatively there are a few suggestions I would give a newcomer: 

- Learn to play an instrument. Hopefully this person may have had some previous experience with an instrument, which is extremely valuable; particularly in the realm of music theory. If not then you would want to pursuit playing an instrument while you were working on production simultaneously. Piano would obviously be a great choice since it transcribes very well with synths and MIDI controllers. I grew up playing guitar and must say it would be hard to song-write well without the help I gain from my axe experience.

- Know your genre; understand the implications of genre on making music. Once you've decided what genre inspires you and ultimately is something you want to produce, you'll have to really get to know that genre in the aspects of composition, sound design, and production techniques. By understanding the way the music of the genre is made up, you will then be able to understand the impact that genre will have on your productions. Certain sounds or techniques these days are drifting between genres and so the restrictiveness of years past is probably a little less, but still relevant. The main take-away is that your productions will be validated and judged based on previous "genre canons," meaning tracks that really define a certain sound and genre. Think of Wolfgang Gartner's electro house sound when he dropped 'Front to Back' or 'Montezuma.' 

Next think about how to shape and mold that genre into your own purposes, how to make it yours, how to put your signature on it. A wise-man once told me that it's not simply enough to contribute to a genre if you want to make an impact. By designing productions with your style, intent, or artistic purposes - you are then moving in a progressive fashion, which is very important in the music biz! The industry and fans are always looking for the freshest sound and possibly the next big thing. In this light, its not necessarily about technically accomplishing this, but more about figuring yourself out and artistic direction. 

If you are able to know your genre, and its implications - you are now in a place where you can successfully make some music. 

Technically, these are some ideas to share: 

Build up your studio slowly over time. Most folks won't have the coin to drop on getting everything immediately that they need to accomplish the ultimate goal of building up a studio/sound-area. The idea is that you have a plan of attack though, know where you are at and then what materials and tools you will need. These are four important things to consider:

Room Control - If your room isn't under control and you're not mixing everything directly in HD headphones, it's going to be hard to get your tracks to translate well in and out of the lab. There are ways around this, and mixing can be done entirely "in the box," however if you're actually using monitors then you will want to invest in this stuff. I won't get into what types are better versus their competitors; I will say that I have a combination of small amounts of Auralex and fiberglass room control from GIK Acoustics - I'm pretty happy! 

Monitors - You will want to consider how big your area is, versus how big your monitors are. These speakers are something you will want to spring for, get the best ones you can afford. Avantone makes a nice mono reference monitor that is great for quick mix comparisons as an extra. Check out the sites below to get an idea of how to correctly manage your physical setup, it will make a difference.

DAW (Reason/Recycle) - Next is the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you are going to need one of these, unless you are trying to go "out of the box," then you can possibly do everything you need on say a beefed up analogue synth, Akai MPC or Native Instrument's Maschine. Propellerhead's Reason is recommended because it's relatively inexpensive to get into and has some good basic effects and synths - from there it can become a very powerful workhorse and rewire intro programs like Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton, FL Studio and many more. You will want to grab Recycle, it is an awesome sampling tool and very easy to use once you understand the parameters. 

MIDI controller - I mentioned before playing an instrument or piano. With a MIDI controller you will not only be able to get a lot of creatives ideas transcribed quickly, but also be able to control a variety of instruments and parameters in your DAW, like synths and samplers - and a lot more depending on the map-ability of the MIDI controller. I use a combination of MIDI controller, virtual analogue synth, and a control surface.

With these tools and materials in your sonic arsenal... you will have a solid basis from which to begin the creative process. 

I paraphrased a lot of info from a book I like called: 'Composition for Computer Musicians' by Michael Hewitt - so I can't take all the credit! Grab a copy it is worth the read. 

I would point you in the direction of a couple websites: - Sonic Academy has a lot of great info on both music theory and production sides. Subscriptions are reasonable. - An online and brick and mortar state-side school. They also have a lot of great videos on - Personally taken a few classes here and they are on point! ;) - Absolutely great resource to understand many different aspects of making music. Spend some time on this site really reading through the articles. I run something close to the Dream Mac Studio and first got the idea from Tweak (RIP). 

There is a lot more information you can get into from there, and some of this may have even been overkill - still this should be a good start. Hope that answered your question! Feel free to hit me back.