Oh how time flies when you’re having fun.
It feels like just yesterday that I got myself a Push 1, a legit pair of headphones, and started messing around with Ableton 9. Since then, it’s been hours of tutorials, manuals, knob turning, and many futile failed attempts to make some wubs.
I thought by now I’d have a Billboard Top 100, Ultra Main Stage appearances, and lots of money and girls. WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS lied to me. Zac Efron lied to me. Although I don’t have that much to show after 365 days of time, effort and energy, I’ve noticed a definite improvement with my work, and I’ve learned a lot.
In no particular order, after one year in the studio, here are the 5 most important things I’ve learned…
CLIMB THE LEARNING CURVE AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE
I remember the first time I opened Ableton. I looked something like this:
At first Ableton, or any DAW for that matter, looks intimidating. Although Ableton is in my opinion as user-friendly and intuitive a DAW as you can get, at the beginning the going is rough. Trying to translate ideas from your head to the software can be slow and frustrating. WTF does OSC and LFO even mean? It can feel like you’re at the bottom of a mountain being crushed by the weight of it all. Don’t worry, you’ll get to the top, as long as you keep pushing forward and up.
Luckily as a Millennial I was able to utilize my knowledge of the internet. I Googled, Youtubed, surfed forums and Reddit and was eventually able to get off the ground. I learned how to make wobbles by watching Dubspot videos, learned about warping samples to correct time by watching Thavius Beck, got a lot of good theory and basics from Vespers, and of course great basic groundwork and valuable information from the ill.Methodology workshop.
So how do you climb the learning curve? Practice, practice, practice. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Then practice some more. And collaborate some more. There is no secret potion, no get-good-quick scheme, no Ableton certified steroids (trust me, I would’ve done them). Just hard work, perseverance and spending time getting your hands dirty are the keys.
COLLABORATE, COLLABORATE, COLLABORATE
This is second on the list because collaboration is vital to your success. You’ll learn more in an hour session with someone skilled in producing than you will spending an hour wandering around your DAW like
You may be reluctant to open yourself up to criticism, but you don’t get better by working with people who know less. Chances are there won’t be some huge instant miraculous knowledge gained from an hour long collaboration session, but you’ll pick up some tips and tricks that will speed up your workflow and get you a little further up that learning curve.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
When you’re first starting out, you need to learn how to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Trying to make the most complex Tipper-esque music right away is going to leave you confused and frustrated.
Your first goal should be to pump out tracks and get your ideas out. These early ideas will mostly be bad ideas. The first handful of songs you make will all end up on the cutting room floor. This is not to say that there won’t be flashes of brilliance or good ideas within parts of those songs, but chances are you’re not going to be the Mozart of Ableton right out of the box. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up.
EVERYTHING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE 100% ORIGINAL
When I was first starting out, I had this stubborn inflexible mindset of trying to be 100% original. I wanted my own style and sound so that I wasn’t like one of those sample pack ripping Big Room House douchebags.
I was averse to samples, trying to create my own kicks and 808s using Analog and instead, what I got was hours and hours of watching tutorials and not much to show for it.
Fortunately, after spending some time watching a friend produce some really quality-sounding stuff using tons of samples, I realized how incredibly stupid I was being. I still believe that the sample should be flipped to an extent that it’s not easily recognizable, but I’m not appalled at the idea of using a bass sample instead of making my own.
HAVING A CREATIVE OUTLET HAS BEEN THE MOST POSITIVE INFLUENCE IN MY LIFE
This doesn’t relate as much to Ableton as it does to the positive impact that just making something has on a person. Mr. Rogers does a good job of explaining…
It’s so simple, yet I didn’t realize it until I was having just an awful day. Like “a bus driving by soaked me in dirty water and I locked my keys in the car” kind of a day, so I got into Ableton to make a short hip-hop beat, and when I took my headphones off I felt… better. I felt relieved and accomplished. It’s hard to explain, but it was like all of my problems melted away, and there was only music.
That feeling is what compels me to keep making music. I do it for me and for my own well-being. I’ll probably never play at Ultra or have a record deal, but I’m going to keep on making art and making music because it makes me happy. Maybe one day my music will be good enough that it will make other people happy too.