Quick tip: When your not sure just Deactivate.

So your at a critical part of your song arrangement and your just not sure if a certain Clip belongs. You erase it and listen but you kinda miss what it added. Maybe you should just temporarily disable the clip and listen again tomorrow. This is easy in Ableton Live: Simply Command-Click or Right-Click the Clip and select “Deactivate Clip(s)” and viola the clip turns all white and you no longer hear it. For the unsure who are unable to commit this is a good option because you can always resurrect your part.

For more Ableton tips: click here

Spend time to make wicked transitions.

When producing a song I can spend a good 20-30 minutes working on creating a single ear tingling transition. Usually I make transitions when the song is almost finished. The reason I wait until the near end of the song’s creation is two fold. First, I like to hear the entire song from beginning to end and as I do so my brain tells me, “This is the spot where something is needed!”. Second, I use the audio of the full song’s mix to create the effect. You can here the kind of transition I am talking about at :06 seconds right before the vocal starts:

Here’s how it was done using Ableton Live:

  • I rendered one bar of the full song exactly where the transition is going to be placed.
  • I created a new Audio Track.
  • I delete the audio on all the channels where the new transition will be (cut a hole).
  • I drag my rendered clip into the arrangement on the newly created audio track and place it horizontally where I created the hole.
  • Now I play back the song. It should sound just like you have not done anything yet.
  • I experiment by loading different effect plug-ins on the new audio channel where the rendered clip sits. I try and find some heavy mangling plug-ins to really make the transition stand out.
  • I re-render the clip with effects on it. I will usually do 4 different variations.
  • I delete the plug-ins and the original plain rendered clip leaving a blank channel again.
  • I drag in each of my rendered variations one by one replacing them with each other and listening to figure out which one is the most interesting fit.
  • I also reverse each variation (in the Clip View) and listen to how that sounds.

Usually by this point I have a wicked sounding transition. In the audio sample I above I also cut and repeated the last 4 sixteenth notes and automated Ableton’s built in high pass filter to sweep down.

This process may seem like overkill but its the minor sweet effects that are the icing on a good song.

Channelflip takes a look at Rifflet.com

It’s clear online music collaboration has potential. Mixmatchmusic came out of beta this week and there are a host of other similar services including Splice, eSession and digitalmusician.net. Electronic Musician magazine has an article online comparing a bunch of them but it’s from October 2007 so keep in mind things change fast online. To read the article: click here

Channelflip.com is a net “TV” channel full of tech stuff and they have profiled yet another competitor in the online music collaboration space called Rifflet. For any of these to succeed in the long term they need to be free (ad driven and paid pro-accounts sound good to me), beautiful, fast and have a strong community.

Have any of you tried any of these services? How was your experience?

Use Eno’s Oblique Strategies to unblock yourself.

In 1975 Brian Eno published a set of cards to help him unblock his creativity. There are now five editions and an a website where you can go read the cryptic messages. If your sitting in the dark without a single idea for your next song why not give it a try? Here’s are some examples:

State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
Only one element of each kind.
What would your closest friend do?
What to increase? What to reduce?
Are there sections? Consider transitions.
Try faking it!
Honour the error as a hidden intention. – Wikipedia.org

To read more online:

You can buy your own set of cards from the offical Enoshop: click here

photo credit: Liz Henry

Negative or subtractive sequence arranging.

I often say that the arrangement is the most important part of a song. For some people it’s also the most difficult task. Anyone can make an incredible short loop but developing it into a 4-5 minute song takes some practice, thought and planning. A trick my friend Miro Pajic uses which he calls “negative arranging” consists of copying every track’s parts across the entire 4-5 minutes. Next, he goes in and deletes parts instead of starting blank and adding clips/parts as he progresses. I don’t personally work this way but I was surprised to see Miro is not alone.

As I was doing my nightly troll though the Ableton forums I came across a post by uber Live geek Tarekith. He posted a link to his guide to song arranging and it’s definitely worth a read. He also uses the “negative arrangement” style but he calls it, “subtractive sequencing”: click to read

This is a technique I call subtractive sequencing, where we start with all the song elements and remove bits and pieces to form the structure of the song. – tarekith.com

Have you ever tried this technique? Personally I fill up Session view with many tracks, clips and scenes and drag them into a blank Arrangement view.

In the studio working on a song. I Know Your Pain.

I’ve been in the studio a lot lately. I finally finished a string of remixes and now I can take the rest of Spring and Summer and complete my next album. I already have a few songs done and about 30 half finished songs. I’ll now go and listen to those ideas I started and pick about 10 to complete.

The song I am working on now is called “I Know Your Pain”. I get a certain audience at my shows… people like myself. I can really relate to them. I guess they feel the same way and thats why they show up! This song is more or less how I say “Yes I know how you feel”. I know when I go to a concert of a band I really like I feel connected with everyone else there. Everyone there has something in common. This song walks around that concept.

The following audio sample is completely at the demo stage. Just pure simple drum, bassline and vocal. I usually work this way without much trickery until I get a full arrangement done. The kick is my new Jomox Mbase 01, a snare sample being smashed by D16’s Devastator and the bassline is a secret (sorry). Nothing is on my voice except a little compression.

I’ll step away from this song now and not listen again until next week. When I do put my ears on it next I will be ready to move parts around and add fills and effects. The first new fresh listen is critical because I will hear it as “new”. Only then can I be a proper judge of what’s good and what sucks.

Cleanse your listeners ear before beginning a song.

Sushi Ginger

Did you know that most American’s eat sushi the wrong way? Many of my friends put the ginger slices on the sushi or sashimi itself. Your actually supposed to eat a piece of ginger in between different sushi bites to cleanse your palette. Sometimes this concept is good for audio too!Ableton Live - Random

In between songs the placement of a random melody, FM radio chatter or even an orchestra tuning up can make the song that follows have more impact, more color. Many great albums use this technique of course. As an example Depeche Mode inserts snippets of chants or synth drones often between songs.

Random adds an element of the unknown to the otherwise commonplace pitch parameter. The Chance control denes the likelihood that an incoming note’s pitch will be changed by a random value. You can think of it as being something like a dry/wet control for randomness. – Ableton Live User Manual

Because my own music styles range from electro all the way to hardcore on my first album Manic Panic I put actual answering machine messages I received in between songs. Today I use Ambrosia’s Wiretap Studio to record snippets of audio from weird things I find on Youtube. You will hear some of my findings on my next album for sure.

Maestro Rhythm King

Here’s a quick example of something you could create as a pallete cleanser. Grab a vintage drum machine loop. I used a loop I got free from Rhythminmind.net. Next I put on Fabfilter’s Twin, turned up the Noise generator and put Ableton’s Random Midi Effect before it:

Photo credit: rouan and jm3