Play it live

It’s not rare that I’ll find myself needing new forms of stimulation and inspiration to hold my attention. Perhaps a common affliction for us children of the information age. This holds true with work, hobbies, and even social interaction. Sometimes it’s not even new forms, just rediscovergin things that have kept me entertained in the past.


That’s why I’ve recently shifted much of my studio habits back to a more hands on, live playing approach.  The advent of DAWs like Ableton have undeniably shifted the music making landscape in a major way. Some brilliant creativity has been made possible with them but at the same time I think the’ve also enabled a fair amount of negative biproducts.  One of these negatives, at least for me, is the often character-less music that results from drawing in your music parts, automation, and arrangements rather than playing them in.  Not only does this often result in rigid, lifeless music, but for me, it’s just not as fun to create. Afterall, we don’t call it “playing” music for nothing, it’s supposed to be fun.

That’s not to say you should never touch the pencil tool in your DAW. Anybody who has tried to make music in the pre-modern DAW era knows what a pain in the ass it was to keep recording things over and over until it was “close enough” but it turns out that often “close enough” is better than getting it “perfect”.  In fact, the imperfections make it more appealing to our ears, studies have found. We like surprises in our music, even if it’s just subtle. This is one reason why there has been such a resurgence in analog gear the last few years in the electronic music scene. The inconsistent and unexpected nature of that gear keeps us on our toes as both creators and listeners.  Which is ironic of course because we built these machines (and later software) to solve the problems of imperfect human players in the first place.  Turns out it’s OK, even downright desireable, to be an imperfect human.

Here’s a recent tune I did using a more hands on approach.  I can’t claim a lot on the analog side of things, unless you count some of the drums I sampled and the external mixer I used. But I can say that every part was “played in” and much of it outside of the box, so to speak. I also played the arrangement out live by mapping the clips, instruments and EFX to MIDI controllers. Probablly about 30 knobs, buttons, and sliders total.  The idea was to get back to the immediacy that external gear gives you and have more fun PLAYING, not drawing!  And it totally was FUN. At one point I had the song playing for at least 45 minutes straight just building it up and breaking it down in various ways over and over, completely mouse free.  That’s what it’s all about!  Another great side effect of this is your arrangement gets laid down quickly this way and you keep your productions moving along.  I’ve blogged about the arrangement phase being a road block for many blossoming producers before but that was definitely more of a “drawing” type method. And that works just fine too but there’s something to be said for the characteristics you pick up using the live method that cant be matched.

So if you’ve found yourself stuck in draw mode with your productions, I highly recommend breaking away from that and getting your hands dirty. Whether it’s legit analog gear our just MIDI controllers, getting outside the computer is highly beneficial.

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