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I’m Major: One Scale That Won’t Get You Down

22 Oct

Music Theory for Electronic MusiciansSo, a chord is a group of notes played simultaneously.

A triad is the three defining notes of a chord. A triad is what sets that chord apart from all the other chords in the universe.

So, what are these scale things that I keep hearing about?

A scale is a group of notes played in series. Every chord has a corresponding scale. Knowing which scales go with which chords will allow you to think of new melodies and basslines to go with any given chord. Let’s talk about the scale that accompanies the major triad.


WTF is a Triad? Music Theory for Electronic Musicians

12 Oct

The human ear is kind of gullible. Suggest something to it and it goes off and jumps to all kinds of conclusions.

A perfect example of this is the chord. Now, a chord can be any old group of notes, but the most common number is three and these three fundamental notes are usually referred to as a “triad” (not the Chinese gang). We’ll discuss these three little guys in a second.

The real purpose of a chord is to provide your ear with a suggestion, from which it will infer a complete scale, key, everything. Just one triad will imply which melody notes will fit and which basslines will be satisfying or not. I’m sure that all of you have heard about how an iceberg is 90% below water, the remaining 10% being above water. A really good way to think about this is that the triad is the tip of an iceberg, suggesting all of the possible notes combinations that go with it, far above and beyond the three notes played. Pretty useful, huh?

So how does one make a triad? Well, certainly not just by clanging three random notes at the same time, although that works from time to time.

I’ll explain how to assemble a triad in this video. The text version is below, as well.


Oh the Humanity! Using the Velocity Effect in Ableton

4 Oct

What is the nature of the soul?

Sorry if that sounds deep, but this is a question that comes up a lot with programmed drums. Some people will always have a prejudice against programmed drums for the reason that they lack “humanity,” but what is really meant by that?

I’ll tell you: mistakes.

Human drummers make all kinds of tiny little mistakes, most of them almost unnoticeable. These mistakes make them sound like, well, them. And one of the most common of these mistakes is that they never hit the drum at the same velocity (or volume) twice. But how can we duplicate that without a whole bunch of really tedious programming?

We have the technology.

And that technology is called the Velocity MIDI Effect in Ableton Live.

I’ll show you how to add a little “humanity” to any drum by using this effect to randomly change the volume of sequential drum hits.

To do this, you’ll need a MIDI drum clip already programmed.

First, decide which drum you’d like to randomize. I chose the hi-hats, because those puppies can sound REAL annoying if they are always the same volume. Remember that you don’t have to randomize the volume of the whole clip!

Now, drag the Velocity effect onto the drum cell that you want to randomize.

See the little knob that says “Random,” go ahead and tweak that a little while the clip plays. Do you hear how the drum hits are less consistent. I go with the rule of thumb that, the more frequently the drum hits, the less random I make it. So, hi-hats on the 1/16ths get less random, snares on 2 and 4 get more random.

Reminder! Make sure that the velocity percentage on your Simpler (double -click the cell if you can’t see it) is set to at least 50%. Otherwise the simpler disregards velocity variation, and that is just a waste of time.

If you have any questions, or if you have another use of the velocity effect, make sure to leave a comment!

Marketing Your Electronic Music: How to Write a Better Promo Email

13 Sep

Today, we continue discussing your meteoric rise to electronic music blog fame by covering how to write a better promo email.

Back in the days of newspapers and landlines, bands would have to assemble a physical press kit that they could send to promoters, record labels, journalists and potential groupies. Now, though, many of the functions of this press kit are handled in a single email. Now that we have discussed how to find blogs that want to write about you and how to establish a relationship with those blogs, let’s talk about how to write that email!

How to Market Your Electronic Music: Commenting for fun and profit

6 Sep

Let me tell you a little story.

Some months back, when I was still reading the Fader blog, I started leaving non-sequiter type comments on articles that I found entertaining. Usually, these comments were just two words in caps, such as SPACE WEED and FAKE HAIR. As the name, I used my nom d’art, el nou mon and I left my soundcloud page as my website.

Interestingly enough, people started to contact me, saying they found my music through my comments on the Fader and that they really dug my tunes! I even had the managing editor from the Fader contact me and tell me that he appreciated the hilarity of my comments.

Well, the contact info for all of the people who contacted me, including the editor of the Fader, went into a text file on my computer. When the time came, I contacted all of them and told them that my EP was out and gave them the link. This led to some good coverage of the EP, including on the Fader blog.

Now, in my case, none of this was planned, but it illustrates this lesson: leaving relevant, non-shmarmy comments on blogs is a great way to establish a relationship with the author of a blog you want to get featured on. Secondarily, it is another way for people (who don’t know you) to find your music. Think about it: people are already reading a blog that features music that sounds like yours. This is your target audience.

Following up on my last post, I would recommend the following: Find blogs that fit your niche and, way before you send them your stuff, start commenting on their posts. Don’t be a salesman, just tell them that you like their coverage, or give them your opinion of a musician that they featured and, most importantly, leave your primary music website in your comment signature. Make sure that this links directly to somewhere where people can hear your music FOR FREE. Hell, if you are proud of a particular track, link directly to that track on soundcloud. Whatever you do, try to link to a website that keeps track of your play count. If it isn’t going up, then try commenting on different blogs. By doing this, you will maximize exposure for your tracks!

Next marketing post: How to write a good PR email. Until then: Dolla Dolla Billz Yall!

Market Your Electronic Music: Find blogs and sites that already like you

26 Aug

Well, maybe not you, but someone very much like you.

Because we are all very busy people: working, mating, eating, making beats, etc. It just plain makes sense to focus your marketing energies on outlets that are already inclined to help you out. If you make, say, post-dubstep, then you shouldn’t spend your time submitting your music to sites that cover alt-country.

But how do you find these blogs?

The first thing to do is to decide what your music sounds like. And remember, this is not the time to be an artiste. You want to find out what your music sounds like to other people, not to you. So find a friend, a group of friends, and play them your music. Ask them who it sounds like. Make sure that they don’t know what you want them to say.

Write these names down, even if it makes you cringe.

Now, harness the power of the internet and see who is writing about these bands. I would advise using hypemachine, captain crawl or the Google blog search service.

Note the names of these websites. If possible, also note down the contact info for each site.

But let’s say your music sounds like Katy Perry (god forbid). It would be unreasonable to write to every site that writes about Katy Perry. What should you do?

Start at the bottom of the food chain.

Using something like Backlinkwatch, you can find out what other sites are linking to a website that you’ve found. This might yield some lesser-known sites that would love to cover your Katy Perry-ish music. Congratulations.

You can also use something the Google page rank checker to find out if that site gets any traffic at all. Remember, you want a less-known blog, not an unknown blog. Like this one, har har.

Next up: we’ll talk about what you should do before you start sending every website in the world a care package filled with a demo, a headshot and a pound of glitter. Until then: Dolla Dolla Billz Yall!


12 Aug

The Freeze function of Ableton’s Ping Pong delay is something that I didn’t discover until late in the game. It is easy to miss because it is a tiny button on the interface; just an inconspicuous button marked “F” to the right of the “Sync” button. But what it does is pretty cool and now I am totally addicted.

Unlike the normal functioning of the delay, which constantly refreshes the signal being delayed, the Freeze button ignores any new incoming signal and just repeats the delayed signal until the Freeze button is turned off.

Functionally, this is very similar to a Beat Repeat function because it can be used to make a stuttery effect. Key or MIDI mapping the Freeze button will allow you to grab a little piece of audio on the fly and repeat it until you release the button.

I really only have two complaints about the freeze function, and they’re small ones.

For some reason, the Freeze button is a toggle. This means that you actually have to depress it twice, once to turn it on and once to turn it off. This is rather inconvenient in a live setting.

Also, for some reason, the Freeze parameter doesn’t show up in the envelope automation. This means you can’t automate it, which is a bummer. Both of these problems are pretty easily solved, though, by assigning this button to a Macro.

Even though most people only use Macros when they make an effect or instrument rack with more than one device, there’s no reason why you can’t make an effects rack with just one Effect.

Just select the effect that you would like to make into a rack (Ping Pong delay in this case) and press Cmd+G.

Now, press Map Mode in the Macro panel and assign the Freeze button to a Macro.

But Anthony, you say, why would I assign a button to knob?

Glad you asked.

This will allow you to do two things. You can now automate the freeze effect using envelopes (as I did in my generative music Live Pack). You can also now map the knob to a momentary Midi button. Most MIDI controllers will have an option to change the functioning of certain buttons from Momentary to Toggle and vice versa. Simply MIDI map the Freeze macro knob to one of these buttons and you’ll be able to use the freeze effect on the fly. I usually map the Wet/Dry knob to the same Macro, so that I can turn it up very high instantaneously, effectively cutting off the non-effected signal. This functions as a full beat repeat.

I hope you find this helpful! Let me know in the comments, on the Facebook or on Twitter if you have any questions.

Making Generative Music in Ableton Live, Putting it All Together LIVE PACK INCLUDED

7 Aug

Essential to making listenable generative music is deciding how much randomness you want and giving yourself simple ways to control the randomness you do have. I put together this little Live Pack for y’all which will demonstrate some the ideas addressed in the past two posts, as well as add some new little tricks. Below I’ll walk you through the Live Pack, track by track and explain what I’ve done.


Making Generative Music in Ableton Live, Making Messy Melodies

2 Aug

So, now that you’ve got a good, repetitive note coming through, you’ve got to find some way to modulate it into a melody. Well do that with two different MIDI effects.

The first will be the Random effect which will modulate any given MIDI note up or down at a predetermined rate. The effect has controls to regulate the range of this change as well as how random the change is. The problem with using this effect in isolation, though, is that the results will not be in any given scale; they’ll just sound cacophonous.

This is where the Scale effect can help. This effect effectively forces any incoming MIDI note into a scale. You can decide if you want that scale to be major or minor or some other crazy scale I’ve never heard of. All you have to do is chain these two effects together in the same track as the seed we discussed last post and, voila, tonal, generative melodies.  I would advise playing with the controls on the random effect to see how they affect the final product. 

Next up, well discuss what kind of MIDI instruments are well suited to generative music. See you then!

Making Generative Music in Ableton Live, Sowing the Seeds

29 Jul

Making generative music is much like gardening (warning: heavy-handed metaphor). You need good seeds, time and an eye for what’s working. Let’s start with your metaphorical seeds.

The seeds, in this case, are single notes played in a random, repetitive fashion. Once you have a single note played in random rhythms, then you can modulate those notes to make randomish melodies. In this case, we’ll use follow actions to make a single note play in endlessly random rhythms.

Begin by making a single MIDI clip that consists only of a C note on the 1 and the 3, like so.

In the launch pane, set the follow action to “Any.” This will randomly pick a clip from the same track to play next.

Duplicate the original clip as many times as you’d like. You can do this easily by pressing Cmd+D several times.

Once you have multiple clips, change the number boxes under “Follow Action.” This number determines how long the clip will play before a new clip is triggered. The shorter your time intervals, the quicker the notes will play. The longer they are, they slower they will play.

If you’d like, you can do this same technique but make the original clip a more complicated rhythm. Then, duplicate the clip and vary how long the clip plays before it skips and vary the start time of the clip. This way, every rhythm will be a variation of the original rhythmic motif.

Does your creation sound boring and repetitive? Then we’re on the right track! Never fear, in the next post we will discuss how to make this single note into (relatively) tuneful melodies.