In need of guidance
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  1. #1
    Tech Mentor Sn0wday's Avatar
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    Default In need of guidance

    About two years ago I got into EDM, all genres, just anything electronic I fell in love with.

    Less than 6 months ago I decided I wanted to get more involved, after consulting a few sources I came to the conclusion I should learn how to mix. So I bought myself a Numark Mixtrack Pro; heard it was simple, entry level, and quality. Also that this digital djing generation is tightly integrated with music production.

    In these last 6 months, I've learned to mix decently, played at a couple house parties here and there, learn to midi map and developed a mssive itunes library. But most of all I have developed this passion for Electronic music, I can honestly say I've never had a passion this strong for anything in my entire life. I have these ideas about how I would make the music, where I could take it, or at least try to.

    But where do I begin? I don't want to end up some dime'a'dozen soundcloud 'dubstep artist'. I hear it takes around 10,000 hours to truly master a certain DAW, but how do I decide which DAW? I've always heard good things about Logic, Reason, Cubase, etc. But now I hear more and more about Ableton Live, how it's revolutionizing the way we play electronic music live. I've dabbled here and there with the trial, making basic beats, watching tutorials etc.
    But now I want to get serious about this, I feel that I have the passion and devotion to really apply myself to music production. But I simply don't know where to begin, I don’t have the money to take some sort of class. And I have little to no musical background (I hear talk about synth theory?

    Is Ableton really the best choice? How does playing with it live even work (I can't even find videos of someone demonstrating how you would use it live)? What equipment would I need (Ableton Controller, Keyboard of some sort?)? I wanted to upgrade my DJ equipment to something like and S2/4, X1, F1, etc. but if I want to produce and use Ableton should I get something else?

    And synth creation, How can I actually LEARN the tools at my disposal? Youtube tutorials seem to consist of crap like “HOW TO MAKE AWESOME SKRILLEX GROWL BASS”.

    All in all I just want to be pointed in the right direction, not sure if this was the right place to post something like this.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Tech Guru keeb's Avatar
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    First, a caveat about my background: I've been DJing for about 2 years and have dabbled off and on with production. I'm about to get more seriously into production and the following statements are from my experience and fairly extensive internet research on the topic:

    Ableton is a good choice for production. I'm not sure if you're asking about it for DJing, but here are my thoughts on that: I'm not a fan of it for DJing - I consider it to be more along the lines of live production and I find the interface in Traktor/Serato to be much more useful for mixing/phrasing etc. and it will prepare you a lot better for using a traditional DJ setup. Still, you can do some really cool/creative things with Ableton as far as effects, adding samples/stems, keeping tracks with a live drummer in time, etc.

    As far as other DAWs - don't worry about it too much. Though you will learn to do things in a particular way using Ableton vs. Logic, Pro Tools, etc. there's still a lot of overlap. If you become well-versed in Ableton, you shouldn't have a ton of trouble transitioning to another DAW if the need strikes you at a later point. Each DAW has certain things that it does really well and other things that it doesn't do quite so well; but, as long as you go with a solid DAW to start with (Ableton, Reason, Logic, and Pro Tools being the most common from what I've seen) you shouldn't worry too much about which one you're using. One nice thing about Ableton in particular is that Dubspot has a lot of tutorials based in Ableton on their blog which will help you get started.

    Those youtube videos you're bashing are actually more useful than you're giving them credit for too. Sure, you don't want to just learn how to make a Skrillex growl bass; but learning how to do so helps to familiarize yourself with what the different controls within the synth actually do. You could read through the Dance Music Manual and Music Theory for Computer Musicians to get a bit more of an idea of what you're doing. Mostly though it's about experimentation and finding out what sounds pleasing to your ears.

    Hardware-wise, unfortunately you're not going to get a whole lot of overlap. You can use drumpads and keyboards for DJing, but they're not ideal and won't give you a feel for a traditional setup. Now, you already said you have a mixtrack pro so that might not be a huge problem for you, but you have to prioritize one way or another. Similarly, an S2/4, X1, etc. aren't going to help you a whole lot with music production - they're just not designed with production in mind and while they do send midi messages and they can be used to control your DAW, their layout means you don't get much benefit from doing so. The only controller I've seen with decent features for both sides is Maschine, but that's a pretty expensive option (though it does come with solid software to start out with and a bunch of samples as I understand it).

    For production, your most important piece of gear (aside from software and a decent soundcard) is a midi keyboard. Drum pads are nice, but you can program a drum section on a midi keyboard or with a mouse without much trouble. It's a lot more tedious and much less effective to create melody and harmony with a drum pad or a mouse.

    If you're on a budget, I'd get a midi keyboard next (aside from software, obviously). A better DJ controller would be nice as well, but it sounds like you're more interested in production and you already have a DJ controller so value-for-money a midi keyboard is your best bet.

  3. #3
    Tech Mentor Sn0wday's Avatar
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    Could you recommend a midi keyboard? And by that do you a keyboard-keyboard, or something like that APC ableton controller everyone is talking about?

    I am getting a Macbook Pro/Air (Whichever is better for this kind of stuff) soon, and that wouldn't come out of my budget for controllers and stuff, is that good enough for the basic production I would be doing?

    I am asking about it DJ wise, like how does it differ, when you use ableton to play live, is it like; COMPLETELY different than anyting else, you're actually making the music live, or is it just a different interface similar to stuff like Traktor/Serato.

    BTW, thanks a bunch, this helps a lot.

  4. #4
    Tech Guru deevey's Avatar
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    Could you recommend a midi keyboard? And by that do you a keyboard-keyboard, or something like that APC ableton controller everyone is talking about?
    If you are just producing / DJing / play using loops and drums, the APC40 is GODLIKE.. it really is an amazing controller and feels great.

    If you are creating synth lines a keyboard really is a must IMHO, something small like an oxygen would do the trick fine though for home use, I wouldn't use one playing live (i'd rec everything as clips because i'm crap on the keyboard LOL).

    Using Ableton to DJ with is quite unlike using any dedicated "DJ software" .. it has its strengths for example:

    Slicing and effecting multiple instances of clips is amazing
    You can fill your entire board with drum loops on particular channels all ready to go, kinda like an unlimited sampler.
    You can effectively edit and create new tracks as you go and chop stuff to fcuk on the fly pretty easily just copying the same clip a few times and fucking around with the settings e.g. beats / quantize / reverse etc .. and thats just grazing the iceberg.

    BUT it has major weaknesses for DJing.

    Loading "on the fly" takes a lot of time, you really should at least pre-analyze all your tracks.
    No real tempo variation on the individual tracks, if warping automatically doesn't work you'll need to manually set things up manually which can take time you may not have at a gig.
    Browser functions are pretty yick and not midi mappable - mouse is most defiantly a requirement.
    Some things you come to expect on a DJ application just are not there as standard e.g. centered 3 band eq on all decks (hope like 9 sorts this!) but some very nice people like Tarekith have created some for you as well as tons of effects

    If you can workaround the limitations and discover whats possible you'll really enjoy using it.

    The first few occasions I went fully live I was on eggshells, and it took a few gigs before I'd worked out exactly what functions I really needed on hand....for a live situation, things that preparing at home just did not bring to my attention for example:

    The play / stop / rec are in a stupid place, WAYYYY to easy to hit first thing that needed to be re-mapped, stop clip is colored the same as track selection on the APC (WTF!) removed that and set them as FX banks on/off and changed my rec/arm to stop clip ... silly things like that.

    As regards ur laptop, I'm running a 2009 MBP with 4gigs ram, its never failed me on anything EXCEPT a disk read error in Ableton once or twice if I was running a ton of tracks and analyzing something not previously played. No biggie it stuttered for 3 or 4 seconds.

    I'm getting an Optibay so I can keep my music on a completely separate internal drive which should sort that issue for good

    Given the choice of macs now I'd probably go with a MBA 13' i5 + 128 SSD +4GB, I know it would piss all over my current rig and then some.

    However the MBP is the more upgradable machine, either will run things plenty smoothly.

    Oh and for the record I'm considering getting 2xA&H K2's instead of my APC40 "possibly"
    Last edited by deevey; 02-27-2012 at 05:57 AM.

  5. #5
    Tech Mentor Sn0wday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by deevey View Post
    If you are just producing / DJing / play using loops and drums, the APC40 is GODLIKE.. it really is an amazing controller and feels great.

    If you are creating synth lines a keyboard really is a must IMHO, something small like an oxygen would do the trick fine though for home use, I wouldn't use one playing live (i'd rec everything as clips because i'm crap on the keyboard LOL).

    Using Ableton to DJ with is quite unlike using any dedicated "DJ software" .. it has its strengths for example:

    Slicing and effecting multiple instances of clips is amazing
    You can fill your entire board with drum loops on particular channels all ready to go, kinda like an unlimited sampler.
    You can effectively edit and create new tracks as you go and chop stuff to fcuk on the fly pretty easily just copying the same clip a few times and fucking around with the settings e.g. beats / quantize / reverse etc .. and thats just grazing the iceberg.

    BUT it has major weaknesses for DJing.

    Loading "on the fly" takes a lot of time, you really should at least pre-analyze all your tracks.
    No real tempo variation on the individual tracks, if warping automatically doesn't work you'll need to manually set things up manually which can take time you may not have at a gig.
    Browser functions are pretty yick and not midi mappable - mouse is most defiantly a requirement.
    Some things you come to expect on a DJ application just are not there as standard e.g. centered 3 band eq on all decks (hope like 9 sorts this!) but some very nice people like Tarekith have created some for you as well as tons of effects

    If you can workaround the limitations and discover whats possible you'll really enjoy using it.

    The first few occasions I went fully live I was on eggshells, and it took a few gigs before I'd worked out exactly what functions I really needed on hand....for a live situation, things that preparing at home just did not bring to my attention for example:

    The play / stop / rec are in a stupid place, WAYYYY to easy to hit first thing that needed to be re-mapped, stop clip is colored the same as track selection on the APC (WTF!) removed that and set them as FX banks on/off and changed my rec/arm to stop clip ... silly things like that.

    As regards ur laptop, I'm running a 2009 MBP with 4gigs ram, its never failed me on anything EXCEPT a disk read error in Ableton once or twice if I was running a ton of tracks and analyzing something not previously played. No biggie it stuttered for 3 or 4 seconds.

    I'm getting an Optibay so I can keep my music on a completely separate internal drive which should sort that issue for good

    Given the choice of macs now I'd probably go with a MBA 13' i5 + 128 SSD +4GB, I know it would piss all over my current rig and then some.

    However the MBP is the more upgradable machine, either will run things plenty smoothly.

    Oh and for the record I'm considering getting 2xA&H K2's instead of my APC40 "possibly"
    So for producing with Ableton, i think it's down to: The APC40, or the Akai MPK25. Could anyone share some info on these two?I like how the MPK has an actual keyboard on it though.

    Well, I think i'll start off just producing with ableton, and dabble with Live while continuing to mix with Traktor, cause it seems ableton as a whole is a pretty long journey (Which I shall begin when I acquire the macbook!!)

    Why do you say 2012 MBA rather than 2012 MBP? I hear that MBA is bad because it cannot be upgraded at all whereas it is likely I will want more RAM on an MBP and that is easily done.

    I have friend trying to convince me to get a Windows laptop because i will get more bang for my buck, I understand that you're paying for the name when you buy Apple. But isn't there something to be said for almost every live performance I've ever seen, even on youtube, they're using a Mac.

  6. #6
    Tech Guru deevey's Avatar
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    Why do you say 2012 MBA rather than 2012 MBP? I hear that MBA is bad because it cannot be upgraded at all whereas it is likely I will want more RAM on an MBP and that is easily done.
    Personal Preference I guess.

    • For 99.9% of stuff 4gigs is plenty.
    • The SSD in the MBA speeds things up in terms of using virtual memory less of a bottleneck should you exceed your 4gigs, sure you can install an SSD on a pro as well.
    • The MBA has plenty of Power (Double the 2011 17' MBP)
    • The weight saving/form factor.

    I imagine the Macbook line will be updated pretty soon though with slimmer MacBooks and no optical drives.

    I have friend trying to convince me to get a Windows laptop because i will get more bang for my buck, I understand that you're paying for the name when you buy Apple. But isn't there something to be said for almost every live performance I've ever seen, even on youtube, they're using a Mac.
    IMHO bang for buck = Downtime+tinkertime/+used time

    Reliability, Stability and Less tinkering....Out of the box they configured for Multimedia and they handle it extremely well, If my mac fails for any reason I pop out the hard drive into ANY other mac and it'll work, no driver issues, no software issues, no blue screens and no "windows repair" which may or may not work.

    The windows vs mac debate has been done to death on here so I'd advise doing a search and making up your own mind.

    For production I personally think a keyboard is needed I'd almost be saying APC40 + M-audio Axiom or similar.

  7. #7
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    If you have no experience at all in COMPOSITION (i.e. classical music, songwriting with a guitar, etc, etc, etc) the I highly recommend checking out a couple of websites.

    FIRST is the (free) BoyInABand.com (Dave has MANY youtube videos, all very quality, some old ones are low rez, but the info is invaluable) mind you this is *ONLY* for reason (4 and 5 I think) but still apply if you get reason 6. He walks you through how to make a song in 7 days (one for dubstep, one for trance, one for house, one for prog house, D&B, liquid D&B, etc etc.) FANTASTIC.

    SECOND is the (not free, but great deal if you need it/can afford it) website Groove3.com which has downloadable/DVD tutorial sets from industry pros, and also (which is what I bought) an online subscription that does not allow downloading, but access to stream all of their content (regular price is like $300/year, but you can get good deals around holidays, was recently $100/year, but I passed it up as I've been using Dave from BoyInABand.com's tutorials)

    You don't *need* a keyboard, as you can input notes with a mouse, but if you have *any* experience with a keyboard/piano, it's highly recomended, and much much quicker and less tedious (and you can jam out to find good lines/melodies/chord progressions you like, and to test out sounds as you get them)

    Whichever DAW you chose, one of the biggest things for EDM is SOUND DESIGN (which is a whole other thing than composition, but it's the whole "how to make a super growlry drubstepppp bassssss grrrrrr SKRILLEXXXXXXX" youtube nonsense. They are also important for sound design in addition to learning a daw or vst)

    I personally use OSX on non-apple branded hardware, but again, do your own homework on that, this site is for music ;-)

    caveat: I use Reason (5) but have also used Ableton Live 8, Logic 7,8,9, as well as a bit of others, but those are the ones I have experience with (and have found myself using mostly Reason, perhaps because it was used at Berklee College of Music when I attended)
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  8. #8
    Tech Guru keeb's Avatar
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    I'd get a keyboard over an APC 40. The apc is nice to have basically the whole screen at your fingertips, but you can do everything you can do with an APC 40 with a mouse with little more sacrifice than it takes a little more time. A keyboard, on the other hand, is pretty much impossible to replace by using your computer keyboard or mouse. You can draw in melodies and harmoies and drums with the mouse, but it's a pain and really makes improvization difficult. The APC40 shines more in live usage - if I were DJing with Ableton, it's what I'd get. For the rest though - turning knobs and launching clips while producing - keyboard and mouse is an acceptable substitute. I currently have an APC 40 and an old school keyboard with midi output - I'd rather have gotten a midi keyboard than the APC 40 to start. I got the APC 40 mainly for Traktor use originally though. I'm not saying the APC 40 is useless - it's quite nice to have. I'd just rather prioritize a keyboard first.

    As for the ableton DJing thing - the primary difference is that while Traktor lets you sync Ableton forces you to sync. Ableton doesn't have a traditional DJ interface and while there are DVS plugins (Ms. Pinky I think?), they're not going to let you turn it into Traktor. Not having to beatmatch saves you time and lets you spend that time doing other things like using the limitless effects you can find in Ableton, but not being able to beatmatch will limit your progress as a DJ. Many people will tell you beatmatching is an archaic skill - that software can do it for you and it isn't necessary. However, DJing is an art form, and I'll tell you that once I put in the time and effort to learn how to beatmatch I gradually got a finer appreciation for how songs fit together. I also realized that songs don't need to be perfectly in time to the point where Traktor syncs - sometimes they can actually sound better slightly out of time compared to that point. Basically it forced me to use my ears to make sure things sounded good together. By syncing, or in this context by using Ableton to DJ, you're missing out on that aspect of your DJ education. In the big picture it doesn't matter a whole lot; but, it's worth looking into and you can't look into it if all you have is Ableton. Food for thought.

  9. #9
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    I don't want to be the loudest one in the room, but I do want to point out that from a DJ perspective, ableton might make more sense (since it's loop based) but from the prospective of a producer and composer, I must insist that Reason has a better flow for sound design (Thor is my master) and tbh, I find that not being able to use VSTs is not a downside, but rather keeps you from having an overload of choices so you focus more on the music and the sounds you're making and less on "Oh, I could load that up", or "oh, what sampler has that sound I'm looking for?"

    I use Reason for production and Traktor for DJing. Chose the right tool for the job. (ableton seems like a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none to me, but of course plenty of people use it with a great deal of success. Poor is the carpenter who blames his tools...)
    If you feel something is limiting your creativity, the real problem is that you feel that your creativity can be limited.

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  10. #10
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    yeah the DAW you use isn't too important, as long as you feel comfortable learning it. midi keyboards and such shouldn't be a priority if your just starting out, focus more on learning your daw first, you'll know when your ready for them.

    youtube tutorials aren't always that great, but there are a few out there that a truly amazing. paid tutorials form groove 3, sonic academy, point blank, or anything else you find out there are usually a lot higher quality and go a little more in depth. just make sure that they are actually explaining/teaching what they are doing and not just saying move this knob here then that knob there.

    sound design is very important, you don't really need fancy expensive vst. try to focus on learning the ones that come with your DAW first.

    always try to take away as much as you can from any video or tutorial. you wont always understand what is going on, but as long as you stick with it and try to pick things up here and there you'll be on your way.

    last and most important tip. work hard and be motivated. don't give up if you dont understand it at first. remember the more time you put into it, the best results you will get at the end.

    also dont be one of those guys who switched DAWs every month... its cool to try them out at first to see which you will like best, but after that stick to it. you want to spend your time learning how to make music, not how to use all the DAWs
    Last edited by Invoke; 03-02-2012 at 01:53 AM.

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