Part3: Upstairs from the fish market...

"You want to learn music, this is music!"

Ray turned up the volume on the radio which was blasting Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez on Hot97, blazing hiphop and RnB.

We're in the year 2002 now.

I asked him to turn it down because I was trying to do my homework on the piano, I mean on my little plastic one-octave 25-key MIDI keyboard.

That was his answer. "you want to learn music, this is music."

I didn't like it but what was I going to do, Ray weighed about 50 pounds more than me and it was all muscle. He was my roommate Julio's brother and he came over our house all the time. Carried a gun, could barely read but he was a WICKED chess player.

This is when I was living upstairs from the fish market, right on the JMZ line where the elevated train went past our front windows every 10 minutes all day and night. The stink of rotten fish oil permeated our entire building straight up to the top floor where we lived, you could not get rid of it, we had to store our clothes inside plastic bags stuffed into big plastic tubs with tight lids and we still stunk.

Not easy to have a girlfriend in that situation but Julio did. His girlfriend was this tiny short chick whose father ran a factory making processed fish balls. Like meatballs made of fish. The father got up every day at 4am to go and buy the fish. Tiffany didn't care how our house smelled, she probably thought it smelled like home.

The whole building was so infested with mice, the dogs used to just lay on the floor and watch the mice go by. One time we woke up on Saturday morning and found a live mouse stuck in a glue trap on the floor. Julio did the usual thing and threw it out the window. It landed in the backyard by all the busted washing machines and sat there until a cat came by. Cat found the mouse. Glue trap got stuck to the cat with a live mouse stuck to the glue trap and they all ran away.

And me working as a biker, riding half the day then going up to school to sit in class and fumigate the room with biker sweat plus stinko fish oil clothes. So all this was the setting for my life during music school.

Like I said, I was making beats already 2 or 3 years but I had gotten stuck and really couldn't move on without learning how to record & mix the right way.

I knew a lot, I could do a lot, but there were just so many things holding me back and it was sooooooo annoying. The DJ sets I was playing sounded really really good, but the recordings I was making sounded really really not. My live sets were wild but creativity was not enough, I needed the skills.

That's why I went to school, I needed to find out what I was missing. (hopefully mixitecture can help you fill in the gaps you need).

So I got into a school where I thought I was going to be in the music studio all day long.

Nope! In addition to the studio recording program that I signed up for, I also had to do the full course of music theory, music history, practicing piano and learning the scales, singing in the choir, the whole deal.

Found out I had the musical version of being dyslexic. I call it "being left-handed" because I'm left-handed but whatever, the rest of the world reads music differently so I had to learn how to read music again from brand-new.

You know how it sounds when someone has a bad stutter, right? They get stuck and say the same thing over and over and over again. I had that problem but on the piano; when I tried to sight-read I would get stuck and play the same measure over and over and over again.

Sounds bad to musicians but for me it was like, oh that's a cool loop! HAHAHAHA. Being musically dyslexic is probably why I loved electronic music, it sounded right to me.

And the Sonic Arts Center was PARADISE, finally getting my hands on the real deal studio gear.

Here, I'm going to interlace my home life with my school life so you can see how absurd this was.

SCHOOL: you're dyslexic and you have to re-learn how to think.

HOME: you're playing chess with a career criminal who's smarter than you and can barely read

SCHOOL: learning basic electricity & grounding, how human ears work, how sound works, how speakers and microphones make sound, how electricity carries sound & vibration

HOME: walk in and find a loose group of 9mm bullets on the kitchen table, empty chinese food containers and nobody home. I mean live rounds of ammo, not empty shell casings.

SCHOOL: Sound design with analog synthesizers, MIDI, Logic & ProTools, digital audio, multitrack recording, stereo mic techniques, acoustic recording techniques, 48 channel mixing boards in every room

HOME: Davie comes by with a chunk of coke the size of a paperback novel, stuck in a brown paper bag. "Cant' go home to wifey right now", we're gonna play dominos for 4 hours and rhyme in spanish.

SCHOOL: Pultecs and DBX and BSS compressors and LA2A's, 1176's and U87's and 421's and 121's and D112's, the U67 we weren't allowed to touch until 4th year

HOME: Lennox Lewis pay-per-view boxing match on TV and a prostitute in the front bedroom taking turns with the guys who were taking turns playing grand theft auto I'm not making this up. I didn't have sex with her but she was really nice, actually she had a hilarious sense of humor if you want to know.

SCHOOL: how live sound is different from studio recording, how to spike & strike gear on stage, how not to blow up your equipment -- which was news to me after playing tekno so fast and loud that my speakers actually burnt up & melted inside.

HOME: Mike's mom sending up a meatloaf she baked downstairs, Mike wanting to be a prison guard, he said it's the same shit so I want to be on the other side of the wall. A few years earlier Mike's Dad got stabbed to death 26 times on the block around the corner.

And our dogs lay on the floor watching the mice go by.

Naw, yeah, there was an exterminator from the fish market, he came upstairs once a month to toss rat poison under the kitchen sink and plug up the rat holes with clumps of wire.

I asked him, "Is it safe to put that rat poison all around the kitchen?"

He smiled wide with missing teeth and said, "oh yes, it will kill all the mice!"

Naked lightbulb dangling from the cieling on a wire.

Let's wrap it up for this one.

Next time I'll tell you how I went to Europe for a one-month visit, got addicted to Ableton, and ended up staying there for 7 years getting paid to do music.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE NEXT CHAPTER >>

Till then, luvya wicked.

Steve

Steve Knots

mixitecture, Pittsburgh, PA

Thanks for your visit! If you're new here, check out the session lessons. They're the most exciting new way to learn sound design, composition and mixdown techniques for electronic music production in Ableton Live. -Steve