STORYTIME: from MIDI hardware to Ableton Addiction
Alright so last time I got deep with life upstairs from the fish market in Brooklyn.
During that time I was doing DJ gigs with vinyl records & CD's, working with VJ's who did light-mapping and green screen, and sometimes live electronic shows where I brought all my samplers & sequencers out to the gigs.
I wasn't any big name famous DJ, just part of a local crew of people who liked to spin records and hang out together all the time. You know, still recording at home as much as I could, writing out basslines in the subway stations, beatboxing rhythms to myself and putting them into musical notation on 5-line staff paper.
And I was constantly broke. There was no way to jump into making a living with music. Work took too much time, working to pay rent. Still biking. Still frustrated. Fighting with my roommates over studio time vs. sleeping hours in the house.
So I decided to leave. Put all my records in my mom's basement and move out. I arranged to visit a friend who lived in Czech Republic, and I had a vague plan to explore Berlin as a possible new home. But I ended up staying in Prague, and that's where I got the Ableton addiction.
Went to Prague with a new laptop and a copy of Ableton Live5. I think it came with a little keyboard that I bought, it was a black CD with the bright green logo. Before I left I learned the basics of the program by digitizing my best recordings off of my cassette tapes, and having those with me turned out to be a major advantage.
I arrived and found out that my friend, the one I was visiting, he was really well connected with the network of artists, actors and performers. Lovely people, amazingly talented, hilarious and ribald and generous, demanding and organized and professional.
You find out what it means to go pro when you get a call for a gig tomorrow and you have zero time to practice, but you still say yes. I instantly had chances to play music in totally unexpected situations... like as a substitute teacher in a kindergarten, playing song on the piano for kids. Doing the soundtrack for an Obama campaign video... playing piano with a theater company... short soundtracks for video on a city guide website (when Youtube was still new)...
...and there were more. It just spiralled upwards, each gig led to another contact and another gig. I totally let go of my past identity with tekno and DnB, and went fully into MUSIC.
It was really fun to find out that I could do a DJ set of my own tracks. Now I had my music in Ableton and I could play a whole show of original beats, without needing to drag my entire MIDI studio out to the club.
I liked mixing my own tech house tracks with a cappellas from famous songs, meeting new friends and exchanging entire music libraries on 8gb flash drives, learning to make spontaneous remixes in Ableton, and adding live microphones to the show.
I did tons of shows, I mean really 3 or 4 times a week I was dJ'ing somewhere at a bar, a cafe, in a set with friends at a club, or at a weird place like a theater inside an old concrete electrical transformer station. Or playing tekno in a former soviet military bunker 5 stories underground. There are bunkers all over Prague. (All over the US too, except ours are still full of the military).
Get to the point, Steve
Ableton works exactly the same way as making beats on hardware -- really intuitive and fun, and all my production techniques from samplers & sequencers & synths transferred seamlessly to Live. (Protools and Logic are not like this, neither is Reason).
I was in love with Live, so much that after my first year in Czech Republic I came home to the US and sold my MIDI gear. Sold my MPC, sold my mixing board, put everything up on ebay and sent it off in boxes.
Timing-wise this was when the digital music revolution was really taking hold, hardware companies like Emu were canceling their support for physical equipment and everybody was moving to software, softsynths, and plugins. It was the right time to get out of hardware. DAW-less was not a thing yet, everybody wanted the DAW and the small portable audio interface!
Spent the money on another plane ticket and a residency permit to stay longer, in Prague, where I could actually do music for my full-time job. The dream was becoming real.
Did you catch that? This was now 2008. I started making electronic music in 1999 and it took me until 2008 to actually make a living at it. Ten years.
That process involved leaving the restaurant business, working through music school, and moving to another country. Doing stupid things and getting arrested. Leaving comfortable jobs and beautiful girlfriends. Learning a new language, being an illegal immigrant, struggling through the visa bureaucracy. Never giving up.
If you really want to become something more than what you are today, you have to leave your old self behind.
The taco truck driver was gone like a toenail clipping in the bathroom trash can. The bike messenger no longer existed. The DnB DJ wearing fat pants skate shoes and a record bag was gone.
Life morphed me into something else, and all those earlier parts were included. You see where I'm going with this?
Everything from the past has aligned to become a part of what I teach in mixitecture. My production methods are the essential skills I developed from years of making beats, from doing live electronic shows, from DJ'ing and performing with bands, and from working as a soundman which is coming up in the next chapter.
I hope you are getting some inspiration to take your own music to the highest level you can. Soon we'll be doing lessons to sharpen up the skills for it.
Thanks for reading.