Part6: Live Sound and Dead Mentors...

Russell overdosed and died doing the same thing we were all doing every single night. Not from heroin, not from meth, not from pills or krokodile or any of the scary drugs that people talk about.

He died from normal partying. One night after the usual hangout of "a beer at the pub", which can mean 6 beers, he smoked some hash and got too wasted. His friends put him in the back seat of his car where he passed out, and then his body started vomiting, and he choked to death on it. It really happens that way.

This was an interesting dude for me personally. I met him when I needed a soundman at the club where I was working. I mean I needed a sound engineer, and yes I did hire women for that job too.

That club booked shows 7 nights a week and I needed some other techs to fill in and run sound. Obviously I couldn't be there every single night, although I did do that for weeks and weeks. After I asked around, somebody from a band recommended this guy Russell, and he was available so he got the job.

Hiring him as a backup soundman was like, I don't know, it would be like hiring a workout coach and getting Bruce Lee. He was so much farther advanced than me, it was like I asked for a 9volt battery and got a 1000 megawatt power generator instead.

This guy had already retired from show business after running his own production company for decades. He'd done shows with James Brown, Elton John, Metallica, Lauren Hill, some of the biggest names in the business. He knew how to run a crew of 40 people and manage everything from the trucks, to the stages, to the tickets, to what kind of flowers Elton John likes in his green room.

For me he was the door to understanding really big sound systems. You can't learn-by-experimenting, you have to know what you are doing. People die from dumb mistakes like a stage collapse or bad grounding.

And it got even deeper. Turns out me and Russel were both from Connecticut. Turns out we knew some of the same venues. Then it came up that when I described my first big outdoor concert, the first one I ever went to... HE HAD BEEN THE SOUNDMAN AT THAT SHOW!!!

Unbelievable. The show was Billy Idol, an outdoor summertime concert. We laughed about it because for me it was the first time I ever smoked weed, it knocked me on my ass in the grass, and there he was already a pro soundman with thousands of people in the audience.

From that point on I bugged him about everything I could think of, from big diesel power generators down to the exact signal path from mics on stage to the sub-snake to the giant Midas console at FOH.

This was late 2013. For a solid 5 years I had been out almost every night either performing or doing live sound. I had plugged up mics for every kind of show from solo acoustic singer-songwriters to indie rock bands, gospel choirs, 14-piece Brazillian samba bands, jazz combos, and every flavor of guitar-bass-drums cover band. Norwegian Ska bands.

Daytime corporate meetings with Powerpoint presentations and panel discussions. Blues bands, 80's DJ's, karaoke, comedy shows, theater groups, hiphop battles, Balkan gypsy jazz, juggling acts... you name it I did it. Tekno parties on 20kw sound systems. Stereo mics on a hardwood floor for tap-dancers!

Even helping to noise-proof a basement that turned out to be an underground fight club disguised as a music club. With tapestries on the walls to cover the bloodstains, seriously. You can't make this stuff up.

Working as a pro soundman, you learn how to make mixes that work. Fast.

You learn what's the same on a giant system and on a small set of speakers. What's different. What you can do from inside Ableton to make your music sound great on a big speaker stack. And what problems you CAN'T fix in Ableton... You learn how to blow up a subwoofer amp and how to never do that again.

"You should be able to look at any musician on stage and hear what they are doing."

That was the best piece of advice I got from Russell. It's so simple, so obvious, but when you try to actually make this happen you find out how hard it is.

Same thing with 45 channels in your session. Can you actually HEAR all of them? Or do you just like to see the green meters bouncing up and down? It makes a difference.

You also learn what goes into a great performance beyond the technical sound mix, I mean the emotional and dramatic elements that have to be there in EVERY show.

Then suddenly Russell was dead, and I got hit with a faceful of the future.

Is that what you want to become, Steve?

Catch the bookends on this story. Russell was there at the beginning of my concert life, the first night I ever got baked, and his death marked the end of that night-time fascination. I quit all my jobs, left Czech republic and gave up my night-life jobs.

Didn't give up music though. Same as always, I took action to make sure nothing was going to get in between me and BASS MUSIC.

Now for some good news.

Since leaving Europe I've taken everything from this story and put it together in one place.

Creative life, performance life, production life, sound system life... it's all part of mixitecture.

I decided to do this because nobody else was talking about it, in the world of Ableton tutorials.

You need to know the whole picture of making tracks and what's involved, from the first beat loop out to the nerves before the show.

Remember I said this is leading up to something?

I've put this all into a simple system for making music, to help you get your tracks done. I know you have a music folder full of tons of Ableton projects, so do I.

So I made a problem-solving platform to help you get them done, so you can play them out and share them with people.


Let's bring your ideas to life.

Want a hint? ...think sound design, song structure and mixdown.

thanks for reading,


Steve Knots

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