Part5: I started teaching by accident...

Now. How do you start teaching by accident?

At this point in the story I was living in Prague doing regular DJ gigs, holding a few great residencies, and working as a soundman.

Also making body sculpture & street art for relaxation, and running events with the BLEM collective ("Big Love Equals Magic"). Amazing party series.


My vinyl DJ friends noticed that I was using Ableton to DJ and perform live, especially how I could beatmatch Ableton with vinyl records. That really got their attention. They wanted to learn how to do that, and wanted to bring in extra elements to their sets.

for example...

Mikulas from Phono Records, he wanted a sampler to play along with Dudu from Brasil on hand drums, loop his drums and let him layer up percussion instruments on top of funk & soul DJ sets. Even make extended remixes and beatmatch the new record to the live drummer. These were sweaty parties!

Mr. Ultrafino collecting rare groove jazz records and extracting loops for a remix. He had all the loops picked out, he knew exactly which piece to take from each record to make the remix, and he could hear the whole thing in his head already. Genius. I just helped him learn his way around Ableton FX and plugins, and he took off making super amazing jazz house remixes to play at his shows.

One of my failures was with Sly Antro, a pretty big tech-house DJ. He wanted to go from DJ'ing to producing, but we didn't really communicate on the improvisation thing. He had the timeline in his head, how the tracks should develop minute by minute... but I was improvising with Session View. And he wanted to build tracks in the timeline.  We disagreed on that, but I only mention it because it leads to something big, later (stop composing in the timeline!)

Here's an analogy for it.

If you imagine making sculptures, I was doing something like throwing clay on the spinning pottery wheel. But he wanted to carve marble like Michaelangelo's David. They're two different styles.

Anyway, Prague was a really incredible community of DJ's and musicians and I was really happy to help my friends whenever they asked.

It wasn't like, "oh now I want to be a teacher."

It was just like, "ok I know how to do this one thing and you want to do it too,

so let's hang out and I'll share what I can, to help you get your beats working."

I had the technical skills to connect complicated things in a simple way.

For example I used a regular mixing board for my DJ sets, not a DJ mixer. Lots of times I plugged into a DJ mixer of course, but when I had my choice I used my own little mixer and the reason is this: it let me connect mics and run them through Ableton FX, like beat repeat and looper and delay and reverb.

I could make the singers sound great in the DJ booth, and I could do live-loop glitchFX with all kinds of guest performers. Saxophone, trumpet, flute, MC's, digiridoo, clarinet, mini Korg synth, djembe, scratch DJ's.

Believe it or not, there were times when friends showed up at the bar where I was playing, and they had their instruments with them from just finishing a gig. They would literally walk in, get a beer, and come up on stage to play with me in a set! They loved it, I loved it, the audience loved it.

One time we had a guest session with Martin Fell, Andy's brother, who played an antique saxophone that had been made by the guy who invented the saxophone!!!  He got it in a little shop in Scotland. Great tone. Beautiful aged patina.

During this time period, life was a blend of music and art and work and everything all at the same time. That was what I always wanted, to do something I really really loved and make enough money just to keep going, never have to stop. And be part of the best creative energy in the city.

Not hate my job anymore. No division between "work" and "real life". Not waiting for real life to start. It's hard at first, but you can make it happen. You can make it happen if you imagine it first, then keep working on it every day.

So that's where I came from as an Ableton teacher, sharing the fun part of electronic music and helping other DJ's get started doing it. I even tried to do a local ableton meetup but it only lasted for 3 sessions, because too many DJ's and only one pair of speakers is a bad combination.

Where my hands-on lessons came from (this is important)

I always met the students at their own house, so I could see them in their own studio, with their own equipment and Ableton on their own computer.

It was really important that they learn by using their own equipment.

Everybody has a different setup, you know, soundcard and MIDI controllers and stuff. I did not want anybody to sit next to me in my studio and watch me run Ableton.

Nobody learns anything that way.

I made my friends keep their hand on the mouse, and use their own sounds, on their own laptop, with their own audio setup. That way I could be sure they would learn it and remember the next day, and most important -- to use what they learned at their next gig!

This became the foundation for my hands-on lessons. Learn by doing it. Take one small thing and use it at a live show, don't wait, put it into practice live on stage, do not be afraid to experiment.

I guess it was from 2009 until 2014 that I was really doing that a lot, private lessons. Eventually in 2016 all this tutoring experience became the subject of my email list, the mixitecture blog, my videos, and my lessons.

Aright. So now you know the story of how I started making beats, survived New York, stayed in Czech Republic to find a full time career in music, and how it eventually led to helping other people use ableton to add live electronic music live to their DJ sets.

The story up to now explains the creative part of making music, expressing the craziness of our lives on stage... the feeling and the sound and the improvising, the combinations of beats+bass plus live performers, the audience and the sweat and the darkness and the sunrise.

We're almost up to the present moment. I still didn't talk about my live sound work with amps and speakers and subs and bands.  That story is important because the soundman story explains the technical mixdowns, how to make your music sound right in the studio AND on stage AND on giant PA systems, so you can get as wild as you want and also be certain it will sound right.


I'll get to that one in a bit, and then we'll do some hands-on lessons. I have a few really cool built-in lessons that you can download for free, to see what I mean. 

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