BASS: turn off your front-mind

There's a really big difference between hearing music mentally, verses hearing it emotionally.

I used to record on tapes and bring them to house parties to play for my friends.

Funny thing happened.

If I played my music at the beginning of the party, when people were standing around talking in the kitchen, they got all uncomfortable and changed the subject, or went in the other room.

No lyrics, no vocals, just bass and beats, they didn't know what to do.

But when I played the same exact music at 2am, after people were drunk and dancing, and the lights were off, they TOTALLY LOVED IT.

I mean they kept dancing and said, "this is cool music, this is fun, did you make this?"

The reason was really simple: the second time, I presented the music after they were already feeling good, after their analytical minds were switched off, and after all of our bodies were connected with the bass rhythm.



To make this a little more clear: if I went into that same house party and played michael jackson at the beginning, they would act all too-cool-for-school like "yeah this is old and boring we heard this a million times before."

...but you can STILL drop "Beat It" on a house party and people will love it, if you mix it in at the right time.

It's mental criticism vs. emotional continuity.


It's the difference between reading a play, verses seeing actors perform on film.

Music at low volume is like reading something in black and white on the page. Takes a lot of concentration, it's mental work, it's analytical, all that dry stuff.

But when the bass is up loud and the lights are down low, the analytical front-mind is not in control...'re in a movie theater in the dark, you're comfortable, you're seeing the actors, hearing their voices, with a great soundtrack and sound FX, costumes & makeup and scenery inside a completely immersive experience...

See how different that is?

Playing your new tracks from your phone, on speaker, is like asking people to read the script of a movie. 

They're probably not gonna get it -- it's the wrong context, the wrong moment, and the wrong VOLUME.

Playing your new tracks for people who are warmed up, moving, dancing, not talking so much, and really FEELING the bass & drums, is like having a captive audience in the movie theater.


You can make people love your new music if you play it right after another song they love.

Radio DJ's have been doing that for decades to "create hits".

Just get them into a groove first, then beatmatch your new track and bring it in after the one they love.

Don't completely change the groove, don't surprise them, just keep them in the same zone and sneak your beats in.

This makes a continuous emotional connection from the song they love, directly into your new track.

It goes like this:

"I love that last song..."

"...this new song is feeling really good too..."

" I love this new song..."

"...what IS this?!!"

That's the emotional progression you want to create.

The secret is this: when people are feeling good, they expect the next track to be equally amazing.

When they trust you, they think you're gonna play another great track in the set,

and that means as they hear your new track, they automatically think it's amazing and great.

It works because, before you play your new track, you create the framework for them to like it.  

You prepare the crowd to like it.  It really works.

Put your music in front of the audience when they are psychologically open, and they will love your original music.

Try to play it for a room full of strangers with no introduction, and they will just stare at you and be confused.


Have you heard about that world-famous violinist who played in the New York subway?

He was booked to perform at Carnegie Hall or some legendary venue.

He decided to go and play in the subway just for fun, to see what happened.

Guess what... most people ignored him, and he got paid only a few dollars in loose change.

Then at night he performed in one of the top concert halls in the world, where each ticket cost $75+.

What's the difference between a violin solo on the subway platform, and a violin solo in the concert hall? 

It's the same violin, same performer, even the same piece of music.

The difference is the setting, the framework around it, and the preparation of the audience.

In a more relevant dimension, why is it so competitive to get the prime-time DJ slot? 

It's because that's when the audience is the most open to love every single track you play!  

It's easy to make them go wild when you're on at the peak of the party.

And it's almost impossible to make them go wild when you're opening up, because nobody is really ready yet.

See how that works?

It's all about expectations and timing.


The point is -- don't get tricked by your analytical mind.

If you're listening to your own new music, and it sounds like crap, and you want to delete the whole thing... stop and ask yourself,

Am I really in the right mood to judge this?

Am I feeling the beats flow like a person tripping balls at a party?  

Or am I criticizing every little sound and listening on tiny speakers with no bass?

Don't let your analytical mind tell you to 'delete the whole thing because it sucks.'

Don't analyze your music to death, mentally,

and don't take advice from unhappy people (!!!).

Lay down on the floor, stop looking at the arrangement, turn your screen contrast down, and really listen without thinking. 

Commit to hearing the whole thing all the way through and feeling for what sections need to change.  (That's what your audience is gonna do when they're in the dark, surrounded by bass, and when they're expecting something amazing to happen.)

If you want to get the best reaction from your music, play your tracks in situations when people are emotionally open and their mouths are closed.

stories from the trenches,


PS: Have you seen the free resources I make for Ableton producers? Explore some presets for instruments and FX, as well as more guides like this that go deeper into production techniques.


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