On Being Kicked In The Butt

Cambodian Ornament

Create Digital Music is one of my favourite blogs; consistently good writing and insight. A recent post, What You Don’t Need To Make Music, featured Zack Wright, who is currently recording under the name Dkon. Apparently Dkon works under a manifesto, which, I have to say, gave me a kick in the butt.

Dkons Tips For Creative Success

1. Less is more
If you read nothing else in this article, read this. Having more options is not good for your creativity. Learn what you have, use what you have. Having a limited set of options forces you to focus. tweet

2. You don’t need expensive stuff
There are a lot of people who think you need to keep improving your studio, and getting the latest, most expensive gear in order to have the ability to be able to make something good. This is nonsense. From an economic point of view, the 800 EP cost me about $125 to make. (Renoise license of about ~$75, and I bought the 800 on Craigslist for $40). I made my first several albums (*Lost Subject*, *Greater Cascadia*, and *Mythology of the Metropolis*) with very limited means and equipment. Make do with what you have. Buy gear secondhand, but only what you will actually use. Use free or cheap software. Use free or cheap plugins. tweet

3. It doesn’t matter what software you use
There are so many DAW options now, but they all do basically the same thing. The only real difference is workflow. Pick one that appeals to you, learn it as you go along, and you will succeed. I have been using mostly Renoise for the past few years because I like the workflow and relatively simple interface. It may look confusing if you’ve never used a tracker before, but once you get the hang of it, it’s incredibly fast to get your ideas down, which is a major advantage. When inspiration hits you, the faster you can start working, the better. tweet

4. Work around the limitations of what you have
If something is limited in some way, use it to your advantage. Why do you think things like the 303 and 808 are still universally adored? They are both incredibly limited instruments, but what they do, they do very well. Using a more concrete example in my case, the Poly 800. It’s horribly tedious to program, but has a great sound and a lot of character. If it was covered in knobs and sliders, I don’t think it would be as appealing in a bizarre kind of way. The limited nature of the instrument encourages creativity. tweet

5. Treat everything as a sample
Especially in regards to software like Renoise. Find a sound on an instrument you like. Record yourself playing a few chords or a sequence of notes. Chop it up, sequence it, and rearrange it. Usually, if I do this, the sequence that ends up being used is different than the one that I originally played. Move things around, play with the pitch, change the envelopes. Being imprecise with your editing gives it a more humanized feel, without resorting to adding “humanization” after the fact. tweet

6. Fidelity is highly overrated
Do you think anyone is going to care if your snares are amazingly compressed and EQ’ed if your song is terrible? No. Making your music sound “nice” should be an afterthought. Focus on content, not gloss. tweet

7. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong
Making music, or art of any kind, should be fun. Treat it as play, not as work. Don’t think of what you want to make before you start – let the finished product reveal itself through your work. Dive in and explore without conscious thought. tweet

Wow! Setting up here in Singapore has been hard work and, to be frank, I haven’t had a lot of fun in recent months. Moreover, I’ve been focussed on creating a great sounding studio with cool new gear, rather than a place with a nice vibe that allows me to milk what I already have.

The bite in the Peter’s article (please take a look at the original post when you have time, there’s plenty more info and some music to listen to), was seeing a picture of the Roland SH-101.

I had one of those – in fact, it was my first synthesiser! Despite being a hit when it was first released, the synth fell out of favour and I sold mine because it was kind of being looked down upon, with newer products in the market.

Which raises one of the crazy dynamics in music gear (and this also applies to photography and other creative fields). One one hand, the SH-101 was being derided by “experts” for lacking features, sounding old and having poor ergonomics. On the other hand, it was used by artists like Aphex Twin, Devo, Gorillaz, Portishead, The Prodigy, Thomas Dolby and many others to create great music.

All this got me wondering; what if we set up our studios not based on what sounded best (or mopst impressed our friends and online buddies). What if designed our musical spaces around the gear that was most fun and inspiring to us? What if we just accepted that the gear we already have is more than enough? What if we – and of course I mean me – just got on with it?

Comments

  1. says

    This is mostly good sense, although some of it is very artist-specific and should not be applied universally (esp 5 & 7). People tend to consider they need the very best kit to make a tolerable record, yet 10 years ago some great records were being recorded through Creative 32 bit ISA cards through nothing more than a cheap mixer and a few typical mics.

    The best software to use is the stuff that doesn’t get in the way of what you want to do – not the most powerful or with the greatest number of tools. Ditto the best hardware, although there’s a lot to be said for trying new kit every so often to generate fresh ideas (why many guitarists have way more pedals than they’ll ever use).

    The one piece of advice that’s missing is to be told: just get out there and create.

  2. says

    I recently spoke at a conference for small-church worship teams on the subject of creativity. I wish I had read this before that, because it’s awesome. But a lot of what is covered here is stuff I touched on.

    I agree with Toni on the software stuff. Even though I have Ardour on my computer, which is pretty close to Pro Tools in terms of what it can do, I find that I am most productive using something simple like Audacity for much of the creation process. Likewise with graphics; I prefer GIMP to Photoshop. There’s something to be said for “quick-and-dirty.”

Join the conversation