step1-part2
Nov 23

Step1 On Turntablism And The Power Of Practice

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Step1 (Stefanie Anderson) is a music producer, turntablist, live electronic music performer, music educator, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Stefanie’s musical practice is built around the trifecta of beat-making, finger drumming, and turntablism, skills which are all on full display in the impressive new ‘Scratch, Sample and Push’ live performance video routine she recently created for Ableton. Find out more about Stefanie’s live performance and finger drumming here, this time we talked to her about her background in turntablism, songwriting and production, and the power of practice.

How were you introduced to turntablism, and how did you develop your skills there?

My introduction to turntablism came in 1995. A friend came over to my house, and he had a copy of the DMC World Finals on VHS tape! That was the year that Roc Raida was representing the USA in the battle. My mind was totally blown by scratching and beat juggling. I thought to myself, “One day I’m going to learn how to do that.”

Flash forward to 2004. I moved to LA, and my roommate was a DJ. He had a setup in the house, and he knew that I’d been a dancer all my life—tap, jazz, break dancing, etc. He was like, “You have good rhythm, I bet you’d pick up DJing really quickly.” He taught me the basics, and I was hooked. Scratching was my favorite element of DJing. I bought Q-Bert’s DIY Skratching Vol. 1 DVD, and I spent countless hours learning how to cut.

I think what I loved about scratching is that it’s so percussive. As a dancer, my favorite style was tap. And obviously, tap is also very percussive. You create intricate rhythms with the taps on your shoes. Basically, it’s foot drumming. So that’s one reason I was really drawn to scratching. I really enjoyed tapping out percussive rhythms with my right hand on the crossfader and using my left hand to manipulate the record.

After honing your craft as a turntablist, you developed your skills as a songwriter and a producer, which led you to finger drumming. Could you talk about this journey?

I’m a nerd at heart, and I love learning. When I get interested in something, I naturally gravitate toward classes. So when I decided to learn music production, I started taking private lessons with a producer in San Francisco. But I also wanted to improve my songwriting skills, so I worked with a piano teacher for a little while to learn music theory. As a bass player, I never had to play chords, so harmony was new to me. I also took a few music production courses online. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for experimentation. It’s an important part of any creative endeavor, but I also think the right teacher or the right course can really accelerate the learning process.

In our last interview, we talked about your new performance video for Ableton. How much practice do you put into your live performance routines?

It’s a pretty ridiculous amount of practice. After I come up with a routine, I have to memorize all the parts and get them up to tempo. If the drum pattern is fast or complicated, it could take a few days before I’m finger drumming at the target BPM. After I’ve got the whole thing memorized, I have to practice it over and over until I can perform the routine without making any mistakes.

Obviously, the more complicated the performance, the longer the process takes. With the “Keep It Real” routine for Ableton, it took three weeks of practice – maybe a couple of hours a day – to get to the point where I could execute it perfectly every time. But that was on top of the hours it took to create the song, figure out how to adapt it to a live context and memorize the parts. All in all, I probably worked on that routine for five weeks. And it was only a 2-minute performance!

Do you have any advice for people who’d like to create their own performance routines?

For people who are looking to explore hybrid performances of any kind, I guess my advice would be to start small. My first routine was “Cutthroat,” where I used Push to finger drum a beat on-the-fly, and then I scratched vocals on top of the beat. The Ableton project only had two tracks: a MIDI track for the drum rack and an audio track for the scratching.

That was the first phase of my exploration, and gradually I learned how to incorporate other elements. My Ableton project for the “Keep It Real” routine has eight tracks, and I use all of them in 2 minutes. I also added a MIDI foot controller for that performance, so it was way more complicated than “Cutthroat.” But starting with a simple setup helped me wrap my head around all the possibilities offered by a hybrid performance.

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