Nov 07

Rachel K Collier breaks down her live performances

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Rachel K Collier is a vocalist, electronic music producer and performer from Swansea in Wales. Coming from a background working in songwriting as a topliner (writing vocal parts over instrumentation), she is a die-hard Ableton enthusiast who loves finding fresh ways to perform her original tracks in a live setting. Whether performing solo or with live percussionists and interactive visuals, Rachel’s expressive, high energy performances are rooted in a multi-instrument based technical setup while allows her to bring the studio to the stage.

At the end of October, Rachel released her debut album RKC, and has just had her first Melodics lesson set ‘And I Breathe’ released on keys, drums and pads. On Tuesday 19 November, she’s playing a special headline show at The Grace in London. You can purchase tickets over on her website here.

 

Melodics: Is live performance the most important part of music for you?

Rachel K Collier: I’d say I’m 50/50 between producer and live performer. I feel like as an electronic performer, you’re either recreating parts you wrote in the studio in a live setting or stem DJing them. I feel like since you spend so much time in the studio crafting those parts, the most rewarding way to play it live is to actually play them live, rather than just having a band play those parts, or having everything set up as tracks. When you play live, you really get to show off your studio productions in the best way, and it’s kind of like taking the studio to the stage, but obviously with some compromises.

 

Melodics: Do you enjoy how recreating your songs live can add an element of danger to the performance?

RKC: 100%. There is room for human error, things are going to go wrong, and you have freedom. You can have big breakdown sections and be doing all these live effects, live manipulations, and it’s different every single time.

 

Melodics: How important is improvisation to you?

RKC: My productions actually start from improvisation, and when I perform without any pre-made stems or clips, which I do, I’ll just be starting there with eight empty channels. I’m basically creating a whole track from scratch, and there is something so liberating and amazing about that. I get to record myself playing percussion, vocal loops, key loops, trigger them, and I can change them up into any shape or form that I want to.

 

Melodics: It’s very rewarding when you get into a flow with this sort of thing, isn’t it?

RKC: Exactly. You get into a flow, and you might just do one extra note on a loop, but it’s really sick, so you decide to do it again next time. I feel like it is really important to leave a bit of it up to chance. I’m the type of person who gets bored really quickly. With this live set-up, I can constantly evolve things, which means it never gets boring.

 

Melodics: Would you like to tell us anything about your debut album, RKC?

RKC: When I was in the topliner world, I got very bored of writing generic pop lyrics, so every song on the record is a personal experience for me. If you’re a songwriter and you want to produce your own music, you should just go for it. Even if it takes time, you can do it, because I did it. I hope everyone enjoys it and gives it a chance because all the tracks are quite different.

 

Melodics: Could you talk about your live performance set-up?

RKC: I have two live set-ups. One where I’m alone, and I create everything from scratch, and one with percussionists and visuals. I use two little Yamaha Refaces. I’ve got the Arturia MiniBrute, Ableton Push 2, two additional midi controllers, a DJ TechTools Midi Fighter, an Akai LPD8. So I have three midi controllers and several synths. When I add my percussionists to my show, I have a KingKord synth on stage as well. Everything runs through Ableton on my laptop.

 

Melodics: How much time do you spend practising your live show?

RKC: I practice a lot. When you are practising for a technology-based set, as well as actually singing or playing, getting the notes right, there are always little tech amendments you need to be doing. I’ll do a little vocal warm-up, then I’ll try to do my set, but instead of programming and rehearsing at the same time, I’ll make notes about the programming changes, before having a break, and then practising again, but the next practice session will be a programming session. I separate out the technology rehearsals and the actual physical performance rehearsals. Sometimes I play Tetris in-between sessions because when you concentrate that hard, you need to take breaks. I can’t really have anything else going on that day. I have to devote days to practice. If I have to make a video or finish producing a track, I can’t practice as well.

 

Melodics: What can you tell us about your Melodics lesson ‘And I Breathe’?

RKC: It isn’t really a typical song type of thing; actually, it’s really odd. I’ll never forget how happy writing it made me feel because it represents a turning point where I realised I was becoming a really good producer. When we play it live, no matter the show, it’s always my favourite. There is a big synth solo at the end, a big percussion solo, and the song is about when everything gets too much, and the world feels crazy. It’s about the feeling of release you can get from music.

 

Melodics: How do you feel about having your song converted into a lesson people can play?

RKC: I think it’s really cool. Melodics can really enhance your production. It’s about more than just playing in time. Learning those grooves, chords and keys, that’s the type of stuff that can actually inspire you when you are creating music. It’s a lesson for you to get tighter at your finger drumming, and you can use that when you perform live, but for me, Melodics inspires me to create with different grooves. I like to go on Melodics for fifteen minutes before I start producing because it just warms me up and really gets me into the groove. Instead of just looking at the plug-ins on a song in a production tutorial, you can actually have a go at playing those rhythms. I think it is amazing and I am looking forward to sharing my lesson with everyone.

Try Rachel’s lesson I Breathe:
Keys
Pads
Drums

Apr 29

What finger-drummer Robert Mathijs has learned on his quest for groove

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Amsterdam producer, guitarist and singer Robert Mathijs is the man behind The Quest For Groove, a website and YouTube channel devoted to helping users become expert finger drummers. Over a series of courses and videos, Rob combines his experience with live performance, studio production, finger drumming, web design and teaching into approachable steps and processes for understanding his three stages of musical mastery. Stage one: What to play (what pads to hit). Stage two: How to play it (loud, soft, laid-back, energetic etc.) Stage three: Why do I play this and not something else?

For Rob, his engagement with finger drumming grew out of a desire to record his own groovy rhythm parts in studio sessions without hiring a session drummer. From there, he began exploring the creative possibilities of pad controllers and other new ways of bridging that musical gap between humans and computers. Given this, he was a natural lesson partner for Melodics. Below, Rob walks us through some of the challenges he sees new finger drummers facing, and his thoughts around the art of practice.   

 

What are some of the common challenges you see new finger drummers coming up against?

I noticed a lot of beginning finger drummers struggle with picking the right gear, the right software and setting everything up. There are a lot of options available on the hardware and software front, and unfortunately, a lot of those options don’t work if you want to play the way I play. Either the pads aren’t sensitive enough, or the sensitivity varies too much between pads, or the software that comes with the pads doesn’t provide you with the right sounds.

My preferred setup currently involves putting a Maschine MK3 in midi mode, completely ditching the Maschine software and then triggering Addictive Drums 2 with it. That’s not a very straightforward thing to do and takes a lot of messing around with midi learn and stuff, but it’s necessary for me to get both that great pad sensitivity and that hyper-realistic drum sound.

 

What are your thoughts around the roles finger-drumming can play within modern music paradigms?

I think now that digital has basically absorbed analog (I believe we’re at a point were digital can ’emulate’ most analog behaviour) it’s time to start developing ways to get the same amount of precise and subtle control over our digital environments as ‘traditional’ musicians have over their instruments. The computer is the studio now, or the instrument, or the orchestra for that matter.

As humans, we want to make it truly understand what’s in our hearts and one of the ways to do this is finger drumming. It’s one of the most direct ways to communicate the grooves we feel to the computer instead of playing by the rules of the computer and going out of our way to speak the computer’s language (which is how I feel when I have to program a beat).

 

Do you have any advice for users on how to create a regular practice routine and keep at it?

The most important thing is to have your music setup ready to go whenever you are. It’s a bit silly, but one of the main reasons I’ve been playing more guitar lately is because I put it in a stand next to the couch instead of keeping it in its suitcase. All it takes is the reach of an arm to start playing.

For finger drumming or anything electronic it’ll usually take booting up your computer and firing up the software, but you can at least make sure all your music making stuff is hooked up to one USB hub so you can plug it into your laptop and everything works right away. Have shortcuts to all your favourite music making programs ready on your desktop and preferably create standard templates for those programs, so they boot up with your favourite drum kit loaded and your favourite songs ready to go in a Spotify playlist or something.

Another trick is to attach practicing to something that’s already part of your daily routine. Breakfast? Brushing your teeth? Watching The Late Show? Attach your practice sessions to one of those things.

 

Now that you’ve been involved in creating Melodics lessons, what sort of initial suggestions would you have for Melodics users around finger drumming?

I think the most important thing when doing a melodics lesson is to realise that it’ll help you learn what pads to hit when. Once you know what to do, maybe close your eyes, don’t look at your hands, don’t look at a screen but just listen to what you’re playing and how that feels. In the end that’s what it’s all about.

 

Do you have any other thoughts on Melodics, and how it can mesh in with users personal interests in playing and creating music?

One of the first things I was extremely jealous of was how easy it was to start playing. Melodics app makes it so easy to set up your pad controller. No explanation video could ever beat that! Secondly, something I also noticed with some of my guitar students who played ‘Rocksmith’ (basically the guitar version of melodics on a PlayStation) is that this gamification of practice is so incredibly helpful in nudging people towards practicing the right way. Like slowing it down, focusing your attention on certain weaknesses and stuff like that. It also creates this nice crossover between reading sheet music and doing everything by ear.

Try a lesson from The Quest For Groove here.

Find out more at:
questforgroove.com
youtube.com/thequestforgroove

Apr 17

Melodics & Mindfullness: Why Music Is Good For Well-being

by in Fundamentals

Email, social media notifications, alarms, auto-alerts, instant messages, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? Over the last two decades, the internet has afforded us access to a phenomenal amount of information and connectivity, but it’s also created a set of conditions that can be very psychologically taxing. For many of us, both our working and personal lives play out in increasingly frantic, overstimulated landscapes; and it can be a real struggle to keep up.

In response to this, as smartphones, tablets and computers have become increasingly central to modern life, recent years have been marked in part by the rise of meditation, mindfulness and self-care apps such as Calm and Headspace. Free to download, they’re digital balms designed to soothe us, and by the process of guiding us through mindfulness and meditation practices, help us create healthier relationships with these tools.

As clinical psychology research has shown, in even just a few minutes a day, the benefits of mindfulness travel into our everyday lives: improved physical health, mental health, happiness and overall well-being. With repetition, five minutes of practice can extend into half an hour, and the longer you spend in a mindful state, the better you’ll feel. At Melodics, we often think about a simple but powerful idea that illustrates this all very well;

greatness isn’t born; it’s grown, and we believe playing can be a form of mindfulness.  

Have you ever been so completely and utterly immersed in a task that nothing else mattered, and the time flew away on you? If you’ve been there, it’s a state you probably wanted to return to. Some people get there through video games, sports or art. Other people get there through music and Melodics can be a pathway to that zone. Sit down, relax, start practicing, and let yourself enter the calm. Eventually, these actions become an outcome as you switch off from the outside world and immersion sets in.

Melodics artist Indi, a contemporary experimental musician and composer, currently based in Berlin, but originally from New Zealand, can see the relationship as well.

“The practice of music, to me, is the ultimate mental and emotional nourishment,” Indi says.

“When everything else in the world is in a constant state of emergency, there is nothing more freeing than focusing on a single melody, rhythm or piece for hours at a time. Taking time to do this acts as a form of self-care and meditation. The practice of music seems like an ancient, innate compulsion that everyone feels – it is just learning how to open up those valves of expression again.”

Melodics artist Leonard Charles, a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, programmer and producer from New Zealand, can also see the connection between music practice, mindfulness and meditation as well, but with a proviso. “It’s really important to learn to study your instrument in a relaxed mood,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a stressful environment. So, firstly, to get benefits from the relaxing nature of playing music, you need to approach playing your instrument in a relaxed manner.”  

Leonard Charles’ thoughts underscore the realities often expressed by mindfulness and meditation advocates. These aren’t states you can instantly access; you have to build your way there through regular, consistent practice. It’s the same as working through Melodics lessons. Once you commit and get started, you’ll see results over time. With even just five minutes a day of practice, short streaks will become longer streaks, and a 50% score in a lesson will eventually become 100%.

Mindfulness is described as a practice for a reason, and much like Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, or the flow experience – a topic that we will dig into more shortly on the blog – the rewards that come with entering the zone will encourage you to invest the time required to return there. “If the instrument is played in this manner, calmly and with intent, then performance can become meditative,” Leonard Charles says.

“When the brain knows it is in a safe and comfortable environment, it will develop, and the benefits of this are sky high.”

Mar 06

The Seoul beat scene and the importance of community – with Lionclad

by in Interviews

Growing up amongst the futuristic skyscrapers, rammed subways, serene temples, palaces and bustling street markets of Seoul, South Korean beatmaker, finger-drummer and DJ Lionclad always felt out of place. Things slid into place for her when she discovered trip-hop, abstract hip-hop, experimental music, and the worlds that surround them. With headphones wrapped around her ears, the psychedelic, late-night sounds of Björk, Portishead, Massive Attack, Cypress Hill, Morcheeba and Zero 7 let her reimagine life as a black and white film noir. Everyone else in the metropolis was at hyperspeed, but Lionclad was moving in slow motion.

“The music told me it was okay to explore the emotions inside me deeply, and made me realise that if I wanted to, I could focus on myself rather than everyone around me,” she explains.

“Growing up in an Asian country, you are always forced to be part of the community. That always made me feel more isolated from everyone around me, and the music gave me comfort and helped me realise my feelings were valid.”

These qualities come through in her moody beat production work and dexterous live finger-drumming performances, many of which you can watch or listen to through youtube and Instagram. They’ve won her a cult reputation around South Korea and set her up to take things further.   

Lionclad was also equally fascinated by media art as a teenager and considered working in video before music. She loved vintage horror movies (“Creature from The Black Lagoon, Godzilla, The Blob, etc.”), anime, and quirky cartoons; genres often associated with music by way of sampling or direct references. In that era, the downbeat sounds of the UK and the bass of blunted west coast rap came packaged with fittingly trippy music videos, and it only took a few steps sideways for her to come across 90s IDM artists such as Amon Tobin, and South Korean trip-hop group Mot. Music made sense. Making and playing it would be her thing.

With some childhood experience playing keyboard and trumpet behind her, early cassette tape recordings led to beat making and production. Initially, Lionclad’s tools of choice were the Roland SP-404 sampling workstation, the Akai MPC2500 Music Production Center, FL Studio, and Cubase.

“I began arranging tracks in FL Studio and Cubase first, then I started taking samples from vinyl records with my MPC and creating loops,” she says. “From there, I started using the MPC as a performance tool to share my music. DJing came, later on, followed by Ableton Live.”


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Looking for vinyl records to sample from took her to music stores around Seoul’s Myong Dong, Hong Dae, Itaewon and Gangnam districts, where she connected with, and learned from, DJ Son and DJ Soulscape, two pioneering local DJs with open-ears and similar musical interests to hers. They’d invite her to their studios for jams and listening sessions, and when they saw her fast-developing finger drumming skill level, helped her get gigs around the same districts. “Community was crucial for me,” she says. “I’d meet people, and they’d introduce me to other people I could play with. It’s also fun because you get to learn their stories in music and how they did what they did. It gives me a lot of inspiration around what I do now.”

Outside of the DJ scene, Lionclad also cites experimental artists like Kim Oki, Akimbo, 4kapas and Cifika as part of her community, and a reminder of what she prizes the most, the power of live performance and the moment. “The DJs and musicians gave me a lot of influence, but I wanted to give people inspiration by showing them how music can be made live, and how the beat is felt by tapping it with the fingers,” she reflects. “There are very few MPC players in Seoul, but I think it’s good because people think it’s a very special kind of thing that they can’t see easily.”

In 2016, Lionclad released her self-titled debut album. Since then, her work has been celebrated by GQ Korea and Playboy, and she’s found herself collaborating with an array of rising K-pop and K-rap vocalists including Muddychild, Danny Roots, Taedo, SSamdark, Yumdda, Jvcki Wai, Justhis, Sogumm, Kimximya and more, bringing her moody production sound into those melodramatic realms. She also took part in the Red Bull Bass Camp Seoul in 2017, began creating lessons for us at Melodics in 2018 (see her lessons here), and is working towards a second album. Although trip-hop, beats, and abstract hip-hop still don’t have a large audience in South Korea, more recently, Lionclad has been sensing a cultural sea change, one she’s very excited about, and hopes will take her overseas sooner rather than later. “These genres are still not that common here,” she admits. “But it looks like people these days are finally ready to accept uncommon things.”

 

Dec 20

How Fabian Mazur found his sound

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Fabian Mazur first became an emergent figure within the Danish club music scene in 2010. Since then, the Copenhagen-based music producer and DJ’s buoyant tracks have caught the ears of international EDM frontrunners like Martin Garrix, Tiesto, and Afrojack, in the process helping him build a growing profile. Ostensibly hybrid trap EDM with glossy synth-overtones, his music ripples with touches drawn from traditional east coast hip-hop and R&B, and when he hypes it up on the microphone over the top, lifts the whole club up. In 2013, Fabian received a platinum-certification for his remix of ‘Chuck Norris’ by Kongsted, and in 2014 he began touring around the world. When he isn’t programming his own music, producing for other artists, or DJing, Fabian creates producer sample kits for Splice. It’s one of the ways he likes to give back and help the next generation of producers. This week, in partnership with Splice, we present Fabian’s first Melodics lesson for the track ‘Settle’. Read our interview with him below and try his lesson here.      

 

Could you tell us a bit about how you got your start as a musician?

Growing up, my mum and dad were both jazz musicians. I used to tour with them a lot as a kid. I’d see them perform, play, and rehearse, so I was always rooted in jazz and world music. Even though I didn’t really like the music myself, it provided me with a lot of knowledge about rhythm and melody. My mother is from New York. She was born and raised there, but she came to Europe as a teenager. We stayed connected with her family there. I think this influenced me a little bit. Back in the day, I used to listen to a lot of east coast hip-hop, DJ Premier, Nas, Jay-Z, so when I started making music as a teenager, I was into 90s hip-hop and R&B. After a few years, I had a friend who got me into DJing and got me into EDM acts like Swedish House Mafia.

 

How did you take these influences and shape them into the sound you’re now known for?

It definitely took me a lot of years. I guess I think it took almost ten years to get to the sound I wanted. I took some courses, and I studied a little bit. I did all types of stuff, but the main thing that got me there was putting in a lot of work, and making a lot of terrible music before I made good music.

 

The terrible music clears the way for the good music, right?

Exactly. After a few years of making pretty terrible music, I figured out I was actually getting pretty good. My music wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but it was almost there. I feel like people talk about the whole 10,000 hours of putting work into a specific task. I think that is true with playing, writing, and producing music. When I was coming up, I didn’t have Splice or all the features of the modern DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). I feel like I put in way more than 10,000 hours to get good at music production. As a creative and a music artist, it actually took me a really long time to find a genre or soundscape that I liked for my own music, and wanted to be affiliated with. I spent years making tons of different music, hip-hop beats, R&B beats, deep house, EDM, dubstep, whatever, and that experimenting really got me to where I am today.

 

Would you tell young producers to listen to and make a range of music until they find out what they really click with? Or in the case of Melodics users, try out a range of lessons from different genres?

Yes. That is one of the main pieces of advice I give people when they ask me how I got to where I am. I tell them to listen to a lot of different music and try to create a lot of different music. Don’t try to keep your eye on a specific genre or sound at first. A lot of people make that mistake at the start; they decide they want to be a dubstep producer only and only produce dubstep from the get-go. I think that is a very big mistake to make when you’re starting out.

 

You can hear the influence of listening to, and producing different types of music in your work.

It’s kinda natural. Genres have always had the tendency to merge at some point. Maybe it’s all just a natural part of the process, especially with the digital age of music production we’re in right now. With things like Melodics and Splice, it’s never been easier for people to merge genres the way they want to.

 

 

 

Dec 19

Last Minute Gift Ideas For Musicians and Music Producers

by in Melodics

2018 is coming to a close, and it’s very much been a rollercoaster of a year. But before we can get off the ride, we’ve got to get through Christmas first. If you’re stuck for a bit of last minute gift shopping and are struggling to think of what to buy for that electronic music playing or producing obsessed person (or people!) in your life, we’ve got you well and truly covered. Check below for a few quick and easy gift suggestions. Whether they’re just starting out and want to give this thing a crack, have been playing around for a bit, or are well in truly deep inside this thing we call music, we’ve got ideas for you of things they’ll love.

 

ROLI Beatmaker Kit

 One of the best things about Melodics is combining the sound of electronic music with the tactile qualities of played live music. How better to really sink into this intersection than with the right controller? Music technology company ROLI has really come to the party in this regard with their ROLI Beatmaker Kit. Comprised of two compact physical controller units, the light pad block and the loop block, the kit gives the user access to hundreds of expressive sounds to play around with on the controllers, a copy of Ableton Live Lite to make basic recordings in, and a six-month Melodics subscription to help them hone those finger drumming chops. Once they tether it to their laptop, they’re away.

➡️Link

 

DJ Tech Tools Midi Fighter 3D

If you’re looking for a robust controller, perhaps one that evokes the feeling of tapping out ten hit combos on arcade and video games during your childhood (or maybe you’re an adult that still does), DJ Tech Tools’ Midi Fighter 3D controller is the present they’re going to love. Built like a tank, with 16 high-performance Japanese buttons, the controller is fully colour configurable and has total motion on all three axes. It’s a grunty Melodics compatible workhorse and comes with a promo code for 30 free finger drumming lessons. The Midi Fighter 3D is on discount for the rest of the year, order one before this Wednesday to guarantee Christmas delivery. Ableton, Serato and Traktor users will love it as well.  

➡️Link

 

Expansion Midnight Sunset

If the producer in your life is a Native Instruments user (Battery, Maschine, Massive, Monark, Reaktor Prism), they might appreciate a fresh set of loops, drum samples, and synths. Native Instruments recently dropped an expansion pack called Midnight Sunset, which explores the drum machine funk that was crucial to 80s boogie, p-funk, synth-pop, and 90s West Coast rap. We’re talking about a sonic palette that connects Shalamar, Prince, Rick James, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre, and that’s before even getting into the contemporary boogie revival. Gift them some iconic sounds to get playing with. They’ll be getting more bounce to the ounce.

➡️Link

 

Splice Sounds

 Do you know what else the producer (or producers!) in your life needs? Even more royalty-free samples to use when they’re making beats. Splice is a cloud-based music creation and collaboration platform that integrates with most digital audio workstations and offers you automated online backup and a bunch of other bells and whistles. Splice has a subscription service called Splice Sounds, which gives users access to over two million samples, loops, FX, and presets, as well as exclusive artist packs. Slip a note with the promo code 2FREE18 in with their presents, and if they’re signing up as a new user, they’ll score two months of free access.

➡️Link

 

Melodics™ Gift card

Whether you’ve got someone in your life who is interested in dipping their toes into electronic music playing, and production, or a special someone, family member, or friend who is all in, but would like to be able to practice more, Melodics™ Gift card is the perfect Christmas present. Ranging through 3, 6, 9, and 12-month subscription options, the card provides to the recipient with access to over 400 lessons across genres, and if they don’t have a MIDI keyboard, controller, or electronic drum kit, they can still use their computer keyboard. Learning has never been this fun. Whether you’re looking to learn how to play calypso, trap, juke, future RnB, hip-hop, house, or disco, there are lessons for you.

➡️Link

Dec 03

My 300-day streak – Gretchen King

by in Interviews

Gretchen King has been singing and writing songs since she was a child. Along her musical journey, she’s spent time in church choirs and musical theatre groups, sang with Jerome Dillon (of Nine Inch Nails) as Nearly, and fronted Ohio rock band Phantods. These days, she divides her music time between several projects: writing electropop songs with her close collaborator Chris as Kabiria, jingles and voiceover work, and writing, recording, producing and mixing her debut solo album.

Gretchen keeps herself match fit by practicing with Melodics, and recently achieved a landmark 300-day streak. She was introduced to our software by Chris, who suggested it might help her sharpen her skills. Once she started using it daily, Gretchen realised she’d found an easy and enjoyable way to practice and improve her skills. As she puts it, “Five minutes a day is completely manageable.” Below, Gretchen discusses the journey to hitting the 300-day mark and going beyond.

 

Congratulations on your 300-day streak! Tell us about it?

Thanks! I was able to lock into a daily routine right away because Chris was using Melodics as well [and] we had a slight competitive edge going. We would remind each other… and check in to see how our progress was going. Initially, I had a great streak going. One night at midnight, I realised that I had forgotten to practice that day. I was so bummed that I didn’t practice for a month! Then I realized that while a streak is amazing, it’s more about putting in the work and enjoying the process. I quickly got back on track again.

 

Do you have any advice for users looking to lock in like this?

My advice to someone looking to practice regularly is to set reminders in your phone and try to practice at a time that can be consistent. If the hour you get home in the evenings always varies, then practice first thing in the morning. Record your practices and take some notes on how you feel about it. Ask yourself questions about the process of learning and mastering the lessons. There is always a pattern there. Recognizing your learning style and the patterns with it helps to relieve the pressure that comes with learning something new. Occasionally revisit those videos and even go back to try previous lessons. You’ll find that the lessons you struggled with early on will eventually be a piece of cake.

 

At what point did you realize that this streak was going to keep going for a while, and how did you feel?

By the time I reached 100, I had started cheering myself on every couple of days… It became a habit, like brushing your teeth. It’s something I do in my daily routine. Since it’s only five minutes a day, there really is no excuse. I’ve done Melodics in hotels, airports, even recently while riding in a moving truck! To be on a streak that is nearing an entire year feels really good. I’ve prioritized something that is important to me: improving my music skills so that I can express myself better creatively.


Once you were in a daily pattern, what sort of benefits did you start seeing?

The biggest benefit I’ve seen is the realization that small steps taken every day will get you to where you want to go. I’ve never actually seen something like this in a way that I was able to recognize it as it’s happening. I used to try to take giant leaps, and I’d get frustrated and worn out, eventually giving up. Recognizing that there is a different approach to learning that is actually easier and more enjoyable has changed my overall mood. I feel more relaxed and put less pressure on myself while feeling more certain that I will reach my end goal.


How has your use of Melodics changed over the course of this run?

Melodics has really helped me understand the process of learning. Now I have a clearer understanding of how I learn. It’s always the same no matter what level I am on. When I start to get it, I will do great, and then after a few minutes, it’s like my hands don’t remember how to work! It’s as though I’ve fatigued myself. That’s when I know to move on to another lesson or call it quits for the day. I used to get frustrated, but then I’d notice that the very next day it was as though something happened overnight. The next day, I understood the lesson and could do it with ease. You’ve got to get past those moments of frustration to move into the moments where it clicks.

I always go a little over the 5 min mark. When I’m really enjoying myself, I allow myself to keep going for as long as I want. On days I’m not into it, I get only the daily goal completed, and I don’t beat myself up over how badly the practice went. I know I will feel different again soon enough. There’s no need to build any sort of negative association with it.

 

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.

Sep 28

How finger drumming made Step1 a better music producer

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. Since 2016, she’s run the Sequence One music production school with her business partner Lenny Kiser. As a music maker and performer, Stefanie’s personal 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. Below, Stefanie talks about putting together the routine, and how Melodics helped her developed her finger drumming skills. She also explains her thoughts on turntables in the digital production era.

 

Let’s talk about your new performance video. In it, you combine Ableton Push and a turntable to create a blend of real-time sampling, beat-making, finger drumming, and scratching. What was it like putting them together?


It was a learning experience. Everyone’s workflow is different, but for me, the song idea comes first. Then I figure out how I’ll adapt it for a live performance. Which parts will I play on the controller? Which parts will I play on the turntable? How will I transition between them? You’re going to run into limitations in terms of what’s possible to play live, so the original song idea inevitably evolves as it gets adapted for the stage. It’s a fun problem-solving exercise. I always learn new tricks in Ableton every time I work on a routine.

Your video included some excellent finger drumming. How did you develop your skill set from DJing to include beat production and live electronic music performance?

For me, production and finger drumming evolved simultaneously. As soon as I started making beats, I ran across YouTube videos from artists like Jeremy Ellis and AraabMusik. I knew that I wanted to learn finger drumming right away. It reminded me of turntablism: it’s tactile, fun, rhythmic, and it requires skill and technical mastery.

At that time, though, there really weren’t any good resources for learning finger drumming. I found a couple of YouTube tutorials and learned how to play very rudimentary hip-hop beats, but it was hard to progress any further. Then in late 2015, the Ableton newsletter landed in my inbox, and it had an announcement about Melodics. I signed up immediately!

How did using Melodics change things for you?

Melodics was a game changer for me. After a couple of weeks of daily practice, I was able to play the ‘Amen Brother’ breakbeat. I was so excited. As a crate digger who loves all the classic breaks, it was satisfying and motivating to learn that drum pattern. I just kept going from there, unlocking as many levels as I could. Last year, I made it to Level 18, but I’m stuck there because I’ve been working on other things. I wouldn’t have advanced to my current skill level without Melodics, so it’s still so crazy to me that my ‘Keep It Real’ lessons are available in the Melodics app.

I also think that finger drumming made me a better producer, which is why I said the skills evolved simultaneously. With practice, my drum vocabulary expanded, and eventually, my patterns became more complex and interesting.

 

Before this interview, you told me that you view the turntable as a controller and as a tool in your production arsenal. Could you expand on your thinking here?

The traditional view of a turntable is that it’s a record player. You don’t create anything with it; you use it to play someone else’s music. But for the turntablist, the turntable has always been an instrument.  Here’s what I mean: With scratching, essentially you’re isolating and manipulating certain sounds. Most people associate scratching with vocals, but turntablists can scratch any musical material – drums, horns, strings, pads, chords, you name it. You can even use the turntable’s pitch control to transpose a sound while you’re scratching it.

What other piece of hardware lets you isolate, manipulate, and transpose audio content? A sampler. That’s why I think of the turntable as a controller or instrument. It’s just another way to work with audio in a music production environment. For me, the real benefit of using a turntable is that it adds a unique element to my live performances, and it lets me combine my love of beat-making with my love of scratching.

 

Sep 19

Q&A With The 2018 Finger Drumming Champion

by in Interviews

When he was growing up in Tours, France, French-English hip-hop/electronic beatmaker, producer and finger drummer extraordinaire Beat Matazz dreamed of, much like his heroes AIR, being surrounded by analog synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines. With time, as he fell in love with the music of Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Prefuse 73, James Blake, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Amon Tobin, caught their vibes, and began to build his own collection of customised studio gear and software. Electronic music production led him towards his current area of expertise: finger drumming.


Beat Matazz has been presenting his furiously funky finger drumming routines to live audiences since 2015, but earlier this year, he took things to a new level when he ousted all challengers to win the Sample Music Festival 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin with a ridiculous routine. Since then, he’s been building relationships with Herrmutt Lobby’s Playground App, Akai, and us here at Melodics. With an upcoming Melodics lesson based on his winning performance in the works, we spoke with him about finger drumming and his time at the competition. Check out his winning performance here (scroll to 2:33)

 

Could you talk a bit about your musical experiences before you started finger drumming?

I started out at age six as a classical percussionist, xylophone, marimba, and timbales. When I was a teenager, my teacher agreed to teach me drums as I wasn’t to keen on classical music. These experiences gave me the rhythmic skills to drum in many bands for many genres. I played pop, hip-hop, electro-funk, experimental, world music and even in a marching band.

 

How did you end up adding finger drumming to your skill set?

In parallel with drumming, I started using music software like Reason and Ableton to make music for fun. After years of composing, I became frustrated and bought my first Akai MPC500 [sampling workstation] off Leboncoin (the French version of Craiglist). Hardware-based beatmaking made sense to me, and a gigantic world opened up. It allowed me to link the unlimited creative paths afforded by software to a tactile instrument. I remember sampling George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and thinking, “Oh my god this sounds like a perfect hip-hop instrumental!” At the time, I was attending an art school in Nantes. I was very focused on sound art and music. They kicked me out, which gave me the perfect opportunity to fully devote myself to music.


You discovered finger drumming by using the Akai MPC500. What was it about the process that inspired you to devote so much time to developing your skill-level?

I love the portability of pad controllers and the musical genres that rely on them. The research process you go through to create these very personal textures and sounds are very important to me. You can tune samples far more than you can tune a real snare drum. I can also put more of myself into the rhythms of the music by playing them. I love the trance state I enter when I’m in my home studio. Thanks to my previous drumming experience, and having created tracks with software, I already had the core skill sets. I just needed to combine them. I tweaked my finger positioning and started to work and play hard.

 

What sort of approach did you take when you started practicing your finger drumming?

I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. I’m very spontaneous when I create and have no habits. My approach is always the pursuit of pleasure, and feeling the desire to create. Since I started playing and making music, that hasn’t changed. My first sample mine was old vinyl I found in flea markets. Even the most shitty records sometimes have two chords that make my day. Fat basses are what I need to feel, so I got an old analog synth: the Korg MS-10 (plugged into the Korg SQ-10 sequencer). The people who designed that marvelous device where thirty years ahead of their time. It’s become a spine to my beats.

 

How did you transition into taking part in events like the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition?

After spending years developing my techniques, I knew I had to make the world know what I’ve worked for. Last year, I won a battle in Paris at the Bataclan, a legendary 90s hip-hop venue. Being acknowledged by the hip-hop network changed how I looked at myself and my music. It also made me be more specific in my thinking around who would be hearing my music. Battle audiences know exactly why they’re at the end. Battling is so raw; you find out what the crowd thinks of you instantaneously.

 

What were your thoughts on the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin?

The skill level was very high in Berlin. The team was so nice and devoted, and so were the participants. When I was there, I understood that I had found my place. Geeks were able to scratch and jam for hours, with or without spectators. It was a space where musicians were speaking a common language, all with the feel of a real community, and the codes and sounds that quote the subculture. It was real and vibrant, and it felt so good to be part of that experience. The experience was great. We need to gather together and feel those vibes more often.

 

Stay tuned for a new Melodics lesson from Beats Matazz. Find out more about him here on YouTube or Facebook.