Monthly Archives: April 2015


This is from, written by Zac Citron. Gotta give credit where it’s due. These are AMAZING. Zac wrote these basically as his preset self, to his past self.. and man, what great tips they are.

1. Trust your taste. In other words, don’t second guess yourself. Who are you doing this for anyway?

2. Stop crapping on popular music for your ego. You can learn from anything. In fact, it’s wise to learn from music that millions listen to.

3. Using loops doesn’t make you a “fake” artist. It’s the end product that counts. Look at the gaming industry. Do you know how many of them use Unity? Or Unreal? What matters is the game. What matters is the music.

4. Same goes with samples.

5. Having a beverage while you produce will make the process much more fluid. Arguably it’s the caffeine. Arguably it’s having something to reach for in between empty moments.

6. Get a nice pair of headphones or monitors ASAP. Frequency response is important. Bass is important.

7. Mixing is not mysterious judo. Go ahead and mix. Make bad mixes. Eventually, you’ll make good mixes.

8. Mastering is not mysterious judo. Go ahead and master. Make bad masters. Eventually, you’ll make good masters.

9. Buy a quality sample pack as soon as possible. Here are some quality packs incuding a free one.

10. Let music you don’t like or understand warm up to you. Chances are you’ll dig it once it’s familiar.

11. Repetition is important and minimalism is key but don’t use these as an excuse to ignore that last 20% of polish. Give your tracks that spit shine sheen.

12. No one cares until they do. Work on your craft and put it out.

13. If there’s no market for your work they may never care. Do you care?

14. If you don’t enjoy listening to your music you’re doing something wrong (or working for hire).

15. Start building a reliable way to connect with people who want your music. Email list is a good idea.

16. Free shouldn’t literally mean free. Give it out for a purpose. Facebook likes? SoundCloud followers? Email subscribers?

17. Think about where people will listen to your music. What is the setting? This should inform your production.

18. Think about what people will listen to your music. Who are they? This should inform your production.

19. Don’t resist learning music theory. Music theory is a map. You can navigate without it but it’s handy to have.

20. Don’t compare yourself too much to professional artists. Especially not early on.

21. DO aim for the quality of these pro artists. But again, do not let them stunt you.

22. You’ll reach a point where your music is actually on par with professionals and you’ll only recognize it looking back.

23. It doesn’t matter what DAW you use.

24. The final production is what matters — not how it’s made.

25. I repeat. The final production is what matters — not how it’s made.

26. Don’t ever make excuses with regards to tools. You can make amazing music with 100% free software. Remember that $400 you spent on synths that Deadmau5 was known to use? You’ll use those for about two songs.

27. New tools do provide opportunities for new directions. Spice up your production once in a while by acquiring a new plugin, sample pack, or instrument.

28. You know that guitar you’ve played for half your life? Stop pretending you don’t want to use it and get an interface. I recommend this one.

29. Invest in a solid microphone to go with that interface. I recommend this one.

30. There are four tiers of audio equipment.

  1. Cheap
  2. Solid enough for pro use. Consumer level pricing.
  3. “Pro” which is marginally better than number 2.
  4. Expensive.

Tier two is good enough. Ignore the rest. When you make a living off of music you can splurge.

31. Never get angry or upset at change. People who yell about the music industry crumbling or that streaming is taking over the world are exhibiting resistance. Accept the world for what it is and look for opportunities. The obstacle is the way.

32. Deadmau5 began his production journey around age 16. He exploded 14 years later. Mostly because of market conditions. Kaskade’s “active years” according to Wikipedia begin in 1989. Aim for the slow burn not overnight success.

33. Start building up a following now. Fan by fan. Never forget the power of one more fan. One more listener. One more email subscriber.

34. You don’t need a million twitter followers to be a success. All you need is one thousand true fans. This may not literally be one thousand.

35. Treat your music promotion like a boot-strapped blog. It’s surprisingly analogous.

36. Your side project of writing and your eventual day job as a game designer will provide incredible perspective on making art. This will inform your music. Vary yourself.

37. Compression is overrated.

38. EQ is overrated.

*Clarification: Compression and EQ are nothing more than hammers in your toolbox. Learn how to wield them. Use them to get the job done.

39. In fact, most technical aspects of production are overrated. Focus on the emotion and the energy. You’ll write a book about this.

40. If you’re sitting on unreleased music for two or more years consider licensing it. Sell the beats. Do something with it. Chances are you’ll just sit on them anyway.

41. Vocals are like cheat codes for engagement and interest in your track.

42. Provide value to others. In time, they’ll provide value to you.

43. The people I’ve seen have the most success do it by physically knowing and interacting the most. Playing the game online can work but it’s harder because the barrier of entry is lower — everyone is doing it, and it’s far less personal.

44. Ignore vanity metrics like “number of tracks” or “song length.” These have no bearing on the final quality of the song.

45. As Rolf Potts says in his book “Vagabonding” about world travel, “If in doubt about what to do in a place, just start walking.” Similarly, if you get stuck with a piece just start messing around. Eventually what you’re looking for will find you.

46. Break all the rules. On purpose. Make this a dedicated effort. You’ll learn why they exist and how malleable they really are.

47. Label and name your tracks and project files. It really really really helps when revisiting things. You still won’t do this even if I tell you to.

48. Never ever export a song and call it “final.” That’s a slippery slope.

49. Use [track name]_[purpose]_[date] where purpose is something like “mix” or “mastered” or “demo” or “forJuan.”

50. You appreciate production more during periods of your life when it’s your escape. I know you want to drop everything and produce but understand it will lose some allure. Opportunity cost is a fiend.

51. Your speakers can deteriorate overtime. This will cause you to remaster an album 8 times in the future. Trust your monitors yet be diligent that their time may come.

52. The real important difference between analog and digital equipment is the ability to play and touch analog. Not quality.

53. In the absence of analog equipment, get a MIDI keyboard with knobs, wheels, and faders if possible. At least knobs.

54. Your family genuinely enjoys listening to your music. Share it with them.

55. You know your friends genuinely enjoy your music if their play count is more than two.

56. If you want to make a big diversion or edit in your track do a “Save As” and name it “[track name]_[reason for edit].” Then feel free to make changes. You can always go back to the initial file.

57. Keep volume at a decent level. No reason to blow your head off.

58. Make sure you check your mixes when the track is loud and when the track is quiet.

59. When the track is quiet you should be able to hear the most important parts of your track clearly.

60. Mixing is 90% volume and 10% remembering it’s mostly volume.

61. Mastering is 90% volume and 10% fixing your mix.

62. Back up your music. Dropbox didn’t exist when you started so grab an external hard drive. Losing your work is awful.

63. Never let dollars impede your creative progress.

64. Producing on a laptop is less enjoyable than having a bigger screen. Get the iMac instead of the Macbook. Or, buy a display for your laptop. Regardless, you’ll use a 13-inch MacBook for awhile.

65. If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes adjusting a parameter you’ve lost objectivity. Set it and come back later. Preferably another day. Or after you’ve substantially disengaged from production.

66. You’re not gonna become famous by creating some crazy new synth patch. Each piece serves the whole.

67. You can’t force your voice. You’ll stumble and mimic your way to a point where your voice begins coming through. Let it. Be vulnerable. Trust your choices. Eventually it comes out.

68. There is a difference between a track you casually throw up on SoundCloud and something you’ve officially released. Put care and value into your releases. People respond to this.

69. Find someone to do visual design for you. Album covers, web design, logos, etc. — they’re all important for creating a holistic experience and meeting audience expectations. Most people don’t do this which means you should.

70. Always pay for visual art. If the person declines compensation buy them lunch. If they won’t take lunch yell at them.

71. Whenever you struggle or doubt yourself remember why you got into this in the first place. Making music is fun. If you’re struggling you’ve forgotten the fun.

72. Sometimes the fun isn’t there. Go do something else.

RECORDING: Hip-Hop Production Tools


Lately I’ve been getting more into hip-hop production (I wax and wane, musically– sometimes I’m all about the shoegaze, sometimes I’m all about the poppunk, and sometimes it’s old country/honky tonk). Today, I’m all about the hip-hop.

Hip-hop has evolved insanely, since it was first invented. Without going into the history of it, let’s talk about the tools used.

Back in the day (80s/early 90s)

strictly hardware–
Emu SP-1200
Akai MPC60
Akai MPC2000
Akai MPC2000XL (and all MPCs)
Roland TR-808 and TR-909 (used heavily in 80s rap/electro)
These were great tools, for their time. But I feel they’re all truly outdated, these days (I know I’ll get a ton of shit for saying that). I’ll be the first to admit and know that all the best hip-hop records from back in the day have been made on the 2000, or the 60, or the 1200. I guarantee (without researching) that Wu-Tang made “36 Chambers” on the 60 or the 2000. And I believe Nas’ “Illmatic” was made on a 60. Oldschool hip-hop (late 70s/80s) was made primarily on the 1200 or the 60. I think all the Tribe Called Quest records were produced by Q-Tip on the MPC60 or the MPC2000.

Again, these were great tools, for their time. And keep in mind– the people who used the tools were (and still are) some talented, passionate cats.

Back in the day / Golden-era / Underground (early 90s-early 2000s)

Fruity Loops (now FL Studio)

These, again, were great tools for their time. Nothing like the MPC back in the day. No doubt. But then, as computers became more powerful, the capabilities and potential really took the spotlight away from the MPC.

Present (2010-2015)

Native Instruments Maschine (Studio, MK2, Mikro, and all MKI’s)
Akai MPC Renaissance / MPC Studio
FL Studio
Poise VST

and to a lesser degree:

Now, why the hell would people prefer software instead of hardware, right? There’s always a chance of your computer bugging out or crashing or whatever. The MPC (aka “empee”) has dominated hip-hop and rap production easily for 25+ years. But, I have to say that that era is over. Software/hardware combos are better. They’re faster. More efficient. More powerful. Better workflow, the whole nine.

This is so freakin’ easy, right? Yes.

I have Maschine Studio, and LOVE it. I wouldn’t consider myself a hip-hop producer, but I definitely dabble, and I know what I’m doing, by and large. I have owned an MPC1000 in the past, and I have owned various hardware and nothing touches Maschine. It’s so friggin’ easy to chop samples, as you can see in that video.

Nothing touches the new stuff.

I’m not going to talk about the Akai MPC Renaissance, because my personal experience with it hasn’t been intuitive or fast. Maschine owns.

If you’re new to hip-hop or beat production, I highly recommend either picking up Maschine, or a 4×4 MIDI pad controller (Korg PadKontrol, Akai MPD26, Akai MPD18, etc) and use the Poise VST within a DAW (such as Reaper). You’ll save money, and you’ll be way ahead of the game once you learn the basics.

It’s cheaper and easier than ever to get into this stuff. I wish I was 16, today. When I was 16, computers still sucked (I had a Windows computer that had 2MB ram… yes, you read that right… it wasn’t enough to keep Windows 3.1 from crashing constantly, as it needed 4MB). I couldn’t even have dreamed of even picking up an MPC2000XL, as they were well over $1000 back then (even in 1992), but shit man, these days? There’s just no excuse….

I wish I could write more, but I’m feeling restless today, and I’m hungry…. I love real hip-hop, and you should, too. 🙂


recommended listening for April 25th, 2015:
Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory (1991)
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Little Brother – The Listening (2003)
Buck 65 – ANYTHING pre-2005… Vertex, Square, Synesthesia, etc.
Sage Francis – Personal Journals (2002)
J-Live – The Best Part (2001)
and countless others!!!!

RECORDING: the truly best VSTi plugins (virtual instruments)

And, the best CHEAP ones…..

I hate and have hated looking for VST plugins. When I first discovered them in the early 2000s, I was addicted to finding the best free ones. Occasionally I get addicted still today, searching for newer stuff I may have missed. Let me give you a list of the absolute best… and, in the interest of saving time, I’m not going to include a screenshot of each. Just trust me when I say, these are the best free ones, and the best cheap ones. If I didn’t include a link, just google it, you’ll easily find where to download them.


FREE Grand Piano

PianoOne (by Yichi Wang). Download from It needs a little tweaking of the “release” fader (bump it up from minimum, just a little beyond it) and enjoy the wonderful (and quite realistic) piano sounds you get from it.
mda Piano (by Maxim Digital Audio). Extremely lightweight. Very nice. Make sure you click the “VST Synths” link at the top (hard to read).


FREE Electric Piano (Rhodes and Wurlies)

Lazysnake (by Andreas Ersson). Destroys most others. Has wah, tremolo, overdrive, etc. Sick-sounding Rhodes and not-quite-Rhodes. They always sit in a mix perfectly. Extremely useful plugin.

Legacy Collection by GSi/ MrRay73 and MrRay73 version II are GREAT Rhodes emulators, as well as Mr Tramp, fur Wurlitzer 200 piano sounds. Also included in the collection is a great Hammond B3 emulator called Organized Trio. When you first insert the plugins, they nag you to donate, but there are no sound limitations. You just have to wait a few seconds to edit the parameters, but they work, and they work great. Download at


FREE Synths

Synth1 (by Ichiro Toda). This is one of the first, and the best. The presets and banks (made by users for over a decade) can be difficult to install/add, but this thing is so programmable and so damn good-sounding, it’s a shame to pass it up. Also has a step arpeggiator built-in. Sick. Gives Nord Leads a run for their money, no doubt.

ANYTHING and EVERYTHING from Togu Audio Line (TAL). Specifically the TAL UNO-62 (a perfect Juno-60), and Noizemaker, which is so insanely useful, I can’t even get into it. Plus, nearly all parameters are MIDI-learnable (if you have a nice midi controller with lots of knobs/faders). Download all their completely free plugins (for Mac AND PC!) here—-

Aethereal (by Psychic Modulation) – ambient/pad heaven. Gives Atmosphere a run for its money, and then some. The demo is limited to two notes polyphony, and one audio output, but it’s worth it, believe me. And the price is right for the full version. Lots of great presets.

Crystal (by Green Oak) – mentioned EVERYWHERE online. A must-download.


FREE Drums

This is a tough one. There aren’t many good ones at all. I’d recommend using a free sampler such as ShortCircuit. You can load your own wav samples of drum one-shots, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of, once you do. There are tutorials on YouTube on how to use it. Stick with version 1.1.1, and stay away from ShortCircuit2, as it’s very unstable and crashes constantly.


FREE arpeggiators

Kirnu (by Arto Vaarala). This is one of the most easy-to-use, beautiful-looking, and powerful arpeggiators, PERIOD! Throw it before your favorite synth plugin in your DAW, and have tons of fun.


CHEAP, amazing stuff

For drums / sampling / hip-hop production

Poise ( Windows-only (but hopefully Mac, soon!) Who the hell needs an MPC anymore, or even Native Instruments’ Maschine? (I love Maschine, for the record)… but, if you’re on an insanely tight budget, all you need is Poise and an Akai MPD18. Poise is $49. The MPD18 is $99 new. Watch tutorial videos I made, on YouTube, to see how freakin’ awesome it is. I can never live without this amazing plugin.

Cheap arpeggiators

CTHULHU by Xfer Records. It’s like Kirnu, but 1000 times more powerful, fun, and intuitive. If you like arpeggiators…. you NEED this. Comes with a shit-ton of classical chord sequences, that you can arpeggiate, or create your own (playing songs essentially with one key at a time). INSANELY awesome. Only $39.

Also, when you subscribe to (or buy a physical copy of) Computer Music magazine, you get the “CM COLLECTION.” LOTS of great stuff, in there, too. That magazine introduced me to the absolute power of recording with a computer, when I first bought an issue in early 2000. The technology has moved so fast, though. So new issues can be intimidating… however, they always include a chapter (in EVERY ISSUE) called CM Basics or whatever, and they cover everything you need to know, if you’re new to this.

What are some of YOUR favorites?