Straight From The Rut? Beating the Production Blues with Brown!

What happens when your monster track, your soon to be #1, your epic Mau5killer, becomes a victim of the rut, aka the sticky blues, aka what the f@ck happened?

You know how it goes, this track is huge, it’s epic, seriously large, monstrous even madam. Then, weeks later, you’re either still struggling to finish it, hate it outright, or have condemned it to the dreaded Miscellaneous folder. What happened?

  • Your tune turned into the Never Ending Story. No track should take more than a week to finish. Any longer, and you risk losing perspective. It starts to get harder and harder to maintain objectivity after your nine hundredth listen.
  • You decided to go with the flow. The ‘let’s see where this goes’ approach can sometimes be a refreshing, liberating experience. Usually though, you just hit a dead end after about an hour, and wonder why you started the track in the first place. Ask yourself what you are attempting to achieve with the track. Are you trying to make the next Exceeder (please don’t)? Is it going to be a peak time club anthem, a moody introspective piece, or a filthy underground beast? Knowing the answers makes for a more productive production.
  • Your track had a beginning and a middle, but no real end. Always have a time limit in mind. Knowing that your track is going to be 5:30, for instance, with a minute each of intro and outro, means that the ‘meat’ of the track will be around 3 minutes. Establishing that before you hit the studio gives you direction, focus and confidence;  3 minutes looks achievable as opposed to that 9 minute ‘epic’ you will inevitably end up with.

So what should you do to beat the sticky blues?

  • Stop! Step away from the computer, and do anything for an hour. Anything at all. Go for a run, call your mum (using that antiquated device known as a telephone), play an old school shoot em up (R-Type), read a book, go for a drive (put that book down before you do), eat a burger (but don’t go to the pub-for obvious reasons), have a cuppa, anything at all. In my experience, the further away you are from the studio, the more you want to return to it.
  • What don’t you like about this tune? What’s the hold up here? Be specific and honest with yourself. Is the beat too flabby? Is the bassline not quite right? Is the tune crying out for a hook? Is it in desperate need of da funk? Do you have too much going on? In my experience, it’s usually not the entire track that’s at fault, just a couple of lazy players letting the side down. Find ’em, and eliminate. Be ruthless.
  • You know that epic outro melody you had in mind at around the 5 minute mark. Dump it! Sure, it’s a killer riff, and the crowd’s gonna go nuts, but it’s a bit too late to be bringing in a new element around the time the DJ will be mixing out of your track. Besides, having spent all that time on 5 minutes of tunage, do you really want to have to come up with yet another part? Leave it for a future anthem, and move on.
  • Need inspiration? Listen to some of your favorite dance tracks. Don’t compare and/or moan about how yours doesn’t sound as good. Just listen with non-technical ears. It can be a real joy. Watch some superstar DJs in action. Read some interviews from your favorite producers. Make fun of their accents/haircuts/wardrobes.
  • Stuck in the breakdown? Don’t over think it, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Listen to similar tracks in your genre, and make a note of the elements. Snare roll? Modulated noise wave? Vocal cut ups? Filtered madness? All of the above? What would work best for your track?
  • Have a play with your favorite synth, hard or soft, twiddle those knobs and caress those keys. You in the back, stop grinning.
  • Remember, the best dance tunes rarely have more than 4 elements and one main hook. Identify your ‘money shot’ and then run with it!
  • Also remember that even the biggest names in production occasionally experience the ‘stickies’ (that’s the industry term), and they have an army of assistants/butt-scratchers to bail them out should they bawl. If you’re an ‘underground’ guy, then you’re probably all you have, so go easy on yourself, eat some pizza, and watch some Seinfeld re-runs. Then go back and put that puppy to bed.


2000-A Synth Odyssey Part 2-Fabfilter One: Tweak my filter madam, it’s so squelchy!

The next synthesizer in our series is the ever so blue One from top Dutch developer Fabfilter.

It really is a marvel of simplicity, with its single analogue modeled oscillator (choice of square, triangle, saw and noise on the menu), ADSR, LFO with selectable waveforms (for some Oizo action), a couple of envelope/modulation generators, pulse width, and – the piece de resistance– a filter that is simply fahbulous darling. They don’t call themselves Fabfilter for nothin’ sistah…

It’s the 12 db/octave variety, and watch out boys cuz she’s a screamer!

Dry saw/square with filter. Nice!

One takes its inspiration from the Korg MS10, a modular beast that, among other things, could be used to make trunk calls to Burma.

I got this synth free off the Computer Music cover CD a few years ago, and quickly realized that it was no mere toy but a sonic blue blessing. Even though the CM version is monophonic, it has a raw sound to it; the square wave in particular is a great choice for bass/lead sounds. Even on its own, baby packs much back.

Electro cliche. Lots of low end (hello dolly) for a single oscillator. Dry synth+some drums.

It also has, in my never so humble opinion, a feature that has become essential in modern Electro production. No, not a DeadMole preset, but one of the best implementations of portamento to date in a virtual synthesizer.

Ain’t it bendy, Wendy? Interestingly enough, the portamento takes effect even when the notes do not overlap. That’s just fab (filter)!

Things got a whole lot more interesting with the version 3 update, which added polyphony and opened this baby up to the exciting world of chords. I knew I had to get me the ‘full’ version. Even with the single oscillator, One has some nice shimmery effervescent chords. Great for Nu Disco-ey stuff. That filter really adds some fizz to the top end. Like a bottle of Perrier. Just Dutch instead of French.

With some delay, delay, delay…

So what we have here is an extremely high quality, low CPU, easy to use synth that gets the job done with minimum fuss and then gets out of the way. It handles most of your electronic staple sounds in style, as well as a few more ‘unique’ ones (thanks to that waveform selecta). I use it like Tabasco, all over the place. Just doesn’t burn as much in the mornin…

So, are you Fab?

Join us next time, when we take a trip to the Bass Station…

Thanks for reading!

(c) All sounds lazy-programmed and sequenced by P Brown.

Check out last week’s feature on the Muon Tau

And the introduction to the series

  • July 2018
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  • Ingredients