What I Have Learnt while Doing my Arts Award

My Silver Arts Award in music production is nearly over. This means that it’s time to review what fun things have been happening over the past year or so.

In the beginning, I wanted to create better basslines and melodies. I wanted to make my tunes stand out. I wanted to give a certain quality in my tunes to make them identifiable to me.

My Development of Musical Understanding and Inspiration:

When I first started really listen to electronic music in late 2011 and early 2012, I noticed how my early inspirations back then, which were artists like Skrillex and Knife Party, seemed to have particular qualities about their music which made them instantly recognisable. It is very easy to tell when a song is made by Skrillex – he uses particular bass sounds. At the time though, I had no idea what made the songs so recognisable.

I researched a lot into artists like these and their character sounds, and how many of them share the same conventions. For example, big brostep drops always have growly basses, otherwise, they’re just not effective. I also spent loads of time digging through the comments to videos of these songs on YouTube and learnt tonnes about peoples’ attitudes towards the scenes; I also came across haters and trolls.

All of this though was to successfully-become a well-rounded music fan who knows about many different genres, their characteristics and the scenes related to them.

Learning about these scenes of music opened up new ideas for inspiration. In early 2013, I discovered techno; I’d been listening to it a bit beforehand, but I didn’t really know what it was until I thought about the inspirations of the songs which I was listening to. Techno is a very experimental genre and I found it very hard to define at first, and I spent a lot of my time relating techno with house, as well as trying to compare many different other sub-genres with each other. I’d learnt in the early stages of my research that different sub-genres have different characteristics.

However, listening to more music made me realise that there are tonnes of cross-overs of genres for songs – a song doesn’t have to follow the outdated convention of being tied to one genre. For example, you can make techno song with an electro house bass in it.

This realisation that one should be able to combine genres lead me to create the song ‘Unexpectations’, which if you haven’t heard yet is below:

Even now, I can’t really give it a genre, despite me labelling it as techno because that is what the structure was originally based upon. It has a techno beat, an electro house bass and trancy leads and pads.

Being able to cross over genres has given me plenty of new inspiration and ideas. I’ve learnt now that you don’t have to follow conventions to make a song popular; in fact, going against conventions can help you to stand out.

I am now willing to accept inspiration from any electronic sub-genre. Deep house is my favourite sub-genre currently, but I will see what I can do to experiment with it.

In terms of musicality though, I still feel like I am unable to write a decent tune. A lot of my favourite house tracks have really sophisticated tunes and I just can’t work out how they are so catchy. I don’t do GCSE Music so I don’t know anything about musical elements and I’ve only done Grade 1 piano. Therefore, I wouldn’t describe myself as a real musician. I’ve seen YouTube masterclasses from producers like Avicii, who is able to come up with a good tune instantly on his keyboard – he is a real musician. I just don’t understand how he does it.

I guess that sometimes, all you need to do is try out random chords on the keyboard and see if they work, that way you can learn about effective musical construction.

How What I Have Learnt Fits In with My Arts Award:

I know that it will take me a long time to be able to work out how to construct an effective melody, but I feel that the work which I have done for the Arts Award so far is good enough. From now on, I’m not going to worry about getting a singer involved in a new tune, like I said I would do a while ago. I’m just going to create one last tune before deciding the final tracks for my EP. From the very positive feedback which I have received from my current work, I do not need to push myself any harder at this stage.

I think that instead of concentrating on the artistic side of music production, at the moment, I should look at how to create a track which is technically good, in other words using appropriate compression, EQing and any other mastering.

Thank goodness then that my tutor gave me some thorough rundowns of how to properly master a track, from using compression and EQ effects on each of the tracks in a song to make them sound properly created and blending well together… to doing master compression.

In this stage, I also learnt that it is not good to rely on headphones to master a track – doing it with proper studio monitors means that your ears can hear the compression in detail. I found that the songs which I had made on headphones sounded very over-compressed and so did my tutor.

There are plenty more technicalities of mastering which I could learn, but for now, I feel that I know enough to carry on with producing and self-teach myself using trial and error.

My first EP will be four the tracks which I have created as part of my Arts Award challenge – I will choose the best four. Then, I will release a second EP which, like the first one, will be self-released on SoundCloud. With the second one however, I will not release the tracks over a period of time. Instead, I will release them all at once, much like one would do in releasing a real EP. Once I do my first EP, then I will consider getting payment, or even sending it to a label. Labels which I think would be interested in my musical style include underground house labels, such as Moda Black, Black Butter Records and Food Music.

Conclusion:

The big question is for me: do I feel like I have fulfilled my Arts Award challenge? Well, sort of. For one, my EP is not finished; I shall get down to finishing one more track before my collection of songs can officially be called an EP.

In terms of learning from doing the Arts Award, I think that I have learnt enough in terms of gaining inspiration from different artists, about different musical genres and their conventions, about my creative abilities, and about mastering and making a track sound professionally made, in order to set me on the first footings of becoming a successful producer. I know that it is good to be different and random when choosing instrumentation and genres for a song, and that focusing on having a signature sound rather than feeling the need to fit genre conventions is what is needed to become an artist which many people will uniquely recognise.

I’ve Run My Own Workshop!

As part of my Art Award, I had to lead a teaching event, and as my tutor’s music charity, Readipop, was starting up some taster sessions for music, then I thought why not host a workshop on DJing.

So, that’s precisely what I did. With my tutor and some other assistants, we set up some DJ equipment in a school youth centre and got round to teaching a few kids on the basics of DJing.

We had two setups: one with my Numark Mixtrack Pro and MacBook (for the ‘easy’ level) and the other with two Pioneer CDJ-1000MK2s and a Vestax mixer which my tutor brought in (for explaining on a more advanced level).

DJ workshop in session

Above: either setup was put on either side of a pool table, which was very elegant as it meant just going from one side to the other to change setups, and thus change difficulty level.

My teaching was very thorough, which was necessary as the participants were understandably not very familiar with the equipment and when planning, I thought that they would be more comfortable with working out how the controls worked – this was good in that I was able to talk to them more about the advanced uses of the controls, and even fit some chatting in there; I noticed that the boys seemed to like Eminem and dubstep music a lot so we used some of those songs as examples.

The downside to the thorough explanation though was that I was not able to explain all of the areas which I wanted – I did not get onto loops or effects, which I feel are important basic areas to know about when DJing.

The boys were also very keen in trying to practice playing tracks and manipulating them, which went on for much longer than I thought, but this is understandable, as it is good for kids to get hands on and it meant that they were getting used to it, which makes progress in the long term, even if I didn’t explain all of the controls. It is important to get used to the absolute basic level before you have any other information thrown over the top of your head, and the old saying is right: it really is better to learn how to walk before you can run.

Despite this, I still managed to get through the important features, like the pitch control, about how BPM (beats per minute) works, how songs are structured and how to keep them in time. I also mentioned the Sync button and what its effect was (instantly setting the tempo and the timing of one track to be the same as the other one), and I mentioned that although some see the button as cheating, it is OK when you are learning in the early stages. After all, I still can’t manually beatmatch and I’ve been learning how to DJ for nearly 2 years.

I then did a small mix demo on how to get two songs to play together and how to transition from one to the other. I explained techniques like fading, cutting, dropping and chopping. It was difficult for them to understand it at first, but for someone seeing it for the first time, it is probably quite bewildering to see two tracks trying to be controlled at once, almost like trying to use a sixth sense, because one boy said that he didn’t realise that DJs have to control two tracks at the same time instead of playing one after another (like with an iPod) – a common misconception. Because I knew that this would be confusing, I demonstrated how cuing up songs works – I playing a song through the main output while cuing up a completely different song on the headphones, before chopping over to the new one. When I left them to try it, for a while, they were playing two songs at the same time completely out of beat and not transitioned over; they improved obviously, but I underestimated the amount of control needed to manage two different records and in time – they were doing very well for complete first timers. Understandably, they also liked to do a lot of scratching – it is probably the most amusing technique to try out, especially when you are starting out.

Above: I let my participants have some goes. They seemed to like scratching a lot.

Above: I let my participants have some goes. They seemed to like scratching a lot.

Back to the point about iPods and playing one song after the other, I explained at the beginning the true importance of DJing and why it should be taken seriously rather than not using one and just using an iPod; I mentioned the following points about what iPods can’t do in comparison to DJs:

  • An iPod can’t judge the audience and choose appropriate songs to suit the mood of the audience.
  • An iPod can’t cue up a song (while another is playing) so that it can be played exactly on beat when it comes in; instead, there is a pause while the track loads and this kills the atmosphere.
  • An iPod can’t mix songs in order to keep the set of music continuous.
  • An iPod doesn’t know how to respond to many different peoples’ requests.
  • An iPod can’t speak or interact to the audience and create an entertaining event - it’s only music.
  • Using an iPod is not being an audience to an art form.

This last point is very important; I mentioned at the very beginning of the workshop that DJing, like playing the piano, drums or guitar, is an art form, and not what a lot of youngsters these days regard as showing off (they are looking at mad turntablists). Letting a computer decide a set number of songs is not art – it does not translate into a real aesthetic experience. Having a real person control music means that they understand peoples’ emotions and attitudes towards music and so can use artistic, logical and critical thinking skills to reflect and satisfy those emotions with appropriately-chosen music, with appropriately-chosen skills.

This is why I thought that doing a DJ workshop would be useful, so that kids can understand how the art form works, especially as electronic music and being a DJ has become a massive trend over the past couple of years (with artists/DJs such as David Guetta, Skrillex, Steve Angello, deadmau5, Knife Party, Afrojack, Major Lazer, Disclosure, Avicii and DJ Fresh (and the list goes on) making it big around the world), and so it is in my opinion a good art form to be aware of, because it is only going to get more popular. I know that kids have a lot of misconceptions about how DJing actually works which is why this workshop was necessary to set the record straight on how it does work. I think that I did quite well at it and I would be happy to do it again for another group of kids, although next time, I’d do better at understanding their skill level.

Why My EP Has Not Been Released Yet and the Future of My Music Career

So, I may have been saying since about August that I would ‘soon’ release a new EP called ‘Bass Matters’ which would contain 3 tracks. There are some reasons why that EP has not come.

Since I set my Arts Award challenge of creating an EP back in October, my ideas as to how I want to progress my music production career have changed dramatically, which include:

  • Which genres I want to include in my work
  • Where my inspirations are coming from
  • What format and structure I want my records to be in

Last year, I was heavily inspired by the likes of dubstep, brostep, glitch hop, drum and bass and other rave-friendly electronic genres. I listened to rather enough of it though and it all became just noise to me, and I realised that it all followed the same format – growly basses and overly-compressed drums… and I swear that two thirds of dubstep tracks are in the same key: F minor.

Although I appreciate the art of big electronic artists like Skrillex who make all of this dirty music, I figured that it was the wrong idea to jump on to an over-loaded bandwagon of the same stuff. It’s like piling water bottles into a truck, to the point where they are all rolling out, and then you try to add another one. Why’s the new one any different? It’s just water and PVC, just like all of the other bottles.

What I am trying to say from this is that I found it hard to work out how to be original in a scene which has just too many artists, with too much attention being thrown at it.

I thought to myself therefore that the dub/bro step craze was kind of ‘last year’. In fact, more than that. It mostly became popular in 2011.

Therefore, I started listening a lot more broadly to other, more raw types of electronic music, such as techno, deep house and early progressive house (including some of deadmau5′s older stuff). It gave me a feel as to how to make electronic music sound good at a very basic level – the raw art of music. That was all during early 2013 where I was having a break from producing.

It was then that I decided to have a go at making a techno track myself, which led to my track Unexpectations, which you can check out here:

It then struck me as to how I could make my music unique. I realised after making the above track that it included many different elements of different genres. For example, it has a techno structure and beat, but has the synths of progressive house, and the bass of electro.

Therefore, a new element which I decided to include was to include many different styles of electronic music into whatever genre I am making, basically making ‘cross-over’ tracks.

Having said this, it means that I have broadened my range of inspirations. I am no longer looking at just dubstep and that kind of scene like I was last year, but all types of electronic music.

One genre which I think could be worth experimenting with is deep house, which has been growing steadily in mainstream popularity, but is not quite up to the radar like dubstep has become. It would be worth taking the opportunity to utilise it while it is becoming popular for people to recognise and enjoy my use of the genre while it’s popular.

One major example of a deep house track which has become successful is this one by Disclosure:

My recent love for deep house began when I was walking into a Superdry store while I was on holiday in May and I heard this kind of music playing, and I saw on their computer screens which album they were playing and it was this one:

…and when I got home, I bought it straight away.

Yes, I know that I lot of people don’t think that Ministry of Sound’s compilations give accurate examples of their supposed genres, but at least it’s a starting point. Since then however, I have bought more compilations from Defected and SubSoul, which also seem to be becoming popular.

With this deep house genre, I want to experiment with it as much as possible to make it easier for me to introduce my own unique production techniques.

In doing so, I would like to include tracks with and without vocals, as collaborating with vocalists increases your exposure and popularity.

This leads me on to another reason as to why my EP isn’t out: after I decided on 3 tracks, I then decided to squeeze in a 4th one, which includes vocals. I have the base track but I’m in the process of getting into contact with a singer who can work with me on this (which should be exciting). Here is the track in its current state:

I have decided to halt production on it for now so that I can easily collaborate with the singer, not only to record vocals, but also to decide together about the structure of the song, which is more of a robust collaborative process for me to learn.

My first EP, Bass Matters, is really just going to be a starting point. It will be for tracks which I really haven’t put any routine or strictly unique production styles into, but after that, my following EP should have a lot more focus and structure to it, and it should be longer. It may even become an album if I spend enough time on it.

After gathering ideas as to how I want to progress my music production into the future by working on this first EP, I now have very firm ideas as to what sort of music I want to create. From now on, my music will have a strong sense of continuity and unique sounds to my artist name, which is really how many producers become famous. For example, it’s very easy to recognise when a track has been made by Skrillex; he uses similar sounds for each of his songs and remixes.

Not only sounds will I be confident with producing, but also more with production techniques.

A couple of weeks ago I had my track ‘Unexpectations’ listened to by another producer named Gavin, who I believe is another organiser for the charity that my tutor works for, Readipop. He said that he was able to tell that my track had been made on headphones because he described as ‘overcompressed’, and I will admit the sound is not exactly as clean as it could be. What could have made it overcompressed is that when I applied sidechain compression to all of my instruments, the audio that was going to the sidechain was all of the drums together.

To fix that, I copied the project file, took away all of the drums except for the kick drum in the sidechain, then raised all of the thresholds and lowered some of the input gains for the compressors, so that now the sound is lot cleaner and I will show this new and improved version to my tutor, but I am not going to re-release the track because then I would lose the view count on my channel from deleting the old one and would make me look like I am not very good at mastering my songs. Having said this, I will apply this compression fixing technique to all of the rest of my works, and listen to the song on not just headphones, but on my PC speakers, on my big PA speakers and even on my phone to see how the song sounds on different devices. It would be really nice to have some monitor speakers but I cannot afford any at the moment because good ones are hundreds of pounds.

Gavin also taught me about good collaboration technique which I mentioned earlier, about how when working with a singer, you should experiment with different lyrics and then re-arrange them to suit the song, rather than reading off of lyrics like in pop music, because a big element of electronic music is arrangement; this creates a more robust collaborative process. He mentioned also how vocals are only needed if the track is gentle and repetitive like in house music to make it more interesting, not if there is a lot of progression like in uplifting trance.

Thankfully, the new track that I am producing is meant to be deep house so vocals should fit well with it.

When I finally finish the track and release the EP, I will release it for free rather than making people pay for it, as it is a starting point and not that brilliant, so it is not worth charging for something which some people may not be impressed by. It also means that you are not under pressure to produce more tracks quickly, as people will perceive you as being a firm producer and so will expect a lot from you; people who charge for their music are normally well-established producers, which I am not near yet. I still need to work at my own pace and structure my time around other areas of my life (I will be preparing for my GCSEs over the next year) before I can go at it full speed.

However, the main reason that I want to release for free is because the focus is not on making money from my music, but instead I want to grow my audience, which releasing for free allows for more easily than making people pay, as people do not know what to expect from me and so will be disappointed if what they buy is rubbish and they will want their money back. It also means that downloading is more easy (it would be an instant download) and accessible to anyone, as not everyone is either able or willing to pay for music on a regular basis, and means that it is spread more easily and more people will download it.

There are many examples of producers who have released their first EPs for free and have become successful. A good one is Skrillex’s first EP, ‘My Name Is Skrillex’ (2010):

I do hope to get signed to a label at some point, but doing so means that you are under more pressure to produce more tracks and so that makes you more worried about your producing, even though being under pressure can sometimes make you more creative and successful.

Overall though, being rest assured that people would be less disappointed with getting my EP for free than if they bought it if it was bad quality, and without being under any pressure and excessive time consumption (as my life is quite busy), releasing my music for free is the best choice for the moment.

In other terms of how I want to progress my music further in the future, my current choices are the following:

  • Club DJ
  • Sound engineer / studio producer

The way I am working at the moment is as a mobile DJ and producer. I know how mobile DJs get to work at special events such as weddings, but I have always been the sort of person that likes to be creative with people’s music, which is why club DJing would be a better choice for me in the future, as you are able to play a mix of records and use special equipment such as effects processors manipulate the beat (creative-choices.co.uk). You are also able to choose a style of music which will suit a particular style of audience in order to keep them dancing (nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk) compared to a mobile environment where you have to cater for many different peoples’ interests in music; this former would be better for me as I would like to spend more time focusing on the creativity and intricacy of mixing. Club DJs also don’t talk very much (if at all) compared to a mobile DJ where they have to be the Master of Ceremonies for the party (hotcourses.com) and use conversation links to liven the party (creative-choices.co.uk); I’m not really the sort of person who likes speaking in front of loads of people. Club DJs sometimes have an MC with them who talks instead of the DJ (nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk) which would be a better approach for me than having me talk, even though I’d prefer to not have an MC babbling over my music all of the time.

I’ve also always had an interest in sound engineering; I’ve helped out with many school productions, assemblies and shows with the sound, as well as even working alongside professionals, and I’ve always been fascinated by the intricacy involved. However, that is just one small use of sound engineering. It can be applied to many different applications such as commercial music, media (such as radio, TV, films, commercials and computer games), corporate videos and websites (nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk). Work involved could include planning recording sessions, setting up microphones, checking and operating dynamics and sound levels, and using mixers, sequencers and mastering. Unfortunately, the salary is comparatively low (£13,000 to start) which is why I would like to have club DJing as a side career to have more money coming in, and so I can have two things to enjoy in my life. By day I would be in a studio, then by night I would be playing in the club (though hopefully not every night; I want a social life as well).

I would of course still be producing my own music and hopefully combining the engineer side with some collaboration as well. Producers/DJs can get seriously famous by collaborating with famous pop singers. A good example of someone who has done this is Calvin Harris, who has produced many tracks for artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Cheryl Cole and Rihanna.

What I have mentioned is that I hope to include more underground genres in my work as they are more easy to experiment with to create unique sounds, while being inspired by a much wider range of artists and genres than I was last year (both underground and mainstream) and I hope to include a more consistent theme to my musical style, while releasing my records for free for the moment. For careers, I have mentioned that I want to be a sound engineer as a main career, while also doing club DJing to have something else to look forward to.

British Music Experience Review

Yesterday I visited the British Music Experience museum at the O2 in London. The first thing to say is that I have never before been so emersed in musical history, because this museum holds practically all records about music that has shaped our modern culture in Britain. Here is their promo video:

Before I even got there I knew that they keep up with modern customer desires – they use ‘smart tickets’ which allow you to bookmark your favourite parts of the exhibits – there were card readers throughout the museum where you just place the card on the reader and it registers for you (a bit like an Oyster card); you can then look back at what you have seen, on the website.

When you got in you were shown a really well-made video explaining what they have in the exhibits and how the smart ticket works.

I also knew, when I entered the main exhibition area (which they call ‘The Core’), that they ensure a pleasing appearance, with a multitude of lighting and projector effects throughout.

I was a little bit surprised as to how small the whole museum was, but that didn’t matter – there was already enough information to take in…

They had certain rooms designated to certain time periods and eras of British music. It started off with the mid-50s when Britain was inspired by American styles such as jazz and blues, creating the skiffle genre, which was responsible for creating pop music (with groups such as The Beatles and The Kinks), while some artists started to use harder sounds, forming early rock music – more artists started to follow this trend and some used inspirations from other genres such as RnB from the US, creating many diverse styles of rock – in the mid-70s during harsh economic times, artists such as the Sex Pistols started punk rock to protest, while other artists were developing hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal started to appear in the 80s, which was also a time when electronic instruments had started to be used by pop artists making electro-pop and new wave, which inspired underground rock artists to a new genre: brit pop, which was responsible for the more modern pop sounds, e.g. with boy and girl bands, and singer-songwriters, which is where we are in the present day.

It was totally fascinating experiencing this broad journey of how musical styles have evolved throughout time, and I’m sure, if you are a musician and keen in this gripping history, then I’m sure that you will love it too.

There were bucket-loads of interactive artefacts with hundreds of video clips and timelines which give insight into certain genres’ histories. There were even display cases filled with historic and valuable items, including guitars and clothes that various rock legends have played and worn, but they’re not your stereotypical boring cabinets with tiny bits of text – you put headphones on and a commentary gives more information about them, with video clips of them being used, on screens to the side.

It doesn’t stop there either. There were also displays (with headphones and commentaries) of various types of playback mediums used throughout history, such as gramaphones, cassette players and VCRs. Opposite were screens with headphones, with timelines of big broadcasts (e.g. TV and radio shows) throughout the years.

I’m not even nearly finished. There was a touchscreen (and headphones), which they called ‘Hey DJ!’ which showcases classic and important dance tracks (most were from the acid house era of the 1980s).

Last, but certainly not least, there was an interactive studio with various instruments and a vocal booth, with video tutorials on how to play them – I had a go at the guitar.

At the end of the visit, you are put into a room with a great big 3-sided cinema screen, with a number of screens behind it giving 3-dimensional effects, with strobe lights and a big sound system – in here they show highlights from famous concert videos – the lights and the sound really make you feel like you’re at a festival.

Coming here I think has really been valuable to me, to understand more about how modern styles of music and cultures of music in Britain have formed, and how people used to experience music.

I rate this museum 4 out of 5 – I would love to have rated it 5 but there are two things which are stopping me from doing that.

Firstly, I was in there for a while and I was getting hungry, and it was about lunchtime. Me and my mum therefore asked one of the members of staff if we could leave and come back in again – they didn’t let us. We eventually had to get the manager involved in order to let us leave. Not letting you go and have something to eat when there are no food facilities in the museum is really stupid.

Also, the smart ticket system is confusing – I realised, when I registered my ticket on their website, that you can only look at the information that you have bookmarked if you scan the ticket after you have looked at it (I did it mostly the other way round, so I got barely any information available) – they could have made that clearer.

Despite the mishaps, if you’re an aspiring musician like me, then visiting the British Music Experience is an unmissable chance to learn once and for all how music in Britain has got to what it is today.

Case Study on Music Producers Today (part of my Silver Arts Award challenge)

( References are indicated in square brackets [ ] )

“I can envision one person with a lot of machines – tapes, electronic setups – singing and speaking, and using a lot of machines” - Jim Morrison (lead singer of The Doors), 1969

These days it has never been so easy to produce great music. As little as 25 years ago, producers needed to be wealthy enough to afford an enormous studio, using analogue synths that produced basic sounds while still taking up an entire room. Nowadays, thanks to computers becoming smaller and more affordable, we can make tracks that are able to make tens of millions of views on YouTube, just by using cheap and affordable computers and laptops.

Electronic songs have changed the way that we think about music; it has brought artists from only being known in small venues and communities to people all over the world, and has transformed our attitudes towards this music, in good ways and bad ways.

The talents used to produce these tracks used to be shown in a few gifted people, but now anyone can spend a few hours on a computer and write a banger.

This is exactly how a producer from Los Angeles managed to become world-famous, and his name is Skrillex. Here is an interview of him explaining his journey of successes:

He started off his life in music as the lead singer in an emo-hardcore band called From First To Last; in 2006, he began making his own tracks [1] and he left the band in 2007 to focus on his new solo dance-orientated project. He began performing under the name Skrillex in nightclubs in Los Angeles in 2008 [2] and played mainly electro music. [3]

In 2010, he released his debut EP ‘My Name Is Skrillex’ as a free download on his MySpace page. His luck came when he started touring nationally with electronic music legend Deadmau5 later in the year, who ended up signing a record contract with Skrillex to his label, mau5trap, as he very much appreciated the new EP. [2][5]

Skrillex then started working on another new EP, focused on dubstep and electro, which he released under mau5trap in October 2010, with the name ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’. [4] It was this EP, that was unlike any other of its kind, that managed to get to place number 2 in the Beaport Top 10 within 4 days [5], and what sent him on 8 months of constant touring, [6] and what made him world-famous, and this was the headline track:

Not only was this record famous for him, but it has also changed the genre of dubstep like it has never seen before. His sound was so different to what dubstep records were like before him, that it changed the sound and culture of dubstep forever.

The genre used to be very underground in the suburbs of South London, before it started to become heard of by a slightly larger audience in 2009 [7] when artists like Nero and Skream started remixing pop tunes from artists such as La Roux. However, the genre still only remained within the UK, with only a few producers recognising it abroad.

But, when Skrillex entered the scene, he opened up the genre to people from all over the world by including new elements of other styles of music that appealed particularly to audiences within the United States, as he included elements of heavy metal in his tracks, giving a more aggressive tone, with more fluctuation in synth parameters. [7]

Other artists such as Datsik and Excision had been developing this new ‘Americanised’ dubstep before him [7], but Skrillex was the first to make it well-known.

Since Skrillex stormed the dubstep world, many other artists started to use similar sounds, with sharper, more piercing tones, throughout 2011 and 2012. Some notable ones include Doctor P, Zomboy and Knife Party. Skrillex even started his own record label in August 2011 [8] called OWSLA, with artists signed to it adopting his harsh and aggressive style, including artists such as Kill The Noise, Dillon Francis and Zedd. In fact, if you look at all artists in all electronic music styles, you will have noticed an increasing popular use of aggressiveness in the tones that are used, and Skrillex was definitely a pioneer of this convention.

Electro house is a genre that particularly uses the styles of modern dubstep, and it was brought big and mainstream in 2011 when Knife Party released their debut EP called ’100% No Modern Talking’; one of its tracks ‘Internet Friends’ managed to get into BBC Radio 1′s top 40 dance chart – that must mean success.

Now, for a bit of backstory. Knife Party is consisted of two members, Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, of the drum & bass/electronic rock band Pendulum, and while the band split up for a break, they both decided to create a side-project for electro house and dubstep, and other club-related genres. [9] In an interview by Radio 1 producer Zane Lowe in May 2012, Swire stated that “we weren’t sure if anyone was going to take notice at all; it was just going to be a little underground thing; it’s just blown me away how quickly it’s taken off.” [10]

They have now played in clubs and festivals all over the world, including Ultra Music Festival in March 2012 in Miami.

Now, let’s just hold on a minute. We have here two very successful dance music acts, who have achieved outstanding fame, but how do these people manage to get so many fans in such a short space of time?

Well, first off, they were both originally in bands, meaning that they would have fans that were previously fans of their bands as well; however, could this mean, that as these bands are splitting and going on breaks, that bands are dying out?

You may think, ‘what is he going on about’, but here’s something for you to consider:

Take a look at the music in the current top 40 chart. How much of that music is electronic or sounds like it has obviously been arranged by a computer, and how much of it is from bands?

Now, compare that music to a chart from 20 years ago. Do you notice any difference?

That’s right. Mainstream pop songs are starting to all become made by single producers, on computers with synth software. This proves that it is possible that anyone can make great music; you don’t have to be in a group, or able to play an instrument, like 20 years ago. You don’t even have to have good keyboard skills to make good melodies; you can just draw the notes in. If you want to become famous – go ahead. It might be more straightforward than you think.

Unfortunately, huge fame can come at a price. When Skrillex had the high point of his career in 2011, there started an internet war of trolls who constantly spam any YouTube video to do with dubstep, about how they think that Skrillex ruined the genre, that he doesn’t make proper dubstep, and that he’s a complete showoff. Well, the main reason that these spammers could be doing this is because they weren’t expecting such the success that dubstep has had over the past couple of years. It may have been an underground scene since the late 1990s, [7] but genres and their culture change over time. The electronic music scene has grown so fast that it may seem like a great shock to some people.

Another example of an artist that has received hate like this (but on an even bigger scale) is a French producer called David Guetta.

Let’s look back at Skrillex and how he raised electronic music from the underground scene to being featured heavily around the world. Well, Guetta has raised that bar 5 times higher, so much so that he almost always has a track in the top 40 chart and is always featured on mainstream radio stations such as Capital FM. In fact, he has made at least one track into every compilation in the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” series since volume 79 (at the time of writing this, the latest is 83), [11][12][13][14][18] as well as a few before that.

If Skrillex has loads of haters because he brought dubstep mainstream, imagine how many Guetta must have.

Just like Skrillex, Guetta began making tracks using just a laptop, and DJing in his bedroom, not being used to huge studio equipment. [15]

His original fame began as he played in numerous different night clubs; he started in the Broad Club in Paris at the age of 18 and began hosting his own club nights [17] – starting young is guaranteed to get you good attention.

He also began producing, collaborating with numerous different other artists, including producers, singers and rappers, also starting a compilation series called ‘F**k Me I’m Famous’, of the songs that he played in Ibiza. [17]

This seems pretty normal for a producer and DJ who has made good success, to do collaborations and end up playing Ibiza; however, he became famous in the mainstream market because he began working with many more famous pop artists, including will.i.am, who heard his track with Chris Willis ‘Love Is Gone’ and was very pleased with it, so he wanted him to start producing for The Black Eyed Peas, which resulted in the track ‘I Gotta Feeling’. [15]

One of his other major breakthroughs was his track ‘When Love Takes Over’ featuring Kelly Roland. The way that this track turned out was where Roland heard an instrumental of David’s and was impressed so she wanted to collaborate with him. [16]

Here’s a video of Guetta talking about his album Nothing But the Beat 2.0 and about he goes about collaborating with singers: [19]

It was almost as though it only took a couple of collaborations with mainstream pop artists and he was getting requests by so many other artists to make tracks for them – practically a snowball effect; however, in order for him to have done those collaborations, he would have needed to have worked hard with so many other producers and artists before them to be able to get to that level – he was obviously someone who wanted to carry on and achieve more than his original goals.

Conclusion

So, we have two artists, Skrillex and Guetta, who became famous in similar ways – through getting their tracks heard by other big artists (Skrillex being heard by Deadmau5), which brings me on to my next point.

These days, it is easy for anyone to get their music heard, through various websites, like Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Twitter, and making the music has been cheaper and easier than ever before.

You never know when your music will get heard by someone famous, so go on! Start making some music and sharing it today! You never know what will happen…

References:

[1] ‘Making of “Break’n A Sweat”‘ – YouTube video uploaded by user SkrillexMothership – uploaded 15/03/2012 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT40_00AGQU

[2] ‘Skrillex’ – Wikipedia – last updated 28/12/2012 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skrillex

[3] ‘BBC – Sound of 2012 – Skrillex Interview’ – YouTube video uploaded by user electronik666 – uploaded 03/01/2012 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucLDfg276co

[4] ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ – Wikipedia – last updated 18/12/2012 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scary_Monsters_and_Nice_Sprites

[5] ‘Skrillex Talks Dubstep And More’ – YouTube video uploaded by user Chris Banuchi – uploaded 02/11/2010 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_EPt6L0llg

[6] ‘Rock n Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)’ – YouTube video uploaded by user TheOfficialSkrillex – uploaded 20/06/2011 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOofWzI3flA - I used just the description of this video for my research

[7] ‘Dubstep’ – Wikipedia – last updated 02/01/2013 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubstep

[8] ‘OWSLA’ – Wikipedia – last updated 03/01/2013- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OWSLA

[9] ‘Pendulum (band)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 01/03/2013 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendulum_(band)

[10] ‘BBC Radio 1 – Zane Lowe, 28/05/2012, Knife Party – Interview with Zane Lowe’ – BBC Radio 1 – published 29/05/2012 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00t7jbv

[11] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 83 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 04/01/2013 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That’s_What_I_Call_Music!_83_(UK_series)

[12] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 82 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 22/12/2012 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That%27s_What_I_Call_Music!_82_(UK_series)

[13] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 81 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 22/12/2012 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That%27s_What_I_Call_Music!_81_(UK_series)

[14] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 80 (UK series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 05/01/2013 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That%27s_What_I_Call_Music!_80_(UK_series)

[15] ‘David Guetta Interview on The Jonathan Ross Show’ – YouTube video uploaded by user biffycat0791 – uploaded 22/09/2012 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEv-w30dCQw

[16] ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ – Channel 4 Documentary – from August 2012

[17] ‘David Guetta’ – Wikipedia – last updated 13/01/2013 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Guetta

[18] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 79 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 31/12/2012 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That’s_What_I_Call_Music!_79_(UK_series)

[19] ‘David Guetta – Nothing But the Beat 2.0 – Interview’ – YouTube video by user davidguettavevo – uploaded 20/11/2012

My Arts Award Challenge

As part of my Silver Arts Award which I am taking, I have to set myself a challenge which I must follow.

I’ve decided to do what many early producers do and that is to make a debut EP of at least 3 tracks. The EP will be multi-genre although mainly dubstep-based with some drum & bass and possibly some glitch hop.

I have decided to name the debut EP: ‘Bass Matters’, as my style focuses on heavy, growly basslines, although I still want to maintain the wobbly feel of classic dubstep.

I have already made one track which I would like to use for the EP, called The Curve. Check it out:

This EP will define my style of sound, which has been heavily inspired by many famous artists in the business today. I have come up with ideas using:

  • The growls of Excision
  • The scream of Skrillex
  • The thumping subs of Caspa
  • The wobbles of Rusko
  • The tunes and soundscapes of Benga
  • The power of Flux Pavillion
  • … and the craziness of both Datsik and Doctor P

Here’s just about one of the most heart-pounding dubstep tunes out here:

I would like my style to be similar to this, but more varied with glitchy, wobbly and percussive elements, exploring the different elements of dubstep. I would like my style to be one that people will definitely throw their hands to.

I do hope that you enjoy the EP. I’m still working on it but it should be a blow-up.

London Drum Show 2012 Review (for Sunday)

If you’re keen in the world of drums, whether you love watching geniuses max out their drum sets on stage, learning pro tips from experts or trying out kit from all of the major leading drumming brands, then the London Drum Show weekend at the Olympia Conference Centre in Kensington is something that you’ll love.

As soon as I stepped out of the elevator leading to the entrance, the spirit of drums hit me right in the face. There was a huge array of stands from different brands selling their latest gear, as well as an area where jamming sessions were taking place every two hours, where you can just turn up and play with up to four other players.

Naturally, there was an excessive amount of noise throughout the entire exhibition, so upon arrival, you’re given free foam ear plugs, as you will certainly need them. There was also a stand from a hearing protection brand where you can have ear plugs molded.

What I was most keen in seeing were the performances, and I was in the right place for being entertained.

First, I saw the brilliant Andy Gangadeen perform a fusion of electronic beats and acoustic charm. He played many live versions of tracks including  2 Chase & Status ones (the main group that he works with), which were ‘Flashing Lights’ and ‘Hocus Pocus’; these tracks and various electronic sounds and breaks were played through samplers and he added acoustic parts (including his top-end cymbals) over the top.

Andy Gangadeen on the main stage

The next performance I saw was that of Rick Latham from the US, who busted out some classic funk fusion with his bass player (who’s name I can’t remember); a lot of rudiments that he used were inspired from artists such as Steve Gadd. He also gave some important tips on how to effectively use rudiments in your playing, as well as how to get your desired sound from your playing.

Rick Latham live on the main stage

The performance after that came from none other than death metal legend Derek Roddy, also from the US. I had never properly heard death metal before and was surprised. It’s not just noise. It actually combines almost every drumming skill: rudiments, extreme durance, changing time signatures, just to name a few. He explained what practicing and playing metal drumming is like, saying how unlike most styles where you start slowly then speed up, in metal drumming you have to start fast from Day 1 to get your muscles used to the speed, and what speed it is. The main skill to master is hitting the kick drum at 400 BPM… Not easy. I was also very pleased that he mentioned that the modern music industry is, in his opinion, not about talent, but about getting money, and he mentioned how modern artists using drum machines in styles including metal completely get rid of the feel of metal as it should be. Everyone in the audience was pleased that he mentioned this.

Derek Roddy live on the main stage

There were also a number of masterclasses across the weekend, and I saw the legend Geoff Dugmore and his bass player (who’s name I also can’t remember) explaining how to become better at working with other musicians and getting yourself known. They explained that being a good musician does not mean that you are good by yourself; being a good musician means that you are good at working with other musicians effectively, creating a groove/tune that sounds catchy, not complex.

Today really inspired me to do better as a drummer and should inspire many others as well. If you want to feel part of a huge drumming community and see some amazing people, then don’t hesitate. Go to the London Drum Show.