By Lori Kennedy
Kyle Forester, keyboardist, Crystal Stilts
1. Don't press too hard on the keys. However hard you’re pressing, you could probably be pressing less hard.
2. Know the names of the notes you know, if you don’t already. But don’t be a jerk about it, like when you’re playing with people who don’t know the names of the notes.
3. Never throw out a keyboard. Throwing out a keyboard—even a really crappy one—is like burning a book. Somebody can fix it or use some part of it.
4. Carry around a notebook to write things down. Don’t put it in your phone; it might get stolen. When your bandmates make fun of you or ask if you’re “keeping a diary,” stay strong.
5. Listen to Nicky Hopkins . . . and other piano players, too, but he was the best.
Zeb Malik, one half of psychedelic garage-rock acid trip duo PO PO
1. Whether it’s a flight or a van call, don’t travel with drugs. If you feel like you must travel with them, it’s probably time to assess the situation. Also, don’t be stubborn and do all your leftover drugs right before you get to the airport. Not fun.
2. Get those portable USB-powered speakers, and give your ears a break from the headphones. They are awesome for backstage use, and a perfect volume for a mini hotel party.
3. Remember: A book or magazine never runs out of battery. You’ll thank me in the middle of your flight.
4. I try to always have an 1/8-inch to 1/8-inch cable around. You never know what you can sample from on the fly.
5. Nine times out of ten the afterparty is gonna suck. Trust your gut—get some sleep. Nothing is worse than driving sleepy.
*Photo by Clayton Hauck.
Flosstradamus, Chicago DJs J2K (Josh Young) and Autobot (Curt Cameruci)
1. Dangerous Music D-Box: This was a recent addition to our studio setup. We used to mix all of our tunes in the box with various plug-ins. We discovered this unit to take our songs out of the computer and into the analog world—spice ‘em up and breathe some life back into our tunes.
2. Melodyne: This is a life saver! If we have off-key vocals, a sax sample that needs to be in the key of our tune, or a melody that we want to reappropriate, we always look to this app. If you create sampled-based music, you need this app!
3. Dropbox: Now that we live thousands of miles apart, we needed a tool to be able to work together like we did when we were a doorway apart. With Dropbox, we can share a folder with a studio session and both chip away at the tune at our own pace, in our own time zone, in our own style. I wish we knew about this before we moved away.
4. DJs take note: Learn how to read the crowd and know scenario that you are in. We’ve attended many shows where the opener DJ is taking the energy to 11, and it’s before 11 p.m. We understand that it could be a big gig for you. But most DJs will respect you more if you are killing it with a mellow warm-up set, not the most recent bangers you just got off Beatport.
5. Don’t fear the future: I remember when we switched from vinyl to Serato. We were one of the first in Chicago to do so. We caught a bunch of flack for it, but it also gave us the upper hand. Things are moving fast these days. Stay current with music, culture, and technology, and you’ll be ahead of the game!
Dent May, indie-pop musician/frontman for Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele
1. DX7 Librarian: I’m a huge fan of early digital synths, and I finally picked up the classic Yamaha DX7 for cheap. Dev [Gupta, keyboardist] from Twin Sister told me about DX7 Librarian. You can drag and drop via MIDI from a library of more than 15,000 user-submitted patches. As a result, the DX7 is all over my new record.
2. Multitracking vocals: A lot of singers double track their vocals, but lately I've been tripling and quadrupling each part I do. That might not work for everyone, but a lot of times I’m going for a massive choral sound with tons of harmonies. If that's your thing, give it a shot.
3. Virtually bounce down your tracks when recording: As a result of my excessive multitracking and big arrangements, my Logic Pro sessions will often have 40 or 50 tracks. It got to the point where I was constantly plagued with “disk too slow” errors. Virtually bouncing down your tracks will save loads of CPU power. It’s known as “freezing” in Logic Pro, but I’m sure Pro Tools, etc. have similar features.
4. Keep beverages away from your gear: That should be a no brainer for everyone, but I’ve learned this lesson the hard way at least three separate times, destroying two MacBooks in the process. I now keep my adult beverages on a separate table far from my valuable electronic gear.
5. Do everything yourself: This is more of a philosophical tip. So many musicians seem to think the wrong things will bring them success and happiness. You are the only person who can do that. Have a vision and fulfill it. Make the music you’ve always wanted to hear that doesn’t exist yet.
Kill the Noise, drum ’n’ bass, dubstep, and house producer
1. Ask questions and share information: You may understand a few more advanced techniques, but for some reason you never really wrapped your head around how exactly a compressor works. Push aside your ego and admit to yourself that you don’t know everything (and you never will). To be the best, it’s important that you understand in great detail how your signal chain—and sound itself—works. Creating an open relationship with your peers is crucial. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and teaching someone else how to do something will only increase your understanding of the idea.
2. Take it slow: I love to play with new plug-ins, but having too many at arms reach can sometimes be a distraction in the studio. I’ve found that focusing on a handful of plug-ins helps me be more creative than having a constantly growing library of new toys. When I want to learn a new plug-in, I’ll install it and focus on it for a month or two, spending an hour a day at first playing with it. If by the end of the month I don’t find it useful, I’ll uninstall it and focus on another. This process has left me with a small but powerful arsenal of tools.
3. Take a break: When I spend long hours in the studio, it’s hard to remember to take breaks. There are times when I’ll be immersed in production for 8+ hours without any break at all. At that point, I’ve usually lost some perspective on what I’m doing. Sometimes I’ll set a break timer—especially when I’m mixing a track—to remind myself to step outside. I find my ears become exhausted after a while, and even a 10-15 minute break refreshes me enough to regain my perspective on things.
4. Don’t eat or sleep right before a performance: For me eating or sleeping right before I head to a big show is a horrible idea. I end up burping in people’s faces and having to use the bathroom, and I’m generally really slow and tired. It takes me longer to get into my performance as well. I try to eat at least four hours or so before I head out to the show. I also try to be well rested, but if I’m really tired it’s probably better to stay up versus taking a nap just before a gig.
5. Referencing but not competing: When it comes to electronic music, a lot of producers (including me) are after sonic perfection. It’s helpful to have a target to shoot at, especially when you are just starting out. Filling a folder of your favorite productions to occasionally reference your work with can be extremely helpful. That is something I do constantly, especially these days where the bar for sonic quality seems to move around quite regularly. Keep in mind that making music isn’t a competition—it’s expression. As helpful as referencing other people’s work can be, it can all be quite depressing if you are constantly trying to “measure up.” Work at your own pace and have fun with it. Don’t lose perspective on why you began writing music in the first place.