What do you do to get loose? “Money please, I get loose off of orange juice”
Sometimes all it takes is the summer sun to glare through the window at a certain angle and BOOOOM, you’re in the zone. But, what if there’s no sun! What are the challenges of tapping into the creative mind set? Some say inspiration just hits us. Like divine intervention, lighting strikes and the magic comes out. Other producers argue that as long as you’re putting the time and effort in on a regular basis you’ll learn and find the inspiration somewhere in that day to day beat making routine.
However we look at, the key here is being able to put yourself in a position to access that part of the brain/heart/soul. So here are a couple of strategies for seasoned or beginner Electronic Music Producers alike that might help you get a little deeper.
1. Ask yourself a simple question. When the lighting does strike, am i ready to harness it? A few simple organizational parameters go a LOOOONG way. On those days that you’re not feeling terribly creative, what can you do besides curling up into the fetal position uncontrollably sobbing, whilst scrolling through Instagram. Well, how about set yourself up for the next time? Every session is connected. The lesson here is to be good to your future producer self! If you’re feeling lame do lame stuff. Reorganizing project files, deleting useless things, finding new drum sounds or synths, rewiring/tweaking your system. These are some examples of things that you can use that uninspired brain for. Now, if your studio gets too clean and too organized that might also be cause for concern! But that's another story.
2. Session goals. Keep it simple. If I’m thinking about laying down some drum patterns, don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole by trying to find the perfect compression settings for your kick. There’s a difference between creation and tweaking. Tweak some other time. If you can focus on one thing at a time, you’re more likely to finish songs. There are so many facets to learning how to be a good producer that if we try to do them all at once one of two things will happen: You’ll get confused, or you’ll go crazy. This goes for both beginner and experienced producers.
3. Time limits. Smart phones have timers. Use them. All the rage in the sports world is interval training. It has merits. I don’t believe that hardcore parameters are necessarily the best thing to promote creativity, but having no time limits or structure can also have adverse effects. Try giving yourself a set amount of time (i.e. 30mins) to accomplish a task. If you’re not done, that’s all good. Like I said earlier all sessions are connected. You’ll jump in where you left off next time. With time limits, most likely you’ll start making better use of your minutes and putting in a more concentrated effort than you would if you had a bottomless pit.
~ Erik Laar
OCDJ - Your Fiddle-beatz project is really a great example of electronics and acoustics mixed. How long did it take for you to write and record?
KF - The majority of the melodies were written when I moved to Toronto in the fall of 2015. Over the next couple of years, I used these melodies as a “playground” to explore arranging and beat making in Ableton. The pieces evolved over time, and by 2017, I decided to re-record the acoustic instruments and fully develop the arrangements to form a cohesive album. Overall, it was a slow process, but fulfilling to be able to create freely without a deadline or business agenda. To me, each piece was an emotional outlet, reflecting what was happening in my life at that time. To be able to write this way was a real luxury, since creative projects are often overshadowed by the pressures of making a living as a musician.
OCDJ - What challenges (if any) did you face? And what would you say was the hardest part: beginning/middle/end etc?
KF - Honestly, one of the biggest challenges of making this album was the amount of computer work involved. I had to take a lot of days off computer work in order to give my back a break. This can be incredibly frustrating since it really slows down the process. It is challenging for me to prioritize my physical/mental health when I hit a creative streak!
In addition, this was the first solo project I had attempted, so it was a challenge making all of the executive decisions, and knowing when the compositions, arrangements, and mixes sounded “good enough”. There’s no instruction manual to tell you when the songs are done, so you really have to know what you are listening for, and know what you like.
Finally, I know relatively little about recording and electronic music production, so there was a lot of trial and error going on from beginning to end! This resulted in a pretty slow workflow, which made it challenging to stay motivated long enough to actually complete an album.
OCDJ - How long have you been playing and how much would you say your fiddle experience plays in to your production. 50/50? More/less
KF - I have been playing fiddle and piano since the age of 7, so the majority of my musical knowledge and experience comes from years of music lessons and performance opportunities. Musical intuition takes years to develop, so I believe that my past experience as a fiddle player played a large role (more than 50%) in the production on this album. That being said, there is still so much to learn about the technical aspects of recording and producing. I would definitely love to take another course in music production…maybe at Off Centre?! ☺
OCDJ - How does genre play a role in your creativity? Are there any musical specific influences that you would site?
KF - I listened almost exclusively to fiddle music as a child (nerd alert), right up until university. I had hit a bit of a wall musically during high school, so began studying Kinesiology/Nutrition at Western University. Half way through my degree, I was exposed to some pop/electronic artists, including Imogen Heap, Reverb Junkie, Ellie Goulding, Bjork, and Coldplay. The sounds and production on these albums sucked me in, and I had to find out how this music was made! I would say that the exposure to pop/electronic genres during this time definitely reignited my passion for music, and sparked my curiosity in music production.
OCDJ - How did lessons at Off Centre benefit you the most?
KF - After a year of touring near the end of my degree, I had become very inspired musically and was eager to start creating. I didn’t want to go through years of additional schooling, so looked for a brief and affordable course to get started as quickly as possible. Off Centre was a perfect fit, so I moved to Toronto’s East end. The “Full Producer” course was very well structured, and helped me navigate through Ableton. All of the instructors were cool to work with, and their own original music was inspiring (still diggin Erik’s “Circles and Squares” album)! I would highly recommend Off Centre, and wouldn’t mind going back for another course myself!
OCDJ - What's next? Any specific production goals for the next few years?
KF - I plan to take another music production course within the next year, to speed up my workflow and improve my beat making. I will continue plugging away at new compositions/arrangements, and would eventually like to make a 2nd Fiddle-Beatz album. I think I would learn a lot from collaborating with others, so would love to work with a vocalist or producer at some point!
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT KERRY:
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OFF CENTRE'S PRODUCER PROGRAM
We are very proud to present to you our Second instalment of "Off Centre Selections" which is a podcast entirely made up of songs created by graduates of the Full Producer Certificate Program.
Genres and influences are of course very wide in range. Expect anything from Trip Hop, to Trance, and EDM, to instrumental film soundtracks.
Congratulations to all the featured artists for their impressive efforts:
0:00 Micky Myers - Six Feet Over
2:31 FIddle-beaTZ - Shadow
5:30 Akeil Fields - Downtime ft. Bella Rose
9:48 Carli Cottrell - Cancer
12:42 Deadweight - Lakitu
16:15 FIddle-beaTZ - Leave
19:41 Creelo - Aquarius Ft. Hafs al-Ghazi
27:07 AKA - Remix of Zeds Dead X NGHTMRE - Frontlines Ft. GG Magree
30:48 Akeil Fields - Canada's Most Blunted
34:06 Carli Cottrell - Short Term Memory
OCDJ - What’s the story of Discrete? How did you get started in music?
Discrete - I began producing before I started DJing. A friend of mine lent me some sound software I started experimenting with in elementary school and I was using my tape decks to sample jazz and classical music from the radio. I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop too and I think that's how I got introduced to DJing. DJ Premier, DJ A-Trak, Mix Master Mike and some of the other DMC turntablists inspired me to start scratching, then I was introduced to house music. I listened to a ton of mixtapes while I was studying and painting in high school then I slowly transitioned from producing visual art to producing music. From then on I found myself digging deeper and deeper into house and techno. That was over a decade ago.
OCDJ - Is there a specific place/space/state that you find inspiration in?
Discrete - The present moment. My favorite pieces always spawn from a state of being completely open to ideas and rid of inhibition. This usually means I'm working quicker because I’m saying yes more frequently to creative decisions. Pop art and the sensationalist movement really helped me get into the moment because it had a jarring visceral effect on me. A lot of my inspiration comes from visual art because most of my experience is in art history.
I started meditating prior to my DJ sets to help with performance anxiety. I'm a strong believer in synchronicity and karma so there are definitely spiritual parallels between my practice and my music. Deep house is a spiritual thing and always has been. There's something really powerful about how it unites complete strangers.
OCDJ - What movie would your music be the soundtrack for!?
Discrete - I'm a deeply existential person so I feel like if my music were to be a soundtrack it would be a drama played by myself or some doppelganger. That or a documentary biopic.
OCDJ - Your Savvy Records podcasts are really enjoyable...how much planning goes into DJing for you?
Discrete - My mixtapes are much more meticulously produced then my live DJ sets. A lot of planning goes into my mixtapes whereas my DJ sets are a more stream-of-consciousness approach.
For my mixtapes, I categorize my music according to mood, aesthetic, and vocals and a theme emerges. I break down the timeline into basic plot points and the narrative forms. Introduction, body, climax, denouement, et cetera.
When I'm DJing I try to be as present as possible. You have to be able to read the energy in the room and go with the flow. Sometimes I have songs I'm really excited to play at a gig but when I arrive at the venue it just doesn't seem to suit that environment so it's more about adapting to the space. Toronto’s techno audience is still very niche.
OCDJ - What made you want to start your own Label?
Discrete - Survival. I was signed to a few foreign independent labels when I was younger but I had difficulty managing my finances because a lot of these record companies were overseas. I decided that I had enough experience after several years of DJing and producing to publish my own content. I also established connections with a lot of artists along the way so I had plenty of demos and unsigned material just sitting in my inbox waiting to get things started.
OCDJ - It was great to run into you at the Junos in Calgary this year. What was your experience of being nominated for Electronic Album of the Year like?
Discrete - It was a very emotional experience for me because I was always alienated for expressing myself differently than others. I became used to the idea that people wouldn't share the same feelings around the type of music I make or listen to so I had difficulty accepting that I was nominated at first. Then I realized being embraced on that level in your home country is actually quite profound and a real honor. It's a rare life changing experience and I'm definitely grateful for that. Bumping into you at the Google Party was just the icing on the cake. It was a night to remember, I wish I had a recording of your set!
OCDJ - In your time at Off Centre, is there any one moment that sticks out for you as a highlight?
Discrete - I remember wanting to go to school for DJing but couldn't find much in the way of postsecondary education. The course in itself was a very positive foundation for me. It was also inspiring to see how you’ve adapted to the industry and made a living to support yourself and your creativity. The mastering section was the most practical because I was just launching Savvy Records at the time.
OCDJ - Love the new album! Can you tell us a little about your creative process. What brought about the title “In My Room”?
Discrete - Thanks Erik, I’m glad you enjoyed it. My projects stem from folders filled with sounds I cut out from other tracks. I organize the sounds by imagery and layer them like a collage. I let the samples speak to me and tell me where they want to go, whether they match or juxtapose each other they develop their own dialogue.
The title track ‘In My Room’ is an homage to the archetypal bedroom producer. I produced the entire album at home and live in a tiny bachelor apartment. I wanted to exaggerate the creative process by minimizing my materials. I don't use any fancy analog synthesizers, microphones or sound systems. Most of the content I use I found for free or salvaged from records at the thrift store. I also like to sample film because there are lots of interesting sound bites to draw from and it creates an interesting meta narrative and allusion. I can't help but notice the differences between image and sound because most of my creative development was spent looking at art. Images are static and silent but music involves time and is invisible. I like the idea that samples are like time capsules and I could transcend time and collaborate amongst any group of artists I want with no social contradiction.
OCDJ - Is there any essential piece of advice would you give to aspiring producers that would help them finish a project?
Discrete - Be more present. Never work when you don't feel like it and always work when you feel inspired. Focus on your most exciting projects and practice letting go of projects that no longer have meaning to you. I find the most challenging part of being an artist is this constant state of grieving. We're always changing and evolving as we're exposed to new inspiration and experiences which means letting go of old stuff in order to make room for the new. In the East the Buddhists call this detachment. They practice this by creating immaculate and elaborate murals called mandalas out of sand which they release into a river. This practice of detachment helps exercise our ability to move fluidly through the creative process. I discovered my spiritual practice out of necessity, it helps my creative blocks.
OCDJ - Shout outs or last final words?
Discrete - Be present, love yourself unconditionally, and try not to take anything too seriously.
Shoutout to DJ Sneak, Mousse T, and Dave Pezzner for discovering and supporting my music these past few years. I also want to dedicate this album to all the introverts and bedroom producers who are trying to make a living as an artist. Being an artist is challenging but if we continue to inspire and support each other it makes it that much easier.
In September, Off Centre DJ School graduates were showcased over four days at Fan Expo Canada 2016 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Their DJ skills were greatly received by the 130,000+ pop culture fans in attendance. The weekend was in a word - awesome! 15 current and former student DJs rocked the decks for 4 days of masked hero and villain intensity by bringing energy, creativity and entertainment to the event. The talent was evident as the students took the stage with confidence in front of the lively crowds.
We partnered with local giving organisation 'The Umber Goose Project' who donated a cash prize for the DJ who rised to the occasion and maintained their composure even in the trickiest of mixes. It was a difficult decision with all the DJs having brought their A-Game, but it came down to two DJs who performed on multiple days, Sanzhar Zhorabayev and Andis Francis!
We would like to thank the Fan Expo organisers and the Toronto Metro Convention Centre for the opportunity and a special thanks to all of the colourful characters who amped up the experience with their impromptu dance moves!
Huge round of applause to the Off Centre crew:
Nalae & Jared, DJ Ki, DJ DC, DJ Panda, Maestro Sanjik, Yegee Lee (Violin), Ava Zhu, DJ Andis
Chainsaw, DJ Kevon, Sirens & Satyrs, Sentry Swank
RECAP VIDEO HERE!
We finally had a chance to catch up with busy OCDJ alumni DJ Slam who's been steadily taking his skills to awesome new heights.
OCDJ - You've got a busy schedule. What's it like producing, djing and hosting a radio show? Is it hard managing all of those things?
Slam - First off, thanks guys for reaching out! I have been busy lately, but that’s a good thing. It’s taken years for me to get to this point in my music career. Also, I’ll never forget what OCDJ has done for me in realizing my true passion for Turntablism and the DJ culture.
Getting back to the question, I would say the hardest part of juggling Production/Engineering, Djing and the Radio show is just that, time management. Djing and beat making have always been something that I would do in my spare time, relaxing and hanging out with my friends. When it comes to radio though, it takes a little more attention to detail. On top of looking regularly for new music, my radio show “Bring Ya Eh Game,” requires that all of the content must be “clean” or radio friendly, and strictly Canadian. So this means, regularly checking my e-mail, listening to submissions (because no one can be trusted), and reaching out to musicians, and waiting… because rappers move at a snails pace.
OCDJ - Does being a DJ help your music production in any way? or the other way around?
Slam - Absolutely! After you play enough shows, no matter the venue, the city, the crowd, or time of night, you start to learn what kind of music grabs the audience’s attention. When you hear music on such a massive scale, you quickly learn the importance of Compression and EQing.
Also, the biggest thing I’ve learned. Unless you are a DJ or appreciate scratching, most people have a very short attention span, and can quickly loose interest. So I tend to use it sparingly in my production.
OCDJ - You've also been collaborating with MC Ultra Magnus for a lil while now. How did that connection happen? Are there challenges working with another artist or is it all fun and games?
Slam - Ultra Magnus and I have known each other for a hot minute. We first met on the East Coast through mutual friends almost a decade ago. Only recently did we started working on tracks just for fun and set up a show here and there. We quickly got a lot of attention and all of the sudden we had an album (“The Raw”), which was quickly scooped up by Hand’Solo Records, and the rest is history.
Are there challenges? Yes. Definitely. But what makes it easy is the fact that we started as friends before the music happened. One of the biggest problems with working with anyone else is trying to co-ordinate schedules, recording time, etc. Because we live on the opposite sides of the city (South-East Vs. North-West), when quick decisions need to be made or fixes are needed in recording, it can never happen immediately.
OCDJ - What's your favourite place to hang out or get inspired in the City?
Slam - I think I am most inspired when riding the TTC. Like I said before, I live in the east-end, and most of friends, events, etc… are in the west, so I spend a lot of time in transit. Since it’s weird to gawk at people and start conversations with strangers, I spend most of the time listening to new music and exploring my brain.
OCDJ - When you're not busy taking over the world with your musical endeavors, what do you enjoy doing?
Slam - To be honest, because I’m out so often and regularly thrown into alien social situations, I like to spend a lot of my free time solo. I’m a huge video gamer, and love to cruise around the youtubes. However, when I feel like seeing sunlight, I’m ready to hang out on a patio with some friends or escape to a cabin in the woods. I’m still looking for an excuse to check out these escape rooms that are popping up around the city.
OCDJ - What's up next for Slam?
Slam - New album with Ultra Magnus called “Magnus Opus,” out this summer, on Hand’Solo Records. We’re currently storyboarding a few videos.
Couple other projects being worked out… *cough* … “Fresh Kils” ... *cough* … “D-Sisive” …
I’m also going to be releasing a project in the fall, which will include all of the singles I have/have not released yet, with a little re-mastering so they can have a home.
OCDJ - Any last words or shout outs?
Slam - Shout out to you guys!!! Thanks for being so awesome to me, and teaching me the art of being a Jedi… I mean DJ… I promise I will be by soon!
People can check me out live every Monday at 10PM on CIUT 89.5FM’s “Bring Ya Eh Game.” We exclusively play Canadian hip-hop, RnB, Soul, Turntablism, etc… I do live scratching, mash-ups, and we also interview a local musician every week.
Also!! I have been nominated for “DJ of The Year” by the Cut Hip-Hop Awards. If you want to vote for me, you can do it everyday at www.cuthiphopawards.com/voting (Note: They spelt my name wrong, I am now known as “DJ Slim” *sigh*)
One of the early producers to really break out of his shell internationally from Canada at the turn of the century is Alan Lam, better known as Stranjah, and more recently Skeezer. With over 15 years of experience behind the boards, the savvy veteran is still currently churning out some of his finest material to date. His early production endeavours were clearly influenced by house, low-end hip hop production and various other forms of earlier bass music. Splashing onto the scene initially with then-partner-in-crime Gremlinz, his music found its way into the hands of legends like Goldie, L Double and Doc Scott, all of whom were keen on playing his music out in their sets and ultimately signed him to their respective imprints Metalheadz, Flex and 31 Records.
A favourite here at Off Centre Alan inspires students in Ableton Foundation and our Full Producer Program.
"Don't Cha" wanna give this remix contest a try? ;) Follow this LINK for a chance to win some fantastic prizes including a $250 OCDJ gift card. DEADLINE IS MAY 28th
In recent years, there’s been a significant amount of controversy in the electronic music community about what qualifies as a live performance. These days there are several methods with which to perform that the preconceived notion of the ‘live’ performance is often left up in the air.
Traditionally speaking, the process of performing live music has been quite simple - bring your sheet music, tune your instrument, and play. Regardless of whether or not the artist is performing solo or in a group, there is always an element of spontaneity - no matter the artist’s skill level, live performances can be full of mistakes and will never sound like the original studio material and it shouldn't have to. In a 2013 article from FACT magazine, artist Xavier Thomas aka ‘debruit’ said, “You have to be able to make mistakes to have a feeling of live-ness. And it's also presenting some sort of difference between your music in a live format as opposed to a recorded performance to people that might already know your work” (Fintoni).
Before we continue, it's important to recognize the distinction between DJs and Producers. A DJ’s strength traditionally lies in engaging a live audience and witnessing their immediate reaction while working with their instruments, the turntable, mixer and crate of music. A producer also needs to work with their instruments in a studio environment with digital and or analog equipment to effectively convey an emotion or idea. Sometimes, Producers who are strong in the studio may lack the performance chops to rock a crowd. And on the flipside, seasoned DJs who can successfully mix for hours may lack the technical knowledge to produce. In these situations, those who are producers first may resort to pushing play on pre-recorded sets, and those who are DJs first may enlist the aid of a friendly neighbourhood ghost producer. Both are equally taboo topics which question the legitimacy of the artists skills.
It’s sort of like realizing your favourite singer is lip-synching and the microphone they are holding is merely a prop, some singers will always perform better in the studio than they do onstage. The same can be said for the producer playing a pre-recorded set at the mainstage and the revered DJ who releases a song made by someone else. Without a transparent connection between the two sides, confusion is bound to develop as the actual product and the expectations communicated on behalf of the artist, the promoter, and or the venue cease to match up with one another.
The essence of live music performance is that there should be a chance that things could go wrong, but it is the skill of the performer to bring it to new heights and keep it all from falling apart. Otherwise it's like just going to watch a movie. Sharing the experience in an environment with other people does have the potential to transform your relationship to the art, but that's just the equivalent of pressing play, and for many reasons we expect more from music.
There will always be audiences who will appreciate the performer who walks the line with artistic integrity and there will be audiences who simply seek the thrill of dancing live to music regardless of the performer’s technical prowess. Both are fine, but as electronic music grows and audiences mature they will also inevitably become more aware of what is actually going on in the booth and/or on the stage. The room for error and genuine talent should come together in a way that compliments the audience's tastes so as not to set up some sort of false expectation whereby the artist can get away with pretending to perform. For those looking solely for a visceral experience perhaps the play button with some banging tracks, flashing lights, and fireworks will do. The performance, however, often informs the experience and this speaks to the classic dance floor notion of energy transfer between performer and audience and the question remains can that truly happen when it's a one way conversation?
Fintoni, Laurent. "The Great Live Music Roundtable: Six Producers Debate the Future of Live Electronic Music." FACT Magazine. FACT Magazine, 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.
In this episode of infamous OCDJ-TV Steptone & Slowpitch dive into the the Space Bag of questions and attempt to find the true answers that lie beneath the surface of DJing & Production. Will they emerge successful!? Find out as they duck and dodge their way through the challenges of turntable, DJ, beat making, and all around electronic arts philosophy.
Superior Method is a Hip Hop and Funk artist that has been making some serious movements around Toronto. We caught up with him to talk about his new 6 song EP titled "BeHold".
OCDJ - How would you describe your style?
SM - I truly feel that the Hip Hop genre has lost its roots from way back. I would describe my style as one that personifies the old school vibe. I am also experimenting with Funk, Jazz and Electronic.
OCDJ - How Long have you been making music for?
SM - I have been creating music for about 9 years, since I first sat down in front a computer and started experimenting with FL Studio. I became enthralled in making music that made me feel good - simple. I started off producing Reggae & Soca, and then proceeded to indulge in the world of Hip Hop, Funk, and Trap Music.
OCDJ - Who are some of your early influences?
SM - I credit the artists that have truly animated my musical arrangements. My very first song that I loved for a long time throughout my childhood and was a big influence on me was “ It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy. His music always involved good vibes and made you dance. Every track I write, I try to create something that will make you bob your head. The other prevalent artists that have had a lasting impact also range from Q – tip, A Tribe Called Quest, Method Man, Kanye West, Redman, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Dizzy Wright, Drake, Tori Kelly, J Cole, Chiddy Bang, Rihanna, and Immortal Technique.
“All the essential tools you need to become successful, you already have, It's a matter of realizing your potential and then lighting up the path” - Superior Method 'Kool-Aid'
OCDJ - How do you feel being an artist in this day and age from Toronto?
SM - Toronto is home to a lot of varied talent, which is why I strongly believe I have to set myself apart in every possible way. My aim is to create intrigue with my art including a wide range of creative tactics.
OCDJ - The delivery on 'Love Hip Hop' is very genuine, What is Hip Hop to you?
SM - I sincerely regard music as a cognitive path that is distinctive to every single person in this universe. It goes beyond stimulating melodies you listen to however, the amount of pleasure and feeling an arrangement can cause is genuine. Love Hip Hop stemmed an expression of how I felt about the culture and its pioneers that led the way. Hip Hop nowadays is an entire culture that is getting overrun by the same ideas and tactics.
OCDJ - Do you make your own beats and if so what is your approach to making music?
SM - I use FL Studio to produce my own music. It’s a program that works for me and I love it. My approach comes from someone that wants to bring back the funk, the poetry and lyricism back. I also love meditating during the week for at least an hour every day to relax and have a clear mind when making music.
OCDJ - Is there anything else you like to do in your spare time when you aren't writing?
SM - I enjoy everyday like a new adventure and also enjoy meditating. I am currently bumping Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, and Camille Safiya.
OCDJ - Any last words or projects coming up you'd like to tell the world?
SM - I enjoy working with new artists all the time. I am the CEO of Superior Sound Group, which is my company I started last year. We are a collective of producers that help out vocalists or rappers that need quality instrumentals. Shoot over your music to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m open to all genres.
Z103.5 will be playing out 'Love Hip-Hop' on Friday November 27th at 10pm.
Welcome to our Video Newsletter. It's November! Here are highlights of things we got going on this month. You can go old school and read the full newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/bDuRZD
In Episode 5 of our ongoing OCDJ series we touch on a much debated topic: Humans vs. Technology! Not so much in the Ex Machina sense, but more so breaking down how art and expression are influenced and sometimes even replaced by pre made loops, stock automation, and computer generated mixing. Technology is a wonderful thing, but where do we draw the line between self expression and roboticized beats? What's more important, star gazing or trail blazing?
Sound architect Matt Thibideau has a wealth of Synth knowledge pouring out of his modular brain. We grabbed a bucket to hold some of it and realized it wasn't enough so we decided to get him over to OCDJ for a highly anticipated weekend workshop happening July 18th. Here's a taste of the man's knowledge.
OCDJ - It's time to abandon ship and you've got only 2 minutes. Which synth is going with you? Why is it so special?
MT - That is a really tough question. It may be the Oberheim OBX, or my Roland System 100m modular.
Both for very different reasons. The OBX is great at lush sounding polyphonic stabs, chords and bass sounds. I tend to turn to it a lot because it sounds alive. No two notes really sound exactly the same.
The Roland System 100m is a great compact modular synthesizer that can dream up pretty much any sound, it could be drums, bass, bleeps, or weird sound fx. With the ability to connect it via patching and
so many different synthesizer parameters, the sky is the limit.
OCDJ - You were recently featured in a documentary about modular synthesizers. Can you tell us a little bit about it? What was it like being approached to be in it?
MT - I dream of wires is a great documentary that explains the disappearing and then return of the modular synthesizer in music. The Artist Solvent (who put the movie together) got in touch with me after knowing about my music in the local scene here in Toronto for years. What drew them to include our studio was that we have the Synclavier (an early digital sampler that changed the way music was made in the 80's).
It is a great documentary for both the enthusiasts and people new to synthesizers as it gives some insight into the history of some great machines and how people use them.
OCDJ - Are you opposed to digital gear or have you found a way to fuse the two worlds together?
MT - I do use some digital gear, mostly in the form of hardware (Samplers, FM and Wavetable synths). I also do use a Mac with Protools. It pretty much acts like a big tape machine and editing suite with midi control.
So in this way the two worlds do come together. All of my sounds tend to come from external instruments though. It is a comfortable way of working for me I guess.
OCDJ - Are there places in Toronto you like visiting to get inspired?
MT - I tend to leave the city to get my inspiration, but have walked around outside to record different "natural" types of sounds. I tend to record and take this back to the studio for
a lot of experimenting and manipulating.
I do visit the lake shore a lot as a bit of an escape from the city.
OCDJ - Besides navigating around mountains of synths at your awesome studio, do you have another passion?
MT - I enjoy my bike rides, and going to the gym when I have time. Listening to lots of ambient music and working with other like minded artists.
Performing live and travelling makes me happy too.
"Never be afraid to try working at a lower sampling rate"
OCDJ - Our students go bananas over tips. Do you have a drum programming or synth tip you'd be willing to share?
MT - 1. Erase the presets, Avoid sample packs, and build your sounds from the ground up.
2. Make kits of drum sounds using synths and sample them into different devices.
3. Never be afraid to try working at a lower sampling rate. Recording and sampling sounds in 8 bit, and 20khz can produce interesting and sometimes
OCDJ - What can participants expect from your "Intro to Modular Synths" workshop?
MT - Participants can expect to explore all of the aspects of a smaller "moog" styled modular synthesizer.
This will include the Oscillator, Filter, Amplifier and Envelope. We will talk about how they all interact and some of the history of the synthesizer.
OCDJ - Any last words or projects coming up you'd like to tell the world?
MT - My Brother and run a small label called Obsolete Components with many different recordings done with modular and hardware synthesizers. We have plenty of music to share with the world here.
We will also be heading to Europe this August to perform some of that music live.
Guelph/Toronto beat wiz Elaquent is on a steady climb into the minds of music enthusiasts around the globe. Taking a break from a busy tour schedule, the skilled beat smith hung with us for quite an awesome chat.
OCDJ - Why beats?
EQ - hmm, I mean, I could get into a number of philosophical reasons why I make beats....but the biggest or main reason..is that its fun. as a kid who grew up on golden era hip hop, production has always been an area I was very interested in, however, I didn't have money to buy an mpc. luckily I discovered fruity loops and found a way I could create. my older brother and I often used to complain about how wack commercial hip hop was, but instead of complaining about it, why not be a part of the solution. He excelled at rhyming, I excelled at beats.
OCDJ - For someone who has no idea about music but loves food can you describe your sound to them?
EQ - lol thats a tough one...perhaps a well seasoned steak with a rich balsamic wine reduction sauce. there is a lot of quality steak out there, but I try to add a lot of subtleties to add a little bit more flavor to the typical boom bap sound, whether its my usage of samples or synths, while still maintaining an element of rawness...hence the rareness of the steak. but really, its all in the eyes of the beholder. perhaps to someone else, my sound is a multi flavored ice cream, or dill pickle chips lol, there is a number of analogies. I would say anything delicious with layers to it.
"I feel like vinyl immortalizes you, one day somebody might find my 12" vinyl 80 years from now and get curious"
OCDJ - Whats your biggest personal breakthrough in your music making/performance career to date that you can remember?
EQ - hmm, releasing my Scenic Route album on vinyl (first one) was a very big deal to me, it always ranked very highly on my personal bucket list. I feel like vinyl immortalizes you, one day somebody might find my 12" vinyl 80 years from now and get curious. To me, an artist who releases music on vinyl in this digital/mp3 age has an aura of legitimacy to them. on the performance side, touring europe for the first time was big. Being able to share music, embrace and interact with people who don't speak the same language or live in a completely different culture is humbling.
OCDJ - Do you have another passion? Something you enjoy doing when you're not feeling musically creative.
EQ - Outside of music, I'm notoriously known to be a big sports fan of NBA and NFL, which is no surprise to everybody who follows me on twitter lol (@elaquent). I would say that my second love is collecting martial arts movies. maybe it was the early influence that Wutang had on me as a kid, but I've always been super interested in martial arts movies, and I have a big collection with over 500 films ranging from Shaw Brothers classics from the 60s and 70s, Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung cop movies of the 80s, wired Yuen Woo Ping stuff from the 90s, and so forth. I've spent a fortune on them over the years.
OCDJ - Without making your Toronto/Guelph fans to upset, have you found a place/town/city through your musical travels that you envision yourself living in? Can you tell us why?
EQ - In a perfect world, I would live in a number of different cities for like 4 months at a time. Would love to spend like 4 months in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles. As far as one single place, i'd lean towards Los Angeles. It is just a really good creative hotbed with no shortage of people to see and things to do. I guess there's a reason that so many artists try to move to LA to find success, and having been there 5 or 6 times, its very easy to see why. there are lots of different events happening on a regular basis, lots of different artists to collaborate with in person, good weather, palm trees and so forth. traffic sucks there though.
OCDJ - What would be your dream collaboration?
EQ - Always wanted to work with Common. one day I hope it will happen.
"Use the velocity when hitting the pads. the swing settings will never match the feel"
OCDJ - Can you share any drum programming or other production tips for a budding beatmaker?
EQ - I guess it depends what type of beatmaker you want to be. I always like to tell folks that the best way to get that soulful groove in your drums is to listen to some jazz music, and to turn off the quantize switch. Use the velocity when hitting the pads. the swing settings will never match the feel. trust your ears and don't rely on just the waveforms and your meters. But ultimately, do what feels right!
OCDJ - How do you prepare yourself mentally before hitting the stage? Do you have a ritual or is just go with the flow?
EQ - I just go with the flow. I try not to over-prepare...depending on the vibe of the crowd, I tend to call many audibles and change direction often. I have a general idea of what I want to play, but if the crowd wants to dance, I may have to inject some faster grooves to keep people happy. It all depends. ultimately I have to trust that I got booked to play for a reason, so I just go with the flow and trust that whatever I play, in whichever order I play things are for the best. Plus, its a lot more fun to play when you haven't already committed to the next song. How do I call an audible and switch from this super fast song to a much slower song that I've never mixed before? all of my favorite shows were the ones where I threw the playbook out the window and just feed off the crowd.
OCDJ - Any last words? Shout outs?
EQ - I could list shoutouts all day lol..but nobody got time for that. I'll say shouts out to Off Centre for the interview, shouts out to my family for supporting me, Gill Breathing, and everybody who has ever supported my music or seen me play live. got lots of new music coming soon, including an album on HW&W. stay tuned :)
Plasitician will be making his return to Toronto on April 17th, 2015 for an intimate affair at Velvet Underground. He took time out to chat with Off Centre about Rinse FM, his thoughts on DJing & Production, and where electronic music is heading.
OCDJ - Glad to see that Rumpshakers is bringing you to Toronto! Have you been here before? What are your impressions?
PLASTICIAN - Yep been here many times! It's been one of the coldest places I've ever been on my travels, and always a good time. I remember playing at the Hoxton with Skream & Benga, Jackmaster a while back. That was wild. Was one of the best stops on that tour definitely.
OCDJ - What are your thoughts on the current state of electronic music. Where are we taking this ship?
PLASTICIAN - I think it's healthy in terms of the creativity we're hearing. People have lots of freedom to take their music wherever they want it to go now, without the constraints of staying within a genre constraint. At least within the circles of bass music anyhow. Obviously genres like Techno are still very much sticking to their guns and keeping their sound and events pure and true to their roots. But I like evolution, change excites me and I think today we're in a place where you log into your soundcloud stream and really don't know what you're going to hear next.
OCDJ - Your Rinse FM sets are moody and quite eclectic. How different is one performance to the next? Is there something that we can expect from your live performance this week in Toronto?
PLASTICIAN - I differ a lot, always try to change things up. Some weeks I'll play really moody, and others I'll play more club oriented. I think the performance this week will be guided by the audience, I'll normally start off a little slower and then ease into clubbier stuff - by the end it'll be a bit faster paced, and I'd imagine I'll find time to throw a few oldies in there too.
OCDJ - Production wise, is there a favourite piece of gear or software that sits as the centre of your creative process?
PLASTICIAN - I've produced everything I've ever released on FL Studio, in the early days it was Fruityloops of course. I love the simplicity of it. I have an extremely basic grasp of beatmaking, as down the years I've had less and less time to work on tracks so I still use FL pretty much the same way I did back then - mostly with samples and various VST's. I have only a couple of hardware bits in the studio - and one of them is only a controller, so everything is digital for me really. I guess it's more of a workstation than a studio in that sense. Just a workstation with great monitors!
OCDJ - You started off more as a DJ correct? Does this skill set play a large role in your production work?
PLASTICIAN - Yes definitely, I always try to produce things I fit will sit well between two or three styles I'm feeling at the time. Most of my more famed productions bridged the gap between grime and dubstep when I was playing mostly that. Right now it tends to sit somewhere between grime, jersey club and what people would refer to as "cloud rap" although you'd never hear me call it that! I'm always trying to create things I think people won't have heard before, which is why so little gets finished. I think I am such a hard person to please musically, even with my own productions.
OCDJ - As a producer do you think it's important to intimately understand the lineage of the beats your producing?
PLASTICIAN - Not necessarily. I sometimes find the best way to work on things is to just experiment and go crazy. You can always take the good stuff from it and simplify if you feel the need later on.
OCDJ - If electricity ceased to exist would you still be making music?
PLASTICIAN - No, I'd be fucked. I'm not even sure I'd be able to live let alone make music!
OCDJ - Hypothetical question: there are two shows on the same night, both DJs worthy of being called your "favourite". One plays vinyl, the other uses the SYNC button. If you could only choose one show, where would you go?
PLASTICIAN - Absolutely no bother to me. If I was in the mood to dance and have a drink I'd go to the one most likely to achieve that with their selection. Or if I wanted to zone out and experience something different, the same for that. I'm not hung up about the making of the music, or how it is being done. So long as I enjoy it that is really all that matters.
Big thanks to Plastician for taking time out to have a chat with us about all things music and to Rumpshakers for feeding Toronto with some proper electronic music talent.
In Episode 4 of the OCDJ - TV series, Slowpitch along side Circles & Squares have some fun (as usual) breaking down some strategies for how to deal with one of the most important issues for new and/or seasoned DJs & Producers: The Equipment Purchase. It's easy to get pushed in the wrong direction, especially if you're not exactly sure what the best piece of gear may be. Tune in for some interesting and helpful commentary on how to protect your wallet!
"Man, that music is old!" .....really?
In this edition of OCDJ - TV we dive deep into ideas and definitions of old vs. new music. What exactly do either of those words really mean? And how do perspectives of old and new affect our production, sampling sensibilities, and feelings about how good or bad a track is.
Direct drive turntables vs belt driven, making money as a DJ and more questions are answered in episode 2 of OCDJ - TV. Do you have questions? Email: email@example.com
We recently met up with former student Will Bokan aka Ninja Bokan for a quick chat about his recent success, signing, release, experience at Off Centre and all around Ninja lifestyle!
OC1. So, what's it like being a ninja!?
NB1. Being a full time Ninja is the best thing I could ever imagine in my life. Ever since I was as young as I could remember I just wanted to be the Green Power Ranger when I grew up. Backflip kicks and other insane martial arts stunts were life necessities to me in late highschool and on into university.
OC2. Does your active lifestyle have an influence on your style of music or vice versa?
NB2. For me it is everything. Electronic music alone inspires all of my movement. I started gaining interest in learning how to make my own music for my martial arts. The interesting thing about this was once I started learning and becoming involved in production, it very quickly became all about the music. I’m way too obsessed with learning more about production and even just having great new music to listen to while I do Ninja activities or any activities in my life really.
OC3. What kind of music do you listen to (when you're not fighting Luigi!)? Mario's Street Challenge Are there any specific music influences that you can site?
NB3. Haha, this is a tricky one. I love all genres of music (except country). If it is good music I do like it. Typically I listen to the music suitable for the mood.When I am doing office work or monotonous tasks on the computer I like to listen to chill out music like Pretty Lights and Griz. I’m really falling in love with Shaun Frank’s new Deep House also. Deadmau5 is the best for so many things. Every now and then I love listening to Headhunterz and hardstyle. But once it is something that requires movement, high energy, or I’m feeling upbeat, I’m all over the Electro House. Dylan Francis, Nom De Strip, stuff like that.Actually right now at the very moment Nom De Strip makes me have a mental meltdown, definitely my favourite artist for today.
OC4. Congrats on your recently released a track "The Crew from 602" on BugEyed Records. Tell us a little about how all that went down. How did you find them or them find you? Any future plans with that label?
NB4. Well, The Crew from 602 was actually kind of an accident experiment track. Design wise it was inspired a little from hardstyle and at the time I was listening to some of Headhunterz new Big Room/hardstyle experimental tracks. So I figured “meh” I’ll fool around with that in mind, and then a track popped out. The overall inspiration for the track came from my stunt crew that hung out at after practices at this terrible junky house numbered 602. Everyone had the best time. I’m glad the house sucked, because it made it an amazing place to hang out with the right people for the right reasons.
I sent my demo over to BugEyed, they said they’d love to sign it after listening. It was that simple really. I’d love to provide them with more tracks.
I have some beauties in the hopper right now that I am super excited about. My current track is coming along a little slower than I'd like, but the quality is just epic for my expectations. I'v very happy with the results so far, I cannot wait to finish this gem, and I can't wait to send your way to have a listen when it comes out.
Maybe this track could also possibly end up on another label or maybe it stays with BugEyed? I can’t predict these things. I like to be a leaf in the wind; whatever works out best for everyone makes me really happy.
OC5. Is there anything in particular that sticks out in your experiences at Off Centre that has helped with your music (or just in general)?
NB5. Well, everything haha. I’m sure it is different for everyone, but for me specifically Off Centre was the turn key enabler that opened the opportunity for me to start and understand how to make electronic music. Before I started at off centre I knew I wanted to start making music but I had no idea how. Taking a look at ableton on my own wasn’t all that intuitive.
I took the offcentre course, everything started making sense and I learned how to make a track from beginning to end with confidence. I learned all the necessary tools and more to get a producer going on their own. Not only that, the environment and the positivity from the instructors was so inspiring and unreal. I really felt like they believed in me and enjoyed teaching me because they wanted to.
A whole new world opened for me. The way I heard songs and the audio pallet that opened up for me was insane. Probably one of the coolest milestones in my life; truly discovering what music really was.
Thank you so much Off Centre.
OC6. In a short time your beats have really developed and evolved nicely into some high quality production. Is there any advice you could give to producers and beat makers that are in the early stages?
NB6. Oh man so much advice. I could write a massive report at this point, and still have limited knowledge as I am just “starting” my journey. The most important to me is to keep learning new things. I know it sounds really obvious but really focus on growth and new production tactics that lead to a “cleaner” track. Every time I finish a track I am already disappointed with it due to new things I have learned to make the next track better. It’s okay to have high standards and put pressure on yourself as long as you are having fun.
The 4 actual production points I found the most important right away after I finished Off Centre are the following:
1) Sidechain Compression.
I now use Nicky Romero’s Kickstart. Highly recommend. Sidechain Compression is the most important part to getting that rock solid clean kick and overall mix out there. Make sure you never miss getting this right.
Layer your snares, layer your synths, layer everything that needs to be layered. You get way more control over your sounds. You pick the parts you like form them, remove the parts you don’t and then glue them together. Really separate your bass and your mids and highs.
3) Pick a professional track to compare yours to.
Listen back and forth. See where yours is missing pieces and sounds that the other track has locked down. Are your samples just too weak? Is your mixing levels off? It could be many things, a reference track similar to yours is great.
4) Take breaks.
For me, I found once I started going too long that my ears would start becoming too used to the track and unable to be effective in focusing on making the right changes. If they are getting tired, just take a break for half an hour and then come back. You’ll be surprised at how “fresh” the track and canvas sounds to work with again.
To find out more about will and his evolving body of work, checkout:
Hang out with Off Centre's SlowPitch and Circles & Squares as they talk DJ culture, music, Toronto life and more. They will also be answering your questions regarding the art form of DJing. Do you have questions? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Level 1 Intro to DJing student and very talented young beat maker Talal Al-Saymaree aka CHi4NS4W never stops amazing us with his moody hypnotic musical stylings. We picked his extra terrestrial brain for a bit to find out what inspires his sound.
OC - When did you start making beats?
CS - I started making music when I was around 14-15, I fell in love with music since I was a kid my mom got me this wonky Casio keyboard and it used to be my favourite. The country I grew up in (Kuwait) mostly played Arabic music and the English radio stations only played tops 40s for example there was a lot of Michael Jackson at the time. Then when I was like 13 the song "One More Time" by Daft Punk played on TV and I was mesmerized. Then my cousin introduced me to the world of music online and also how to use a dial up connection. From then on I wanted to learn how to develop these type of sounds that had captured my heart and ears.
OC - Who or what are some of your early influences?
CS - Some of the early influences were Daft Punk, Mix Master Mike, and The Chemical Brothers, I know you would view them as nothing but mainstream music but you have got to understand, where I grew up it was kinda hard to find that sort of music.
OC - Where is your favourite place to get inspired in the city?
CS - My favourite place to get inspired would have to be my balcony, the view from the balcony of my apartment is incredible and always helps me make the best of my music.
OC - Do you like producing by day or by night and why?
CS - I prefer to produce at night because no one interrupts my creativity. I can continuously work on my music until I feel it is done.
OC - Where would you like to see your music placed in the future?
CS - I would love to see my music used in video games. That way it would combine two of my favourite things, and I feel it adds another dimension to the gaming experience. But mostly I would like it to get out there so that everyone would be able to appreciate it. It's not a matter of getting everyone to like it, just appreciate the music for what it is.
OC - Any shout outs?
CS - Shout out to kalibrplus(K+), Emojicult, Skywayz, Ghostship of Suburbia, SlowPitch, baddaynamik, my mom, Heather Louisa and Syro. I would like to thank Off Centre DJ for making this happen. It's a wonderful place, run by wonderful artists that helps anyone explore sound in depth and aspire to be better artists. Thank you for keeping me in mind and giving me this wonderful opportunity.
One of our favourite record shops has moved, merging two prime locations - Bathurst and Bloor in the iconic and soon to be
gone Honest Ed's building and the cosy Kensington Market shop into one space nestled in the busy and what we call the second centre of Toronto, Spadina and Queen area. We were told that the move was prompted by an up coming end of lease at the Bloor/Bathurst location. There is still quite a bit off work to be done before the new spot gets into full swing, but from what we've seen so far it's gonna be quite the sexy location to go record hunting. Definitely glad they're still around and with a rise globally in vinyl record sales they should be around for a good while.
Btw they've got dollar bins! Up and coming producers go get your hands dirty.
Sonic Boom is now located at 215 Spadina Ave. Open from 10am to 12am!! http://sonicboommusic.com/
Off Centre instructor Cheldon Paterson (SlowPitch) takes the turntable to uncharted territories Sunday October 12th at the Musideum in Toronto. "The highly cinematic journey will consist of organic sounds, uniquely created by using the turntable as an instrument. The music is further brought to life by numerous filters and effects in tandem with Paterson's hypnotic tribal rhythms." Find out more HERE!
For a closer look and study of the world of turntablism we cover everything from fundamental "golden era scratches" to more advanced, musical and experimental turntable manipulation. We offer courses that will satisfy your curiosity and help you get your creativity and execution to the next level. Read more about our turntablism programs HERE.
On April 5th, 2014 Splattermonkey joined us for an up close and personal Q&A at Off Centre, breaking down the ins and outs of creating successful and long running DJ nights, the art and joy of digging, and the many things in between that make up a DJs life.
As part of our December 2013 Student Night, on the biggest Toronto snow storm in years, special guest Basic Soul Unit blessed a full house of Off Centre students and staff with a thoughtful, modest, and real account of the music industry and his career to date.
Reflecting his diverse interest in music, Stuart's house & techno productions can swing from lush and soulful to crunchy and jacking. He has released and remixed music on respected labels such as Nonplus+, Dolly, Philpot, Mathematics, Mule Electronic, Versatile, Ostgut Ton, Créme Organization & New Kanada. The end of 2012 saw the the release of Basic Soul Unit’s first album “Motional Response” on Chicago’s Still Music to great critical acclaim.