New Gear Warning – Akai Professional MPC Live

It happened again…

Here at GBM Music we love to create background music as varied and interesting as possible, and to keep doing so on a consistent basis means we have to keep adding to our arsenal of music creation gear that we can call on.

At least that’s what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about shelling out on some exciting new gear that we could probably survive without.

The truth is that there’s nothing more inspiring than discovering a new piece of equipment, and new ways to work and create music. Especially if things ever feel a little stale.

We’ve opted to purchase this new piece of gear from Akai as it offers a whole new workflow – combining the best of standalone work with the best of computer-based work.

The Sampler can be used in a completely standalone state and includes a hefty battery. While the cliche of playing and composing on the bus or in the park is even less applicable to this unit than usual, there’s no doubt that being able to leave the studio or the computer and crash on the sofa or bed with a device can be really great.

Equally, being able to throw an entire project in your bag and take it to a different studio or a collaborator is very appealing.

With a massive memory, and what looks like a buttery smooth touch screen interface to boot, the MPC Live is causing a lot of interest for music geeks, and MPC fans.

At £800, this is no small investment, but a device that’s being effectively marketed as a DAW in a box is potentially worth that level of investment, if it’s going to result in an improved workflow that results in more musical output.

We were tempted to hold out for the Elektron Digitakt, which looks like great fun, and perhaps even looks a little more adept at sample mangling, but the sheer workhorse nature of the MPC Live, and the smooth integration of the workflow from head, to MPC Live, to computer, made this device irresistible.

We’ll be sure to let you know how we get on with the new device once it’s arrived, and we’ve had a chance to test it out. But what do you think – did we make the right choice?

Finishing your creative projects

One of the toughest parts of making music is simply finishing the damn thing. Many of us have tons of ideas, and love getting started on them, but the more progress we make with them, the more likely we are to get distracted, and leave them unfinished.

There are a few reasons why this happens. At the start of a track, making music can be really fun because there’s no pressure or expectations. As we form an idea into something tangible, however, there’s more at stake. If you’ve got the seed of a good idea, you might start to worry that you’re going to it, or waste it – all of which can lead to inaction.

Another problem tends to be the fear of failure. This is a major problem for any creative person, and especially those who tend to be perfectionists. The closer a project gets to reaching its conclusion, the more vulnerable that person is to criticism or self doubt.

This is simply because you’ve invested time and energy into crafting the final product, and if it’s not very good, or is received badly, there’s nowhere to hide. If you’ve done your best at something, the idea of then receiving criticism for it can be incredibly scary, and really undermine your confidence. Ultimately, being creative is about exposing yourself to the potential for criticism, which can be very daunting.

There’s no easy solution to these issues, as they’re problems that affect us on quite a deep level, and the fears may be more subconscious than anything else. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a hard-drive full of half finished ideas and tracks of good background music for the site that will probably never see the light of day.

One good solution is to work on one project at a time, and work until it is complete before you allow yourself to start another. This takes discipline but will ensure you actually complete your projects.

Another is to simply leave tracks alone for a while if you feel you’re struggling, and then return to them with a refreshed pair of ears and eyes. This distance will stop you feeling so invested in the project, to the point where you’re scared to finish it.

It’s also important to note that sometimes an idea simply can’t be expanded, and should be discarded. Knowing when to say enough is enough is an important part of the creative process as well.

One technique that I like to use is to break things down into a methodical process. Listen to your unfinished tracks, and simply make a list of what needs changing and completing. Giving yourself a to-do list of small tracks takes the emotion out of finishing your music, and let’s you see and feel your progress as it happens.

Trying to build a habit around making your music is also a good idea, and will really help you make progress.

Do you have any ideas for completing your projects? Let us know in the comments.

How to copy creatively when making music

In my experience, one of the main reasons why people fail to achieve what they want from their music is that they think they have to rewrite the wheel every time.

A key realisation for me, was simply that there’s no shame in standing on the shoulders of giants, and using their genius as a springboard for your own creativity.

There are no new ideas, and some of the best creativity comes from simply putting your own impressions onto well worn structures.

Copying that isn’t copying

There’s a difference between outright copying and plagiarism, and using another artist’s work as inspiration. While there’s no excuse for flagrant copying, or trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own, there’s nothing wrong with using other work, or great examples of how to do something well, as inspiration for your own musical projects.

Some ideas for copying without copying when making music:

  • Listen to a song, and then try to write a song in the same style as that band. Inevitably, you’ll give the new track your own spin, and often, only you will be able to hear the similarities between the other band’s song and your own.
  • Got a great riff? Rather than wasting time trying to evolve it, listen to a song that you like, and copy the structure. So it may be main riff/variation on riff/verse/chorus/main riff/variation on riff/verse/bridge/chorus/outro. This immediately gives you a road map to work to, and can make the process of expanding a nugget of a riff into something bigger much easier.
  • Using another piece of music as a template is also a good idea in general. Simply listen to it a few times and make some notes. Does it start with a swirling synth, for two bars then the bass and drums kick in? Use the basic building blocks of the song as a broad template for your own. Again, it’s 99% likely your final song will bear little to no relation to the song it’s modelled on.
  • Think about the lyrics or mood of a song. Listen to it a few times, and try to recreate the emotions it generates.

Of course, it’s important to reiterate that all music you create should be your own work. Being inspired by other music is natural, but plagiarising it is not, especially if you fail to acknowledge the debt.