Lucy from school of electronic music Hi there guys, thanks for coming. So I’ll just give a quick word on “MMS Sessions.” Obviously, it’s a series that we’re starting, this is the first one. Thanks to Ben for coming along for it! It’s going to be a series of masterclasses, interviews, workshops, that kind of thing, to encourage the relationship we’ve all got with music.
So, what we’ve got going on tonight – I’ll talk to him for a little bit, and then he’s going to break apart one of his tracks that’s getting released in January called “Butter Lover.” And after that, maybe a bit of live track production if we’ve got time, and then some question and answers at the end. So get thinking about questions, and then we’ll shout them out afterwards.
So I’ll give a little bit of an introduction to Ben. Whoo! Twenty-four years old, DJing since he was 18, producing since he was 21. He’s managed by Grade, who also manage Lee Foss, Ryan Crosson, Visionquest, Eats Everything, and Seth Troxler. He is the co-owner of Purp&Soul record label and agency. You probably know him for his track “What I Might Do” – it’s just peaked at number seven in the UK charts. It’s also Most Shazamed Track in World History. That’s pretty cool. And he’s obviously here with us tonight to impart a few pearls of wisdom (hopefully!) so I hope it’s helpful for everybody.
Just a quick thing before we start, now, be honest. How many of you are currently producing music? Put your hands up. Okay. How many of you are currently DJs or DJing? How many of you would like to learn to produce music? Okay, cool. And how many of you would like to learn to DJ? Anybody here just to meet Ben? Anybody? No? Oh, there we go! So there’s definitely some liars in the room. Okay, cool, I’ll hand it over to Ben. Ben, I just want to ask you quickly, why have you picked “Butter Lover” to pick apart?
Ben: I picked “Butter Lover” because it’s one of the tracks I’ve produced that is pretty much solely based on plugins, or it’s mostly done within Ableton and then some of the Native Instruments plugins that I know that, in school of electronic music, you have access to. So I didn’t want to use anything that I’ve used, like, really expensive, or synths, or anything like that which is mostly out of reach for people.
I mean, I’ve only got a couple myself. But when I go and work in different studios, I can never go and use them again, which is really annoying, unless I spend a lot of money for them. So it’s really just to try and do it as a bit more grassroots kind of stuff, I think, and it would be something that you might be able to relate to if you’ve used . . .I don’t know. How many people have used Ableton? Yeah? Logic? Reason? Fruity Loops? Garage Band? Yeah, so you might be able to relate to it a bit more than something that was a bit more complicated.
Lucy: That’s great. Okay, take it away.
Ben: Right. So, when I’m making a track, I pretty much always start with drums. Sometimes I’ll have a sample or do something on a synth when I’m playing around that just inspires me to do something. So this one’s quite simple, drum grouped. It’s pretty much just a 909 kit, which is just actually Ableton’s 909 kit. There’s a secondary one, which comes in more later on. There’s some bongos and shakers, as you can imagine.
So if you go into like, each individual thing, it’s pretty basic, really. That snare sample, for example, isn’t obviously a 909 snare. It’s sampled from somewhere else, and generally track production with similar drum machines. I usually keep it quite classic in terms of using different sounds that I usually use. 909’s obviously synonymous with house music in general.
So that’s basically the main drum loop that runs through it. It obviously progressed a bit further down, so if we go back to the intro again, what we have on top of that originally is some textures and lead synths. Oh, vocals, come to them later.
So this one’s using Massive. That was just a cool progression that I played out on my MIDI and corrected it, because I’m not a very good piano player. I think working in MIDI’s also really, really good because you don’t have to get every take perfect. Not everyone’s an amazing jazz pianist, so for me, it’s especially good. It’s quite nice to have that live element but also be able to go back and correct your mistakes, and quantize it to the loops, and everything.
This is basically just some atmosphere that I put in. I do quite like using textures, I think they fill out tracks. Attention to detail in these kind of things is often not noticed by the general public, but it might just fill out the song and push all the frequencies up a bit in between everything else. It kind of helps, from my experience, anyway.
So this is where it all comes together, pretty much. And if you see on this kind of bit, what I’ve done is basically just used the auto-filter to just filter down as the lows come in a bit. It’s quite a standard arrangement as well. A trance sweep, as you can see.
So originally, I started with this kind of layout. I didn’t really have a sample for quite some time. Now the sample that I have put in, I would add that I’m not going to actually going to use it when I release, I don’t think, because I don’t tend to like using samples anymore. Because it’s a lot of stress, and you kind of think whether people are going to pick up on it. This isn’t very recognisable. Points to anyone that can get it, because I won’t tell you. But you’ve just got to be careful sometimes, especially when you get to the level where you’re making that kind of music. I’ll just let it play for a bit actually so you can hear it.
So this is obviously the secondary lead, again, with Massive. It was just a preset, tweaked a little bit. You can see quite a lot of EQing and things on here, strictly, probably not. As I was self-taught, anyone that’s actually doing music production at the moment, I’m probably doing stuff wrong. So if I am, just let me know.
Tom: As long as it sounds good.
Ben: As long as it sounds good, yeah. You’re probably getting that basics introduction is really good. I just taught myself, so probably doing everything wrong and learning as I go.
Right, so this is really where I have the opportunity to try songs out. The first time I made this track, it was quite a bit different in terms of arrangement, but when you’re making club music, I don’t know what else . . . Most of you are probably into house music, yeah? Yeah.
So when you’re making club music, you’ve always got to think how people are going to react to it when they hear it in a club or a venue. So it’s always very important to how the energy, and how long the breaks go on for, and how much is in the breaks. Because if it drops out too much, and people can’t really hear what’s going on, you might have an amazing soundscape in there, but not everyone’s going to appreciate it. So I’ve come to realise that it’s very, very important to think about how much energy is in the track, and where it’s going, and there’s enough development in there for people to keep enjoying it for seven minutes or however long it is.
So this is really disjointed by the way, because I’ve never done anything like this before. So we’re just going to jump around a little bit.
This is the secondary drum kit. I think it’s the same preset, but I’ve added quite a lot of processing to this one to kind of distort it and grunge the sound a bit, so just when you layer it up, it’s got a bit more dimension to it. Obviously low-cut this one, so you don’t have any crossover on the low, and you just get the one kick coming through.
Tom: A lot of groove.
Ben: Lots of groove. There is a lot of groove.
Tom: What’s that green from?
Ben: MPC’s presets. I pretty much use that on every track, I think. Not really made much change with it here. I think using 16ths is always pretty standard with house, it works really well. The only other thing, I think the hi-hats on this one, they are side-chained to the kick, which you can hear when it comes in, it just sucks everything in a little bit, and it gets that kind of natural flow that you usually hear. And that one’s a bit more full-on, as you can hear.
So again, that’s a sample that I’ve actually used in this. Now, I’ve got a big fetish for using-, oh, fetish is the wrong word. I’ve got a big habit of using really looped vocals, so I’ll use a vocal. And I just love using looped vocals, so this one is one of those. Obviously you’d be different, but I think it’s also a good way of, if you’re using vocals, to use them in a bit more of an interesting way and not just using the whole verse, just finding some bit that sounds quite good repeated or just stuttered a bit, interesting sampling as opposed to just using the whole Brandy vocal or whatever you do.
So yeah, if you do recognize what this sample is, there will be points. But again, on the vocal, obviously EQ. There is a limiter on this one and this tube, reverb, another quite strange-looking EQ, and a vintage vocal warmer. Just all processing it, because again, if you do use acapellas, which you’re probably going to use, making them sound different than the actual original is always going to help. It’s just going to help you be unique as well, I guess.
I mean, I actually changed quite a lot of the break, the buildup in it, from trying it out. It used to be quite spaced out, and now it’s a bit more full. And there’s a bit more going on. So that kind of repeats on. If anyone does have any questions that are quite related to what’s actually going on, if you want to put up your hand or anything . . .
Tom: Are you going to tell us what the sample is, Ben?
Ben: No! Because if I do use this sample, you might come around and go against me. No one knows? You know.
Audience: I don’t know. I don’t know. Is it . . . I’ve been cheating and Shazamed it, and two different songs have come up.
Ben: Does Shazam work with loops? I don’t know if it’s . . .
Audience: Yeah, it does. “Burning da Funk.”
Ben: It’s definitely not that. Huh? No. I wouldn’t sample such a thing. But I think it kind of goes back to just sampling in general. You should probably just look for them in the most obscure places. I mean, I’ve seen them in interviews with other producers where they’ve been sampling from really old, obscure, kind of crowd rock records or something. It’s quite nice not use just the obvious R&B sample pack 2012, or acapella, or whatever.
So this is the second breakdown where I changed the chord progression on this, or the chord layout, sorry, just because I kind of thought it needed something else. This is still pretty much a work in progress as well, so I tweak songs over about the stage for about three months. I’m real, kind of changing things constantly, changing the dynamics of them or just fine-tweaking it.
Tom: What other processing have you got on the vocal there, Ben?
Ben: This one?
Tom: Oh, yeah, it was that crazy EQ, wasn’t it?
Ben: It’s just a weird-looking EQ. This vintage vocal one, which probably does what it says on the 10. Sorry, I’m sending it to this backing vocals and a chorus, which is just to add a bit more space behind it. I do use sends quite a lot, usually quite just to even set something really subtly, but it creates this kind of atmosphere below that, like whatever that is. Oh, sorry. So obviously, the synth line and everything’s changed there just because it’s a bit more interesting, maybe. There is a secondary vocal, which is that one.
Tom: Is that taken from the same . . .
Ben: From the same song.
Man 2: Have you pitched that at all?
Ben: Yes, pitched down by two semitones, so . . . This is becoming really hard for you as a quiz, isn’t it?
Tom: Just going back to your drums a bit, Ben . . .
Tom: Do you mainly program them? Do you have favorite loop packs or anything that you . . .
Ben: No, I pretty much do all the drums. If I was going to use drum samples, I use these kind of like,if I say I’ve got breaks kits, or just break loops, but I usually chop them up into individual drum things, because I find using a loop, it’s really good for some things. But also, when you want to do something different with it, you become quite restricted by that one loop.
So I program them all in MIDI. I can obviously change . . . I’ve also recently, probably not so much on this track, but on quite a few, I’ve become to automating the delays and the attacks of all the different elements, so . . . Especially with the 909, you can have so much fun with the hat if you just kind of like bring the delay up, or change the pitch of the hat, or whatever. So I think there’s a lot more fun to be had with MIDI drums or drum machines, if indeed you have them.
Tom: And your drum samples, is that an Ableton Live drum rack?
Ben: It is, yeah. It’s a 909 Mastodon. I don’t even know what that means, and then that’s a Myrtle when she’s doing it slightly different. Ableton’s really good for that in terms of it’s quite plug-and-play kind of stuff. I can start an idea quite quickly based on the fact that I’ve got drum kits available. I’ve got samples and plugins available, so often I’ll try and find myself starting, in an airport or something, a little loop that’ll continue to be onto something else.
So does anyone have any questions about the general track? Any comments, as long as they’re not negative, would be appreciated. Actually, no, negative comments as well, why not?