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Learn From The Pros: Studio Tips With Ant LaRock

With 20+ years of production under his belt, Ant LaRock gives you the dos and don'ts for success inside and out of the studio.
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A while back, we mentioned that house maestro Ant LaRock would be stepping in as a contributor here at Magnetic Magazine. Think of him as your new professor, here to share and teach you how to be the best producer you can be, by sharing his tips and tricks he has learned over his expansive 20+ years in the business. He's worked closely with some of the most legendary names in the game, and has been there and done that many times, over, constantly refining and perfecting all that he's learned. Oh, not to mention he was also balloted for a Grammy. We'll be covering and discussing topics like compression, sampling, arrangement, and so much more. So without further due, please welcome Ant LaRock.


Mission Statement: Let's face it, good or bad, almost everyone has the means to sit down on their laptop and create music. When I first started writing and recording music in the 90’s, it took months, even years to procure the necessary gear to get me started. ADATs were a nightmare, mixers were expensive and keyboards were giant. As difficult as this process was, it filtered down the amount of people producing electronic music to the very passionate and determined. In today's competitive and (some may say) over-saturated market, it seems essential to gather every piece of knowledge available in order to be heard. Through the coming months, I will share some essential, even obscure, lessons that I have learned over the last 20+ years of producing electronic music. Some tips will be technical, studio related how-to’s and some will be broad-stroked life lessons.

I was lucky enough to learn traditional studio recording from some of the most legendary NYC studio producers out there, as well as participate in the rise of digital recording, so here are some of the tips that helped me achieve the sound that I was after.

1. Know Your DAW

The key to getting your ideas from your head to ultimately produce sound is your DAW, i.e. Digital Audio Workstation. In plain English, your DAW is the software on your computer that you use to record music. DAWs come in many flavors; Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, etc. Let's imagine that you threw down for a new computer, sprung for Logic Pro and quit your job. If you didn’t know how to use your software, it would be like sitting down to write your first novel and realizing that you didn't know how to spell. I wouldn't worry about the long-standing debate of which DAW sounds better, just get one and learn it. Pick one on looks or name alone, just learn every detail of that DAW. I primarily use Ableton Live. I sat down with the manual for Ableton Live and read it like a 50 year old woman would read a Danielle Steel novel. I fell asleep 7 nights a week watching YouTube tutorials on how to use it. I read blogs and magazines about techniques, tricks and features. I don't know everything but I want to know as much as a person can and here is my reasoning; At some point, whether it is one time or a thousand, I will use the techniques that I have learned. At some point, I will need every trick and technique to get the sound from my brain into the DAW to make music. Spending the time to have your DAW be an extension of your imagination is crucial. The last thing you want is you production skills to impede your creativity. I won't get into the intimate details of your DAW in this instalment because there is a myriad of tutorials out there and I encourage you to watch them all, just get to know your DAW.

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2. Keep It Simple

At some point, you may have watched an online tutorial or have been given production advice from a friend or professional and it seemed really complex. Don’t worry, simple is better. Here is how I figured out how to keep it simple. About 6 years ago, I was brushing up on some production skills so I watched some tutorials on how to make big sounding kick drums. Some of these videos were showing me how to layer 4 kick drums to get that big, club shaking sound. I had no idea why I needed a top kick and a sub kick and a mid kick but the video said so and I was going to try. Every attempt that I made at this complicated technique sounded terrible. Then miraculously, I loaded a raw, unadulterated 909 Kick Drum into my project and a light bulb went off! It was big, it had a knock to it, the lows felt nice and it filled out the tops well. Maybe that is why they made it sound like that in the first place? The next video I watched was about compression. I remember researching compression ratios and attack times until I was even more confused. I slapped on compressor after compressor, at all different values and felt like I was making a Closter phobic mess of my songs. Then I cut the compression out of my tracks and...viola! It sounded much better. Knowing how to use compression is HUGE and it is an essential tool so we will touch on it in the coming months but for now we are keeping it simple (let the Mastering Engineer deal with it for now). Point of the story; If it sounds good, it sounds good. If your Hihat sounds good, don’t touch it. If your sub bass is low and meaty, don't mess with it. If your kick is big and punchy, leave it the f*$k alone!

3. Finish that Sh*t

Making 4 bar loops might be one of my favorite things to do on earth. It is up there with sex and coffee. 4 bars of House Music is about 15 seconds long and I can open Ableton Live and make those loops for hours and hours…but that is not making a song. 4 Bar loops don't get you signed to record labels. 4 Bar loops don't move you forward in the music industry, finished songs do. First, let’s cover some essentials. Arrangement, in simple terms, is how your song is structured and ordered. Your musical idea needs an arrangement to make it a song. With Dance Music, there is a pretty specific structure to songs so that DJs can spin one track into another. If you aren’t familiar with this structure, I strongly encourage you to study up on it and we will cover it in following articles. Sitting down with a little bit of discipline and arranging a 4 bar loop of music into a song is one of the hardest things to do at first but it gets easier. The more you walk through the process of creating intros, build ups, drops, breaks, whatever the song calls for, the easier it becomes. When you finish your songs you will have something to play for your friends, record labels and spin yourself. A time-tested trick is to take a track with a good arrangement and drop it straight into your project in your DAW. This way, you can use it as a blueprint on how to structure your own song. Keep at it, it takes practice like everything else. I have many friends that buy gear instead of finishing tracks or start countless demo ideas instead of finishing a track. A new synth or plugin, although inspiring, will not do the work for you. You have to finish that sh*t yourself!

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