How (my) music is made. Fuck the bullshit.


A while back, I was running out of things to write about for this blog and asked the readers to give me some ideas. I got a ton of great suggestions, as well as some down right terrible ones. That’s to be expected though, and I appreciate people for trying. Something that popped up a lot were questions about my music and how it’s made. I suppose this is a very curious topic for people outside the creative process and for people who are not me. I mean, shit, interviewers have been asking me a similar question as far back as I can remember. The oh so important query of “How does your music get made?”.
When I’ve answered questions in this vein , during interviews, I tend to give a brief answer and move on as the creative process , to me, is extremely boring. Every artist works differently and subscribes to their own practices. Mine just happen to be mind numbing.
I think when someone outside of making music imagines this process, it’s extremely romanticized. They perhaps see images of a thoughtful artist , tucked away in their studio, surrounded by equipment, candles and burning incense. The artist feverishly working away , completely zoning out and creating music that eventually becomes something that means a lot to many people. Well…i can only speak for myself but this could not be less like how I go about making music. Don’t get me wrong, I do think their are people like this. In fact, I’ve met many people who completely lose themselves in what they do. I’d say about 35% of them are genuine in that and the other 65% are emulating what they think an artist is “supposed to do”. Particularly people working in electronic music of any sort.

Personally…my way or working is something that might really let you, the listener, down. I’ve considered writing about this before but I always felt like I should keep a little mystery behind the curtain and not expose myself completely. But fuck it. The way I see it , the artistic process needs to be exposed a bit , if not to simply shake some of the preconceived assumptions that seem to follow it. Too many artists treat it like it’s the agonizing thing that only they could ever really understand and I’m here to say that simply not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case. Making music is something that comes natural to many people. Like most things that come natural, it’s not so much “hard” as it is time consuming. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of natural musicians out there who don’t struggle. Of course, any artist worth anything is going to hit walls and deal with tons of peaks and valleys.But the misconception by music fans that musicians are either fragile beings or unsung geniuses has always bugged me. Some people just make music without all the pretense.

So, allow me to dismiss the myths behind how MY music is made. Remember , I’m just one person and I’d venture to say my way is not the norm. I’d also like to clarify that I’m not really even a musician.I play no instruments, i can’t read music and , at best, have adequate rhythm. So, just keep in mind, everything I’m writing here is from the perspective of an “Electronic” music maker. I have no clue how rock bands do what they do. I have no clue how polka bands do what they do. This is just about what I know. So keep that in mind.

When i make music, I sit in a chair , in front of a computer. I got this program called “Music maker 2000” that not many people are up on. All you do is, write an adjective in a little box. For instance, I might type “Gloomy”. It takes a few minutes but , within moments, a fully formed song pops out , perfectly fitting the adjective. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at it and have learned to enter multiple words in to really great results. A song like \"It\'s raining clouds\" was the result of me typing “Stormy whirlwind sad uplifting elf-like”. I’m telling you. This program is amazing.
Okay, obviously I’m making that up but how would you feel if that was real? It ain’t that far off.
Let me be really honest.
Here is my actual work process in making a beat.
First off, what i’m working with:

ASR 10 sampler that i purchased over 15 years ago
Ableton live on my mac book
A Moog slim phatty
A gemini record player
A dusty ass component system and the speakers that came with it (but i also use headphones)

That’s it. Nothing more. Not cause I don’t want more but more cause I’m frugal and working within this tiny spectrum has served me well in the past.Also, NYC apartments aren’t exactly spacious. I literally don’t have enough room to add much more. I will say though, I’m certainly open to adding stuff to this meager roster in the future, we’ll see what happens.
Anyway, here’s the process, step by step.

1)Sit down in front of my sampler
2)Hook up my computer and record player to the sampler
3)go through records/mp3’s of music I would like to sample looking for ideas.
4)When I find something that peaks my interest, I sample it. I now have a starting point. I may chop it up, throw effects on it or just leave be. That usually is based on if I feel it needs to be flipped up, or if I want it to sound a certain way.
5)Depending on that sample, I either add drums or look for more sounds to go with that sample. Let’s assume I’m doing drums.
6)I’m either working with chopped drums or a drum break or , often, both.
7)If it’s a break, I throw it in ableton and get it all lined up. Meaning, I clean it up and make sure all the kicks and snares fall where I want them to be.
8)If it’s chopped sounds, I go through my pre-made library of sounds looking for the right combination of kick and snare, as well as the proper hi-hat. This can take anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour depending on how particular the sound I’m working with is.
9)Once I lock down the drum sounds, I play them out on my sampler (depending on if I use a break or not)
10)Once the drums are right, I look into a bass line. This means either something I play on my keyboard or an actual sampled bass line from some other song. Both can take a while to find as the perfect bass tone is rarely right in front of you.
11)Once the bass is right, I just tear through a bunch of records/mp3’s and look for samples to layer over the existing track. This is hugely hit and miss.
12)The layer process can be both tedious as fuck and rewarding. Every day is different. The existence of ableton has made this much easier than when I started. Prior to using ableton, all the sample matching was organic. Meaning, no pitch shifting and no easy way out. It was simply a long ass process of finding something that works. Trial and error like “Woah”. Nowadays, with ableton and it’s time stretching and pitch changing abilities, it’s pretty fucking easy. Too easy if you ask me but whatever.
13)Once I find a decent amount of layers (usually between 3 and 5), I save it to abelton. Until about 3 years ago, I used to save the beats to floppy disks. Yup! Floppy disks. But, thankfully, I’ve moved on from the 1990’s.

This whole thing takes anywhere between 1.5 hours and 4 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in my “Studio” longer than 4 hours at one time. I just don’t have that kind of
focus and the seat I use isn’t very comfortable.

And that is how musical magic happens.

I realize, my work process isn’t far off from how an accountant or pharmacist works. It’s very mathematical. It’s very laborious. It’s rare, when I’m working on music, that I feel like I’m working outside myself. Most of the time, I’m just plugging away, looking for the right formula. I guess what makes it artistic is that my ears are what’s guiding this formula but still, it doesn’t feel very artistic. It is what it is.

Growing up, my dad was a painter and sculptor. Every day, he would wake up , eat his breakfast and read the paper. Then he’d go into his studio for the rest of the day until it was dinner time. I have no clue what he did down there. For all I know, he could have slapped around a piece of clay for an hour and spent the rest of the day doing crossword puzzles. But the thing I came away with from being around him was that every one has their own process that works for them. I know plenty of artists who lose themselves in their work, hate everything they create and are constantly beating themselves down over it. They lose sleep over their work and feel genuine pain over it. In many cases, the final product is great. In a way, i envy people like this cause that’s a level of passion I don’t think i’ll ever grasp. I love making music but I also am able to remove myself from it when I’m not working on it.

On a side note, I do find humor in meeting people like this who also happen to make terrible music. That’s gotta burn the soul, huh? I mean, obviously, whether or not music is good is completely objective. But I do get a kick out of listening to some Minimal techno making dip shit regale me with woeful tales of finding the right 808 sound.

As I’m writing this, I’m taking a break from working. What am I doing , you might ask? Well, I’ve begun working on my new album. This may sound exciting but what I’ve been doing the last week or so is loading up floppy disks, recording each separate instrument , one by one, onto my ableton and organizing them all into folders using BPM’s, track names, and type of instrument. I’m basically doing the musical equivalent to filling out spread sheets. Sounds fun , right? (Just to be clear, I’m not complaining about being a career musician. That would be insane. Obviously, this is an awesome “Job”. I’m simply trying to strip away some of the ideas people have about how some of us work).
So, in the future, just remember this. The next time you’re idolizing some mystical music being, don’t forget that , in the midst of all his genius, he’s very likely a fucking math nerd with huge insecurity issues. Kinda evens the playing field, huh?
But if one thing is the musicians saving grace, at least we’re not actors.

Answers for questions vol. 17


As usual,keep the questions coming. Leave them here in the comments or email them to me at phatfriendblog@gmail.com. I support weird questions.
Now, back to business:

Hey Blockhead, I am going to be in NYC for the first time ever in a week. It seems you are an expert on the city are some must see places. Or just most entertaining parts of town. By which I mean, where can I see a good bum fight? Perhaps the best way to pick up a famous classy New York hooker? Basically things only someone born and raised there would know about.

Well, the things you seem to want to see and the word “fun” seem pretty separate to me but let’s see what we can figure out. I find , the best bum fights happen on the top floor of the empire state building. Holy shit. It’s like you go up there and it’s just a free for all. Bags of plastic bottles flying all over the place with tipped shopping carts lining the walls. The best part about it is , if you get bored of watching that hobo bash another hobo’s head in, look out the windows and enjoy that view. If you bring binoculars , you might even be able to catch some other bum fights on the ground. Yes, the view isTHAT good. The empire state building is some down low shit that I don’t like to put out of towners up on but you seem like a cool guy so be sure to peep it. As for classy hookers, I bet you’re guessing I’m gonna tell you to hit Times Square. Well, I’m not. Not, long gone are the days of prostitutes and porn theaters in the heart of Manhattan. Now, the super duper secret spot is the meat packing district. It’s the far west corner of north Greenwich Village. Only the classiest and most beautiful women of the night work there. Strangely, the prefer anal and never fully take their pants off, but I think that’s part of their mystique. Enjoy!

Hey Mr. Blockhead,
Your don’t have to respond to this, or even regard it as something you should read. I am a 20 year old in college, not sure what I am doing here. I am a little drunk, a little high, and a lot of confused. I have a paper due in 10 hours, haven’t started, but I am trying. I don’t remember why I am writing you, but most likely it is an attempt to prolong my procrastination. Apparently I am proving to myself that I can put words onto something, wait what? This isn’t intentionally spam but it might be, sorry. I’ll throw a question in for shits and giggles, what do you think of the peanut butter and jelly jars combined into one? I think it is by Smuckers or some shit. Sorry.

Damn son. Procrastination is a motherfucker, huh? Anyway, those combined peanut butter and jelly jars are fucking disgusting. It’s one of those “great on paper” ideas that should have just ended once someone in the boardroom asked “But aren’t peanut butter an jelly two completely different things that need to be packed separately?”.

What are your views on where the music industry is going? Will artists like you be able to survive ten years down the road or will the internet kill off most “Indie artists”?

I really don’t know. I can’t say the outlook is great but it’s also a case of people having to change their business plans. Since buying music is something most people don’t do, you gotta attack it from different angles. This means more shows I suppose. I think , eventually, most music will be free regardless of who’s making it. For the consumer, this is awesome, but for us artists it’s a pretty big setback if we’re trying to make a living. I’d say the best case scenario , for the quality of music, is that making music no longer becomes a viable source of income an it forces all the people who do it for that purpose to no longer do it. Thus, leading to music only being made by people who genuinely love making music. While I might be working at a Trader joe’s in 3 years, at least the over all quality of the music will be better.

Who would win in a bare knuckle brawl, Bill O’reilly or Oprah?

I mean, O’reilly is a huge dude. He’d mop the floor with Oprah. Unless the were using pillow cases filled with gold bricks or something. Cause Oprah’s pillow case would be impressive and maybe she could hire someone to swing it for her.

Do you have a favorite quote or lyric from a song that has stuck with you through the years?

I don’t know if they’re my favorite…in fact, I know they aren’t, but there are tons of lyrics that always go through my head for no reason. Some have been doing it for years. Strangely, none come to mind right now but rest assured they’re extremely unimpressive and probably make very little sense out of context. I liken this to how most of my dreams are pretty much me doing mundane activities. Go figure.

How many songs did you consider for “the music scene”, or how many songs didn’t make the cut?

I don’t tend to have scrap piles of songs. The entire album “The music scene” was as you heard it. It’s really 12 complete songs that were comprised of about 25-30 separate beats. I just found a way to mash a bunch of them up with some fluidity. Out of those beats, I definitely dumped certain elements so that the songs could work, but what you heard on the album was all that I made, song-wise.

Good morning Sir,

Do you have facebook? I want to quote you and tag you in it…

I do have a personal Facebook page but it’s not open for the public. If I don’t know you, I’m not accepting your friendship. I like to keep some semblance of privacy in my life. I do , however, have music page that I’m pretty active on. It’s The Real Blockhead. Please “like” it. Speaking of which, there is another “Blockhead” music page that has about 8,000 more likes on it but it’s not me. I tried to contact whoever it is that made it with hopes of being given admin powers , before I was forced to make “the real Blockhead” page , but facebook makes that pretty much impossible. I have a feeling some fan made it like 5 years ago and forgot about it. Don’t “Like” that one. All it is is a wall of spam and no updates.

Is there any celebrity with whom you would smoke weed or do any other drug with just to get the full experience of hanging out with them?

Hmm…I mean, it would be hard for me to turn down a blunt from Snoop Dogg but the problem with that is, I’d get really fucking high and probably freak out. Not externally, but I’d have a mild panic attack or something and keep saying rookie shit like “Man, I’m really high. Are you guys too high?”. I’d say that is far more embarrassing than saying no to a joint.

so there’s the same piano bit on pretty lights’ high school art class as in your insomniac olympics.. turned on the former and i was prettty surprised! but i think its a beautiful clip, and it made me wonder where it’s from? i would love to hear more if it’s a sample, but if not then who made it? and did he borrow it from you, then?

Ah yes, I was put on to this last year. We both used the same sample. It happens. Mine was definitely made first but it’s hard to say if he sampled it from me or from the actual record I sampled it from. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. He freaked it way differently than I did so it’s no big deal to me. Except when I opened for them and opted out of not playing “Insomniac Olympics” cause I didn’t want his crowd to think I was jacking his shit.
As for the sample, I actually don’t remember when it’s from. It’s a fairly common dollar bin record though so it would be no surprise if Pretty Lights stumbled upon it just like I did.

Exploitation finally gets it right


Reality TV has been with us now for over 20 years. It’s seen it’s ups and downs and , primarily, has been good for two thing in particular: Laughing at strangers and creating worthless idols.
Allowing us to look into the lives of those who are not us and realize “Hey, maybe things aren’t that bad for me” OR “Hey, I wish I had that life”.

With these two extremes balancing out , it’s fair to say there has been a wide variety of shows within the reality context. We started with 7 strangers living together and have gone all the way to millionaire celebrities dancing to the delight of people with no souls. In the midst of all this, there has always been something that fell short to me. In it’s essence, reality TV is really at it’s best when it’s exploiting people who are unaware that they are being exploited. Jersey shore is a prime example of this. As is any show based around the everyday dealings of a playboy bunny. But the thing about those particular types of shows is that , while the people on them are no doubt pieces of shit in their own right, I don’t think they’re inherently bad people. So, as much as I can laugh at them, there still is a small part of me that can relate to them on some human level. That even extends all the way to the derelicts on the old Richard Bay show and Jerry Springer. These were the lowest form of americans you could scrape up but still, they’re just people trying to live their lives and, perhaps, have a moment on TV they can look back on. Regardless of how completely embarrassing that moment might have been.
However, lately, there has been a new breed of exploitive reality TV that has finally gotten it. They have zeroed in on a brand of person so utterly terrible yet unaware of that fact that it’s a goldmine to people like me. I’m speaking of any show based on gaudy women married to famous/rich people. These contemptible whores who truly bring nothing to the table , other than former beauty , a sad vagina of yesteryear and a ridiculously expensive wardrobe.

These women are just all around awful. Ranging from the real housewives of where ever the fuck all the way to basketball wives and , most recently, hip hoppers wives/girls. The best part about these types having their own shows to put their shittiness on display is that , to them, I’d imagine they’re coming across fabulous. In their eyes, they’re showing the world how they get down. Expensive shoes, glamorous houses and cars, trips all over the world. To them, these types of things actually reflect a persons worth. These are the type of women who confuse the word “diva” with “spoiled and self-entitled cunt”. For the most part (there are very few exceptions) these women have done nothing but but married to someone of great wealth. Sure, they all have their little businesses bred from boredom (bullshit like a perfume line or handbags) and they all are very philanthropic with their husbands money. But, really, they’re just flesh , bones and working organs existing for the sole purpose of spending money, being a sperm receptacle, and giving other bitches the stink eye over petty disagreements. That’s these ladies in a nut shell.

Before reality TV, women like this surely existed. They were known as gold diggers way before Kanye made that song. TV shows in the 80’s were full of them and portrayed them not too differently than what we see today. The main difference , though, is that the old TV version of gold diggers were somewhat intelligent in their conniving behavior. They were evil, but charming and sexy as well. You could see how a man could fall for their advances. These modern day versions? I’m guessing they either got knocked up or they wear persistent enough to wear down whatever lame millionaire dude they set their sights on to the point where he just accepted it and put a ring on her good for nothing finger. Sure, their sex appeal was/is always going to be the draw, but these women are all a few plastic surgeries past their prime.

I realize i’m being harsh about this but even if you look at the marriages of most of these women, the dude is usually either lobotomized or just noticeably miserable.
A beaten man. don’t get me wrong, he’s a piece of shit in his own right for many reasons (a big one being his willingness to marry one of these types) but, the difference is, there is no TV show based on him and his vapid friends. I don’t think a typical wealthy dude would want to do that. He’s either busy working all the time or would rather keep his dirt out of the public eye. So, instead, we get to watch these women at play.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while I’m praising these shows on some level, they are no doubt terrible. In fact, i don’t really watch most of them past a few episodes, if at all. I’m more just really happy that reality TV got it’s targets aligned. Obviously , there are inevitably going to be people who watch these shows differently than I do and take away something else from it. They very likely will inspire even more people to attempt to attain this kind of lifestyle. But the way i see it, that’s just survival of the fittest at work . Becoming a professional married whore is kinda like becoming an actress. Many may try, but few will actually succeed. The ones who don’t just get knocked up by some not so rich dude and fall to side. So, that’s a positive that can be drawn from this as life’s filter can be pretty harsh but fair. But , mainly, I’m happy that this kind of person has been put on display for all the world to see. So intelligent women every where can learn how not to be and intelligent men can learn who not to marry. Oh, and to always where a condom. If one thing is for certain, those types of women’s eggs come with handcuffs.

Song of the day 3/17/11


It is what it is By Skipp Coon & MR. Nick
http://www.usershare.net/r79lsg19aokr/02 it is what it is.mp3

Alternate link:
http://www.zshare.net/audio/878971634fa0d0c2/

New rapper alert! I might be a little late to the game (in internet years), but I heard of this dude Skipp Coon for the first time last week. Upon hearing this song, I rushed over to his bandcamp page and picked up his EP “Sophomore slump Vol. 1:Independence day”.

Skipp is a thoughtful rhymer from Mississippi who kinda sounds like a more serious Devin the dude (minus the singing). Very laid back to the point where he’s pretty much just talking casually over the beat.
I’m not gonna lie, when I first saw his name, I assumed he was the next Soulja boy and his first song would be some ridiculous dance step only seen on youtube. I couldn’t have been more wrong. So, yeah, peep this shit and go get the ep if you like what you hear.
http://tibbit.bandcamp.com/

Fuckin’ lil’ bullies


This video is all over the net and it’s really uplifting, in the worst way possible.

http://img143.imageshack.us/i/osg.mp4/

I’d find the you tube link but they keep getting taken down so I’ll just run with the link above.

Now, I was never one who got bullied. Not cause I was at all tough or especially cool but probably cause I was always a big kid. I was 6 feet by the time I was 14 (which is when I unfortunately stopped growing) and was typically one of the larger kids in my class leading up to that. However, size really didn’t mean shit once you got to a certain age because people didn’t fight fair. We’re all familiar with beat downs and people getting jumped. In high school, it was just something that happened. I was lucky enough to narrowly avoid a few of these situations (I’ve always been a good reasoner with dumb violent people). But the one thing I always noticed about these beat downs and jumpings was that the smallest and frailest dude in the crew usually led the pack. Meaning, there would be 6-10 dudes behind him, but lil’ napoleon would be popping the most shit and , usually, throw the first punch.

When I was 15 , I was chilling with some friends at St. Anthony’s feast in Little Italy. We somehow got separated and I ended up walking up a side street. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by kids in Northface jackets. They did the 1993 translation of “We’re about to rob you/fight you” and asked “Yo, you write?”. I did not ever do graffiti but I had often been mistaken for someone who did. I guess I looked kinda like him or it was just an easy excuse to pop shit with me. EIther or. Doesn’t matter. When I told them I didn’t, they disagreed. “Nah, you write…You write Dell”. At the time, I was not familiar with who “Dell” was. A year later, he would become a close friend of mine and I would learn why so many people wanted to kill me thinking I was him. We didn’t look alike at all except we we both tall had the same awful haircut (parted down the middle, yo!). Turns out, my boy Dell was a total asshole toy who went around crossing over anyone’s tags he felt like. This was a dick move on his part. It got so bad that his name was basically just used as an in for people who wanted to rob people. Saying something like “You write Dell?” or “You know Dell?” was just an easier angle to take if you had your mind made up you were gonna fuck with someone. So, yeah, they “thought” I was Dell.

I assured them I was not this person a few times but they weren’t having it. My reasoning had no effect and the littlest guy in the crew walked up to me and got in my face (the best he could from the height he was). He did some more posturing and finally hauled off and hit me in the ear/temple area. It felt like nothing cause this kid was a weakling pussy but I couldn’t do anything. The second I touched him, his whole crew would jump in and kick the shit out of me. So, I just took it. It was humiliating to say the least cause, of course, he was hoping around like Jabba the hut’s little henchmen , thinking he was the man for that moment in time. Luckily for me, some cops rolled by and the crew dispersed. I have a feeling, regardless of me hitting him back, I was gonna get jumped eventually had the cops not shown up. At age 15, that was kinda scary. I was belittled and definitely worried that I might run into these kids again. But, above everything, I was pissed. Pissed that this little pip squeak bitch got to do that to me with no repercussions. I remember thinking, if this fight does happen, AT LEAST get a good shot in on that kid. The beat down would be imminent but knocking that kids block off would almost make it worth it.

So, when I see a video like one above , it makes me smile. That little kid, punching and taunting the fat kid , is an asshole. A smug little shit bag who thinks he can get away with poking a bear at the zoo. Unfortunately for him, the bear flipped out and threw his balsa wood body to the ground like a bag a of laundry.

I read somewhere that the fat kid got suspended from school for this even though the little kid obviously threw multiple first punches. Bullshit. It also turns out the little kid and his friends had been tormenting the fat kid for years. Fatty should get a medal of honor for not sticking around, stomping that kid on the ground to pulp and then beating the shit out of everyone there for fueling the kids initial taunting. But , no, now he’s at home , most likely being scolded and eating a pint of ice cream on his couch. Another example of life not being fair but, at least, it’s nice to know that every now and then, justice gets served. Perhaps this video will get around enough and deter some little punk from instigating a fight he could never win fairly. I suppose we can all dream.