Some thoughts on how to learn using a reference track but not ending up like a someone’s clone
Hey Daniel, a lot of forums, tutorials and courses out there recommend learning by using reference tracks, deconstructing arrangements and rebuilding sounds/presets.
This sounds fine in principle, but in practice, I can’t help wondering if this has also created a lot of similar sounding music on Beatport, across all genres.
It may take longer and be more challenging to not use any form of reference but do you think that ultimately, it will lead the producer (over months and years) to more authentic results?
If not, how do you recommend reference tracks/sounds/arrangements are used to enhance learning but not limit creativity?
That’s a great question, Doron. I’m in a camp with those who suggest learning and training your ears using a reference track indeed, and I do agree that stores are flooded with similar music with a lack of originality. But I don’t think that using a reference whilst learning is what caused this.
You see, there is a different between analysing and trying to recreate certain sounds for educational purpose and deliberate copying someone’s else music. When you just starting out, you seek for answers for the questions that puzzling you: how is this bassline made? Is that a saw or a square wave? Does my lead sits well in the mix? And learning other producer’s music is a great way to answer them. Those who want to blindly copy other’s music will find a way, anyway.
When I started this blog, people often asked me something like “are you not afraid sharing your trade secrets so the others will steal your tricks?”, and I always said “no, I don’t”.
For example, I shared the way I made the robotic texture and atmospheric effects used in my tracks. There is nothing really fancy about it, it’s all basic stuff for anyone with a decent experience, but for beginners it might be a breakthrough. “Hm, so he made the texture using a simple noise oscillator and a filter... what if I’ll change it to a saw wave instead? And do this instead of that?” — that type of thinking I would advise to have when you read a tutorial or when you use a reference track. Think of a general concept, a method that can be implemented in so many ways rather than using any given tutorial or reference as it is. This is how the learning curve goes.
I would also like to talk about two more things: the format and the content.
Let’s take newspaper as an example. Typically, there are some current events printed on a low-grade paper, probably with some logo on the top and a big bold heading. You know it’s a newspaper just by looking at it. But I don’t think anyone accuses “The Guardian” of ripping off “The Time” or vice versa, or any other newspaper cloning each other. That’s because a newspaper is just a format of the production.
Now speaking about music, all those kicks, basses, mixdowns etc. are just a format of some particular genre. Let’s say, you know it’s a Psytrance when you hear a certain tempo and beat patterns. But you shouldn’t solely focus on that alone, and I think this is where many producers fall off.
Beginners forget that the content is what people listen to music for, same reason why they read the newspapers. And when I say content in terms of music, I’m don’t mean a fancy kick drum but rather a feeling, emotions that this track awakes in you; something that will make you want it to listen again and again. How to create an interesting music content is another huge topic, and it’s a talk for another time.
Fellow producers out there, I’m keen to know what do you guys think about it? The comments box below is open for you.