Thursday 26 November 2009

Radio One Star Annie Mac Reveals The Secrets Behind Her Success

We were delighted to welcome BBC Radio One DJ Annie Mac to Point Blank Music School this week as the next instalment in our series of celebrity guest lectures. Studio 8 was packed to the rafters with students lucky enough to get a spot in the audience, all eager to hear the story of how she rose through the ranks at Radio One to become one of the nation’s most in demand club DJs.

Annie has just taken over Pete Tong’s prime-time Friday 7-9pm slot on Radio One. As well as this being significant for her own career (Pete had held that slot for almost 20 years!), it also has a wider cultural significance; the popularity of her eclectic tastes representing the new breed of producers who are blurring the boundaries between genres, and a generation of dance music fans who will happily embrace a club-night that showcases dubstep alongside techno.

So the chance for students to quiz Annie about her take on the current music scene was undoubtedly one of our most exciting guest lecture offerings yet.

She spent over an hour taking questions from students on everything from how to build a successful music industry career, to her current favourite artists, to insider tips on how to get your music featured on her show! She happily accepted demo CD's from students and assured us that each and every one gets listened to.
The video of the lecture will be available very soon so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Annie, Tayo and the PB Students gettin' gangsta

We'd like to extend a massive "thank you" to Annie for being so generous with her time. If you want to see her in action behind the decks then she will be playing just down the street from Point Blank at MODA at The Macbeth on Thursday 3rd December.

If you fancy following in Annie's footsteps check out our radio courses

Wednesday 11 November 2009

The Cut Up Boys Guide to Mash Ups

If you want to give your DJ sets a unique flavour and guarantee entertainment on the dancefloor, creating your own mash ups is a great way to go about it. A mash up can be defined as a song comprised of elements of two or more pre-existing pieces of music.

The undisputed kings of the mash up are Bournemouth based duo The Cut Up Boys having released 6 highly acclaimed Mash Up Mixes on Ministry of Sound. They took some time out of their busy schedule to come to the Point Blank studios and give us their secret recipe for a monster mash up! Check out what they had to say and for even more inspiration take a listen to our choice of Top 5 Monster Mash Ups.

"The aim for anybody putting a mash up together should be to create a track that not only juxtaposes two or more existing pieces in an interesting way but does so with production values equal to any piece of "non-mashed" music fresh out of a commercial studio. This usually involves a lot of hard work, tedious preparation and legwork if you really want your productions to stand out from the crowd. Don't look at mash ups as the easy option if you want to make something special.

The first crucial stage in achieving this is to ensure that the components you are using to make your mash up are of the highest quality. If you are using the classic mash-up ingredients of an acapella of one track and an instrumental of another, do whatever you can to find the cleanest, highest quality versions of these components possible. If these tracks are grainy and scratchy versions to start with, the extra processing and mangling that "mashing-up" usually involves is going to end up making the finished product even harsher. This is especially critical concerning the music/instrumental track which You want to be clean and as fat as possible. A scratchy acapella can still sound great over a clean and tidy backing if processed and polished right, but the reverse is rarely the case.

Next, you must make sure that the components you are putting together are in key and time with each other. A professional producer recording a professional vocalist would never let any vocals pass that were either out of tune with the backing track or out of time. Why should you have different standards with your mash-up? At this point it is very useful to have a high-quality time-stretching/pitch-shifting processor at hand. Most audio software packages such as Ableton, Cubase etc have these tools integrated. It can take time and practice to master the art of getting tracks in tune and time…stick with it... and be as critical as you can of what's going on. If it sounds dodgy... it's dodgy!

The tracks must now be arranged, that is, the vocal laid down over the music in a way that flows properly, drops in the right places and doesn't have any messy awkward moments where the components are fighting each other. The two (or more) tracks you are putting together are highly unlikely to work to the same arrangement and so will not "fit", with choruses and verse sections aligning perfectly unless you get in there and edit them. When doing this, look to keep all cutting and pasting as tidy and accurate as possible. Don’t worry if one of the components has to get brutally edited to fit with the vocal or vice versa... it's often the way. Sometimes you might find that whole sections of tracks are best avoided, especially if they involve key changes or other musical cleverness. Its going to be hard to bend the vocal over these sections if they don't pull the same moves.

Finally, take all the care you can in balancing the levels and tones of the tracks you are putting together. Listen to a range of similar tracks to get a feel for how the vocals should sit over the music, level and EQ-wise. Mash ups can often benefit from a touch of compression/ limiting over the whole mix. This can help stop the vocal from sticking out and feeling detached from the music, drawing it all together dynamically. Good luck and happy mashing!"

A massive thanks to the Cut Up Boys for that advice. Check out their myspace if you want to hear more from them.

And remember to have a listen to the Point Blank Top 5 Monster Mash Ups

Wednesday 28 October 2009

FREE Studio and Recording Sessions for Bands throughout November

Calling all bands and musicians!

Throughout November Point Blank's Music Production HNC students are looking for bands to engineer and record at our state of the art studios in Hoxton, East London. We are giving you the fantastic opportunity to get free studio time and audio recordings of your music.

The available dates are as follows-



10 am - 7 pm.

Please send your demos to or or call 0207 7294884

We also book for regular gigs around London so please get in touch if you are looking for chances to perform live.

Thursday 22 October 2009

La Roux Engineer Joins the Teaching Staff at Point Blank

Point Blank prides itself on providing students with the best standard of tuition available. Unlike some other music production colleges, we ensure that all of our tutors have substantial experience of releasing records within the music industry.

All have achieved significant success, either as artists themselves or working alongside others as producers, sound engineers or remixers. Amongst the artists our tutors have worked with are Bjork, Massive Attack, Lou Reed, Quincy Jones, Bob Marley, Groove Armada, and Portishead.

We are excited to announce the latest addition to our staff roster, Ian Sherwin, who boasts credentials that certainly adhere to Point Blank’s high standards. Having worked with Primal Scream, The Rakes, Incognito, Terry Callier, The Veils and Freemasons in the past his latest project was engineering the Mecury-nominated debut album by La Roux. With the forthcoming Stereophonics album lined up too, the demand for Ian’s talents shows no sign of letting up.

Check out a video of him in the studio with La Roux

Ian will be teaching the Introduction to Music Production Logic course.

If you want to learn from the very best, Point Blank is the only place to be!

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Pete Tong Says Point Blank is THE Place to Be

Recently we posted about dance music legend and BBC Radio 1 DJ, Pete Tong visiting the Point Blank studios to do some recording and meet some of the students.

Now you can watch the videos of him talking about the Point Blank courses:

Check out the entire catalogue of courses Pete talks about by following the links below:

London Music Production Courses

Online Music Production Courses

Monday 5 October 2009

Baaba Maal International Remix Competition

To celebrate the release of Baaba Maal's new album 'Television', Point Blank has teamed up with Palm Pictures and Giant Step to find a new, fresh remix of his high-energy track 'International'.

The album is a collaboration with New York’s Brazilian Girls, who helped Baaba blend West African musical traditions with electronic dance music. Your challenge is to keep this spirit of experimentation and fusion alive and create an innovative remix.

The winning entry will be selected by the legend of the world music scene himself and the remix will be released on his official website.

Other prizes include:

1st Place:
• $300
• 8 week electronic music production course
• Palm Pictures CD/DVD bundle

2nd Place:
• 6 week introductory DJ course
• Palm Pictures CD/DVD bundle

3rd Place:
• An online DJ/Production class of your choice
• Baaba Maal album and DVD set

For details of where to download the stems and full terms and conditions please click on the following link:

Remix Competition

The closing date for entries is October 22nd 2009 so you'd better get mixing soon... Good luck!

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Pete Tong Visits the Point Blank Studios

BBC Radio One DJ and true pioneer of the dance music scene Pete Tong popped by Point Blank this week for his second visit to the studios. After having done a quick bit of recording in studio 5 he kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to meet some of the students from our sound design course

Pete with CEO Rob Cowan & Admissions Manager David Reid

We are proud to have a DJ of such legendary status show his support for our college and online music production courses. He assured the students that they had chosen the right place to study saying "It's a very competitive business these days… If you're serious about your music, then Point Blank is where you want to be".

He also promised to come back for an extended Q & A session at one of our regular celebrity master-classes. These master-classes are free supplements to the Point Blank courses available to all students. Past guests have included Basement Jaxx, Anne Savage, Carl Cox, Quentin Harris, Krafty Kuts, Marshall Jefferson, Pete Tong and A&R men from labels including Atlantic and Sony BMG. Find out more about our past VIP visits here.

Monday 21 September 2009

New Pioneer DJ System Revealed

As a valued customer of Pioneer (have a look at our DJ studio to see what I mean) we at Point Blank were lucky enough to be invited to the hotly anticipated launch party for their new CDJ-2000 and CDJ-900 decks, and DJM-5000 mixer at The Ministry of Sound in London last week.

The build up to the launch has been shrouded in rumour and mystery as Pioneer teased the baying DJ community with cryptic videos from the likes of James Zabiela, The Swedish House Mafia, Roger Sanchez and Paul Woolford. What we could work out from these clips was that one of the major benefits of the new CDJs would be negating the need for DJs to lug around their valuable CDs and laptops, however it was only last night, when we were able to try them out for ourselves, that we could see exactly how they would go about this.

As we milled about Ministry, gladly taking advantage of the free bar, there was a buzz of excitement in the air as the multitude of DJs began to get to grips with the CDJ's new in-built screen and Rekordbox file management interface, realising the new possibilities it could open up in their performances. The software essentially does the same job as your Traktors and Seratos but instead of having to hook up your laptop to a controller, you can simply plug in your USB memory stick loaded with your tunes and you are ready to go. There are loads more new features such as quantized beat looping and needle drop for quick scanning through tracks but these are perhaps best explained in the following promotional video:

Sounds exciting! The big clubs have surely put their orders in already for these, and I'm sure it won't be long before smaller bars and clubs follow suit.

If you want to learn how to fully harness the power of Pioneer CDJs, we have the best DJ courses for beginners through to advanced. Taught in the state of the art Point Blank studios, you will learn from experienced industry professionals and have access to the equipment 7 days a week whilst you are studying. Before you know it you’ll have the confidence to emigrate out of your bedroom, and be DJing in-front of adoring crowds of ravers! For full course information and enrolment details please click the following link: DJ Courses

Monday 7 September 2009

Israeli & Palestinian Teenagers Unite to Make a Music Video - 'Step for Peace'

On June 18th 2009 a group of nineteen young Israelis and Palestinians came together in Tel Aviv to show that music can overcome conflict by creating a unique track and video.

The project is a collaboration between peace organisation Windows for Peace and Point Blank. This video 'Step for Peace' is the final result of all their hard work.
Please click here for more information about the project.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Rogue Element Reveals Studio Secrets

Acclaimed producer and Point Blank tutor, Ben Medcalf (aka The Rogue Element) is featured in iDJ magazine this month, revealing some of his essential production tips and tricks. Click on the picture for a large version. If you want to find out more of the secrets behind his sound then Ben will be hosting the Music Production Masterclasses throughout the summer.

He also teaches the 3 month Introduction to Music Production course on Logic.

If you would like to hear some of Ben's work check out his latest album "Lumina" which has been receiving rave reviews in the dance music scene.

Thursday 20 August 2009

How To Succeed In the 21st Century Music Industry

It is clear to see that the dynamic of the music industry is evolving rapidly. It is now a real possibility for labels and even artists themselves to handle all their own business affairs, promotional strategies and connect with their fan base on a relatively small budget. In fact, unless you get picked up by a major label or have other significant financial backing, being able to do this yourself is an absolute necessity in order to succeed.

If this challenge is tackled effectively and efficiently, the dreams of fame and fortune that lurk within all budding musicians, are now realistically achievable. This is in large part due to the vastly inter-connected, high-speed, and cheap nature of modern communications; just look at how quickly new acts such as The Arctic Monkeys and more recently La Roux used social networking media such as Myspace and the blogosphere to rise from the bubbling pit of underground UK talent to become phenomena that even your Gran has heard of!

La Roux has shot to stardom

However, learning how to stay up to date with the latest technologies, choosing the most effective methods of promotion, and getting to grips with all the legal issues that accompany releasing records and protecting your music is by no means an easy task... and this is where we come in.

Our new Music Business Course gets underway on October 1st 2009 and has been specifically developed to reflect the changing face of the music industry. As well as in depth analysis of new business models and technologies, it will incorporate other key areas such as marketing and entrepreneurship, recording and publishing deals, management, copyright and licensing.

The course has been developed by Ruth K. Fung and Jos Jorgensen who is also the lead tutor. Jos is a professional songwriter and producer who composed and produced the theme music to hugely successful TV shows including "X Factor", "America’s Got Talent" and "Britain's Got Talent". He is also a director of artist management company JOWU Entertainment in China and with an MBA in Music Industries, brings to the programme a thorough understanding of the international music business.

Jos during his time serving the Danish Army

He said:

"The Music Industry is a rapidly changing landscape. Many people will have you believe it's all doom and gloom and that nobody will make any money now that sales are declining" says Jorgensen. "I totally disagree - the product is simply changing. Whoever is first to anticipate what happens from here will be the next music industry millionaire. The course will look back at the conventional workings of the business, look sideways at what is happening now and predict what this future landscape will look like."

At 18 Jos moved to Toronto and started working as assistant sound engineer with artists including Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and the Bare Naked Ladies. Impressed with his talents, Lou Reed recommended Jos to LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts), who offered him a scholarship. Whilst there, Jos enjoyed one on one songwriting sessions with Sir Paul McCartney and went on to win the Sennheiser Acheivement Award twice and also the Times Songwriting /Composer award in 2001. A year later he was signed by Global Talent Publishing. Since then he has worked with Lemar, Blue, Westlife, Blazin' Squad and Terri Walker and has had numerous hits in south east Asia, Germany, Brazil, France as well as songs on four number one albums. This year he was honoured with a BMI award for "Best Musical Theme On American TV".

Ruth started her career as a writer and producer as part of Artful Dodger and subsequently enjoyed substantial chart success both at home and abroad. Ruth has written with Craig David, Lemar, Brandy, Louise, Liberty X and JLo. In recent years she has been a partner in well-respected music industry think tank, Finger On The Pulse, who continue to research and advise various companies and individuals on the ever changing landscape of the music business. The course will offer invaluable insights for anyone looking to earn a living from music in the digital era, whether you are an aspiring artist, songwriter, manager, entrepreneur, or seeking employment with record companies, publishers and agents.

No previous experience is required and students who complete the course will be awarded an NCFE Level 3 Introductory Award in Business for the Creative Industries.

Check out the full course outline and booking information here:

Music Business Course

Monday 3 August 2009

Grammy-Nominated Mike Koglin to Develop and Teach New Trance Course

We are excited to unveil our new Trance Pro-Producer Course which has been developed in association with Grammy-nominated DJ and producer Mike Koglin.

Mike burst onto the scene in 1998 with his top 20 hit "The Silence". Since then he has released a string of productions and remixes, winning support from all the major players on the scene including Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk. Mike also runs his own label Noys Music, described by Mixmag as "one of the hottest trance labels in the UK". Last year he was named as one of the Top 100 DJ's in the world in DJ magazine’s annual poll.

The course is taught online and will be enrolling monthly from August 31st. It includes a wealth of course materials including tutorial videos, comprehensive notes, samples, song files and other resources. Each week students have the opportunity to upload their own tracks and get personal feedback, tips and advice from this hugely respected pro producer.

In addition to providing students with regular one-to-one feedback, Mike will also host a weekly webchat where the class can discuss course topics and exchange ideas with like-minded music producers from all over the world. This unique interaction has proved especially popular with students.

Check out the taster video:

...and for full course brochure and booking information please click on the following link:

Learn to produce trance

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Tutor Interview - J.C. Concato

Second up in our series of tutor interviews is Head of the College J.C. Concato.. (he's the one on the right)

How long have you been working at Point Blank?

Since 2003

Which classes do/did you teach?

I started out writing a couple of courses for Point Blank and also taught Advanced music production, then the Mixing and Mastering course.

Do you remember a specific moment or period of time when you were first infected with the production bug?

It was at a very early age as my old man was a musician and I used to go on tour with him during school holidays. I used to listen to music on headphones (very loudly which I wouldn’t recommend doing now) and try to understand how those records were being made. But it’s really when I got my first 4 track recorder and drum machine that I really got into production (this was in the mid 80's).

… and can you briefly describe the path that lead you from there to where you are now?

I arrived in London in early 90's and got a training placement as a sound engineer in a recording studio. Then I moved to a bigger recording studio (Matrix), then became freelance and started production work.

What production project in the past has given you the most satisfaction?

Actually one of my first albums, it was a live funk band called Big Cheese All Stars in the early 90's (around the time of Acid Jazz). We recorded all live using only vintage analogue gear. Not a single digital device was used. This project was the most fun to do on many levels, and that definitely came through on the record.

Who is the most talented/ inspiring producer you have worked alongside?

It would be hard to pinpoint one person as many producers had different approaches and qualities, but the people I remember the most and was the most impressed with would be Stephen Street and Tommy D.

Do you prefer the creative freedom of music production or the more technical aspects of sound engineering?

I find both equally exciting and rewarding on different levels. The production provides an opportunity to have a creative input in shaping the sound of an artist, whereas sound engineering appeals to my geeky side I guess.

Being the head of a music college I imagine you have to be aware of all the latest technological advancements… How do you keep up when technology moves so fast?

Specialist magazines, on the web, via our tutors.... It is pretty easy nowadays to keep informed about latest technology and as I mentioned previously I can be a bit of a geek, so I quite enjoy that aspect anyway.

What recent advancements in particular do you believe have helped to push the music scene forward?

Digital technology becoming more affordable. Professional tools have become available to more people than ever before, allowing them to be creative and make music.

What benefits do you think people get from coming to a place like Point Blank?

It's an incredible shortcut - being taught production techniques by professionals. I did demo's for several years on my 4 track, then 8 track recordings etc.... And it wasn’t until I eventually started working in a professional recording studio that I began to learn the professional techniques for recording and production. Whereas by coming to Point Blank you start to learn the essential techniques right away, which I believe helps you to gain several years.

If you could give just one tip to an aspiring producer what would it be? (apart from “come to Point Blank” of course!)

Do it for the right reason!

Thanks to JC for taking the time out to talk to us. His many years of recording and mixing experience have been crucial in the development of the courses at Point Blank. If your music would benefit from expert feedback from professional music producers and sound engineers then check out the courses on offer in London: and online

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Building Bridges Between Young Israelis and Palestinians Through Music

This video news item featured on follows a group of young Israelis and Palestinians recording an original track and making an accompanying music video to explore issues relevant to their lives and experiences.

With the help of Point Blank and peace organisation Windows for Peace, they learnt new skills, enabling them to apply their talent and imagination to bring about peaceful change through the power of music.

More than just working together on a creative project, the group also lived, ate and shared every moment of their lives for a two-week period. The resulting music video shows young people in the region and the rest of the world, that communication with the ‘enemy’ is not only possible, but desirable and fruitful.

For more information about Point Blank's ongoing community outreach initiatives and our provision of positive activities for young people, please visit

Friday 26 June 2009

Fabric London Resident DJ Tayo - Learning Logic at Point Blank

In this video, DJ Tayo talks about his time on the Logic Music Production Course at Point Blank. Since he took the Logic course Tayo has scored some top underground hits on the bass music scene and seen his reputation as a DJ soar, landing a residency at world famous London club Fabric and a slot on BBC Radio 1 Xtra.

Check out the full details of the Music Production Merit Course

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Mystery Jets visit Point Blank

This week saw the Mystery Jets bassist Kai Fish pay the Point Blank Studios a 'flying' visit (sorry, couldn't resist!). Kai was interviewed by student Luc Bennette who is currently enrolled on the Radio Production Course. The interview was recorded and will feature in Luc's final project. It will be also be available to listen to via our own in-house radio station so listen out for that.

Mystery Jets signed to Rough Trade this year after considerable success on 679 Recordings and the band have a busy summer ahead of them. They will be hitting the festival circuit this summer heading to Benicassim in Spain, Hop Farm in Kent, Field Day in London and the Manchester International Festival so be sure to catch them if you are at any of those.

Thanks again to Kai for giving up his time.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Bass & Groove Masterclass with John Mckenzie

This month, students on Point Blank's music production courses were treated to a masterclass from groove-merchant John Mckenzie. His words of wisdom emanate from a career of playing with some of the biggest music stars in the world, from recording with David Bowie to playing in front of thousands with the likes of Tina Turner, Seal and Shakira. Perhaps slightly more relevant to the interests of this particular audience was his involvement in the dance music scene having worked on records with legends such as Danny Tenaglia, and Everything But The Girl.

Here's a few snippets of what went down on a funky afternoon in Studio 1:

John started by treating us to a few renditions of his favourite bass lines: 'Good Times' originally played by Bernhard Edwards and famously sampled by The Sugar Hill Gang in 'Rappers Delight', 'Another One Bites the Dust' which is another modern tribute to the 'Good Times' riff, 'Red Alert' by Bassment Jaxx, and 'Papa was a Rollin' Stone' by The Temptations.

Performing these without the groove was hard for him, going against all the natural instincts that are ingrained into his finger-tips, but hearing them in this form really emphasised the fact that the groove can potentially be the crucial difference between a stale plodding bassline and a timeless classic.

"Every piece of music has a groove, even a piece of classical music or a slow piece of music has a central groove … the cornerstone of making music is discovering where the groove lies"

"It is the percussive hits of the right hand strumming that is the driving force behind the groove-factor"

"The best basslines are often the most simple ones, 'Papa was a Rollin' Stone' being a prime example. It is easy to make a bassline too busy... placement of the notes is the important thing"

Next was a jam session to demonstrate the process of building up a track starting with a live bassline. After making a beat in Logic Pro John recorded an improvised jam to much head-bopping approval from the onlookers. The best 4 bar section was spliced and then pads and keys were layered on top with the help of some willing students:-

"The groove is not just about the bass; guitars, keyboards and percussion can all contribute. This is especially evident when you hear a good live drummer - the natural variable decay and velocity, and the subtle grace notes all add to the groove-factor. Percussion parts without this human feel can sound robotic and cold, hence why it is important to use techniques such as varying note velocity when building your percussion tracks in sequencers."

We finished by discussing the importance of compression, creating 'room' in your tunes, and not over-obsessing too much about minor details. As music producers we tend to be perfectionists but most music listeners like to let music wash over them and will not notice small idiosyncrasies. Essentially if the tune has a good groove and a catchy bassline, you are likely to see smiles on the dancefloor!

Thanks to John for coming in to share his knowledge and experience with the Point Blank students. Check out some video footage of the masterclass here:

If you want to learn music production with a solid groove and bassline, he is doing another series of masterclasses with drummer, Andy Numark in London in around 3 months time keep your eyes peeled for those.

The series of our own masterclasses, free for all students on our music courses, will continue next month.

See you next time.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Tutor Interview - Danny J. Lewis

This is the first in the new series of tutor interviews coming up on the Point Blank Blog. We are proud to boast tutors with some serious credentials in the music industry and we are sure you are all keen to hear about how they realised their ambitions, reaching the top of the music production tree.

Kindly taking some time out to kick us off is Danny J. Lewis:

How long have you been working at Point Blank?

7 Years

What classes do you teach?

At the college in London I teach Sound Design and Production Skills whilst online I teach Sound Design, Ableton Mnml and Logic Mnml and Logic Deep/Soulful House

Can you tell us about how you got started in the music industry and the path that lead you to Point Blank?

After harrassing people on the club scene with my demo tapes I released my first record in 1993 and was lucky enough to be put into various studios in London by a management company to work on club tracks. I had a whole bunch of releases and remixes out with credible underground house labels and then in about 2000 I was offered an exciting job to work for a digital music company. It was whilst I was there that I met Rob who set up Pointblank and when I felt like putting something back into the business I contacted Rob with a view to teaching and passing the knowledge on.

What production project in the past has given you the most satisfaction?

It was a project that I did with legendary Studio 54 DJ Kenny Carpenter and Daz I Kue (famously now in the Bugz in the Attic collective). The track was released on Kenny Dope and Louie Vega's 'Masters at Work Recordings'. The release was out under the name 'The Ladbroke Grooverz - Seasons of Time'. I had only been producing for a couple of years and here I was with a serious heavyweight American DJ, it was intimidating but somehow I cast that aside and it all worked out fine. It was the start of a great new working relationship with Daz too.

Who is the most talented/ inspiring producer you have worked alongside?

Definately Daz I Kue, this guy taught me a lot for sure. I had spent years in many studios with engineers who didn't want to pass the knowledge on but Daz was different, always willing to share and help me develop. In some respects i'd say he fulfilled the 'mentor' role for me. We ended up working as a team and producing/remixing under the name 'Dafunkstarz'

Can you tell us a little more about your label Enzyme Black how you came about setting it up?

It's a highly personal pet project for the purely Deep/Soulful music I want to make. The releases are exclusively my productions under a selection of pseudonyms, purely to keep the admin side manageable! It's for underground releases that I put out indulgently for myself... the fact that other people like them is a bonus.

Is it hard to be profitable as a label in an age when much of the new generation of music consumers do not consider it immoral to download their music from unauthorised torrent sites and blogs?

Well, I think for some niche genres (EBR's genre Deep/Soulful is quite niche) the people who buy the music still actually respect it. This means they are more likely to purchase the tracks than steal them. I had an interesting scenario once though, one of my students at the college in London told me he had illegally downloaded my entire back catalogue and was DJing with it - in fact earning money for his DJ gigs. I told him how I felt without being heavy handed. Regarding profitability - you are more likely to be make some money when you keep things in house so I do all the press and promotional text and also most of the graphic/web design (with the exception of the label logo and the West District Allstars release artwork) I also do all of the mixing and Mastering - saving a considerable amount of money per release. I would suggest though that if you are in it for the cash you're probably not in the right place - the commercial stuff is where the money's at. Releasing underground music these days is usually a way of getting more DJ gigs - and that's where the big money is.

What are your top 3 most memorable DJ sets?

When I was in Spiritual South I played solo at a festival in the Netherlands in front of 5000 people on stage - i felt like a superstar and it was a proper ego trip. I've played in Italy a few times, one of my favourite places in the world, and Nabilah in Naples was pretty special. Here the club was right on the sea front and previously Giles Peterson and Kevin Yost had been on the top billing.. not bad acts to follow. On a more earthy level I would say my all time favourite gig was at 'Days Like This' in Birmingham a couple of years ago - one of the best Deep/Soulful house nights in the world without a doubt. The 200 strong crowd were hanging onto every track and knew all the words.. seriously.. it was insane - the perfect club to play at for the musical purist.

Do you still DJ much these days?

Not as much as I used to as I'm a dad now and i've been settling down to some family life. Don't write me off yet though - i plan on doing a new Ableton fuelled live thing in the future.

What benefits do you think people get from coming to a place like Point Blank?

The benefit of experience, credible experience from people who truly understand the genre that they are representing. When I started out it was impossible to learn as most people (with the exception of Daz I Kue) were 'closed' - unwilling to share knowledge. These days it's crazy, so much FREE information out there but it's sifting through the rubbish that is the hard thing. There are so many free tutorials on youtube and similar that just don't deliver the credible goods.. As far as i'm concerned it's better to get the real deal.. and also of course the benefit of coming to pointblank is the personal feedback - even online.

If you could give just 1 tip to an aspiring producer what would it be? (apart from "come to Point Blank" of course!)

Watch, Read, Listen, Learn, Practice and repeat the process until you die!

Thanks Danny, fascinating stuff.

For a taster of the personalised feedback you can expect to receive from Danny himself on the online courses check out the following video:

Minimal Tech Course Feedback

See you next time.

Friday 1 May 2009

Work Experience at Point Blank

This week we have had the pleasure of 14 Year old Noa Krikler's company here at Point Blank Towers. Swapping the classrooms of Highgate Wood School for the studios she came to do some work experience and get a feel for life in the working world of the music industry. Whilst here we tried to give her a taste of all the different departments that keep Point Blank running smoothly and this is her blog of her experience:

I had a really fun day on Monday. After being introduced to everyone and shown around, I went to sit in a Sound Engineering class where we looked at all the types of microphones and the situations when they would be used. I then went into the recording studio and sang through each microphone so the students could hear the differences. This was really useful as, since I am interested in singing, it gave me some experience and knowledge in the topic.

Then, after lunch, I went to a vocals class. Here we practised a song a few times before passing a microphone round and took a chorus or verse each. This was really good because it gave the teacher a chance to give us direct improvements we can make on our singing. This helped a lot and also I wasn’t shy or embarrassed about singing because the teacher was really inclusive and gave us a lot of compliments.


On Tuesday I saw a different side of Point Blank. In the morning I was asked to look at a couple of introductions to the courses on the Point Blank website and see if there was anything I wanted to change on it. I felt really important when my views were taken into account. Then after lunch, I shadowed a college assistant who looked after the leads and helped the students out when they needed. This was really fun because I learned cool skills like how to coil leads properly, a couple of tricks with the computer and also some knowledge on the music industry in general which I found really interesting.

Wednesday was a lot of fun. At first I helped out in the office, photocopying and doing some paperwork (which I actually really enjoyed!). I'd never done any paper work or anything before so it was cool to give it a go. Afterwards, I went to a class of web design students aimed at making a new website for the Hackney Youth site. Here I learned about all the steps to making my own website and all the ideas I could include. I found it really useful because I know that in the future I might want to create a website for my music and the class has given me some basic skills to put towards that. It's just a shame we didn't have longer!

I learnt so much today! I started off in a Music Production course where we looked at structures of songs and the top ten songs in the chart this week. After, we looked at different types of bass lines, their effects and examples of them in songs. I didn't realise there was so many! I googled the tutor of the Music Production class,a guy called Jos Jorgenson, and found out that he wrote the theme music for the X Factor and America's Got Talent! He knows all about the professional side of song writing and how to use all the equipment – and there's a lot of equipment in Point Blank! I'’s much better than the school stuff and there's so much of it. After lunch, I learnt about the marketing side of Point Blank and what they do to spread the word about Point Blank. I brainstormed a few ideas on different ways to market the business and they were really interested in a young person's view and opinion. I can't believe it's my last day tomorrow!

I really enjoyed today. I worked with Nick, the online marketing executive, who showed me the different social networking sites Point Blank uses for promotion like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Youtube etc. Social networking is important because it provides a way to reach out to new audiences who might not have heard of Point Blank and creates a community for current and past Point Blank students to network with each other.

This week has given me a real insight into the different types of jobs and opportunities the music industry has to offer as well as what it is like working full-time in an office. The courses Point Blank run not only teach the students technical skills and theory, but they also prepare them for finding their ideal jobs. Thanks to everyone there and hopefully I’ll be back one day soon.


Friday 17 April 2009

Music Industry Careers: Island Records' A&R Tells All

5 Years ago Ben Scarr was just like thousands of other people his age, determined to carve out a career for himself in the music industry but not sure of his exact calling.

In 2004 he enrolled on the Music Production Merit Course here at Point Blank in the knowledge that the techniques he would learn and the contacts that he would make could help him realise his dreams. 5 years on and he has worked his way up to the enviable position of A&R Man at Island records where it is now his job to find the music stars of the future.

Kind enough to re-visit Point Blank to as a guest lecturer this is an overview of his story and the advice he gave to the on-looking students packed into studio 8:

How did he work his way up the industry ladder?

• Whilst studying at Point Blank, Ben approached his favourite club nights to offer to help with the flyer distribution and earned a 6 month part time internship at a professional studio in Brixton. Standing in the rain outside clubs at 2 am and going on endless coffee runs was by no means glamorous, lucrative or much fun but it is so important to be proactive in gaining additional experience and contacts at that early stage, as well as demonstrating your desire to succeed.

• Once he finished the Merit Course he earned some extra cash as a DJ and Production tutor for the Point Blank community projects, and at the same time he had progressed to head up the street team that handled flyer distribution.

• He decided it was time to try and get a job at a label so sent off lots of applications, but with little success.

• However his networking paid off as one of his contacts, who he worked with for Hip Hop night 'Jump-Off', gave him a phone number for a record executive at Mercury Records. Having nervously enquired, Ben was delighted to be offered 1 month's work experience in the marketing department.

• Realising he needed to seize this opportunity, he showed real dedication, dropping all his other commitments, arriving early and leaving late every day. It worked and they extended his work experience to 3 months.

• Unfortunately when this came to an end there were no jobs at Mercury but they were so impressed that they helped him land a role in marketing at Island Records.

• Once there he made an impression on the A&R department by arranging for his music producer contacts to do some remixes on spec. (ie if the label don't use them then there is no fee).

• In passing, he also mentioned to his boss the idea of Girls Aloud and Sugababes covering the Aerosmith vs. Run DMC classic 'Walk This Way' for Comic Relief. Having assumed they hadn't liked the idea he was surprised but delighted to open a box full of new 'Walk This Way' promo singles a month later.

• He was offered the role as assistant in A&R where he patiently watched and learned for 6 months.

• His next major break came when he introduced his colleagues to a young unknown synth-pop artist named Frankmusik (now signed to Island and with over a million hits on his Myspace). This put his name on the map within Island records and he began to get more acknowledgement for his ideas.

• His tip-off that Wiley’s tune ‘Rolex Sweep’ was set to be a smash hit was snubbed by his boss.

• With egg on his face after it reached number 2 in the charts on another label, the boss realised Ben's talent for urban music and sent him out to unearth some other unsigned gems. He quickly hooked up with Tinchy Stryder and has been the driving force behind his success – his second single 'Take Me Back' charted at number 3 in the UK after Ben shrewdly drafted in Taio Cruz for the vocals.

• Most recently he signed the hit tune 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' which became a viral sensation via Youtube.

Questions from the floor:

What does your typical day consist of?

"It is very varied. I spend a lot of time listening to new music that I am sent. We might meet about a potential new artist and talk about which sonic direction they should go. Much time is spent sourcing producers and writers who will suit our artist's style... Often I will visit the studio to give my thoughts on the artist's work in progress, The producer and artist can be in the eye of the storm when they have been listening to the same thing all day so it helps for someone to come and give their thoughts from a fresh perspective at the end of a session."

What is your advice for aspiring producers and musicians from an A&R man's perspective?

"Don't hold back on sending your music to labels, get as much feedback as possible; you don’t want to spend years on an album only to be told that the sound doesn't work"

"Target the labels that suit your sound and try to develop some kind of relationship with them. It's a good idea to find a contact name to address your mail to otherwise it is likely not to get opened. You will always find an A&R contact in an artist's album sleeve so look at an artist with a similar style to your own."

"On your demos send in no more than 2 tracks... include a short note about your act and make sure you write your contact details on the actual CD."

"Talk to people and tell them what you are aiming for. You may get laughed off by some but one time you will meet someone who can help you"

"Work on your look. Style is a crucial factor when labels are considering an artist"

What are some of the hotspots for getting spotted by A&R people?

"In London: Hoxton Bar & Grill, Yo Yos, Troubadour, Camden Barfly, Water Rats. Depending on the style of music there are different ways of getting spotted... bands tend to be discovered at gigs whereas urban acts tend to make their name on the underground scene and virally through sites like Youtube"

Do you deal with publishing deals?

"No, publishing deals are separate to record deals but every artist will have one. They are important as alternate forms of income to pure record sales... Your publisher will try to get your music on television programmes and commercials or in computer games... and if your tune is ever sampled on a hit record you will be in for a big pay day if you own the publishing rights of that sample."

Thanks to Ben for sparing his time and providing inspiration and insight for the Point Blank students who attended. Look out for more masterclasses, free for all students, coming in the near future.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Student Diary - Structure and Arrangement

This is the stage which I, and many other budding producers who I have talked to, tend to neglect more than any other, despite a solid arrangement being absolutely vital to the listenability (yes, I just invented that word) of your tune. A poorly structured song will just not sit right in peoples ears because they are used to a certain classic length and order of verses, choruses and all the bits in between. If you are making music for the club you need to arrange your tune making sure the intro and outro are 'DJ friendly', and if you want to make a successful pop tune convention suggests that there is an even more rigid formula to follow.

So why do people tend to neglect structure and arrangement? Looking through my hard-drive you will find probably 80% of my tunes are unfinished. I create a hook and start to arrange; then I get frustrated or bored and say I will come back to that one and finish it later but I rarely do. I think the main reasons are that it simply isn't as fun or straightforward as creating the 4 or 8 bar loop; the rigid rules and fiddly, time consuming nature can sap the enjoyment out of the whole process. Also, even when you create a great hook, by the time you get to these final stages, you have listened to the same 8 bars so many times that you can literally grow sick of the sound of it.

But you must complete your tracks, resisting the urge to move on if you think you are on to a winner because, 1) if you leave it a while, you often will have lost the verve and enthusiasm when you return 2) you will have nothing to show for all your hours of hard work, 3) as a DJ, there is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction when you mix your tune in to another for the first time, and crucially 4) your learning curve will plateau and you will stop improving.

So my tutor demonstrated some ways to develop our arranging skills, such as the A-Bing technique whereby you breakdown a track that you like in the Logic arrangement view, and then imitate the structure of that track using your own parts. This technique is also the starting block of making radio-edits, a vital tool for any producer who wants the tune he is working on to get mainstream radio play which, in this age of digital piracy, is perhaps a more realistic way of earning some serious cash from your music.

I'm sad to say next week is the culmination of this Introduction to Logic Production Course. There's a multiple choice test to check at least some the information has sunk in! And Ian will go through my final mix-down with me before I hand in my final project. So this coming week I'll be reading back through all my notes and putting the finishing touches to my track. Looking forward to getting my hands on my certificate and putting it all in to action…

See you next time.

Friday 13 March 2009

Student Diary - Getting to grips with the mix-down

Coming towards the tail end of the Introduction to Logic module it is time to learn how to properly mix down our tracks in order to make them sound as balanced, clear, and punchy as possible.

Once again I was itching to get to this lesson because I recognised that my mixes were not sounding nearly as good as the records I buy and listen to. I had tried incorporating a couple of my tunes into my sets when playing out on big sound systems and it was immediately obvious that there was much scope for improvement on the mix-down. As you may have realised yourself, any part of a mix that sounds iffy at a relatively low volume on a pair of studio monitors will be amplified and sound increasingly more obvious as the size of the sound system increases. It's a bit like slicing a shot in golf... the stronger the headwind you are hitting into, the more viciously the ball will curve away from its intended target.

So, I understood the theory and purpose of the mix-down; the importance of using dynamic processors such as 'eq', 'compressors' and 'limiters', but I was struggling to get to grips with the correct practises when using these, and the complex terminology and elements of mathematics involved. How do the various parameters affect the sound exactly? How do you calculate ratio and threshold? I was unsure whether, through my own learning, I was heading along the right lines or starting to pick up some bad habits.

You can tell Ian knows the workings of a mixing desk like the back of his hand, so he was adept at presenting the basic principles in clear and simple terms for us. Eq is used to create room in your mix, and compression and limiting allow you to add punch, crispness and volume.

The key to uniting these 3 elements is 'routing': The dynamic effect of eq, compression and limiting is affected by the order in which they are routed. Often it makes sense to group parts of your track together (for example your percussion parts); routing, using sends and buses, makes this possible and enables you to apply effects to multiple channels at once. What surprised me is the level of detail Ian was going into to get the sound perfect, sometimes eqing then running sounds through up to 3 compressors as well as a limiter. So it's clear to see how crucial it is to comprehend this technique.

Good mixing skills are all about practice. A producer's ear can only be refined by hour upon hour of listening, tweaking, listening again, then tweaking again... your ear never stops learning. But on top of that, your mixes must be based on a firm foundation of knowledge of the tools you are using. Within more creative aspects of production, the rules are there to be broken, but in the mix-down there are certain rules you must follow before you can achieve professional sounding results hence why this professionally taught course is so beneficial.

I've uploaded my latest track onto my Soundcloud account, so you can check out how I'm getting on. Feedback is much appreciated.


Tuesday 3 March 2009

Student Diary - Sampling and Music Law

I made it into class on Saturday morning despite feeling a little worse for wear (self induced admittedly!), and we continued our foray into the art of sampling. This week we went over the complex legal issues associated with sampling and royalties in the music industry, looking at some famous legal cases from down the years.

The topic of music and law is so huge that it could be a whole course in itself (and probably is somewhere), so we really only scratched the surface in a few hours but it was still very useful to get a concise overview and some good advice from my tutor Ian. He has felt the cost of carelessness with regards to copyrighting in his own career, losing out on large sums due to not protecting the rights of some of his past productions. And on the flip-side, royalties from some relatively small (but sensibly protected) projects from which he did not necessarily expect to make much money are continuing to tick over and exceed those expectations.

If you are going to use samples, it is important to have some understanding of the consequences of your actions and the processes through which you can protect yourself. Of course if you are creating music using all your own sounds and original ideas then you have nothing to worry about... but if you do become successful enough to influence other artists, then weeding out all those who have used your work without your permission can be a lucrative pursuit, which is why at one stage Michael Jackson went as far as to employ a whole team of 'musicologists' to do so for him!

Having heard some snippets from Ian's impressive collection of the most sampled tracks, I began to appreciate just how influential funk in particular was to countless other genres. It is staggering how many well known contemporary tracks are almost completely based on old ones, often not just the bassline being copied but the melody and percussion as well. We questioned should discovering that the core elements of a song you love were in fact created by someone else, diminish your estimations of the producer doing the sampling? The answer in Ian's opinion was no. What sets exceptional producers apart is an ability to pick out something in a lesser known track that they think has the potential to appeal to the masses and then being able to re-interpret it for a new audience. After all they are called ‘producers’ rather than 'musicians'.

Some might argue that the main ingredient of a good producer's armoury is this deep understanding of music, old and new, and the ability to link ideas from the past to the present. That is why sampling is in such prominent use and has lead to so many of contemporary music's biggest hits.

The sampling classes have inspired me to open my ears to a wider variety of music again. I have always liked most genres, but since I started DJing, I have perhaps started to neglect listening to the things that wouldn't fit in with my 4/4 sets. Such rigidity could be a bad habit to get into if I want my productions to reflect how I have been influenced by a broad musical spectrum. So I reckon it's time to dig out those old jazz, funk and alternative CDs that have been gathering dust on my shelves and give them another listen. I am not sure whether I will use actual samples in my own tracks or not, especially to the extent that some established producers do... I don't think I can afford to risk becoming embroiled in extensive legal battles anytime soon! However I will make more of an effort to draw inspiration from further afield than simply the other DJs I hear in the clubs and on the radio.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Student Diary - The Art of Sampling

Whether you are someone who is morally opposed to using snippets of other people's tracks in your own music or not, the art of sampling is a crucial skill to master in order to be a complete producer and enhance your overall understanding of the history of production.

We started by learning the basics of Recycle, a sample editing package that owes its popularity to its simplicity, intuitiveness and ease of use. Usefully, Recycle is integrated with Logic's own sampler the EXS24, so they can be used in conjunction to chop up the audio samples, adjust them in tempo and convert them into midi. Then the clever bit; using Logic's piano roll to splice and edit the sample in order to remove any sounds that you may want to get rid of and create your own interpretation to be part of your new track.

Ian (my tutor) talked about how the Hip Hop and Jungle movements were almost entirely based upon a few sampled James Brown drum loops, and even a quarter of a century later they are still in prominent use. My immediate thoughts were why rehash the same old loops when there is an infinite amount of new rhythms to explore? This surely only serves to drive a genre to stagnation, which some might say has been becoming true of Hip Hop for a long time. I guess the reason could be that groundbreaking, genre-defining songs can be so powerful that people are turned off when they don't recognise certain elements of them in new music they hear. Or, that producers know what works and are unwilling to risk losing money and credibility by experimenting with fresh sounds.

Personally, I do like the idea of old songs being dug up and given a new lease of life with a contemporary slant. I think that samples can add soul and depth to tracks when used well, but if not carefully chosen and subtly integrated can give the impression that the producer is too lazy to think of his own ideas.

A couple of favourite albums of mine that I think use the art of sampling to perfection are Merka's 'Make and Do' which infuses the breaks sound he built his name on seamlessly with elements of soul, jazz, funk, deep house, techno, jungle and cinematic score. It sounds like a mish-mash but trust me, it is brilliant! And Akufen's 'My Way' which uses chopped up samples from a cross section of Montreal's FM airwaves to create a funky tech-house masterpiece.

Go check 'em out!

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Student Diary - Exploring Synthesis

We're now getting into the really juicy part of the course, learning how some of the synths in Logic work, and how the various parameters and filters affect the output. This is where we start adding meat to the bones, or in other words basslines and melodies to our drum patterns.

It is exciting to be able to connect the style of a favourite producer or an effect in a particular track to the techniques which we are being taught; the "aaah... so that’s how he does it" moment if you like.

Take for example 'Wobble Bass', the staple of the Jump-up Dubstep sound which has exploded into prominence in the past couple of years. I now know it is achieved using the LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) assigned to a parameter, most commonly the cutoff. The LFO speed can be altered, but usefully remain in time with the track tempo, for a fast wobble over a 16th note down to a really slow one over 16 bars. Rusko is a favourite producer of mine who has truly perfected this technique to create some of the most squelchy, bone crunching, dancefloor destroying basslines that I have ever had the pleasure to ‘get my skank on’ to! Check his tune ‘Woo Boost’ for a perfect example.

The ES2 is a spaceship-like synth with a seriously daunting number of knobs and twizzly bits for a novice producer. I’ve fiddled around with the parameters a fair bit before but have never quite managed to work out was affecting what. Within one lesson I have a much firmer grasp on how the sound is affected by oscillators, filters and other parameters. Learning more about envelopes has clarified in my head how techno producers such as Nathan Fake, Extrawelt and Stephan Bodzin go about creating those spacious, evolving soundscapes in their tracks; The sort of music that I love to listen to whilst gazing out the window on a long, rainy bus journey (which seems to happen quite a lot in London!)

Now I can’t wait to try emulating these sorts of effects used by my favourite producers. And most synths follow the same theories and principles, so hopefully I will easily be able to translate these techniques to some of the other synths that I am looking to get my hands on!

Thursday 5 February 2009

Student Diary - Allister Whitehead DJ Masterclass

In addition to the actual music courses, Point Blank invites regular guest speakers to give students an extra bit of insight and inspiration. This month's guest was Allister Whitehead who, as you can see from his bio in an earlier post, is a hugely respected DJ and producer with experience stretching back 20 years to days of The Hacienda. His thoughts were eye-opening for a budding DJ and he more than ably tackled the barrage of questions from a packed studio.

Here's my summary of some of his most pertinent points:

• 20% of being a successful DJ is down to technique and talent, 80% is down to social battles.

He said the phrase 'it's who you know not what you know' was a cliché for good reason... it is absolutely true! Do everything possible to immerse yourself in the scene that you want to be part of. Get a job in a trendy shop or bar in the town centre and try to get to know the influential figures.

• Aim high. If you have a favourite club, you should aim to be DJing there within 5 years. Go to that club every week, stand by the DJ booth, chat to the DJs and promoters, work out the type of tunes that the crowd responds to.

• Try to let this guide the tracks you buy but maintain your own individual and unique style. This is what you want people to end up associating your name with. Don't compromise your tastes purely to satisfy the crowd by playing exactly what the headliners are banging out. This leads to DJ clones and will put off the loyal group of people who come to that club every week. They want to hear something new and exciting.

A story that illustrated this point was Allister sticking by a new tune that cleared the dancefloor the first time he put it on. Any DJ who has cleared out a room with a track that went down like the Titanic (and this includes myself) will know what a horrible feeling this is and it is hard to resist putting that record back in the box for good... But he had confidence that this track would grow on people, so he kept on playing it and sure enough, a month later, people were screaming out for it.

• Take any gig you can get no matter how small or how little you are getting paid. It is essential to get out of your bedroom and DJ live to real people; you never know who might be there and what opportunities may come of it. However if the night is completely at odds with your own style, then think twice. Maybe this isn’t the club for you.

• These days, producing your own tunes is almost essential in making a name for yourself as a DJ. Although there is not much money to be had through the sale of music anymore, your DJ career will be vastly accelerated by making good music.

Despite doing a lot of remix work in the past, Allister said his biggest regret was not making more of his own unique material because it is the songs that live with people forever while memories of good parties invariably fade. He rated Graeme Park as his favourite ever DJ but his decline in relation to Sasha, another pioneering DJ who came to prominence in the same era (although not as technically gifted in Allister's opinion), was reflected by the fact that Sasha consistently produced quality output whereas Park never really produced his own material.

• Finally his thoughts on managers and promoters can be summarised quickly and bluntly: People have to make money out of you before you make money out of them!

Thanks to Allister for his time. I'll be back again soon.

Friday 30 January 2009

Student Diary - into week 3

This week Ian taught us about some basic music theory and a few of the useful features to be found in the environment window. It was something that my own delvings into Logic hadn't uncovered before. I'm beginning to realise that Logic 8 is so enormous that guidance on the key tools and features from someone who knows it inside-out will prove highly comforting in two ways: 1) The assurance that I am using the software to its maximum potential and 2) The knowledge that time and energy saved on technical concerns like working out the best tool to create a certain effect and then getting to grips with it, can now be spent on experimenting with the musical possibilities that the tool in question allows. After all, it’s the creative side of producing that attracts us (well me anyway), the desire to craft a unique, emotive piece of art to call your own. The rest is essentially a means to this end.

So now I know how to assign chords to individual notes on the keyboard using the Chord Memoriser. This will cure a lot of the frustrations I have encountered so far. I can usually make up chords that work together but don’t have the dexterity of a pianist to be able to play these chords together in a melody... the chord memoriser solves that problem, reducing the amount of different fingers your brain has to control at once. The arpegiattor is the real dogs nut-sack (excuse my French) when it comes to creating intricate melodic patterns though. Apparantly the one that comes with Logic isn't the best compared to Cubase, but it is still a brilliant tool which can immediately add life into a snooze-inducing riff.

A little tip I have picked up: randomize the arpegiattor and increase the octave range for some crazy sounding melodies.

Now I can see how these two tools, when used together correctly can be the basis for a great track and why so many producers swear by them.

Have a great weekend peeps... I'm playing with Bass Clef tonight at Phantom Fridays. If you haven't heard of him check his myspace, he's the don of glitched out 2-step dub and his live show is truly something special – cowbells aplenty! I'm feeling the afro-kissed techno at the moment so expect some tribal grooves from me... get down if you're in London.

Monday 26 January 2009

Point Blank Student Diary - An Introduction


I'm Nick, 23 from South East London, and welcome to my new blog.

With my post-student, battle-scarred bank account slowly but surely recovering I decided it was time to sign for the Point Blank Introduction to Music Production course which I had been eyeing up for years. This blog will essentially be my diary of the course, and hopefully give you a good impression of what the Point Blank experience is like from a student’s perspective.

I'll give you a bit of my musical background so you can get an idea of the foundation from which I am learning. I come from a musical family, both my sisters and my mum studied music at university, my Granddad was one of those prodigiously talented people who could hear a song once and then play it back to you perfectly on the piano. Now I'm nowhere near that level but I did get to grade 8 on the trumpet in my school days, I also learnt the piano but I didn't enjoy it as much. I loved playing Jazz and Big Band stuff and really enjoyed improvisation, but found the more structured classical pieces, that tended to be prerequisites for the grades, a bit of a chore. I haven't really played my trumpet that much since my school days, with my head being turned by clubs, booze and Jeremy Kyle at university, but I understand how to read music and remember the rules and theories of time-signature, structure and arrangement (well some of them anyway!)

Yearning to harness my musical instincts again in some shape or form, and inspired by the club scene that I had embraced, I decided to buy decks in the summer of 2007. Since then my passion for innovative and exciting new dance music has spiralled, be it House, Techno, Dubstep, or Electro. I have managed to get some gigs at some London venues and coming up is my biggest one yet at Ministry of Sound on Feb 13th!! (my first plug! don't worry I won't make a habit of it). I have also been teaching myself Logic 8 for the past 6 months. Despite getting to a fairly competent level on my own, I was reliably informed by the course advisor, known in the office as Dastardly Dave,that the Intro to Production course was the right one for me after discussing which features of Logic I did and didn’t feel confident about.

So the course began...

As we waited for Ian Mackenzie (our tutor for the module) to hurriedly finish off his sandwich, the atmosphere in the class had the feel of excitement mixed with trepidation that you might expect from a room full of eager music makers with a whole lot to learn. We hear Ian’s back-story (he seems to have a lot of them!) and his impressive list of projects that he has worked on in the past before a useful lesson on equipment that we may want to purchase and the system requirements to maximise their efficiency.

Now entering the 3rd week we have learnt how to build our percussion loops using 2 of the most popular drum machines, Ultrabeat which comes with Logic 8 and Battery 3 which is a 3rd party plugin. Both have their plus points... With Ultrabeat I find it easier to create a quick interesting 4/4 beat using the step sequencer, but Battery definitely has a better library of sounds. You can transfer the Battery samples to Ultrabeat with a bit of fiddling around so you can have the best of both worlds.

Now I’ve got my beats laid I can’t wait to get my teeth into the other Logic synths to make some big grimy basslines!

Friday 23 January 2009

DJ Masterclass with Allister Whitehead

February 4th sees the visit of a true House Music originator to Point Blank - DJ legend Allister Whitehead will be visiting the college to host an exclusive masterclass in front of a select gathering of students. During the hour-long session, Allister will reveal the secrets behind 20 years of success on the decks and share insights into everything from building a killer set to presenting a demo CD and networking with promoters.

Allister started DJing at the age of 17 and forged his reputation spinning at world famous clubs including The Hacienda, Ministry of Sound, Cream and Gatecrasher. His name became globally recognised with the Gold selling Fantazia album 'The House Collection 3' which was at the time the biggest selling DJ compilation ever. He has since gone on to achieve 3 more Gold and 2 Silver albums with compilations for Fantazia and Ministry of Sound.

Allister is also a skilled and respected producer and remixer. His remix of Gala’s “Freed from Desire” was the catalyst to the track selling over 500,000 copies in the UK and becoming the biggest selling record in France of all time. He has also worked with the likes of Martha Walsh, Natalie Imbruglia and Robbie Williams.

If you are serious about making a career as a DJ then this is an unmissable opportunity. The session will take place on Wednesday February 4th from 3.30pm at Point Blank Music College in London.