From Discogs rabbitholes to YouTube tutorials, RA's writers offer some tips on what to watch, read and do at home this week.
Moog and KORG's strategy of each making a music app free has been a hit among producers and the music-making-curious. Of course, many independent developers have long offered their software for free. Airwindows plug-ins have a very basic user interface. Visually, they're the digital audio equivalent of using a Nokia 3310. This is a huge plus because flashy UIs influence what you listen for and think about, and you don't often notice that till it's gone. With no glitz, their superior sound shines through, and Chris—the developer—has made enough varieties that you could mix your music exclusively with his stuff. He makes videos explaining each plug-in. If you get good use out of even one of his plug-ins, an entry level Patreon subscription is a huge bargain. It's easy to get lost among all the options, so start on his bestsellers page.
The world of room acoustics is a dense blackhole of physics, diagrams and algebra. But with a tape measure and some free time, you can simply use the amroc calculator to analyse the acoustics of your room, whether you use it for music production, DJing or listening. It provides a 3D model of your room and highlights where the resonances gather and their various pitches. Then it sends sine waves out of your speakers on those resonant frequencies, so you can walk around the room and find the dead spots and peaks. If you're feeling ambitious, you can then try to fix your room's problems.
Even if you haven't plunged thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into modular synthesisers, you can use them to make sound and music. The virtual modular VCVrack gives you everything you need to figure out whether they're worth your energy. There are also tutorial videos and an active online community to help you avoid dead ends.
Watch free documentaries
There are over 800 videos included in this YouTube playlist titled "The Best of Electronic Music Documentary Films." Of course, that's limited to YouTube's archive, so you won't find the 2017 profile of five German DJs (Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Ata, Roman Fluegel and Move D) Denke Ich An Deutschland In Der Nacht, nor the 2018 investigation of the Persian underground, Raving Iran. Still, there's a lot to dig into here. It includes classics like 24 Hour Party People, a biopic about the evolution of Manchester's 20th-century punk and rave scenes, and Feiern: Don't Forget To Go Home, the scrappy oral history of Berlin's '00s rave scene. There's a ton of documentaries that tell the story of clubs or scenes around the world or profile specific developments in electronic music history and some of its most important figures and musicians. Some of these, such as old footage of Laurie Spiegel or Bob Moog or interviews with the likes of Richie Hawtin and Helena Hauff, aren't exactly documentaries. But they do scratch the itch for non-fiction material about electronic music.
Explore vast archives of music
Even without any fancy streaming subscriptions, there is an infinite amount of extremely sick music waiting for you on the internet, much of it already curated and organized into neat channels by people with deep knowledge and excellent taste. If you haven't already, get familiar YouTube's excellent digger channels: GarageVybez98, dis kevich, The Proud Mistress, Enchanted Rhythms, hurfyd, and so many more. Fire up Discogs, look up a massive and influential catalog—Underground Resistance, Perlon, Metalheadz, whatever—organize by oldest to newest, and listen to every record in there. Take in Aphex Twin's SoundCloud dump from a few years ago. Comb the vast archives of old rave tapes on http://artmeetsscience.co.uk/tapes/ and Rave Tape Packs. Or go deep on "the Weatherdrive," a 90-odd GB "hoarders collection" of club mixes, radio shows and other bits that stands as "an homage and an archive to Andrew Weatherall's musical brilliance." We can safely say you will never run out of good stuff to listen to.
Catch up on some reading
There's no shortage of music books to sink your teeth into. Here's six of my favourites: Tim Lawrence's Love Saves The Day (if you love disco), Mark Fisher's Ghosts Of My Life (some of the deepest reflections on music you'll ever read), Geeta Dayal's 33 ⅓ book on Brian Eno's Another Green World (great writing on one of the great ambient albums), Jace Clayton's Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture (an essential exploration of music in the digital age), Ian Penman's It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track (a collection of essays from a brilliant music scribe) and Chee Shimizu's Obscure Sound (basically a Michelin Guide for record nerds). If you're after some magazine reading, look no further than Amanda Petrusich's deep dive on Beck for the New Yorker and this visual piece in the New York Times about how hard it is to move a grand piano down a narrow staircase. (Answer: very.) If you're in search of some music newsletters, sign up to anu's brand new mailout (promising "games, comics and self-isolation aids"), Todd Burns' music journalism updates and Bandcloud's weekly rundown of interesting and overlooked electronic music.
Watch YouTube production tutorials
The prospect of learning to make electronic music or how to use a new piece of gear intimidates many because there's so much to study and so many ways to study it. You'll start getting ads for paid courses designed to teach you synthesis from the moment you first open a DAW. If you're a beginner looking for one of those, I'd recommend Syntorial, a fun computer program that trains your ear and explains subtractive synthesis.
But there are plenty of YouTube channels that offer free instruction—so many, in fact, that it can be hard to know where to begin. There's a tier of popular, well-known YouTubers like Andrew Huang and Underbelly (You Suck At Producing) who provide snackable lessons on music theory, composition, and gear. Mr. Bill is a well-known Ableton instructor with hours of lectures and lessons that demonstrate the basics and more advanced methods. ADSR has a pretty extensive archive of free tutorials on general production skills as well as VSTs like Native Instruments' Massive or Serum. Cuckoo is a go-to resource for in-depth breakdowns of how to use gear like the Elektron Digitakt or Korg Volca. Others, like Oscillator Sink or Red Means Recording, zoom in on machines' components and methods on how to use them for specific ends. I like Ned Rush for videos in that vein, because he brings a charming geezer vibe to demonstrations of the clever methods he's developed for slicing and dicing breakbeats.
Advanced producers and aspiring audio whizzes will get more out of in-depth channels like White Sea Studio, which is hosted by Dutch engineer Wytse Gerichhausen. He mostly reviews plug-ins and hardware and makes guides about his mixing and mastering methodology. We mentioned airwindows in our writeup about free software because he makes plug-ins, but he's also worth citing here because he explains those devices in videos uploaded to YouTube that provide extremely in-depth insight into how things work and how to use them. Anyone curious about modular should look into Mylarmelodies and DivKid for guidance on all things Eurorack. Check out Look Mum No Computer for a wreckhead’s guide to using, abusing and modifying your kit.
Organize your rekordbox
DJ prep is half the battle, and chances are you have a very long time to get things sorted for your next gig. Take advantage of this lull to face your fears and finally reorganize that rekordbox library. It’s not just a matter of manually restructuring playlists, but also exploring the software’s robust—and often overlooked—categorization tools, which can make sense of thousands of tunes at once. Avalon Emerson’s Art Of DJing feature is a good place to start for inspiration. One of its most interesting parts, at least for me, is her use of intelligent playlists, a feature that automates track organization using tags and search parameters. If that sounds too meticulous, Objekt's Art Of DJing offers a more situational approach. He splits music into two main tempo categories, then uses rekordbox comments to rate "hardness factor" from one to ten. But perhaps his most pro tip is a playlist called "Urgent Wee"—a collection of ten-minute long tracks for "when you really gotta go."
Learn to dance
Sing in the shower? How about dance in the flat? While self-isolating, no one is around to judge. I love watching videos of people dancing on YouTube. They can be funny or artistic, but most importantly, they're energizing (even when viewed through the screen). It makes me wish I could physically feel music like that too, so sometimes I throw on a YouTube tutorial in front of my full-length mirror and try to two-step properly. There are a bunch of these channels nowadays, no matter what kind of music you vibe with. After all, many club scenes—house, vogue, footwork, gabber and gqom, for example—developed in tandem with their own dance styles, where dancer culture was just as important as the DJ. Broaden your dance move vocabulary by exploring YouTube tutorials for each one. You can even learn to do that double stomp often seen in Berghain before its doors reopen.