5 Tips for Music production beginners: Hitori Tori

In 1998 Julian La Brooy’s four track recorder was tragically destroyed. A sound tracker completely changed everything and Hitori Tori was born. Agitated breaks became combined with tweaked arpeggiated synth lines, some cut up vocals, and a few lugubrious tones were thrown into the background for good measure.

Hitori Tori has seen a hand full of EPs and releases on labels such as Peace Off Records, Kaometry and Occult Research. His live performances have received positive acclaim in publications such as Computer Music Magazine and Create Digital Music. Over the past several years Hitori Tori has toured Japan, Europe and played improvised sets at the Manitoba Electronic Music Festival. 

Q.How to choose the DAW that suits me?

Well, for recommendations I can only speak from my own personal experience. When using a computer for music creation, I recommend a DAW that is visually stimulating but doesn’t overwhelm the user with too many details in the program’s main view. Personally, if I look at a computer screen cluttered with a song arrangement, automation envelopes, waveforms and piano roll information – I find it far too distracting to be productive. I have always enjoyed using sound trackers to make electronic music precisely because trackers are so streamlined in their appearance – they’re essentially just columns of numbers organized within a certain logical framework. Yes, one can access more details about the sounds if desired, but we are generally confined to editing one pattern at a time on the digital canvass. When I was younger, I used Player Pro Tracker. This tracker had various editor view options but the song sequence was represented by the names of patterns (text) arranged in a specified order. I can’t say that this tracker was visually inspiring for me, but when I was using it to produce music I was more focussed on the musical syntax rather than getting lost in waveforms or piano rolls. Fast-forward twenty-three years and I am still using a tracker. I have chosen Renoise for everything from sound-design, to recording gear, to arranging songs. Renoise is a modern tracker with some forward-thinking features such as a pattern matrix view that provides a snapshot of a song’s progression. Unlike some of the previous trackers I’ve used, Renoise has additional useful tools to keep the user aware of both macro and micro song elements. I like Renoise for two main reasons.

1) Ease of use / flexibility: It’s easy to navigate through the options in the program and make it do exactly what I want it to do. Renoise syncs up easily to external gear and allows for flexible MIDI implementation. This fact alone makes it a really great choice for producing.

2) Stability: Renoise performs almost flawlessly in live situations with no buffer issues. I can easily open up three instances of this program and perform long sets by substituting different song files into each instance while it’s playing. 

So, in when you’re choosing a DAW…

Ask yourself:
What kinds of sequencers / editors am I already comfortable with? Consider all phone apps or unrelated physical gadgets you are familiar with because sometimes there are parallel concepts used in music software.

Ask yourself:
Do I only feel comfortable writing melodies using a piano roll GUI?

Many DAWs including Logic, Ableton, and FL Studio implement a piano roll GUI controlling instruments- and those ‘piano roll DAWs’ might be a great option for you to consider if you like that sort of thing.

Ask yourself:
What is my overall goal for producing music? Am I doing this for fun? Am I producing this music for performance?

If your ultimate goal is performance, consider how the DAW will help you prepare for live shows.

Q.What should I get next after buying a DAW?

Headphones, a good mixer and then some monitor speakers. I believe that’s probably a reasonable order for acquiring those items, but that’s just my opinion of course. As a priority, before connecting a new mixer, I recommend plugging the computer directly into your monitor speakers and considering what the dynamics sound like. Notice how loud it is. How is the bass resonating? How are the highs?

Next, connect the computer to the input channels of your mixer and then connect your mixer to your speakers. I feel it’s really important to adjust input level and gain so it matches up with the ‘direct’sound you heard earlier (only computer to speakers). Get the volume just as it was when you connected your computer directly. By doing this early step, the fixed levels you’ll hear through the mixer will be “true” to the sound leaving the computer. This ‘mixer balancing’ is an important early step that people can sometimes overlook – since they’ll just plug into the channels of a mixer and start producing immediately. Always remember, the gain an input levels can have a big effect on dynamics of the sound you’ll be hearing. By locking down the ‘true sound’ through the mixer early on, it will save a mastering engineer (later) a big headache of asking you to change things that may sound completely fine to you.

Use your headphones intermittently as you produce music. Put them on at least occasionally to ensure everything sounds balanced. Don’t just use one (headphones) or the other (monitor speakers). Use both of them to check that your final mix sounds okay - well at least check in both before sending your mix off for mastering.

Q.What is the practice method of making songs?

Well, at the moment here’s what I do.

For break-oriented music, I will start by creating drums. These days I enjoy using the Korg Electribe ESX-1 sampler to create drum breaks. I will sample a break loop I’ve created in the ESX directly into an instrument slot in Renoise. Next, I will spend a bit of time EQ-ing that sample. There’s no point in using crappy samples at the beginning of the production process, since poor decisions now will have an affect on what’s to come. So, I will separate parts of the drum break on to three separate tracks. One track is reserved for Hi frequency parts (clicks and hi-hats), one track is for Med frequency sounds (snares) and the third track is for Low frequency elements (bass kicks). So parts of the break are divided up using the ‘sample offset’ pattern command, onto the three tracks - respective of their frequency of their hits. I will make some basic EQ adjustments on each track to help make those hits of the break more pronounced. Applying a very slight amount of distortion on each track (right after each EQ in the effects chain) helps to ‘even out’ some of the transients. Once I’m convinced the drum break sounds more ‘dynamically balanced’, I will re-render the whole break as one sample. I will prepare all my drums this way because it helps to ensure my loop samples have good dynamics. Note: saving a collection of these nicely ‘balanced breaks’, will make them readily available for use in future songs.

Next, I’ll make a few patterns in Renoise from the drums I just customized. I’ll get a nice rhythm going over 8 patterns in Renoise. I will plug in a bass synth such as the Roland A-01 and produce some funky bass sequences to accompany my rhythm. I will make additional bass sequences using other synths in the studio. To make things easy, I’ll ensure that all these secondary pieces of gear are tuned to the same key the first synth was recorded at. For example, if the original bass synth used was tuned to F#, then the Intellijel Metropolis will be programmed to sequence scales in F# as well… and so on. So, I’ll make about 6 to 8 baselines with a length of maybe 8 bars each. I’ll record directly into the instruments of Renoise and then enter the basslines into the patterns of my song, effectively increasing the length of the entire song sequence.

I will add some notes/pads to accompany the basslines and extend my song to a 4:00 min sequence. The song isn’t finished yet, but the overall structure is certainly there. So now, for more focussed listening, I’ll take a break from using my DAW and I’ll listen back to what I’ve done so far in a different environment.

I’ll render the sequence to a WAV file / mp3 and completely close the Renoise application. I think it’s a good idea to listen to ‘works in progress’ independent of your DAW because looking at your DAW can sometimes change your overall perception of the song.

So for my listening session, I will play the song on an mp3 player or similar device. While listening, I will take notes on paper or a digital note pad. The notes will be clear, very simple and time-referenced to tell me what I want to change in the song.

For example:

0:00 – 0:12 add vocal samples (Dylan screaming)

0:29 – 0:49 add chords + delete lingering notes bleeding from earlier

0:59 - add a explosive transition sound before the next section..etc..

1:44 - 1:48 - kill the drums

3:40 – 4:15 – Create an outro

When I’m finished listening, I’ll open up the song again in Renoise and work off my notes. Note-taking actually makes it really easy for me to finish my songs and once I’ve applied my notes, the song is basically done. Perfect, now I’ll just take another break and finish up the final version a bit later with some fresh ears.

Q.What is your recommended Sample Pack (commercially available) or FREE material?

I don’t know much about commercial sample packs, however, I am certainly not opposed to using them. I received a sample pack CD with my Yamaha A-3000 sampler in 1998. The variety of sound-snippets included were okay, I suppose. I liked the fact that it was entirely the responsibility of ‘the user’ to make those samples sound good. By applying EQ and effects you could really transform those samples and make then sound far better. It was a nice challenge.

With that said, I think free is best. If you’re looking for inspiration, I would recommend searching through some free loops available online (ex: www.looperman.com) and then customizing your own sounds from the samples you think are interesting. Apply your own effects and EQ to them. Save your efforts and recycle your sounds for use in future songs. Build yourself an arsenal of handy musical weapons. 

Q.How do you keep enjoying music production?

These days, for me, simply trying to explore the limits of my music equipment is quite enjoyable. Sometimes I ask myself “What’s the weirdest way to involve the Octatrack in my setup today?” or “How can I use my poly-synth for all the percussion and my drum machine for all the melody?” Ha, of course some of my ideas are complete stupid, but implementing them is kind of enjoyable. I think I enjoy a good challenge, and that’s what keeps me engaged and entertained. 


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