The Empty Space in Dubstep

As a creative person, I look for what is not there. The negative space. The thing that could be, but isn’t.

In the past, Deadmau5 used this strategy to choose his sound.

Deadmau5 says in his masterclass videos that he noticed there was no one doing a sound like his in house music before he decided on what his sound would be. It was an empty space in music. He had the talent to recognize that if he went and made the Deadmau5 sound to fill the space, it would sell because the demand was there but unrecognized.

I’m about to tell you about one of those empty spaces.

A few months ago I went to an Excision tour with four or five supporting dubstep acts. From the moment the opener pressed play, it was hard in your face bass music. The show didn’t start with a slower, less energetic style. It didn’t start low energy and build up over the next few hours. Nope. They just slammed the reds and went to town.

I was bored. And so was everyone else in my group.

I imagine all of the DJs involved have enough talent to recognize that starting at crowd hype level 10 is a bad way to go. The energy needs to progress in some way, even if its only to another form of level 10 hype hype.

I know it is possible for a bass music lineup to handle this issue because I’ve heard the Bassrush Massive kill it with their lineup. I think it started with one genre of drum n bass, went to some dubstep, then to more drum n bass, then more dubstep. All that mattered is that the style changed.

Now here’s the empty space.

In a dubstep only lineup, the opening acts would love to start with lower energy music, but they can’t because… it doesn’t exist yet. Openers all know that just like any other set, whether its at a club or a festival, they don’t want to outpace the headliner. But when all dubstep has the same energy and sound, they have no options. So if someone were to make music that “fit” in that opening space, DJs and fans would be all over it.

Do note that this doesn’t mean the quality can be lower. It still has to be high quality. But if the energy is lower and the feel is different while still sounding like dubstep, it’ll work.

I’m not going to suggest what the music might sound like. While I have some ideas, that job is for someone else. I’m only here to point out the empty space where I see it.

I also might be wrong about this music not existing. I don’t listen to a lot of dubstep. So I invite anyone who knows of music that would fill this space to link it to me. But I bet it doesn’t exist, because if it did, bass music DJs would be playing it — at least for the warmup.

Producer Problems: Resetting Your Ears

Music producers listen to the same track for hours at a time while adding and editing their way to the final render.

Losing the ability to even hear your track’s problems is a common occurrence. I am proposing my own solution. It will be new to some of you.

My intent with this solution is to get your ears, body and mind recharged as much as possible, as quickly as possible. First I’ll mention a commonly used solution as contrast.

That solution is to walk away for a while. Go do something else. Literally anything else. Exercise. Visit a quiet place. Whatever. Let your ears have a break from the music world.

My solution turns that concept of quiet escape on its head.

While your music is unique, you probably want it to sound a bit like someone else’s too. I mean this in the sense that all tracks receive a mixdown and have reverb.

When you get ear fatigue, you’ve been listening to unprocessed material for at least a while. Your body might want to move around, even if you don’t realize it.

This solution will immediately seem really obvious, but some people won’t have had the idea yet. Ready?

Load up tracks you like with a similar sound and listen to ’em. Get your body into it. This serves two purposes.

First, ear fatigue happens when you become used to whatever your work-in-progress sounds like. You want your ears to hear something else for a while. But instead of quiet, you can use whatever you listen to as a frame of reference for quality. That way when you go back to producing, your errors will stand out more. And supposing your fatigue is caused by repetition of the same sounds instead of volume, the change will feel really good.

Second, sit for long enough and your body’s kinesthetic response to sounds will fall off. It’s the same as when you sit down on a couch and notice your body becoming unresponsive. But you need responsiveness to experience the sounds in your track. So it can be a good idea to move around and wake your body up.

With this method, you should be able to get fired up and ready to start again within half an hour.

This is only a suggestion, and it won’t always be the right choice. Sometimes walking around outside for a while will be the better option. But sometimes this strategy will get you back to your DAW the fastest.

How I Went Cliff Jumping With NLP

Today I went with some new friends and jumped off a cliff.

Cliff jumping is dangerous! I recommend you do not do it. Stick to swimming instead.

With that in mind, if you’d asked me this morning if I would jump eight feet into cold water, I would have said no, no way. But when you show up to find a group of your friends jumping off a cliff, it’s suddenly easier to convince yourself to do it. But I still had some hesitation.

We are all familiar with the sensation of unexpected cold water. I thought it was going to be warm. Nope.

I looked at the depth of the river. It was safe. But I still hesitated when I felt the cold water on my feet. I started losing sensation immediately. So in my head, plunging my entire body in meant daggers.

Last year, I would not have been able to convince myself to jump. I would have sat on the shore line and claimed I didn’t want to get my clothes wet (that excuse is BS). But because I recently studied NLP, I was able to change my mind about it.

When you make a decision and act on it, your subconscious has to be on board with the idea. Otherwise it will hold you back. You will fumble the ball before an incoming tackle, stammer while giving a speech, hide from discomfort on dry land. But your conscious mind can direct your subconscious if you learn how.

While my friends and I were working up courage to jump into the water, someone said they didn’t want to get their shirt wet. I thought about it as an opportunity to practice persuasion. I considered asking, “Won’t it dry later?” before realizing that question was completely inert. Their real concern was probably the same as mine. So I changed things around in my head.

Instead, I imagined, “Yeah, but won’t you feel like a hero for jumping in on the walk back?”

You can imagine walking with your friends through a forest trail, feeling good about overcoming a fear. You can feel good because you looked good in front of them, or because you did something for you. Whatever works best.

My body immediately shifted when I imagined that. I took my shoes off. But I wasn’t quite there yet. I saw myself jumping off the cliff into the water again. I still wanted to move away. So I changed things around a bit: What if I tried it from a first person perspective? What if I took a first person perspective from the jump, with a feeling of courage? What if I only imagined swimming in the water, and a good feeling to go with it?

There it is. The last one got me. In the midst of my friends, I threw my shirt off. Everyone saw. I had committed myself. No turning back.

The interesting thing is that when I hit the water, it didn’t even seem cold. I wonder if the sensation was overwritten by my expectation.

 

Talking To Beginners

I have been producing dance music for about five years now. In that time I have spent countless solitary hours watching tutorials, throwing ideas at my DAW, and trying to figure out: What works?

What I haven’t done much of is explain to someone else how to do things.

And I don’t mean how to use a compressor. Someone else can explain that.

What I haven’t explained is how Eric Prydz and Lane 8’s slow rise and falls of tension are obviously the result of slow changes in things like reverb, EQ, and volume. It’s obvious to me when I think about it for a minute. Completely.

But I only became conscious of it when I focused my mind on the track (it was something by Lane 8) to figure it out and explain it to someone else.

Of course, I’m sure there’s more to the slow builds of Lane 8 and Prydz. But I bet slow automation curves making small, small adjustments are everywhere in their tracks.

The thing to recognize here is that there are countless other patterns I haven’t yet noticed in dance music — because I’ve never had to. The situation has never come up.

If you’ve ever taken a course on learning, “learning how to learn”, then you might recall that explaining to someone else what you know is a great way to learn it better. You can also reinforce your learning by taking notes. But explaining things to someone else is incredible for learning. Back to this in a moment.

If you’ve been producing music for a few years, there are parts in your brain that literally do not exist in the average person’s. You can focus your hearing on subtle parts of sound that, as far as I can tell, some people literally can’t notice.

Read that again. It’s not that they don’t notice some of the subtleties that an experienced producer could. It’s that they can’t notice because their brains are not wired to hear the differences yet. Crazy, right?

Now what happens when you explain how a track works to somebody else?

In order to understand a track and turn that understanding into words, your brain has to engage parts it wouldn’t use together otherwise. Your language centers have to get involved to translate the parts of the music you are focusing on into words. Then another part has to move your mouth to speak.

If you try this with a friend, you’ll be amazed at what kind of realizations you experience.

This is the importance of talking to beginners.

Part of why this works is that the process of explaining to someone new will raise things you know but don’t usually think about into conscious awareness.

Your musician’s brain has some understanding that it feels “tension” rising before an important change in the track, like the movement from the drop to the breakdown. It isn’t magic. The tension is coming from something changing in the music. The average listener has no idea what that something might be. But you do!

It might be the pitch of something rising in the background.

It might be the low end being filtered out.

It might be the volume of an instrument going up — or it might just be part of the frequencies in the instrument.

I repeat that explaining this to another person will do something for you that replicating the pattern in your DAW will not do.

Try explaining what is happening while the track playing. By directing your friend’s attention from sound to sound, narrating how things work, you’ll make your own subconscious understanding from an ambiguous blob into an explicit, well defined form.

You’ll suddenly understand things differently, and you will remember the understanding because human to human communication heavily engages the brain.

Try that with a friend who likes dance music or with a newer producer.

And if you know someone who is a more experienced producer than you are, you should definitely try this with them. They’ll point out things you never would have noticed.

But to be honest, this is some basic bitch shit so far.

Let’s use this exercise to do something incredible. You won’t believe what you can do with it.

Try to explain the difference between one track and another track, even to yourself. But get a friend involved for best results. (Probably another music producer for this one since it’s more advanced.)

What is the difference between the way Ilan Bluestone sounds and Grum?

What is the difference between the way Grum sounds and Eric Prydz?

Ilan Bluestone and Grum are on the same label. In a way, their tracks are very similar. Certainly Ilan Bluestone and Grum are more similar sonically than Ilan Bluestone and Spor.

If you dig into this challenge, you might notice that Ilan Bluestone’s kicks sound long (like they fill an 1/8th note?), with a big punch, while Grum tends to be shorter with less mid and high end. Grum’s sit further back in the mix, while still being in the front.

This is also a great way to figure out if your producer friends think “Bright” or “Punchy” mean the same thing.

Let me know if you try this out. Talk to some non-musicians and explain a part of the music to them. Try to explain it so well that you see understanding show on their faces. That gives you a challenge while maybe doing something useful for them.

I’ll write about another form of this exercise later, maybe.

Cheers.

Using Your Imagination For Motivation

One of my pet peeves is seeing people dole out advice on what to do without giving them tools to do it.

You have to figure that if a person knew how to motivate themselves to do something good for themselves, they would have already done it.

So today I am going to give you one tool that will work to create motivation. I don’t guarantee it will work, but I do promise that it is worth trying. Please use the tool to make good decisions. That’s all I ask.

I won’t bother explaining why I think this works. You’re welcome to ask if you want to. The technique is as follows:

Suppose you want to produce motivation for something. We all know that if we get together with a bunch of people we care about, and they make fun of us for something, that’s going to get a reaction of some kind. Similarly, if the same bunch of people tell us we have a great plan and encourage us to do it, we’ll get another reaction — probably a motivating one.

My suggestion is that you pick five or six people whose opinions matter to you and store those people in your head as a committee. They could be friends, family members, or people you look up to.

When you need help getting motivated, imagine yourself explaining it to them individually or as a group. You could show them a picture if that works for you. You can have them react positively to the idea.

This is a technique I got from a book, which was probably describing some kind of business figure (hence the “committee”).

You might keep consulting them for motivation as you try out your idea. Try it and see how you feel afterwards.

Introversion-Extroversion as a Skill Gap

As you are well aware, reality is complex. Very complex. And the brain is the most complex piece of matter in the universe. There will be strong AI before we understand how the brain’s neural activity causes consciousness. It’s that far off. This is context.

I’m going to deconstruct why introversion-extroversion is BS. The same reasoning will apply to Myers Briggs. I need to bring some concepts to our attention to start. 

1. Confirmation bias: once you “set” confirmation bias, your mind filters conflicting information from your experience. What looks like damning evidence of a person’s wrong-ness to me might look like absurd noise to them. Some conflicts might be deleted from perception entirely (how interesting is that?).

2. Consistency: this is a principle of human behaviour. Essentially, once you agree to something, your future behavior, actions, thoughts, tend to trend in accordance with your previous agreement. This is a big part of why positive self-talk is important, for instance.

3. Framing: one of the best tools Adams brought back into my awareness is framing. Suppose any given topic has a set of ten thousand different frames a creative person could potentially invent for the issue (this is probably a low estimate). Once you accept a frame by arguing for or against it, you have set your confirmation bias, and it will be hard to remove your own need to be consistent. 

4. Habit: how you fulfill any human need will be mostly habit. Initially it’s a choice, but most people *lose* their ability to choose new actions, getting stuck in loops for years, decades, etc.

 

Now I’m ready. Thanks in advance for reading, I care about this reframe I’m about to drop. I thought of it while trying to imagine a reframe Adams would be impressed by (clever + helpful). It could work.

The introversion-extroversion label is familiar to everyone who has ever opened a book in psychology. It’s one of the first things they tell you about. It’s also fake bullshit.

Introversion-extroversion is an attempt to describe human personality traits. It is viewed as a single continuum. That should be your first red flag for a work of fiction presented as science.

Wikipedia states, “Extraversion is the state of primarily obtaining gratification from outside oneself,” and “Introversion is the state of being predominantly interested in one’s own mental self.”

And pay attention to this as well:

“Extraverts are energized and thrive off being around other people. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups.”

Compared to:

“Introverts often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. The artist, writer, sculptor, scientist, engineer, composer and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though they may enjoy interactions with close friends.”

 

Redefine it however you like. In its most simple form, introversion-extroversion tends to describe: “Do you prefer socializing or solitude?” and “Do you prefer sensing your own internal life or the world around you?”

Imagine a formula describing how you will behave in a given social situation. We will need variables to cover hunger, fatigue, stress, how long it has been since you went to the gym, whether you had sex recently, whether you are looking for sex, how much you have in the bank. You will need to add to the formula a description of how well you know each person in the group, because things like trust, how much you have in common, etc., all influence your body’s decision to be social or not.

All of these variables are changing at all times. It turns out to be a complex system where changing one variable sends cascades through the rest of the system. Would I socialize while hungry? Yes, we could go get food together, but a given person might not be so interested if someone they distrust or dislike is in the group. Suddenly their nerves are flaring and want to be somewhere else.

Suppose you are observing that one person in the above paragraph. You have just met and your brain is rapid-firing hallucinations about their character by extrapolating from a sample size of 1. They are wearing a band t-shirt and you would never do that. “They must be an introvert who spends their time alone, or else they would have realized it is a mistake by now,” you think. When they decline to join the group for dinner because you have been giving them (subconsciously) dirty looks for the past hour, your initial impression is confirmed. Introvert!

When psychologists set out to measure these things, they are already losing the battle. By exploring with the frame of “introversion or extroversion?” they are summing an n dimensional matrix into one variable.

There are competing personality theories, of course. But few of the researchers will be busy considering all of the personality theories that haven’t been invented yet, because of course they cannot. Those frames do not yet exist in their minds. So their confirmation bias kicks in and they find evidence supporting introversion-extroversion, Myers-Briggs, whatever. They find evidence that “introverts do this, therefore extroverts do that,” and other absurd summaries of human behavior.

This is the issue of “limited-frame confirmation bias”, which I will rebrand later: Your mind can’t find evidence to support a theory that does not yet exist. The ideas simply aren’t there in your head.

By the time a person passes through the school system, they have long since been labeled and relabeled by Myers-Briggs and other personality tests. I recall learning I was an “introvert” around age 9, feeling uncomfortable that I had a lifetime without enough company ahead of me. Bias set.

Recall consistency: Once a person has committed to being X, they continue to behave in ways that support their existence as an X. This is called identity and it is persistent. Changing someone’s identity is hard. Once you believe you are an X, you begin to adopt it as part of your ego. What do you mean I’m not an X? I like characteristics a, b, c that I attribute to being an X.

This actually has a negative effect on people. You fall for this idea of yourself as an introvert or extrovert and presume you cannot change. The behavior of a human being is a complex system of habits, which means it is easy to understand why people presume they cannot change their social and sensory based behaviors.

Now a thought experiment. Suppose someone has an unmet need they experience often,  and they are doing a poor job of satisfying it. In this thought experiment, we suppose the person is experiencing something and labeling it “satisfaction” in their head, unaware that they could have a much more gratifying experience by doing something else. Example, meet two people. Bob is a person who is decidedly an “introvert” and reads fiction to get a second-hand experience of socializing. Sally is an extrovert who goes to large parties every week (which are more private) to experience almost-solitude in a drunken walk with a friend. Keep both these people in mind for a second.

To fully understand how bullshit the introversion-extroversion spectrum is, I am going to introduce a new idea to take its place. Are you ready? Are you sure?

It’s a skill gap. The whole thing.

Most people are doing fine as they are. Their habits and beliefs have gotten them this far in life, even though some are unhappy. They might commonly experience states where their needs seem to be fully met, even if it isn’t getting them anything useful in the long run. These are the flock you tend to.

I am looking for people who believe the introversion-extroversion spectrum as an excuse to avoid improving their lives. We’ll return to the thought experiment from above.

Bob grew up with a small family in a large city. His family was not part of any community groups and so his childhood exposure to socializing was limited to daycare and playing with an older, older cousin at his aunt’s every second weekend. School came around and he started off with under-developed social skills.

Suppose there is a set of n facial cues a person can display. By chance, Bob never learned more than a third of them, but he did learn to recognize that he doesn’t recognize them. He learned this when he felt unwelcome for some reason (the cause of the unwelcomeness itself being describable only with a very large matrix, if we are going to account for all the contributing factors) and began habitually avoiding situations where he anticipated experiencing “that feeling” of unwelcomeness. On one side of simplicity, people truly did tend to dislike Bob, relative to other people. On the other side of simplicity, Bob really didn’t know what he was doing at a party. So he went home and read about them.

I pause here to say specifically, this fictional Bob a) wants to socialize more and b) does not know how to socialize more and c) would enjoy socializing IF he had better habits and skills for it.

Now imagine we are researchers reading over a case study about Bob. We read all the reported information about his “introverted” behaviors and conclude that “Bob is an introvert” is the cause of the behavior instead of the label being the effect of the behavior.

A theme of Taleb’s books is chance. It is purely chance if Bob is to encounter a way of changing his behaviors. He does not know what he does not know. Further, he might not believe that there is a way of changing, since he is an “introvert”, and his current internal habits do not support the motivation to go out and search for a solution. (If he did go out and look, he would probably select “social skills for introverts” as his helper.)

Sally the extrovert goes to parties because she grew up with parents who had lots of parties. As a child she was exposed to several families visiting her house at once. She had a politician for a father and a nurse for a mother, along with four siblings. Her school years were spent learning to be charming.

Now suppose Sally has needs for quiet time (to relax), and time with her thoughts because of some difficult problems she requires creativity to solve. On these drunken walks with a friend, she finds that it is relatively quiet compared to her otherwise hectic adult life (a sibling and two roommates live with her, because she never learned to survive without others present to share the workload). Neither her nor her friends realize this through her charm, but she is usually using them to work through difficult problems that she would enjoy solving more effectively on her own with a pen and paper — but she never learned this skill.

Again I pause specifically to say that this “extroverted” character Sally in fact has less satisfaction in her life than she could if she adopted some simple habits that writers like you and I do daily. But her confirmation bias will never allow her to consider it because “extroverts don’t do that”.

And again if we were researchers we might conclude, “yep, extrovert! If she’s unhappy she would enjoy doing more of i, j, k with some new friends and could fix this habit of wondering about her problems by spending more time at football games, outside of internal sensory experience.”

 

Some final thoughts that I won’t develop further here:

  • The Wikipedia definitions above mention that introverts tend to prefer “inner” sensory experience while extroverts tend to prefer “outer” sensory experience. That’s another sum-job gone wrong. Once you categorize something, your confirmation bias kicks in, as with anything else. But there are so many variables. I learned recently that you can literally change how much time you spend inside/outside your head through hypnotism. A long time ago, I spent probably three or four years straight experiencing my inner thoughts constantly. Unpleasant. Now I hardly notice them at all.
  • The Wiki definitions claim extroverts are energized by socializing. I will use myself as an example. I avoided socializing and found it distressing until I improved my skill set and associated a reward with socializing instead of a punishment (from experiencing my own perceived lack of ability). Likewise an “extrovert” can learn to enjoy writing, sculpting, etc., if they can organize their internal life to get a loop of pleasure from improving their craft. That too is a skill you can learn.

**

Ed – My intent is to develop and refine this idea until I can write short but persuasive blog posts on the subject. This post has far too many words.

Thoughts? Questions?

Memory, A Story of Symbols

In February of 2015 I decided I would have some fun imagining a logo for my music. This was before I realized metaphors could be skillfully hidden in visuals or language to communicate with your subconscious. So that’s not what I’m doing here. Instead I am testing the power of stories.

I was walking through a familiar nightclub brainstorming ideas. Because I knew some things about advertising, I realized I could pick an image that was pre-associated with certain things. As a member of the rave scene, I chose the image of an eyeball because people would laugh when the iris expanded a little too much.

I did not anticipate even slightly the journey I had started on.

In the days after I decided on the eye, my mind began growing other associations to present to me. They have mostly sunk back into my subconscious. I remember a few though. Light, lasers from stage design. Obvious. And it is a single eyeball, not two, so it didn’t take long to compare it to the sun. More than two years later, the possible meanings are still revealing themselves.

The religion of the ancient Greeks has fantastic tales. I borrowed a lot of the feelings internally. Suppose the eye is a visual representation of some (fictional) divinity’s watch over you. Or a metaphor for your memory of the past. That idea inspired the name, Memory.

In lieu of any visual artistic talent, it was painful having the images stuck in my head. Even worse, I found Beeple’s art after he did work for one of Zedd’s tours. I now had something to compare to.

It took me over a year to realize he might appreciate me using his freely posted work for this purpose, instead of maybe never hiring Beeple myself and letting the image, story, and metaphors die in my head. So here’s some of my favorite Beeple everydays.

I did tell you I like the ancient Greek religion.

Just on the other side of the iris.

As the sun.

Note that none of these are exactly what I saw in my head. Some Beeples are remarkably similar, however. That supports the completely for-fun hypothesis that all inspiration is actually from the same source.

And Memory isn’t the only one. There’s five others. I wonder if any readers can sense what they are.