Does loop based music restrict or free your creativity?

Everybody has a different angle that they take when producing or writing music. This process will derive from how the user has learnt to play their chosen instrument, or how they have learnt to write music within a sequencer. It is quite common to think that electronic music made in the box will be made up of loops and while this may be the case, it is not the only situation that this can occur. I’m not particularly interested in arguing if writing with loops is a good or a bad way of working because I believe that if a musical idea is conceived, that it should be realized in any way that the writer chooses to compose it. Some of the most well known pieces of music in the world have been based around loops, even when the computer music workstation wasn’t at the heart of the producers studio. The question that I want to ask is, does loop based music restrict or free your creativity? The first example that I want to show you is the Nine Inch Nails track – “Something I can never have”, which starts with a piano riff that seems to fall over itself at times, but is still a loop playing constantly throughout the track. The loop almost seems to fall out of time as it drifts in to the soundscape around it – but yet always starts in the right place musically. The song starts with the piano but this is not the main instrument. Nine Inch Nails are considered or recognized as a band, but the music is generally written by Trent Reznor and as this example shows, a loop can allow great freedom to experiment within the boundaries that it puts in place.

NIN – Something I can never have

I think, as with most things in music, this original question doesn’t have a straight yes or no, black or white answer. But I believe very strongly that if the writer has varied influences, is open to experimentation and most importantly doesn’t build the whole track from loops, there is no reason why an original and interesting piece of music can be produced. The situation that a developing music producer could find themselves in with sample packs containing loops is the basic regurgitation of music that has already been developed, which goes without saying. But if only one loop is used within the track this can actually give a strong foundation for the musical content to weave in and out altering the emphasis and energy of the track. This can be identified in all styles of music and shouldn’t be thought of as a purely electronic direction. I mentioned earlier that some of the most famous pieces of music that exist are based around a loop, Michael Jackson’s Thriller is one of those, and is undeniably one of the most highly respected and loved pieces of music ever written. The bass line is the loop and is continuous throughout the track, allowing the other elements of the music to develop, the vocals and synth parts primarily, which in turn build up the energy in to the chorus. Now its safe to say that Thriller was not written in a modern DAW, and it is more likely that the main riff of the song, written by Rod Temperton, was brought to the musical table – so to speak – the other people in the room would have started to add their parts until a track started forming. And we all know what happened with the track.

Michael Jackson – Thriller

The point that I am trying to make is that music of any genre can be created around a loop. The loop provides a constant for the rest of the music to swing in and around the said constant. This can be taken to the extreme where the loop is very obvious throughout the track, Little Dragon – Paris, is a good example of this. Little Dragon, if you have not heard of this outfit, blend electronic composition and sounds with a more contemporary live performance. The use of loops is more obvious in this track than in others but the example shows an extreme of loop use.

Little Dragon – Paris

Similar to Simon Green aka Bonobo, another example of an electronic producer who blends all sound sources at his disposal in his creation of the music, the culmination of this in the live performance show that is put on. The loop in the following track is not the main hook in the track, like with other examples, but it sets the scene and is the underlying phrase throughout the song. Bonobo is known for the his compositional style that evokes a emotional response as well as making people want to dance.

Bonobo – Cirrus

How many pieces of music will you listen to now and realize that there is a loop involved, it won’t ruin the piece for the listener but it certainly makes you think about how to approach your next track. The loop can of course be taken to its extreme with producer performers such as Dub FX or Denis Jones, who use loop stations, loop pedals and various effects to to build up a track layer by layer. The guitar style footswitches allow the effects and more importunity the loops to be triggered as part of a performance. This is a genius way of producing music, and to a certain extent, a very minimal amount of equipment needs to be used, but extreme confidence and detailed knowledge of the equipment is needed to be able to manipulate it in a live situation.

Here are a few more examples from well known artists that use the idea of a loop to lay down a theme or phrase in a track, you may be surprised at some of them, you may know these tracks already. The John Cage example is slightly tenuous as there is varied progression in the pattern in places but the phrasing and riff that essentially loops is audible every time it plays. The Paul Simon track, has two loops that are running, the bass part throughout (with exception of the bass solo) and the fanfare horns that introduce us to the track and return for the chorus.

Paul Simon – You can call me Al

Finally, our use of loops in the music industry can also be attributed to some fairly “out there” installation artists. Firstly, I would like to point you to Alvin Lucifer, who’s iconic installation experiment of recording a sentence explaining what is happening, projecting the sentence back into a room, recording it and playing back etc etc leads to a degradation of the sound, illustrates how a loop can be taken out of context and experienced in a completely different light.

Alvin Lucifer

The second video I would like to highlight is “6 Drummers and an Apartment”. As the title suggests this is a video about 6 Drummers in an Apartment, who are playing found sounds, playing live looped patterns with the sounds and creating a extremely musical pieces. It’s not written and composed music in the same way that the majority of the other examples have been, but the principle of all the musicians playing loops draws parallels with the solo performers like

6 Drummers and an Apartment

So what can we take from all this? When it comes down to it, loops are used everywhere, riffs or phrases that we write, play and repeat are technically loops. Live bands are playing loops, but with the exciting exception that because these are never played the same way every time, (through improvisation, variation, or even error) the possibility of creativity is enhanced. If there is an element of performance involved in the music, the possibility of increased creativity certainly becomes a possibility. A constant loop can set the precedent for the track, giving slight restrictions but allowing for experimentation in the spaces. If we think about how Ableton Live works, loops or clips can be triggered to play within an arrangement, this again is great in a live situation, but it is interesting how this piece of software has a certain area that is focused on allowing experimentation with loops.

There are no right or wrongs when it comes to making music, but there are many different ways to skin a cat. Try something different next time you sit down to compose a piece of music, and that goes for those of you that play guitar or keys too, any instrument can be used to create a loop for which the rest of a track can be born from. If you struggle with creativity or finding a direction, try starting with a loop and see how the track progresses, you never know, this could be the revelation you have been looking for to free your creativity.

On a side note, don’t confuse loops with sampling, in the way that sampling can be used to create a the whole basis of a track, for example, Snoop Dogg / Dr Dre – The Next Episode, which was originally, David McCollum – The Edge – and the original is on one of my all time favorite tracks.

David McCollum – The Edge

Cheap as Chiptunes Studio

Have you got a hankering for some new studio gear, but don’t want to wade through the internet deciding on what?

Have no fear – our MMS boffins Tom and Al have teamed together to create a unique studio setup..

For those who have already been pauperised this season – the cheap as chiptunes studio!


Mackie VLZ4 1202
So you’ve invested in a few bits of synthesis hardware, and perhaps a hardware effect or 2. To effectively combine all the different elements of your burgeoning home studio, you’re going to need a mixing desk. The mixing desk is the hub of your studio, where signals from your computer, and outputs from your synths are combined together. Signals can be routed to your hardware effects, or back into the computer when you’re ready to record a mix. Plus they look cool. I’ve picked this Mackie for the budget choice, because although it’s not the cheapest out there (£230 approx), it represents excellent value: 12 channels, some with Mackie’s Onyx preamps, built like a tank.. it’s a quality box. Cheaper alternatives compromise on build quality, and (crassly generalising) tend to be more noisy across the board. Because of it’s size, it’s also great for use in a live setup if you’re wanting to take your show on the road. Finally, It will hold it’s value pretty well for when you potentially out grow it, in a way that cheaper alternatives perhaps won’t.

Mackie mixing desk


Yamaha HS series
Studio monitors differ from your home stereo system in that they are designed to give you a ‘flat response’ rather than something which is flattering and pleasing to the ear. When you’re mixing down a piece of music, you need your monitors to be as honest as possible, some manufactures achieve this with more success than others. The Yamaha HS series for me offer ridiculous value for money, and achieve this transparent, flat frequency response in a way that others in this price range don’t. I’ve included the full series here, rather than just one model, because the system you go for will depend on your budget and your room size. They offer a 5 inch driver (HS5, which gets down to 54Hz) for around £260 a pair, a 7 inch driver (HS7, which can put out 43Hz) for around £320 a pair, or the larger HS8 (8 inch driver, dips down to 38Hz) for around £420 a pair. If you want to go all out, you can get a matching sub for around £300 (HS8S).

Yamaha speakers


Korg Volca Series
These wonderful devices have been out for just over a year, and their ridiculously low price has just been dropped to £99 per unit. There’s a bass synth, a drum machine, and a lead synth/keys unit available, all fully analogue, all very usable devices aimed primary at live performance, but will also add zing to your productions in the studio. Great for anyone wanting to dip their feet into the world of hardware/analogue sounds on a budget, you won’t be disappointed – and prepare to be hooked!

Volca series


MIDI controller keyboard
Novation Launch series – Launchkey 49
I should point out first, that although this is a MIDI keyboard which can be used with any DAW, it is designed for use with Ableton Live ideally. Personally, I was very excited when Novation ‘launched’ the Launchkey series. Unlike any controller before it, it provided a really useful mix of Ableton Live integration via a mini launchpad section, dynamic control over device parameters and mixer, plus a decent sized keyboard.You can pick up one of these for around £139, which is not only cheap for an integrated controller such as this, but also very cheap for a 49 key keyboard! The build quality isn’t completely amazing, but still more than adequate for this price point, just look after it!

Ableton Midi Keyboard


u-he ACE
My choice for a budget plugin goes to the synth plugin, ACE. At €69 it’s a total steal. Unlike some software instruments, when you loading up it’s presets, you’re presented with a plethora of usable sounds. This is before you’ve even begun to start playing with it’s modular cable system (A-ny C-able E-verywhere). It’s capable of delivering a huge range of sounds, textures and timbres: deeeeep bass, warm lush pads, melt-your-face leads. It has built in chorus and delay effects, and in short, sounds like a real hardware analogue synth, but at a fraction of the price.

Ace plugin


And now to Alasdair….

Audio Interface
Scarlett 2i2 
Finding a budget audio interface might seem like a dangerous concept for the quality of your work, as it’s so often the case in this department that the more you spend, the better your sound. However there are some surprisingly affordable soundcards available with varying input/output options. So following on from this, you will need to consider what routing options you need before beginning your research. Following the theme of a basic set-up and keeping in mind the other equipment I’m looking at buying, I need to be able to connect my studio monitors to my computer, as well having a dedicated input for my microphone and at least one other spare input for flexibility with other instruments. I’d like to keep the price as low as possible without compromising on sound quality, and after a small bit of research I’m immediately drawn towards the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. This interface has great pre-amps on the 2 dual xlr and jack inputs, meaning I can either connect a mic or instrument cable and be confident that the signal will not be let down by the circuitry converting it on the way into the computer. Working off a USB 2.0 connection, which is no longer the fastest available, I can still be sure that it can handle everything I need from a small interface. Alongside the great looking design and hard-to-beat price tag of £109, I’d say this interface is well in with being the most affordable, professional interface available.

2in 2out interface


Studiospares M2000s
When it comes to headphones in the studio, what I’m really looking for is something with a good frequency response that I can reference monitors my mixes on. A good pair of headphones will last forever and are obviously portable and useful for a number of different applications, so I’m happy to invest some money in them. That being said, I’m trying to keep to the lowest possible budget so will really limit myself to £150 in my research.

There are three products that come to mind immediately for me, as it is something I spend a fair amount of time speaking to Midischool students about….the KRK KNS range, Sennheiser HD-25’s and the relatively unknown M2000 headphones which are a own brand. All of these headphones are within my price range and I know from experience that they all sound great and can be used as a great reference point for my mixes. This literally leaves me down to price, and the M2000s win by a clear mile at an amazing £69.95. For that amount of money you wouldn’t expect much, but these headphones definitely beat the rule as I’ve heard engineers that have been working with audio for 30 years say they can’t fault the sound. The secret weapon in my budget studio is definitely a pair of these.

Studiospares headphones


Rode NT-1 Bundle
Deciding on a single microphone to buy for your basic set-up can be a tricky task. Ideally you want something high quality and reliable that can be used for a variety of applications, for example recording a vocalist, instrument or sampling hand percussion. Firstly consider the type of microphone…. the obvious choice for me would be a condenser, which is typically more fragile than a dynamic mic, but still pretty durable in a studio environment. Equally the sound quality and frequency response will generally be a lot better. There are scores of different models of condenser on the market, varying in price from £35 for the absolute worst to £9k+ for the borderline-ridiculous, top of the range classics. With this in mind, I would give myself an absolute spending limit of £200 and base my comparisons on differences in functionality and any added extras that might be included. After reading numerous user reviews, my choice is the Rode-NT1 studio condenser microphone package. This modern remodeling of Rode’s hugely popular classic mic with the same name also comes boxed with a shock mount, detachable pop shield and dust bag. Priced at around £160 its well within my budget and with great reviews across a host of applications and the bonus accessories, my money is on this microphone being the best value for money mic on the market.

Condenser microphone


Stagg Mic Stand | Acoustic Insulation | Chord Arc Reflection Filter
So as a final addition to my budget studio I’m going to look at any little extras I might need to add to complete my set up. Assuming I already have any furniture needed, I’m really going to restrict this to a mic stand, and some kind of sound proofing treatment for my room. In terms of a mic stand, I can get away with buying the almost cheapest one I can find, assuming it will be permanently set up in a certain position and won’t get knocked-around too much.  Stagg is a well-known budget option available from some reputable retailers, and they have a stand priced at around £27, which would do the job perfectly.

For soundproofing, acoustic insulation can be notoriously pricey and there are also all kinds of rumors in circulation about DIY alternatives.  Firstly, don’t use egg-boxes. If you’re going for an alternative to pre-made tiles, try hanging some blankets or duvets on your walls. Secondly, less can be more. You should try and judge how your music sounds at different parts of your room and compare this to what it sounds like sitting in your mixing position, then treat as you see fit. You might only need something behind your monitors and then at head height on the walls around you. Nonetheless, if you are going for acoustic tiles, the cheapest place I’ve found to get them is an eBay shop called Com4tex.

Lastly, a reflection filter screen behind your mic can make a fair difference to cleaning up any unwanted noise on a vocal recording. These can be very expensive, but the cheapest one I’ve found is the Chord Arc Screen at around £60.

Audio Treatment

Hopefully you’ll have found the above helpful if you’re looking to purchase some new gear! If you’ve got a bit more cash to play with, tune in soon, where we’ll be looking at the Middle of the Roadie studio setup.

Should I Update My Operating System or Software?

We all want to stay as current and close to the newest state of the art software and hardware, with the release of the iPhone 6, iOS8 and Yosemite, this has never been more apparent. With the syntonization of all our mail, phone calls, messages, website reading and app usage – or “Handoff”, the power is being given to the users of the latest software to keep their lives ticking over with seamless integration between platforms. So for example, we could receive a phone call, but our phone is in another room on charge, but we are using our laptop, so we can still answer the call. An email could be started on the desktop mac, you don’t have time to finish it, so just pick up from where you left off via your phone whilst on the train on the way home. But I’m not here to sell you the latest operating systems and hardware to use, I am trying to determine if we, as collective users of music production software should dive straight in.

Synchronization of day to day activities become as standard

What you need to weigh up is how much of a backwards step you could be putting yourself through in comparison to the development in productivity that the new technology with provide for you. Sure, we may not need to have all our devices immediately round us because they are all synced through our wifi network, but is this really the most important element of our music studio or recording studio…. I doubt it. It’s more of a consumer gimmick to draw the masses towards using a single standardized interface to interact with the world. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but it is not necessarily the most pressing issue in a recording studio environment. So if all we use is the base set of applications across our devices, we will be happy in the knowledge that all of our day to day actions will be in sync with our fast paced way of life.

When it comes to all the different equipment that is in even the basic studio setup, we are opening ourselves up to a higher possibility that something will not be kept up to date quite as quickly as the base operating system. So for example, the midi interface and audio interface that we are using in conjunction with our DAW need to work at the very least so that we can still use the main core of our studio, and these will probably need new drivers. As we dig deeper through our equipment and more specifically our software, we will undoubtably come across more items that fall under the 3rd party manufacturer column. It would be a nightmare if we only realized after updating that the majority of our projects were reliant on those 3rd party plugins. So even though as an individual user, we want to stay ahead of the game, as a professional user, we want to stay behind in the safe zone of tried and tested system and software.

If you update or change your system things may not work

I know, and work with many professional studio owners and engineers who still use older versions of software because the whole studio works at that current level. Of course, there are other reasons not to update straight away, one that is extremely important is to be sure that there are no work in progress projects, either your own or for clients that could end up getting damaged, lost or corrupted through the upgrade. This could be disastrous for a commercial studio if deadlines need to be met and problems occur slowing down the output. It is always going to be hard to find a suitable point to draw the line and start again, but i would suggest that if this is the way that you want to go, upgrade and get more up to date, then it is more sensible to wipe the system and literally start from scratch. Over time, and time moves very quickly remember, our hard drives get full up of all kinds of junk. In the studio, there can often be random bits of audio that have been dropped in places in the spur of the moment, people sharing samples, bits of recorded audio for example. If we are organized with our files, then periodically, we will tidy this up and move everything around, but we will still end up with artifacts left around the drives. I am slightly over protective in my studio setup and there is no internet connection to the main system, which reduces the amount of temporary files and needlessly downloaded files on the mac’s hard drives, but this only accounts for a percentage of useless files or junk.

But is it the smartest decision to abandon ship from our currently stable and functional studio setup at all? I would argue, that if your system works – don’t change it until a problem develops. I would much rather have a stable system that i trust to work in every situation, rather than the latest toys to play with. There is the possibility of procrastination that creeps in because “we can’t do this because we don’t have THAT plugin”. I’ve seen it all too many times, and it is cringeworthy, that the basics can be overlooked and the principles that allow us to produce music are missed, simply because something isn’t available. There is always a plugin tucked away in your arsenal of processors and effects that will allow us to achieve what we are striving for. Please don’t forget that this is not a case presented to justify the quality or prestigiousness of certain manufacturers plugins, but a reminder that we have to start somewhere and particularly in modern sequencers, we have everything we need right out of the box. Overtime, it is only natural that you will develop a certain sound and way of working which includes your favorite plugins which may and probably will include 3rd party manufacturers. But the point is that, if you do have your workflow and software choice that allow you to complete projects, then stick with it for a while at least so that you become comfortable and faster in your productions and make head way with your career in the music industry.

Work your production system until it dies

So should I update my operating system or software? To be one of the first to try all the new features maybe cool, but in the long run we are only volunteering as the industry guinea pig. Well, as the majority of this article would suggest, I would say no, don’t move over yet. But, this isn’t necessarily a black or white question that can be answered with a clear do or don’t answer. Being lucky enough to be in the position of having access to several macs running a variety of software with some overlaps, I have found myself able to stage the upgrading process step by step leaving the most important macs till last, upgrading the more communal and day to day systems while leaving the workhorse system till last, or in some cases – not at all. The before mentioned safe zone can then be viewed and understood in terms of how updating will impact the day to day work, through to the ongoing project work. It is also getting closer and closer to the most up to date of software, but there is always an iffy period of time where the catchup game is played out. For those who run older hardware, there is always the possibility that updating can open a whole can of worms, or just not even be an option.

I would also like to mention that i wrote this article on my iPhone (iOS8), iPad (iOS7.1.2) and Macbook Pro (OSX 10.9.5) using iCloud notes, I teach on the Music Production and Audio Engineering Diploma Course and the Electronic Music Production Course at school of electronic music using Logic Pro X (10.0.7) with Mac Pro Quad Core (OSX 10.8.5), i produce at on Logic Pro 9 (9.1.8) on a Mac Pro Quad Core (OSX 10.6.8). Each part of how i use the technology is balanced at a level that allows me to complete the tasks that i have to complete and deliver.

Here is also a list of known working audio related software/hardware with OSX 10.10 Yosemite provided by

Beatport Remix Competition : Tutorial on Remixing

Beatport remix competitions are a great way to get noticed if you’re an up-and-coming music producer. If you’re talented enough to win, then it also holds the possibility of a release on an established label, along with all the gear and goodies that are often thrown in. With so many high-profile DJs and producers on board with the Beatport remix competition and submitting stems of their music, it’s a fantastic opportunity for you to put your stamp on it.

Get creative with a Beatport remix competition.

If you’re looking to enter, but perhaps aren’t sure how to approach the remix once you’ve downloaded the stems, then don’t worry! Tom Lonsborough our Certified Ableton Tutor rolled up his sleeves and showed our Open Day attendees the ropes in a Remixing 101 tutorial, which was live-streamed across the internet and brought in a live audience tuning in from all over the world.

Going in blind

Tom went straight in at the deep end by downloading some completely new to his ears Beatport remix competition stems, to show how the ideas within the remix came about organically, using tried and tested methods which he demonstrates in the video. These include how to prepare the audio files you’re given to start with, changing the tempo to fit a new genre, and then sampling sections to create your track around.


GCSE Results Day 2014: How To Manage Stress After Your Exam Results

Got your GCSE results today? Planning your next step is a scary time and it’s to be expected that you are likely to feel stressed, panicky, nervous and anxious. Take a deep breath and read our guide below.

Results Day 2014 is here and the fact you have headed in to get your GSCE exam results has probably substantially reduced your immediate stress. Congratulations! The wait is finally over for you and now you can consider your next step. Some people will be celebrating; others may be a bit disappointed but it is important to consider the following.

But if you know it’s music you want to do…

At the school of electronic music, you can study with us regardless of your GCSE results. We don’t ask for any musical experience or qualifications – if you want to learn to produce music, or learn to DJ, we can teach you everything you need right here. Come to our Open Day on August 30th, full of career advice and free music workshops!

Now on to the stress-relieving tips!

After You Receive Your Exams Results, Trust Yourself And Have The Confidence To Know You Did Your Best

It can be easy to look back over your study time and think ‘I could have done this differently’ but this is not help anyone. Retrospective thinking may not always be realistic thinking.

Address The Unrealistic Expectations Of Others

You may have felt stress from the unrealistic expectations of family or friends. Sit them down and talk to them about what you feel is realistic and why. Dealing with the unrealistic expectations of others can be very difficult to cope with. Once it is discussed and managed properly, it can be a huge relief.

One Person’s Disappointment Is Another Person’s Success

Remember that everyone has different expectations of themselves and goals in life. Be aware of this during the exam results period.

Put Your Results Into Perspective

Whether you have achieved the results you expected or not, remember that exams are stepping stones to something bigger. Exams are not always goals in themselves; they can be a means to a goal. Marks should not be the goal, they only help you reach the next class or a level closer to your desired career. If you are disappointed about your results, your goal does not need to change but how you reach that goal may be different.

Disassociate Your Performances From Who You Are

Everyone is made up of a lot of abilities and skills. Exams judge skills and knowledge; they are not a judgement about a person or a reflection of a person’s self-worth.

Treat Yourself

GCSE exam results are a stressful time and the hours of work put into achieving them deserves a reward. Whether you got the GCSE results you wanted or you are disappointed, it is now time for you to allow yourself the time to for a treat.

Explore Your Options For The Future

Now that you have your exam results, take the time to consider your options.

Check out the Results Day Survival Guide from Not Going To Uni for loads of potential career paths and further study options, whether you want to go to uni, or onto alternative further education. Career Pilot also offer guidance of what to do for post-16yr olds!

15 Ways To Get Your Music Played On The Radio: Part Two.

Get your music played on the radio. Part -Two

In part one I took you through how to get your music radio-ready and brought you insider tips on how to make your music stand out. In this next part, I will be taking you through the essential business skills you’ll need to hone to get your music played on the radio.

6: Keep the press release to one page

Send a press release with your CD submissions, but beware of how long you make it. Here’s a few tips from our friend Henrie Rowlatt, an Assistant Producer from BBC 6 Music: “It’s best when they’re just a one sheet press release. The press release should say where the band/group/DJ is from, who’s in the band or what their real name is and what they sound like. Along with the release dates of single/album and tour dates.” Well you heard it from the horse’s mouth, keep it simple!

 7: Write a killer EPK

An Electronic Press Kit (EPK) is a fresh way of creating a snappy press release online. You can add your own personality to it along with your music, official photos and live dates. A lot of radio stations that accept electronic submissions are now favouring EPKs, so get ahead. You can create a free EPK.

 8: Go networking

music business networking

Find out where the show production teams hangout. They can often be found at music conferences or music festivals. The best way to find this out is to follow them on Twitter, the School’s twitter page is a good place to follow for a diary of events. To start or if you can, try to find out the delegate lists for these events before you sign up. And if you do spot them, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. If they are able to put your face to your music, they’re more likely to remember you and it will count for a lot more than just a press release on their desk. Don’t forget to be prepared with business cards and demos!

 9: Don’t be afraid to follow up

So you’ve managed to meet a show producer at a networking event and you’ve sent them your music to be played on the radio. But you haven’t heard anything back? Don’t just assume they don’t like it, they might have missed your message in their inbox or your CD could have got stuck in the post. Follow up with an email or a phone call. There were only a handful of people out of the many who sent me their music and actually followed up. To be honest, those that did the following up stuck in my mind and I actually made an effort to check out their music or perhaps even give it a second chance.

 10: Try a different track

Okay, so maybe they didn’t like your music the first time. Don’t be disheartened. They might love one of your follow up tracks. Keep making connections at the radio network and keep sending them tracks. One day they might change their mind and your music could get that all important radio airplay.

If you missed part one you can check it here.  Part Three coming soon…

15 Ways To Get Your Music Played On The Radio : Part One.

Get your music played on the radio.

So you’ve emerged from your studio after several weeks of spent blood, sweat and tears getting your track mixed to perfection. Now it’s ready for airplay. But how do you get your music played on the radio (and more importantly played) when it’s up against hundreds of other submissions a radio network receives everyday?

Hi I’m Emma Houlton and previously worked on a national network BBC specialist show and it was my job to sift through hundreds of track submissions every day. Artists had their work cut out trying to capture my attention, and I certainly had my work cut out trying to clear the hoards of submissions off my desk. What was it that made me put tracks into the shortlist and others straight in the bin? Read my definitive guide to getting airplay.

 1: Do your homework and be realistic

Research the radio shows you want to feature and be played, Is your track something that would suit the show? Find out if they play emerging artists. If they don’t, then it’s a waste of your time getting in touch with them. For a full list of UK radio stations. Be realistic though, you might believe that your music is ready to be played on the radio or BBC Radio 1 but if it has not created traction on other specialist shows at the BBC, it is not likely to get played. BBC Radio 1 daytime is heavily playlisted and shows are only given a handful of free plays away from that playlist. Unfortunately they are very unlikely to take a punt on a completely unknown artist and are much more likely to play it safe. Remember, their own credibility is at stake here too. Go for suitable specialist shows that are usually in the evening. They have a lot more free plays and are a lot more likely to give a new artist a chance. Once you’ve whittled it down to which shows your music will potentially suit, get a working knowledge of the show running order so that when you get in touch you can explain confidently why your track would be suitable for their listeners. Look up things such as regular features and who they’ve had on the show. And of course, research their recent playlists.

2: Contact the production team, not the DJ

Find out the names and contact details of the production teams for the radio stations. Get in touch with them about your music, not the DJ directly (unless you are friends with the DJ of course!) Contrary to what you might think, on many shows it’s the production teams who mainly make the decisions as to what is going to be played on the show along with the DJ’s input. Also many producers man email accounts for the shows too. The DJ does not have the time to sift through submissions, they land on the desk of the producer who will cherry pick tracks that they think may be suitable for the show and that the DJ might be interested in playing. The producer and the DJ will then have a meeting about new music they are excited about, and decide together which tracks will get that all important airplay. Yeah, production teams are pretty important!

music for the radio

 3: Make sure your track is radio friendly

I know this sounds like an obvious one, but submitting a track that is 10 minutes long or full of expletives is going to make it fall at the first hurdle and doubt you get your music played on the radio, if you’re wanting to get your music onto mainstream radio. Also make sure that its is mixed down and mastered ready for radio broadcast. In your first submission, make it as radio friendly as possible by keeping it simple and cutting out any lengthy intros. You have about 10 seconds to capture the attention of the producer before they move onto the next submission. You probably have even less time to captivate your listener if your track is lucky enough to get airplay, so start the track out in it’s best light possible. Of course if a DJ wants to add your track to their 30 minute mini-mix, they may request an extended version, so have your full 10 minute mix standing by ready to send. When mixing your track intended for airplay, make the lead vocal prominent (if there are any vocals) but aim for a good solid level overall. Make sure that there is no digital clipping though! Most radio programmes are mixed down to an output of -6db and a sample type of 44100 Hz 32-bit. Bear this in mind when mixing down too, If you are new to mixing down we cover this on our Diploma courses Also important is finding out which format the show prefers to receive submissions. Unlike record labels, quite a lot of stations are still old school and prefer to receive CDs through the post. On the show I worked on, we deleted emails with MP3 submissions or Soundcloud links as they just clogged up our inbox. If they do prefer CD submissions, keep it simple. Don’t accompany it with a comprehensive 10 page biog, it’ll just rub them up the wrong way and create more waste paper. We asked Henrie Rowlatt, an Assistant Producer at BBC 6 Music what she looked for in a CD submission:

“Personally I look for labels I know and references to bands I like, plus PRs I trust. But there isn’t just one thing really. Just don’t get fancy on the presentation, no posters or massive heavy GSM paper photos. There’s no point! Have a good striking image in the sleeve, but big A4 folders and gimmicks don’t really work. Though the occasional chocolate is always welcomed!”

If they prefer a link to your music (such as Soundcloud), make sure you send a downloadable link. The easier you make it for them to add it to their playout system, the better. Production teams sometimes don’t have the time to chase artists up for music files, and will quite often get in touch with you after the track has been played.

 4: Make a noise on print and online

Radio shows like to see that you have had a positive response in other media. Good reviews in influential music blogs or music magazines will get you a lot nearer to getting that airplay. Get to grips with who the influential bloggers are within your genre and reach out to them. Bloggers are hungry for new music and they often love to have an exclusive on a new release. But note that the really influential ones want the freshest, newest releases around and only really take notice of a track that is less than a month old. Pre-release make sure you get your act together and schedule when you are going to release your track. A self-release or on a label, you still need to have a timeline for how you are going to help promote it yourself. I know it’s also obvious, but a social media presence like Facebook  or any evidence that you have a growing following also goes a long way to getting your track played. As much as radio DJs like to take the credit for discovering the next big thing, they don’t want their show to be relied on as a sole source of promotion, they like to see that your music has longevity that will flourish outside of an airplay.

5: If you can afford it, hire a good radio plugger

Yes, a good plugger can be expensive but if you are serious about getting your music played on the radio, they are really your only option to getting seen above all the other submissions that are received every day. Your music might be amazing, but you need the right channels to make people aware of your music. The role of a plugger is pretty simple. They have good relationships with radio stations and their choice of artists on their rosters are taken seriously by network producers and DJs. Any new releases sent over by them are often given more consideration over an outsider doing it independently.

Some pluggers also have influence in playlist meetings, which usually take place once a week at the larger national networks. The playlist committee, made up of members of staff across the organisation and independents will decide which tracks will go on the A/B/C playlists on a station for that week. The A list is rotated (played) the most on station output, this is usually made up of highly established artists. Whereas the C list has the least rotation, but sometimes they will give a promising new track a punt to see how it goes down with their listeners. Getting onto the C list of a national is a pretty big achievement as a new artist, but with the assistance of a good plugger and a suitable track, it is not unachievable. It would be however quite a grand feat it you tried to get your track onto the playlist yourself.

 There are a lot of pluggers out there, but make sure that you do your homework on them before you part with any cash. See who they have on their roster and find out what airplay they have had. Make sure that you work with a plugger who is an expert in your genre and believes in your music. Most good pluggers won’t work with an artist if they are not a good fit on their roster or if they’re not into your music. A bad plugger will take your money regardless and not get you any results. A good resource for finding a plugger is by subscribing to the Music Week Directory:

school of electronic music covers “getting your music played on the radio” and a lot more on its Music Business Course 

Part Two

How to make ‘Jack’ by Breach

The track ‘Jack’ by Breach is interesting in more ways than one. It is an example of when underground music becomes too popular for the niche few, and spills over into pop culture. 

The track was never written with a view to attaining commercial success, it just happened! Released initially on Claude von Stroke’s Dirtybird label, it did the business in Miami at the WMC this year and was subsequently hammered by DJs around the world. Dirtybird were then approached by Atlantic who wanted to licence and re-release the track with a nice shiny video, and a load of mainstream radio play – almost unheard of!

This mainstream success follows in the footsteps of such acts as Disclosure – ‘underground’ music that has achieved a bridge of the gap between the underground and mainstream, whilst remaining credible. Simple melodies and great production which also works on the dance floor – the holy grail!

Therein lies my reason for making this tutorial. I originally heard this track on Radio 1 at about 10am one morning and thought ‘what the hell is that?!’ It’s simplicity blew me away (plus the fact that Radio 1 were having a rave at 10am), and this is something which you need to understand as a dance music producer: less is more, simplicity is the key. Not only will the clubber find it easier to digest simple, strong melodic content, but it’s easier to mix in the studio and therefore easier to get it sounding good on a loud club system.

We’re looking in detail here at a couple of the elements, namely the bass line and the main sample. All the vocals are actually done by breach himself (even the female ones, clever plug-ins used!) so hopefully this will give you some ideas for interesting applications of your own voice and recorded samples.

The Music Industry: A History of How We Consume Music

The revolution will not be televised…

Hey, we all love an infographic!

chronological music industry gif

A history of how we consume music



How to Sample Music : Part 1/2

Sampling is a technique used by most music producers covering most genres of music. In this video I’m showing you how to prepare song files for sampling and replicating a few classic dance tracks – but sampling also takes place on a much smaller scale. Do you Ultrabeat/Drum Rack/Groove Agent/ReDrum? In which case you’re probably sampling! Making use of pre-recorded audio and manipulating it to make something new from it.

Some sampling is extremely subtle, the artist will disguise the sample they use so that it is indistinguishable from the original. In the examples I’ve used in the video, the use of samples is so blatant, it’s almost as if the sampling artist is paying homage to the original artist.

There is absolutely no shame in sampling, without it there might not be such genres as hip hop and house today. It brings attention to the original artist, who might have not had any recognition otherwise (depending on how obscure the sample is!) The other great thing about it is that when you sample, you’re using a piece of (usually) professionally mixed and mastered music: this immediately brings a rich texture to your composition and can give you a full sound almost straight away.

Who Sampled?

I can also highly recommend taking a look at : a website painstakingly researched to show you who has sampled who across the years. Type in your favourite artist – if it’s someone like Chic, you’ll get to see all the artists years down the line who have sampled Chic. If it’s someone like Daft Punk, you’ll get to see all the tunes they’ve made where they’ve sampled someone else’s work – hope I don’t spoil Daft Punk for you..

If you like this video, please take a look at the following – it shows just how deep you can go when sampling – also bear in mind this was done in around 1996, because the days of Ableton Live. Genius.

A bit of history…

Also take a look at this ace old-school documentary from 1989 about sampling: