Posts by Peter Kirn:

Mad Zach Has Tips on Finger Drumming, Production, and His Free Live Pack

All those pads – it took virtuoso finger drummer Mad Zach to take advantage of them.

Mad Zach’s five free Drum Racks accompany today’s release of Ableton Live 9.2. Since he, frankly, makes most of us look bad with his agile use of the Push hardware, I wanted CDM to talk to him more about what he’s doing. He joins us to share some tips for live performance, production, DJing, and more.

64 Pad Lab by Mad Zach

Can you talk a bit about finger drumming? How do you practice / how do you stay nimble?

For me, finger drumming is a chance to truly play electronic music like an instrument. It lets me break out of the confines of linear music programming to infuse something alive into the sinews of my music. One of the things that interests me the most about it is the balance between sound design and performance technique. Because of how much power there is in great sound design and minimalism, there’s a lot of room to do something incredible which is actually quite simple.

In terms of staying nimble, I treat it just like I would guitar or drums — practice all the time. I don’t really do any special finger exercises other than jamming all the time and trying new stuff/patterns as I discover them.

You’re using Live 9.2 now. Anything you’re using in the upgrade (apart from the bits you added)?

I’m typically one of these people who never upgrades, but since they added the new 64 pad mode, it made sense. I also really appreciate the tuner. Other than that, it seems pretty much the same to me… which I like :)

Congrats on the pack; it’s really great work. How might people extend it in their own work?

The packs are really flexible, they can be used for finger drumming with a 64 grid, or also just loaded into a project and used for production. Additionally, all the waves have been organized so you can just sift through the one-shots and find something interesting to kick off an idea, or flesh out something you already have. Lots of sick stabs, bass noises, drums, atmospheres, etc. I often drag the waves directly into my timeline and chop them up directly, or drop them into a dedicated midi track with a sampler, and play them on the keyboard.

Okay, so that’s your pack. How might users go about organizing their own packs for performance and studio inspiration?

I usually like to start out pretty experimentally, just recording 30 minutes or so of different sounds – whether it’s synth noises, or sample manipulation, resampling, etc. I’ll set up my hardware in different ways and play around. Once I have a nice chunk of audio, I bring it into a Drum Rack and move the start point around looking for cool bits. The drums are a bit of a different story because they are more specific.

So, in my own music making, I like to use Ableton and Push alongside other drum machines, too – both hardware and software, so ranging from NI Maschine to the KORG volca sample and Jomox Xbase09. I’m curious, do you combine the Live workflow with any other tools? If so, how?

Yes, I’m a hardware freak. Mostly I just use Live for recording the audio and putting it in a Drum Rack. I’m always running MIDI out to my gear, processing the signal through a bunch of pedals, resampling it, etc. One of my favorite sounds in this selection of packs I made by chopping up an a capella, pitching it down, running it out through the Moog Moogerfooger Ring Modulator [MF-102] with some overdrive, resampling that back in, layering it with a long 808 kick and putting those together back through the Moogerfooger Cluster Flux. Then I pitched that down, reversed it, and booom, my favorite new bass sound!


And how do you go about DJing? Are you working with any hybrid live/DJ sets?

I do a hybrid live/DJ set that fuses my original productions with finger drumming sections. After much experimentation, I’ve come to that balance because I think there are certain things about DJing your tunes which are really good, and expected, while finger drumming offers something new and exciting for people. By fusing the two, I’m able to have the best time, and also give people a nice balance of what they expect, while surprising them with what they don’t.

Mad Zach @ Facebook

The post Mad Zach Has Tips on Finger Drumming, Production, and His Free Live Pack appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Free Live 9.2 Arrives; Here’s What’s New – Including Powerful API Changes


A free update to Ableton Live, version 9.2, is now available and out of beta. We covered this in some detail before:
Live 9.2 Answers Your Warp, Automation, Tuner, and Pad Wishes
Hands on with the Ableton Live 9.2 Tuner [Video]

But today, in addition to the release, we get a closer look at the free Mad Zach sample pack included to help you exploit all 64 pads of Ableton’s Push hardware — plus some insider details on changes to the Live API that will impact power users and add-ons for Live.

First, let’s review what 9.2 adds. It’s some subtle stuff, but details I think a lot of you were anticipating:

  • Better latency compensation. Lower latency for plug-ins and Max for Live, plus latency-compensated automation.
  • Warping sounds and works better. Downbeat detection is better (phew!) and you can Warp Selection for the first time. Also, warping is more precise and punchier (in the better-sounding Complex and Complex Pro modes).
  • There’s a tuner. Hardly earth-shaking, but good that’s finally standard – whether you’re using a guitar or synth.
  • Max 7. The latest-and-greatest Max is now baked into Live – and that’s a great thing, given the cool stuff Max 7 includes (a lot of it waiting on this very Ableton update).
  • Push is better at aftertouch. Push harder. Aftertouch implementation itself is improved, and it’s supported in more factory sound patches, too.
  • Push touch strip does mod. You can now add modulation with the Push touch strip – maybe even more useful than pitch bend (already supported).
  • Push has a 64-pad layout. Whereas previously triggering samples and such split the Push layout into a separate step sequencer and pads, now you can use all 64 pads if you choose.

And, the bonus: to exploit those 64 pads, you get a free pack from Mad Zach pre-loaded with samples to try out. He walks you through that video here:

It’s called “The Lab,” and the sound pack and accompanying video walkthrough help you work with those 64 pads (at least if you haven’t already lined up four MPCs in your sets), sound design, and production.

There’s more in Live 9.2 though, beyond just the features Ableton announced today. The developers at Isotonik tell us they’re excited about new improvements to the API. In fact, it brings some of the first major Live Object Model updates since Max for Live was released half a decade ago.

Say wha?

Well, the “LOM” is the means by which add-ons built by users and third-party developers in Max for Live interact with Live itself.

If you’re a hard-core Live geek, this means more power for you to create new tools. But even if you aren’t, it means that those add-ons will be able to do things they couldn’t previously.

And some of these changes came from – well, you. You users asked developers like Isotonik and the Crashologists team for changes. They asked Ableton for those changes. And Ableton – as of today – delivers.

I’ll cover the first round of add-ons separately, but here are some highlights under the hood:

  • Load a clip into RAM, right from the API (for greater performance
  • Move around playhead positions without losing sync with Live
  • Integrate more tightly with hardware
  • Set loops to resolution as fine as 1/32 notes (not just quarter notes)

If you’re interested, we can go into more detail.

But all in all, this looks like a good update – and it makes me excited to see what’s next from Ableton in terms of Live itself, and support for external hardware.

Live 9.2 Out Now [Ableton]

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You Can’t Game Spotify, But You Can Up Your Dating Game


As the transformation of music heats up, the discussions are heating up, too.

Case in point: yesterday’s report on Eternify certainly earned some angry responses.

I was of the opinion that Eternify was a decent gimmick – a way of showing just how small fees from streamed music are. Imagine if the music you bought only got a fraction of a cent to the artist each time you played it. I don’t think there’s practically an album in my collection I’ve listened to enough times that streaming fees would add up to purchase fees.

Now, does that mean that Spotify or Apple Music are the end of music? Not necessarily. It’s clear that the industry built around record labels hasn’t always served artists well. (Cough. Understatement.) Streaming services offer more questions. What sort of access will artists have to getting their music on these services directly – even bypassing a label? What sort of control will they have once it’s there? How can they help people find their music, and what sort of data about listeners can they collect?

In other words, we’re entering a more multi-dimensional industry. Instead of focusing on the actual purchase price of a recording, or even a per-play license fee in the conventional collections model, the game now is really about what the total value of a service is to artists.

Remember that I noted that not only was the lion’s share of streaming revenue going to labels, but it seemed those same labels were blowing most of that income on marketing. It’s not just a question of how much revenue music earns. It’s a question of how much you have to pay to get that revenue in the first place – expenses versus income being business 101.

But to anyone who said that Eternify was cheating – you’re absolutely right. (I thought it was sort of obvious that you couldn’t effectively use this to make cash, but maybe not.) I was politely informed my multiple sources that at best, it wouldn’t earn anyone any money, and at worst, it could get music or users banned. And sure enough, it was promptly shut down.

That brings us back to what Spotify actually can do.

One of the weirder applications showed up in my inbox today. Get ready for CDM – Create Dating Music.

Happn, a Paris startup that lets you anonymously message random people you see on the street (not at all creepy), now lets you send music to those people.

Now, this may or may not be the future of dating.

But if you’ve been following the lead-up to the roll-out of Apple Music, seeing this might lead you to some other questions.

First, regarding Apple music specifically:

1. Will Apple Music integrate with other apps? Apple Music lacks an API. And that means, at least from the developer / music hacker perspective, it’s a heck of a lot less interesting than other apps. Sure, Happn’s application might be a bit silly, but this is the beauty of developing stuff: you can try silly ideas, crazy ideas, and eventually might stumble on a great idea. It doesn’t necessarily lock out Apple Music integration with other apps, though – maybe Apple will allow the use of Android intents or iOS’ Share function.

2. Are people overestimating Apple’s ability to unseat Spotify? Spotify has already become synonymous with streaming music. And that means people have assembled friends, playlists, collections, and listening habits – none of which can be transferred to Apple Music. I think Apple’s effort here, and the Beats acquisition, are partly admissions that even one of the world’s biggest companies can face real competition on the level Internet playing field.

And streaming more generally…

3. Could new applications mean people listen to more music? Streaming fees are paltry, it’s true. But even if Eternify’s application was dumb and eventually shut down, it does illustrate another point. In the post-album world, you might have the same music in more places. It might be in games, it might be in dating apps. It might be that you go to a cafe and finally get to determine which music you hear, jukebox style. Generate more apps, and capture more data about what’s played, and collection fees could become more relevant to independent artists.

4. Could revenue come from places other than playback fees and purchase price? Here’s where things get really interesting – slash – mysterious. Having grown up, most of us, in the age of vinyl records and tapes and CDs, we tend to think of the musical album as the product – the thing you buy. But if music becomes a service, that may not be the case at all. As many have predicted, this might lead people to purchase of other stuff, from swag to concerts. Even that, though, takes a traditional view. Someone may find a different direction entirely, once the music itself is flowing wherever you want. (Remember that ring tones were briefly big business, so you never know what business models people may make work.)

5. How can listeners feel they’re connecting most directly with artists? I think this is the biggest question of all. Apple paid a lot of attention to this in their Apple Music announcement, but much of that had to do with artists giving away still more stuff for free. From Kickstarter to Bandcamp to Etsy to Vimeo purchases to boutique synths, the Internet has again and again demonstrated that people are often more willing to invest money in something they love if they feel that money goes directly to the person who made what they’re buying.

Well, in the meantime, I’m going to keep using Bandcamp, iTunes purchases, Beatport, and direct stores to buy downloads.

The post You Can’t Game Spotify, But You Can Up Your Dating Game appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Eternify is the Best Response Yet to Streaming Conundrum


What initially seemed to be a conversation about streaming revenues for artists more or less this week became a conversation … about Taylor Swift.

But it’s the debate behind Apple Music that is somewhat puzzling. Taylor Swift wasn’t the only one focusing concerns on Apple Music’s quarterly free trial. Labels were fixated on the same worry.

The reason this is odd is that it ignores the fact that even when users pay for a subscription, rates are woefully inadequate. Music Business Worldwide reported a study from France that confirms what many had suspected. Majors get a whole lot of the cash from a subscription fee. Most of the money stays in the hands of the labels; artists see as little as 11% of that ten dollar monthly fee. (The one bright spot: they’ll get a bit more if they’re registered as the writer, too – separate fee.) These numbers seem to be typical not only of France and something like Spotify, but other countries and Apple Music, too. (One difference: Europe takes an astonishing bite in the form of tax, which is a bit frustrating in a business that already has razor-thin revenue.)

The most telling stat to me is the one that was least reported from that study. Net income is an stunningly low 5% for the labels. The MBW article is suspicious of that figure, but I could believe it isn’t far off the mark. Essentially, marketing costs are such that labels are very nearly paying to have their music played. And that seems feasible given that a lot of people play music after searching for it – without the marketing budget, that music might not get played at all.

So kudos this round not to Taylor Swift, but to Ohm & Sport, who this week built a tool called Eternify. The Web app finds 30 seconds of your favorite artist and plays it over and over again – running up play counts and revenues. Leave Eternify running, and you can at least get beer money. But the app – whose 30-second loops prove oddly hypnotic if you actually leave your speaker on – just shows the absurdity of the streaming business model.

Eternify figures revenues of half a cent per play. Spotify has estimated fees as high as $0.08, but you still get the idea. And even if Apple Music sets a higher rate, you can do the math. Streaming earns a fraction of what downloads did.

Early analysis says Apple’s payments to indies are an even worse deal. A paltry $0.002 per stream make the whole thing virtually worthless. Europe takes tax out of that, too. And for an insight in why the free trial was so controversial, estimates pegged the per-stream fee there at as little as $0.00047.

This should lead to some other questions, like:
1. If streaming is earning next to nothing, why not simply have your music streaming for free, where you can more easily promote it?
2. If you’re not getting paid by streams, isn’t it more valuable to have a lot of data about listeners? Everything from planning tours to releases can benefit from that information. Will Apple provide that to artists?
3. Why can’t Apple make it easier for apps like Bandcamp to let you purchase your music? Surely this would do more to benefit independent artists than any of the lip service paid the topic in the Apple Music launch.
4. If most of the overhead in digital music is marketing, what can be done to make discovery and sharing easier and lavish marketing budgets less necessary? And, presuming artists made sure they got a share of the expanded proceeds, wouldn’t that do more for expanding revenue than worrying about a free trial?
5. Will Apple, given their control of the store, also encourage people to buy downloads of what they’re streaming?

We’re lucky DJs currently prefer downloads, and we’re lucky for the vinyl resurgence. But this still places recording artists in enormous trouble. Maybe streaming is an inevitable progression; maybe there’s no way to coax bigger subscription rates from listeners. But that means at the very least artists will need to look for other revenue sources to make recording music worthwhile.

Try Eternify for yourself. I earned about 15 cents for myself in the time it took me to write this.

And for a very different take on digital downloads, don’t miss The Verge covering Vimeo. Sure, this is video and not music, but some of the implications are clear.

The post Eternify is the Best Response Yet to Streaming Conundrum appeared first on Create Digital Music.

DP9: Looks Great, Does More, Does Scores


This is the way DP – Digital Performer – looks in version 9. The tried-and-true Mac DAW now has Retina Display support on that platform, and looks like a viable option on Windows, too.

DP9 may not get the amount of attention as other veteran DAWs (Logic, Cubase, Ableton), but it has a hugely loyal user base and dominates in film and TV production. The DP9 release seems mainly about giving that loyal user base the stuff they want.

The big features: Retina UI on the Mac, lots of workflow improvements (including score export), and new bundled MX4 synth and effects, including one effect that turns your guitar into a synth.

First, the internal features:

  • Separate automation lanes when editing sequencing (for audio, MIDI automation, plug-in settings, etc.), as seen in some other DAW arrangement views. That same view also gets a Spectrogram.
  • Retina themes – Retina resolution for existing themes and that purty new DP9 theme. Unfortunately, this is Mac only, so doesn’t help you if you’re running a PC at higher resolution (though I suppose that’s more rare).
  • Add tracks quickly with the ability to have at all the track types you need in one go.
  • Keep plug-in windows floating.
  • MIDI learn with plug-ins, including Custom Consoles.
  • Mute MIDI notes
  • Project notes
  • Search by Markers, Chunks, and plug-in preferences.

Now, oddly, I think what could prove to be the biggest feature in DP9 is MusicXML export. That lets you take notation from DP’s QuickScribe view (which shows scores alongside arrangements) and export it in a format you can bring into dedicated notation tools like Finale and Sibelius. DP9 is hardly the first to add this feature: Cubase/Nuendo have export and import, and Logic and SONAR each do export. Avid’s Pro Tools even integrates Sibelius directly, now that Avid owns that tool.

But DP9′s enormous popularity in TV and film scoring – including use by giants like the late James Horner – mean that this could be a huge boon in score and part preparation. The list of users working with DP is just stunning, and this is a user group that is hugely dependent on turning projects around with incredible speed.

Export only means you can’t start a score elsewhere and bring it into DP, but I suspect scoring in DP first to picture and then preparing parts or editing elsewhere is more common, which means export is sufficient.

See the official MusicXML site for more on that terrific format.

Upgrading to DP9 costs US$195, though. So the other story here is new synths and plug-ins to sweeten the deal.

On the synth side, there’s MX4, a hybrid subtractive/FM/wavetable/analog synth – basically, a big machine that does everything. That may or may not be of interest to you, given how many synth options are out there these days, but it’s there.

Perhaps more interesting are the effects plug-ins. These used to be a bit scarce in DP, but the collection has really rounded out in recent updates:


  • FET-76 1176 limiter model gets added to the MasterWorks collection for some classic limiting.
  • MultiFuzz is a model of Craig Anderton’s QuadraFuzz kit distortion. (Hey, has that gotten a reissue in hardware? If not, why not? But I digress.)
  • Octave Generators: MicroG and MicroB for guitar and bass, respectively.
  • MetaSynth processor: Guitars go in, synthesizer comes out. You basically get polyphonic octave generation, with a full synth architecture (envelopes, LFOs, flexible signal routing, and even a pattern generator and macros).

MetaSynth and MultiFuzz are two I’d try out, for sure.

DP remains US$499 street, though probably nearly anyone interested will qualify for the competitive upgrade of US$395 – and anyone with MOTU hardware probably has a copy of AudioDesk, which means you can get a US$395 upgrade from that.

The post DP9: Looks Great, Does More, Does Scores appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Watch James Horner Play Piano, Talk Overnight ‘Aliens’ Climax

On a very personal note, I’m saddened this week to learn of the news of the death of the great film composer James Horner.

See him talk about his approach to scoring Field of Dreams at top for some of his approach. Best of all, you get to see him at the piano.

When I was a kid, Horner was one of the people who inspired me to investigate composition. I was entranced with the sweeping romanticism of the Star Trek II score that was his big break – an aching, yearning, but dreamy vision of the future, filled with tension in the right moments and fine details of inventive timbres, a panoramic view of space. (I expect I wore out my cassette tape of that soundtrack, and the almost unimaginably long litany of films that were the accompaniment to growing up as an orchestral music lover and young cinemagoer in the 80s.)

This interview regarding Aliens is perhaps the best fit for the case. He talks about the struggles of working with James Cameron up against the clock, and even the woeful inability of the vaunted Abbey Road studio to handle more complex ideas (or patching synths).

But most poignant is Maestro Horner talking about the collisions of passion and perfectionism with time and reality.

“We both felt life is too short … I only wanted the best score … It was very difficult, again because of the time, and because we’re both perfectionists.”

Indeed, at so many moments like this, we’re reminded that life is too short.

My condolences to Mr. Horner’s family, friends, and the many people with whom he’s worked.

With this sort of inspiration, if only we all had more time.

Fan site:

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“Raving with Tweens” Is What Dance Music Culture Needs Right Now

“When you grow up, you can be whatever you want. you don’t have to be a dj.”

“This is lit.”

“It’s just really fun dancing and stuff.”

I’ve spent some time at Cielo and – all due respect to the residents – these kids.

It’s funny, my Dad and I were on the phone yesterday and somehow wound up in a conversation about SFX Entertainment, and he asked me about their confusing use of the acronym “EDC” for electronic dance culture. It’s this. Then everything else will work out. There’s hope for all the rest of us yet. And, uh, thank you Vfiles, whoever you are.

The post “Raving with Tweens” Is What Dance Music Culture Needs Right Now appeared first on Create Digital Music.

“Raving with Tweens” Is What Dance Music Culture Needs Right Now

“When you grow up, you can be whatever you want. you don’t have to be a dj.”

“This is lit.”

“It’s just really fun dancing and stuff.”

I’ve spent some time at Cielo and – all due respect to the residents – these kids.

It’s funny, my Dad and I were on the phone yesterday and somehow wound up in a conversation about SFX Entertainment, and he asked me about their confusing use of the acronym “EDC” for electronic dance culture. It’s this. Then everything else will work out. There’s hope for all the rest of us yet. And, uh, thank you Vfiles, whoever you are.

The post “Raving with Tweens” Is What Dance Music Culture Needs Right Now appeared first on Create Digital Music.

“Raving with Tweens” Is What Dance Music Culture Needs Right Now

“When you grow up, you can be whatever you want. you don’t have to be a dj.”

“This is lit.”

“It’s just really fun dancing and stuff.”

I’ve spent some time at Cielo and – all due respect to the residents – these kids.

It’s funny, my Dad and I were on the phone yesterday and somehow wound up in a conversation about SFX Entertainment, and he asked me about their confusing use of the acronym “EDC” for electronic dance culture. It’s this. Then everything else will work out. There’s hope for all the rest of us yet. And, uh, thank you Vfiles, whoever you are.

The post “Raving with Tweens” Is What Dance Music Culture Needs Right Now appeared first on Create Digital Music.

I Played the Oval Digital Hand Pan, And It’s Amazing


Making a futuristic new music instrument requires more than just the spark of a clever idea. It needs resources, funding, input from musicians, and other ingredients, in perfect balance. Those dimensions can offer cold, hard reality, but met properly, they can also offer opportunity. And that’s part of what made Barcelona’s SONAR+D such a compelling place to be last week. Tucked into the packed SONAR festival was a convergence of the engineering, musical inspiration, and business knowhow required to make musical inventions.

The Oval, superstar of a pavilion hosted by Kickstarter, was the highlight for me. We saw it in the run-up to SONAR, as its crowd funding campaign was just taking off:
Hand Pan Percussion, Reimagined as Futuristic Musical Instrument

A hang drum or hand pan, reconceived as a digital instrument, it could prove a breakthrough in new instrument controller design as product. Meeting its creators in Barcelona, I got to try the first prototype and see how the version that will eventually ship to backers will be even better. And I have to say, I’m impressed.

First, let’s compare Oval, a digital controller, to the acoustic hang drum that inspired it. The makers have made a video that makes that clear:

Now, that doesn’t mean Oval is a replacement for a hang. It’s better to understand it as a new, digital creation whose form and interface are inspired by a traditional instrument. The genetics of one is derived from the other, each a unique beast, neither more or less meaningful than the other. Just as the MIDI keyboard opens up new possibilities made more accessible by its piano-like shape, we now appreciate having both an acoustic grand and a synthesizer with a manual.

What the Oval can do is play sounds and adapt to scales that the hang can’t. And that isn’t just a way to make music “easier” – it means a new hybrid that opens up flexible ways of playing melodic lines and timbres that other controllers might not so easily enable.

The Oval prototype sits comfortably in the lap. The sensors are basic in the first-generation model, but it’s already expressive and great fun to play. This is something you could take with you – heavy enough to keep from shifting around when you play it, and big enough to allow for sweeping gestures of the arms, but still light and compact enough to carry. I was concerned at SONAR+D about fitting it into a carry-on, but for mobile users, there’s good news below.

I’m also impressed that the wireless MIDI connection – now using the latest-generation Bluetooth – left me with no sense of latency or lag whatsoever. You play the controller, and magically, wirelessly, sounds come out of an iPad to a speaker. (Any compatible Bluetooth source will work.)



The case itself is a feat of ergonomics – inviting curves everywhere, and a smooth, organic-feeling, lightweight but rugged case forged of Corian. That’s right – the stuff you know from countertops is here made into a laptop flying saucer that feels both somehow traditional and space-age.

Here’s the Oval folks with a short film showing that prototype in action at SONAR+D:

It’s some of the new stuff that’s most interesting, however.

The biggest development the team showed me is the new sensing on the pads. While the prototype used one sensor, the new pads use multiple sensors for X/Y sensing – slight differences in where you hit the pads will result in different control messages. You can see the circuits embedded here. The design is inspired by the acoustic hang, which via overtones produces different sounds if struck in different locations.


There’s also an update to the iPad app, seen here – it’s already looking more polished, and the Kickstarter campaign hasn’t even concluded yet.


Also, thanks to resounding support from the community, Oval will go after its stretch goal and make a “shell” for the instrument that protects it and let you carry it, turtle style, on your back. It looks fantastic:



Here is the Shell for the Oval!

Early birds have already snapped up the 350€ models, meaning the cost of entry is now 499€ – a lot to invest for many of us for a non-shipping product. But you have a couple of weeks if you are ready to get onboard. And I’ll be sure to keep tabs as this progresses.

Oval – The First Digital HandPan [Kickstarter]

The post I Played the Oval Digital Hand Pan, And It’s Amazing appeared first on Create Digital Music.