Music making - The sound or the sequence? The tool or the result?

Hello all,

I’m looking for some advice/ a place to vent/ creative feedback on this.

I find my music making will split into either concentrating on the sound or the sequence. I will write and sequence MIDI in an complex song based way, or spend a long time creating a sound, but never seem to join the two up.

I can fall into a rabbit hole of Max patches/Ableton set ups, or I can just record stereo out and go for it…

Both ways makes me feel as if there is something lacking either sonically or structurally, but perhaps that’s comparing myself to professional musicians, I have very little free time and can only spend a few hours a week.

Its a fallacy pushed by technology firms that the next bit of gear will be the one that inspires you, and I don’t feel I need anything more in my set up… just a new workflow or some way to structure things better.

Sure I’d love a Grid128, Beatstep Pro, Earthsea, Ableton Push etc. but it’d not solve the issue, just delay it.

anyone else have any thoughts? tips? experiences of this?


This book looks like it’s got some great ideas for workflow aspect of making music:

Especially this one!


I find that recording my “sound making” sessions and then mining them for loops is a great way to be more productive.

I also set myself arbitrary deadlines to try to push myself on from initial sketches.

Re: Gear acquisition. New gear can be inspiring, old gear that you know well can be useful when working under pressure. The thing I really hate is gear that isn’t old enough to be familiar and isn’t new enough to be inspiring. My only solution to this is to limit my new tools to ones that I’ll definitely put time into. That said, 90% of my music comes from MPCs and Ableton. The familiar trumps the shiny.


Sounds like you need to get some peanut butter in your chocolate. :smile:

Does your sequencing workflow / tools allow easy manipulation and recording of parameter changes?

Does your sound design workflow / tools allow you to easily sequence or even just record, sound design parameters when inspiration strikes?

These might be addressed with planning and workflow setup changes, instead of gear acquisition.

I too have a similar issue! Good topic.

I have a similar problem. My current favorite tool is just a weekly schedule. it’s very basic. Music, for me, can be distilled into 3 unique processes:

  1. sound design
  2. max/instrument tinkering
  3. sequencing/arrangement

so i just define specific days of the week as days where one of the three processes is my sole focus. Then, when I get to the end of a day, I know i’ve accomplished what i’ve set out to do instead of kicking myself for spending all day making 5 synth patches instead of finishing a tune :smile:

it’s not a magic bullet, but it’s working for me.


It’s astute of you to recognize that more gear will never solve your problem. Once you have been producing/composing long enough that you have the basic technical skills down, the real monster of “creative flow” rears it’s ugly head.

I try to do as much as I can with as little as possible. Case in point—I’ve started messing with the Xfer Serum demo, and it’s dope, but absynth (which I’ve owned for years) is MUCH more capable. I didn’t realize this until I started looking into wavetable morphing in absynth, and really dug into the manual to learn as much as I can about a tool i’ve owned but often overlooked. The more i see cool new software/hardware, the more I realize that i’ve got all I need.

Unless a there’s ever a Grid released with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch… I’d sell my soul for that!

Linnstrument? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Funny. I was just going to say Linnstrument. Just got one last week. Seems quite expressive and durable. Only time will tell if it has a long term future in my rig.

Workflow has become such a preoccupation for me that I’ve recently built my own compositional/performance system using Usine Hollyhock. The system combines a software digital mixer with VSTs, VSTIs, and Sysex controllers for some of my older external gear. It runs on a laptop with a large touch screen monitor which makes it easy to use in creative situations without engaging my left brain and breaking the flow.

Just getting version 1.0 finished but so far it’s quite inspiring. Everything is just where I want it and, if it’s not, I adjust it.

reading into process art helped me out of a similar frustration. from wikipedia’s writeup for bruce nauman:

Confronted with “What to do?” in his studio soon after graduating, Nauman had the simple but profound realization that “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product.”

it had a similarly profound effect on me in that i started to love the process of making music more than the love of the resultant music object.

in short, love of process > love of objects. if you prioritise the latter you’ll always come up lacking. my $0.02


Thanks all for the replies @Scott_Lepore . @michaelterren michael @dillo @Miskalicious @mu_lippy @Simeon

Great to get a conversation going and hear from a wide range of viewpoints.

also good to know that is a universal issue…

I think an acceptance that ‘anything’ you create will be valid is a good mental step to move from the jamming > sequencing > editing > ‘finishing’ paradigm recommended in many production guides/sites/forums.

An element of limitation also helps, you don’t use every ingredient in the kitchen for a meal, why use all your synths/plug ins/effects? Once I add in delay/reverb. I never decide its not needed and remove it, leading to a more is more state.

Finally, I am going to put away Ableton for a while and concentrate on enjoying the playing, with a record first and delete later mentality. The value judgement of whether the last 20 mins of jamming was worth turning into a ‘recorded take’ added to the pressure to get to a final complete stage. Ableton Live is great as a tool but after setting up 4 ins, MIDI recieve &sends, Aux/FX busses and monitoring, it added to a feeling of “Now go and create your masterpiece”

“Art is never finished, Only abandoned”


Perfect articles - Thanks for the sharing!

@hamildad - i’m not sure to answer to the topic ^^ but my feeling reading the question about creativity and electronic music (without the question of technique, hardware and concrete routines) is to be often or always alone with the machine(s) - we are not naturally made to work, to create, to live alone. Our environment could be an help (friends, family, musicians, city, timing,…) but often it’s not the case. Alone the path is harder as we don’t receive_feel the answers to our questions… as the reason of why we are creating_doing music is a kind of research to receive answer to our questions.
Your solution is great, the show must go on and thanks a lot for your post. The different answers are inspiring me. +1

I was wondering about the sense of art - as evolution. I ask myself what would be an evolution if the answers was already there, if the questions wasn’t? It’s life questionings, right? I often observe than in our “artistic” vision we are too much concerned by ourself. The answers are already there but we have to see it from outside_elsewhere and fortunately not in the technique, the machines. They are in our capacity to work with confidence thanks the tool that we chosen. A tool that has to give us answers about who we are. This is of course a personal reflexion as I often meet Mr"…and know what?" - - yes! the revolution starts with actions in company of humanistic values and in company…this is so hard to translate across my machines…

hi Folks,

Really good question ! I often ask myself about the routine i was into : piano roll => then sound design => then layering => then structure. Or sound design => then piano roll => then layering => then structure

Then came the monome. had to scratch my head a lot to make it fit in my ableton workflow : midi sequencing => then sound design => then layering => then structure.

I did that for long then crash my hard drive… Good thing !

Now i only work with a very few plugins but with tones of modulations. Most of time i found myself starting with 4 tracks at the same time with generic sounds => then modulations using XYnome/corners/64 faders and some very beautiful midi tools like Parc, Ricochet, decisions, meadowphysics, Kolorit,… => then an other round of weird modulations and midi “accidents”.

By coupling midi notes and midi cc’s at the same time give me an other entrance on the sound design. and it works well with monomachine


Always have recording as an option. It is great to just work on sounds and ideas and often interesting things will result. Only a fraction of those sounds might end up in a finished product, but if you aren’t set up to record those ideas as they happen they just disappear.

It really helps to have an idea of what the end product will be. A live set? A record? Without that idea its easy to get into a series of endless experiments that no one else will ever hear.

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Collaborating with others can also help to avoid this rabbit hole. Got a neat patch that’s so expressive yet the very act of creating it has left you drained? Get your pal to come over and lay down a riff. And of course when collaborating one is not limited to musicians or musical artists or sound designers, experiment and find out where you end up when you work with those who work in other mediums all together.
For me the process of collaboration helps to both push a project forward and create greater interest and enjoyment in the process itself.

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this is a powerful discussion

i refrained from commenting until now because i wanted time to consider the questions raised by @hamildad

i took time to carefully examine my own perspective in relation to the views expressed above…so thank you all for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this!

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I always seek to go to that which is uncomfortable. It’s all too easy to fall into routine, to get locked in default. To know rather than to learn. Learn your weak points. Observe your habits. What is it you do without thought? Then try to subvert these habits. Give yourself space to fail. If you only have a few hours a week, then perhaps re-examine what you seek from music making. If it’s only short bursts, then embrace the escape. Jam, noodle, zone out. Lose the goals and enjoy the process.


My answer to the title of the thread? The purpose

As @CrackaAttacka astutely observed, certain aspects of making music can be compared to the interpersonal relationships we cultivate. Each of us have unique reasons for developing relationships…the initial attraction, attachment to, and continuing bond with a person stem from very different thinking which tends to change over time (even tho our core values rarely do). Regular, honest examination of these reasons can help maintain/improve friendships and, no doubt, engaging in similar evaluation of our musical approach can make us better musicians.

Most of the questions in the thread, raised in the OP and subsequent posts, indirectly reveal glimpses of each individual’s purpose. That purpose precedes and influences all of the other decisions in the process & also makes it tremendously difficult to share ideas on this topic which will prove effective for others (who, invariably, have different musical intentions).

I constantly remind myself of the core values behind my decisions because I consistently get the most enjoyment out of music when i adhere to those principles.


Great to see a thread still evolving with differing responses and points of view.

I have recently spent some time in pursuit of the process as @michael_matos has said, even going so far as to work in very low light levels to focus on the sound than let familiar visual signifiers force me down old routes.

However I have also been working on a system to programme chord patterns into my modular with a lot of time tuning oscillators and ‘prepping’ before any artistic choices are made.

In both disparate situations I have tried to see the time spent as the unknowable period of time you must spend before your confidence in using an instrument fully becomes apparent to yourself.

In short, as long as I am putting the hours in, I am moving forward. I am not sure where I exactly want to get to, but this is progress!


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