Which gear or workflow setup has brought you most joy and productivity?

Hi, I’d like to have a discussion where we can share experiences of what has worked well for us in terms of combinations and setups of gear used and with workflows for creating and performing music.
I love music tech, hardware and software, and over the past few years I’ve had fun trying out a bit of everything, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that when it comes to fullfillment, enjoyment and actually producing music, once you get past a certain point, unless you have a very specific goal in mind, more gear and more options actually equals more headaches and less musical output.

I’d like to tick a few boxes:

  • I’m looking to maximise the enjoyment and satisfaction of making music.
  • I want it to be straightforward to create finished tracks that I’m proud of and which sound unique to me.
  • A setup which can be dipped into with a minimum of startup time as and when free time crops up.
  • A significant part of the process should be portable and able to be done anywhere, ideally in a way that can be performed either live or recorded as a video.

I feel like I’ve constantly chopped and changed both gear and workflows over the past few years and that’s good cos I don’t get stuck in any ruts and am constantly in investigative exploration mode, but it’s bad because I don’t get to learn anything deeply and the techy work of researching, updating, linking, syncing and rearranging can be really significant, especially so with something like modular where there can be so many individual components and relationships to consider.

It strikes me that there’s a sweet spot of a few pieces of gear that really gel together, and if you try to progress and improve on that and add more functionality and more possibilities, things get more complicated and actually less enjoyable and productive. It’s impressive to see huge studios chock-full of gear all wired in and ready for action, but in a way I’m more admiring of those producing music on very sparse or basic setups with just 1 or 2 pieces of kit that they obviously know inside out.

Or maybe a workflow process can be the key? I’ve seen people break the process into sections and treat exploration and sound design as a totally separate process to that of producing a finished track. That sounds sensible, but I can’t work out how you can then play and perform a track, unless you’re essentially just triggering samples?

So what has worked well for you?

Is it the more gear the merrier? Or did you actually have most fun with just a phone app? Can you produce finished tracks in 1 go or do you mostly enjoy making a load of funky noises to use later?

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The absolute most productive time in my life was when I didn’t know any better, the 3-4 years where I was recording harsh noise, typically contact mic > guitar pedal > mixer directly into Cool Edit.

I’ve never since reached the amount of material recorded, albums released, etc…. The majority of it I can still listen to and enjoy and even be impressed by slightly.

Once I started worrying about “sounding better” and upgrading equipment, and especially getting into modular synthesis, yeah I rarely actually record or jam anymore.

Life, it eats you up.

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After more than ten years of noodling around making electronic music, the one piece of gear that brings me the most joy, the one that makes me smile when I use it and allows me to make relatively complete tracks in one sitting, is my Tenori-on. The list of things it can’t do is far longer than the things it can, yet, somehow, it is my favorite piece of gear. It feels good in my hands, and it doesn’t just sit on a table and force me to come to it; rather, I pick it up and take it where I want to be.

I was musing about this the other day, and one of the things I love about it is the visual feedback. When sequencing, I can see a full two octave range on the face of the device, so playing around with chords and melodies is much easier than when I have to do it line by line on another sequencer. (Like an illuminated piano roll, I guess.) The device’s UI tends to push you in a certain direction, which is why a lot of T-O tracks are easily identifiable as such. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one of my favorite approaches is to try to make a “non-Tenori-on” sounding track with it, to see if I can make it not sound like itself. I suppose that gamification aspect keeps it engaging and liberates me (a bit) from my harsh and ever-present inner critic. Plus, as with the monome grid, blinking lights are fun!

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I’ll speak a bit to that since this is the way I tend to work.

I record stuff every morning with no real goal other than to make interesting sounds, either in my main studio room directly into the DAW, or using a little field recorder with a few instruments elsewhere in the house. On top of that, most days (usually while I’m at work) I’m listening through the previous day’s recordings and saving anything that sounds good to me, and considering how it might be used in a song, and discarding the junk.

When I feel like actually working on a song, I have a huge pile of sound to choose from as a starting point, so I just pick something and let it play while I try improvising with other instruments to find a direction to take the song in.

So it’s not all triggering samples, but picking out 1 - 3 of those things I’ve previously recorded, mixing them together, and the rest of the process is mostly live play, picking out the best takes, more mixing, more improvisation, rinse and repeat.

It works great for me, especially since I don’t often feel like sitting down and doing the actual composition and song-finishing. Maybe a few months out of the year I feel like doing that, but when I do, I have the whole rest of the year’s recordings to play with.

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Having run the gamut of various hardware + software approaches over the years, I’ve come to conclusion that actually I’m happiest working ITB. Reaktor, Live & a cheap MIDI controller or 2 and I’m good.

I think the main thing that I benefitted from was having a dedicated ‘space’ to ‘work’ in - having to set up & break down every time I wanted to do anything was an absolute killer. This was as true for working on on a laptop as it was with modular.

Now, does anyone want to buy this Model:Samples that I impulse purchased… :wink:

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I think in this category nothing can beat acoustic guitar (I see it as a 6-track sequencer).

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Which gear or workflow setup has brought you most joy

Playing drums in a regularly gigging 9-piece post-rock band. I didn’t own the drums or play on my own at all, I just showed up to the practice space (or gig) and played. Clearly the easiest of all my setups: I didn’t choose the drums, they were just what we had available. They were fine. I didn’t tune or maintain them or replace any drum heads, either. Literally just showed up.

and productivity?

In the mid-2000s I was entirely ITB and using a combination of FLStudio, Ableton Live, a cheap MIDI controller, Audacity, and a few VST plugins (mostly Native Instruments, I believe).There were a few albums (entire albums from start to finish, with like 9 tracks each, sometimes with vocals) I made with this setup over a single sleepless night, while getting progressively more drunk on Belgian beer. I owe this productivity to being young and needing to get my personal expression out into the world, not knowing how anything worked or what I was “supposed” to do, and NOT CARING whether I was doing things right and just doing them anyway. The actual gear setup / workflow might not have mattered as much as all of those factors, but the relative simplicity and limitations (though they didn’t feel like limitations at the time) definitely helped a lot. I think the music I make is better now, but there’s not nearly as much of it in terms of sheer quantity. I’m thinking of dipping back into this pool of “manic flood of album releases” because I think it’s a lot of fun when you stop caring and filtering and self-censoring and just make / put out stuff at a feverish pace.

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Years ago, while playing in a band, I was faking my way through being a drummer. One of my secret weapons was contact mics that were taped to square pieces of flimsy tin. The guitarist and bass player both tapped their feet in different rhythms. Unbeknownst to them I would set the mics around the stage and pick up all of their stomping. I would run the signal into a sampler and create all sorts of cymbals, percussion, drones, pads and with added effects. It really made my sound huge and allowed me to play simple enough that no one ever figured out that I couldn’t really play. I had so much fun playing drums. It is so physical compared to everything else I’ve ever played.

This was the mid 90’s. I think that I used a couple of Boss MPD-4 pads to run the contact mics into. It would convert the signal to a midi note. The rest of my drum set consisted of a floor tom, snare, ride cymbal, Octapad 2, a Yamaha QY10 and a 3rd party keyboard made by a company that a few years later became M-Audio. The sampler was an Akai. I don’t remember the model. I used many of them over the years. The Octapad was run into an Alesis DM5.

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For me, a small (3u 84hp max) modular system with Teletype at its core and grid as a controller has been an absolute revolution in my music making.
Combining this setup with a workflow not of worrying about productivity (productivity is for bankers) but of exploration and play has seen me enjoy making music and make much more of it than when I was trying to be productive.
Being able to switch it on, plug in a few cables, write a couple lines on TT, make a sound, follow that sound into the next, add a little more complexity, write a little more Teletype code and have a full track recorded and on YouTube that I’m really happy with within a few hours has been incredible. I have considered adding norns, and sometimes use midi to cv from my computer to add some extra stuff, but usually don’t do this and eventually decided againgst norns because having a little self contained system that is just really fun to use has been really amazing for my creativity.

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Ansible Kria with the looping set to be unsynced into Plaits into Mimeophon. Trigger Mimeophon’s sync with one of Krias trigger outs and start with a simple note sequence looping at one prime number length and then add octave jumps on a different prime number length loop, and then the alt note page at a third prime number. Instant evolving melodies for daaaays! (Other oscillators and delays work just as well.)

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Ten years ago I was making tracks in Ableton with taped field recordings and choral samples reshaped by Henke’s Granulator device. Novel recontextualisation with a simple workflow. I made several albums that way, especially one of which I still look back on favourably.

There’s a lot to be said for the DAW. With it, at that time, I could be well on my way to sketching a new track in a short time. I began to look beyond the DAW in 2015 after my first gig (laptop + midi controller) suffered from issues with audio-latency and other stuff.

From 2016 to the present I’ve moved steadily further into a Eurorack-based system. The basic motivation has always (until recently) been the facilitation of DAWless live performance. What can’t be done on my racks (complex sequencing, polyphony, true-stereo voices, etc.) as well as other things it happens to be very good at, I do on a Gotharman workstation. Ableton is mainly now for recording, mixing and arranging from the hardware. The funny part is I’ve performed six times in my life, and don’t actively seek gigs (especially not now) and yet this performance aspect has lurked always behind my decisions about gear.

And yet I make pretty much nothing. I turn on the synths in the late evening and practise or learn or jam idly but don’t record or find a purpose for what happens other than immediate (attempted) satisfaction. I finished an album half a year ago only because it arose, practically unsummoned, from the simplest patches: sample scubs slowed to near motionlessness, filtered, crunched into resonant textures by Nonlinearcircuits pt2399 modules. In a way the perfect result of my aimless frustration and yearning for a kind of mossy, twiggy, muddy calm. It was the signified forest, mere metres away, recalled remotely from inside the stuffy, sterile human home. If I ever perform it live it’ll be with little more than a 48 HP pod!

The point is that I think I’ve lost touch with what I set out to do, and that musicking for me has become sort of disengaged from any useful energy or desire for the production of recorded music, releases, etc. I want to be back in that area but I feel completely adrift in hardware without any well-defined compositional purpose.

I tell myself I don’t think this change/loss has as much to do with workflow as with lifestyle and everyday circumstances (I’ve changed in so many ways over the last decade). After all I have DAW projects close to completion that I can’t bear to face. I feel sick with the weight of expected expectation, drained by parenthood and greatly missing the solitude where I used to find so much creativity.

I have derailed the thread. Had to get it out though. Sorry! Now off to wiggle for a bit before bed.

This anecdote is absolutely awesome by the way. Thanks for sharing.

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as a parent, albeit now “from a distance” the solitude will return :slight_smile:

Also, creativity has a habit of hiding from us all, and will find you again.

Imho, you can’t hide from it either, like hide n seek hehe

peace

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20 characters of yes!

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Yeah, I’m not about churning out product. I have to find a way to be creative and let the music flow out of me, cos it becomes sour if it’s not allowed out. Parenthood is tough and my need for a method that’s immediate and efficient is to fit in with family life, so if the dog starts barking at 5 cos he needs to go out and I’m then up early, or if I’m stood in the kitchen with a risotto that needs occasional stirring, I can flip something on and make a little tune wherever I am.

It sounds like you would benefit from finding a way to do some collaboration. It’s a very useful way to cut through the indecision and expectation when you’re working with someone else. I’ve found it’s also far easier to find time when “someone has asked me to work on a musical thing for them” is the narrative, rather than saying “I want to go and play with my stuff now”

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If I ever get into a band situation again I am stealing this idea so fast. :exploding_head::exploding_head::exploding_head::heart::heart::heart:

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##########Audacity##########

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Jupiter 4. Honestly haven’t been very productive since I quit playing in bands about 10 years ago. But playing with this quirky synth is still the most immediately rewarding thing I can do in my small studio. I always find sounds/grooves that I like and when listening back to stuff I’ve recorded with it, I’m kind of amazed at how good it sounds in an organic, Mort Garson, kind of way. Combined with a drum machine of choice, another synth for sequenced bass, and a guitar for pretending to be Göttsching or Rother, it’s always fun. Not very portable, sorry.

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My music life is a constant battle between the reality that I am most productive in Ableton plus controllers with pretty much any soft synths/fx/midi stuff, and the fact that I have a lot of really expensive tools that are fun to use but which ultimately result in virtually no finished music. I can finish 20 pieces of music in the box for every half finished thing I use hardware for, and yet… I don’t know how to give up the quest to find something more fun and more interesting to work on.

I have considered abandoning my very ‘good’ job for some other line of work so that I can have a different and more fulfilling musical relationship with my computer.

I tend to feel like 1 out of 20-100 things that I finish are ‘good’ enough to do something with. What that something is I am not entirely sure these days, but I spend a fair amount of time wondering why I do this to myself.

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Since i started doing electronic music, i always found having 2 or 3 synths at the time was the best combination in General.
I always folllwed the idea of having a mono (or poly) synth, a drum machine, and a sampler.
I loved when my setup was a nord drum 2, an evolver desktop and a push as my sampler/ sequencer, but the most productive time was having analog 4, analog rytm and octatrack.
Now i sold my analog 4 and octatrack to buy an electic motorbike, which i have to confess, i enjoy more.
Today i’m only with an analog rytm, a norns and a grid. I love this setup so far but i’m missing a synth, and my mind is going modular…
Who knows?
TLDR: go and stay with a small setup, all the things there are stable in your music process are a joy if they are hardware, all the other is perfectly fine on software.

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I’ve gone through a few different setup, but my favourite “core” setup is still my macbook with ableton + maxmsp. I’ve tried elektron boxes, modular… but as fun as it can be it’s just not the same to me.

Workflow wise, I tend to have the most success when recording sound experiments (can be from guitar, maxmsp, field recordings, vsts… anything I’m curious about) and making collages with them later.

Something else that’s kind of parallel to this recording workflow is to stay curious and engaged about music and sound. I try to keep notes about sounds and techniques that interest me. Some of these notes will be translated in recordings, others into maxmsp tools. Not doing that part is very detrimental to the recording work.

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