QOTD: How do you learn new music software?

June 16, 2010 | 12 Comments

June 16th, 2010 – While the staggering rate of evolution and revolution in computer-based music tools has allowed users to do more things, and faster than ever, one of the problems is too much choice. You would think that choice is a good thing, and to a certain degree it is; however, too many options can cause paralysis.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You read about the latest plugins or improvements to the many DAW options out there, and figure that you’ll wait until the new features are released. The problem is, even when they arrive, you won’t know how to use them effectively and learning something new when you have your tried and true methods seems like a bother.

This has happened to me with Ableton 8. Having seen all the cool things people were doing with it, I picked up a copy (btw, I noticed that they have a Live Pack you can download that features sets from established artists so you can learn from what they’ve done…pretty cool!). After installing it and going through some of the included tutorials, it has all but sat unused for the past several months. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot learn from books, nor do I learn well from classrooms or video apparently.

What I’ve decided to do is work on an unfinished mashup remix that’s been on my to-do list for quite some time. I figure this will give me the chance to do something that I’m good at in my normal DAW, Logic, and transfer the skills to Ableton. Because I’m not creating something from scratch, I can get a broader picture of how things work in Ableton versus what I’m used to in Logic. After I’ve gotten my feet wet, I can then start to explore Ableton’s deeper functionality.

How do you learn new music software? Do you read books? Tinker around? Watch tutorial videos? Do you have different techniques for different types of software (ie. software instruments, effects plugins, DAWs)?

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  1. Sébastien Orban says: June 17, 2010

    Simple : I don’t.
    Most of the software I get to use have lot of things in common with others – difference are minor. An example, to clear this : a compressor will always work the same way, be it in Ableton or Cubase, only minor implementation details will change – like where’s the knee control.

    At the daw level, when you know where you can put your plugin, how to chain them, and how to write the automation, well, you know pretty much everything.

    So to know a new daw ? I search for what I already recognize, and try to understand the way it want me to works with it !

    Ableton Live is a different beast for a lot of things, yes, but there’s a lot of similarity too ! You only have to learn the “live” part, the sequencer part, you more or less already have learned it !

  2. Will says: June 17, 2010

    @Sebastian: Yea its true that the basic functions of every daw/plugin will essentially be the same, but I think actually “learning” and “knowing” a daw goes beyond just the basic functions. To me this means being able to translate your creative ideas seamlessly into your daw with little hassle.

    @Sean: I’m a youtube/blog addict so I like to watch a lot of videos and read articles. I think the best way to learn though, as with anything, is to jump in head first and experiment or complete a project in it. I never had a friend to teach me face to face but I think that would be the second best option if you know somebody. Aside from that, for my ableton education I really like http://www.cosm.co.nz/, http://abletonlife.com/, and http://www.youtube.com/user/innerstatejt . I remember coming across a thread in the ableton forums listing a whole bunch of tutorial sites/youtube channels, that might also be worth checking out. Have fun!

  3. Rick says: June 17, 2010

    3 choices is 2 too many for me LOL

    I learn by watching someone else. Having gone through Joe Gilder’s Production Club, I found a lot of priniciples he taught while using Pro Tools were transferable to my DAW (Logic). I have tons of books that have only collected dust. They haven’t helped me at all.

  4. Dave says: June 17, 2010

    Great question Sean,

    Learning Abelton is one of the things on my “list” – it’s one of those apps that’s not your plain vanilla DAW – kind of like Reason.

    I don’t know, a lot of what DAWs have to offer is just a slightly different shade of grey in terms of what’s available feature-wise and what the different offerings are for soft-synths and plugs.

    My main DAW is Logic, and I use Reason, Reaper and Sonar (Sonar via the network to a PC) in conjunction to access different soft-synth plugs and such. I’ve used CuBase and Digital Performer as well. So far, I’m liking what Logic can do for me – it suits my working style and work flow. The only thing that I’d say prevents me from switching is all the legacy files I have working in Logic now…

    As for how I learn – I try to go as far as I can just clicking around and trying to find things myself. If I get stuck, then I’ll refer to the manual. I’ll also take the manual away with me and browse through it seeing if I can find anything that is new and interesting to try out.

  5. Sean says: June 17, 2010

    @Sebastien: Very true…although the “Live” part is what I’m most interested in 🙂

    @Will: Thanks for the links…I’ll check them out!

    @Rick: Yeah, Joe’s course is very thorough and even though I’ve been using Protools for a long time, I still was able to pick up so new nuggets of information.

    @Dave: I totally agree that Ableton has its own way of working with music which intrigues me. I want to be able to create “Live” sets so that the songs I play are always different. Like producing tracks live…I like that idea. That would be very cool!

  6. Vinayk says: June 18, 2010

    It’s a very interesting point. I started out with a pirate copy of live 5. Ditched that and went “legit” when reason 4 came out. Wanted easy audio input so got reaper, then bout an iMac and got logic 8. I loved logics plugins and library, but hated the workflow and finally bought live 7 (now 8) – where I dislike the synths/library (except sampler) but love the workflow. So then I sprung for komplete 5.

    My logic and reason have sat unused for a year – I occasionally open them to take loops from the library. And I only really have enough time to dabble with live and komplete. My goal now is get very savvy with live – by watching video tutorials and trying out the tips on new songs. I hold on to live Maybe as a mixing tool but maybe that is unnesscesary.

    But in reality I sometimes think that if Propellerhead Record had been release. A number of years ago, then I may have been a Ninja with my reason skills and needed nothing else! Hopefully I’ll be an ableton ninja at some stage!

  7. Sean says: June 21, 2010

    @Vinayk: Reason + Record seem like a very powerful combo. I’d like to give them a try when Reason 5 is commercially released.

  8. Vinayk says: June 22, 2010

    Interestingly – I splurged on Maschine – hands down the greatest purchase I’ve made since my first electric. Beautiful workflow, great browser – I had a track done 3 hours after plugging it in the first time!

    So I think I’ve found my software for the next little while.

  9. Sean says: June 24, 2010

    @Vinayk: That’s awesome…I’ve been eyeing Maschine for a while. You should do a review!

  10. DIGITALLUSH says: July 29, 2010

    Have been exploring Ableton for a few years now. At the same time I started to pick up Logic, and found myself more drawn towards Logic for ‘narrative’ or linear type work… also- I really was drawn towards the rich presets / sampled instruments that came with Logic that seem to be hidden in Ableton.

    Learning Ableton is like learning a new instrument. If you’re using it for performance, learning Ableton’s session view, and wrapping your head around how to get the most out of a live performance takes practice.. just like any instrument or software. The more time you spend in it, the more things get drilled into your memory, and the deeper you can move with exploring the software.

    I started with the LE version. This FORCED me to limit myself, and I was very content with exploring the functionality. It also forced me to be a bit more creative with effects (since I was only limited to 3). This was great – it taught me how to set up busses/ sends/returns to get the most out of it. As for actual effects, I spent a lot of time learning how the delays work, as well as reverb and finally eq’ing. These in tandem with a handful of clips kept me busy for a long time…

    Once I purchased the full version I found myself working much more intently on developing my sound palettes, so exploring instrument and effects racks came of that.

    Now it’s all about Live performance and what I can create on the fly.. I do like a lot of Ableton’s traditional DAW features, but find that I still work a bit faster in Logic for certain types of projects. As for creating and exploring sound, however, Ableton provides a much more creative workflow.

  11. Sean says: August 7, 2010

    @DigitalLush: I also use multiple DAWs for different types of projects. Takes a bit of time to learn the specific quirks of each, but I find that even the DAW can work wonders with creativity based upon the workflow.

  12. DIGITALLUSH says: August 7, 2010

    Funny.. I just started to jump into a workflow in Ableton, and am quickly finding myself adapting much more to it as my primary go to DAW. 🙂


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