Here’s this week’s episode from our Masterclass Highlights series, featuring the unstoppable force that is Claude VonStroke – friend and former student. Here we pick out some of the choice cuts from his excellent Ableton masterclass, which took place last year…
Claude VonStroke is at the forefront of the bass-heavy house sound that has become hugely popular in recent times. His label Dirtybird is renowned for this style of music, and often diversifies too – as a label should. He opted to join a course here at Point Blank to sharpen his Ableton skills, which was an honour for us.
After his course, Claude was happy to come back in the college and host a masterclass, where he spoke to several of our students in the flesh – as well as broadcasting to thousands of viewers around the world. In fact, the video became one of our most popular and so, as part of our highlights series, we’ve edited it down from its original running time of almost one hour – down to this bite-sized 15-minute video.
The video is also divided up into segments, so you can skip through to the most useful parts – though, of course being from someone as experienced as VonStroke, you’ll find that the whole thing is full of valuable nuggets of information and tips.
ENJOY! And head over to our YouTube channel for more tutorials.
On this vocal that’s spinning out of this world, I thought I would put the effects directly on the track, because . . . there are too many tracks on this thing. This is what I always do: I make a really easy track, and turn it into 50 tracks. Basically there’s a difference between the insert effects and the effects that go directly on the channel. On that vocal I was putting the effect directly on the channel because the effect is so severe. Normally, on some of the little effects things, like little sounds that just go, “Sshh” and transitions, I would use an insert over here. You see I would put 3 effects over here. This is something I learned here as well. And just automate them on the channel. So that means you can just put one reverb up here, one delay: the things you know you’re always going to use. Distortion or whatever, though probably not distortion. Then you can automate them in the channels.
The other thing that gives you, that is really impossible to do when you put it directly on the sound, is that it lets the reverb wash out. I don’t know how to explain that. If you turn on a reverb on an insert, it will keep going. If you turn on a reverb, even if when you hit the next beat you turned it off, the reverb is still washing. If the effect is on the channel and you have turn it off, you basically have to draw the line, and it turns off and sounds really unnatural. So you have a reverb, and it is
That is another thing that I’m big on, is transition sounds. Just little, tiny sounds that . . . hold on; I’ll find it. Flare is what I call it. Has anybody seen Office Space? Just little sounds, which we can’t hear because the volume is so low. Can you hear that back there? It is very faint. This is the only one I have in this song, so I’ll just turn it up. This is probably just a snare from the track that is recorded and then reversed. It is: [clashing sound], and then you reverse it. So you can get from section to section if there is a really dramatic change in the track that you want to get away with, but you don’t know how you’re going to get away with it and have it sound right, you just reverse the sound, a main sound in your track, and butt it right up against the next kick drum for the changeover. It gives you a really smooth sounding transition to the next part. I don’t know what else to say about that.
Q: Another one, from Davey Fitts[SP], who’s asked, “What do you use to create your sub bass?”
It’s usually some version of an 8-0-8 drum. There was a sound that I used in Reason for years called BB [inaudible 15:39] Boomer. You put in just the MN [inaudible]-19. Yeah, it’s usually just some kind of 8-0-8 sum. I use different ones all the time, and I’m usually sliding them around a little bit, and usually adding something like what I showed you with the high note, but I don’t usually just octave it up. I usually take the same bass, copy it, cut out all the bottom, and put in a really disturbing distortion, keeping the bottom really low so it’s just kind of buzzing on top. That really works, just to get a little bit of buzz. Not, “Eeehhhh,” but just gives it a little bit of sheen, and it also lets you hear the note on several different sound systems. It can give you the pitch a little better. A lot of times when you listen to really subby music on car stereos, or something, you don’t hear any of it. It’s nice to have a little extra thing up in the top range it’s following.
Q: Is that something you bear in mind? Different sound systems? You are making music for the club, but do you think about people listening to it on their laptop, on their I-phone?
I usually play it in the car to decide if it’s going to work. And I’ll play it on the laptop, but I don’t really care what it sounds like on a laptop. The laptop is disturbingly bad. But I always play it in the car. If it works in the car, it’s usually going to work.
Q: It’s a banger.
Well, if everything sounds right in the car . . . you usually listen to a lot of music in the car, so for some reason you know what the car sounds like. You know what I mean? I probably listen to more music in the car than I do in the studio, so I know what the car sounds like better than my monitors. Well, maybe.
Q: I was going to ask in the studio: obviously you come from the days when you’re using a hardware sampler. Do you use any hardware now? Do you still in the studio?
Yeah, I use a Moog Voyager. I use a Roland Keyboard, which I played all that organ stuff on: a Roland. I use that just to get all the bread-and- butter stuff that I don’t want to look for. Sometimes it’s nice to have a keyboard that just has a lot of sounds in it, so you don’t have to hunt down 300 sample packs, like a banjo picking or whatever. So yeah, I do that all the time. And I have a little patch bay thing that’s kind of cool. It’s all run through this thing called Liaison, by Dangerous Music, so it’s actually a patch bay, but it’s all hard wired in the back. So I can just press a button instead of patching it, and I can just go through the delay or the distortion unit or whatever. I have a bunch of little outboard stuff. So I usually use that stuff going in; I don’t bring it back out and go in that much.
Q: OK, here’s quite a good one. “What do you look for in demo tracks, and what makes them kind of stand out for you?”
I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I like things that sound original and different, but still work in the club. It has to have some element of Funk going on, or I’m not really going to be into it, I think. I actually do care about how it is produced. Some people don’t; they say, “We like this so much – go get somebody to mix it down for you.” I was just having that conversation yesterday. But I don’t know; I just don’t think that that is a good long-term artist.
Q: So you like to think of the way the sound . . .
I like to think that when I sign a track, that maybe we’re going to do, perhaps, 5 EPs with this person. I’m always thinking about that kind of thing.
Q2: [faintly] Not Molly-coddled so much – they know how to make their own tracks.
Yeah, right. I don’t want to have to fix it. I always get into a trap of having to fix that one little thing. But I’ve stopped doing that. It’s too painful.
The concept is that you can change the sounds in real time while you’re going, instead of having to look for sounds. So you have to have a sampler . . . Sorry, I’m just used to having a giant window. Alright, you set up a sampler and then you set up a drum rack. Your goal is to put everything in the drum rack in the end, but you have to make the device first, which is a big pain. Hopefully that will change some day soon. So then you get all your favorite samples. OK, perfect. So let’s say I want to do High Hats or something. I want to have all my favorite High Hats on the same machine so I can just choose between the High Hats. I have to select them all, up to 126. We’ll just take 50 or whatever. You drag them all in here: 49 samples. Then you go to the zone feature, and then you go to the select feature. Then you have to go into this window and right-click and distribute the ranges equally. So basically now you have it set up so they’re going to drop on each different “Waa-aa” thing, once you make a macro. So then you have to save this device. Call it “snares” or was it “high hats?” Then it’s going to copy them all in there, which is kind of going to take up some space, but it will still work.
That should be in your sampler folder now. Then you go into the drum rack, and you put your “high hats” device, and you should be able to go back to this thing and map it to Macro 1. Now you have a sample selector. So now you can create a Midi track, or Midi clip. I just started doing this, but it is cool. Type something in. [music plays] And then you can just cycle through the samples, like this. It will go through all 49 samples while it’s playing. You can’t really hear it, since it isn’t very loud. There we go.
So then, while you’re making your track, you can do this on kicks, bass lines, anything you can put it in. Then once you have it all in, you just start switching out the kicks over here. The only limitation to is, the main problem, is there are only 8 macros, and so you can only do it for 8 drum rack pads. But you could just make another one, and keep making them and making them. And once you get it, as I do where I have a whole kicks machine that I just finished, which is just like 8 different subs, ethnic, hard, etc . . . And then it can just go through to make a track. What I was talking about before, when you’re running the kick against the bass, it’s a much easier thing to just be able to run through 126 kicks against the bass line, and in 2 seconds you’re going to have the right one, as opposed to going to the left to this browser window for 2 hours and dragging them in and hot swapping until it works. It’s just more like a real-time way of working. I totally suck at making it, because I just learned how to do it, but I think it’s a really cool way of working. Just imagine if you put a whole bunch of random, weirdo effects in there, and just started cycling through, and had effects going: it could be really creative. I’m really excited about this way of working.
Q: At Point Blank Online you have 2 methods of interaction with your tutor. Firstly you have the weekly online master class, which is in real time, and then also we have feedback on your assignments, and that’s known as DVR. So the online master class is a one hour session you get with your tutor every week. You can ask questions about lesson content. You get instant feedback, and also demonstrations on the fly from their computer desktop, with our streaming technology. DVR stands for Direct Video Response, and the concept is really simple. You upload your Ableton Logical Que basic project file to your tutor. He downloads it, and then pushes record on the screen capturing software and evaluates your work, so basically giving you 1-to-1 feedback. You see all of the mouse movements and any parameter changes by your tutor. It’s kind of like sitting in the studio, over their shoulder watching what they do whilst they work. We’ve found the DVR process has truly revolutionized the way that we teach online, and the results speak for themselves. Book you place on the course now by visiting PointBlankOnline.net.