Reflecting 2014

As we begin our journey into 2015, I wanted to take a moment to look back into the past year and make notes of some of my personal highlights.

Workflow things, books, plugins, tools, music, websites, general wellbeing and productivity… This is a very personal list and some of the stuff I’ll be mentioning doesn’t sound like anything to do with music production. Never the less it all has made a difference for my work.

 

Ableton Live

I bought and started learning Ableton Live in 2013. But 2014 marked a turning point in that I found myself using Logic (which I’ve been using since 2001) less and less.

Now I only draw for Logic if I have to work on/export old projects. Ableton has taken over.

I find Ableton Live an endlessly inspiring environment for creating and experimenting.

With Ableton I find myself finishing more of what I start. That alone is huge for me as I’ve always had a problem with not finishing many projects.

 

Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think

Abundance is a very intriguing book by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It offers a fresh and bold perspective on where the world is headed – firmly grounded in research and statistics.

The authors document how four forces—exponential technologies, the DIY innovator, the Technophilanthropist, and the Rising Billion—are conspiring to solve our biggest problems.

Examining human need by category—water, food, energy, healthcare, education, freedom—Diamandis and Kotler introduce dozens of innovators making great strides in each area: Larry Page, Steven Hawking, Dean Kamen, Daniel Kahneman, Elon Musk, Bill Joy, Stewart Brand, Jeff Skoll, Ray Kurzweil, Ratan Tata, Craig Venter, among many, many others.

I loved this book. I confess to being an optimist, yet this book as was an eye-opener even for me. The book has been called “antidote for pessimism” and it surely makes a very good case in that.

The authors are not undermining the fact that we are facing the greatest challenges in the history of mankind, and that our time is definitely running short.

While recognizing the facts, Abundance demonstrates that despite what the evening news are telling us, there is a great deal being done for a better future. There is a ton of promise and world-transforming potential growing in many different sectors.

Abundance  (Amazon)

Abundance audiobook (Audible)

 

Audible

I began listening to a lot of audiobooks towards the end of last year. I like to read real books, but I’ve found out listening is a great way for me to consume books too. Maybe it has something to do with being already trained in the skill of listening?

With Audible I’ve gone through about 8 books a month recently. Love it.

I was initially spooked by their subscription-based concept. But I’ve come to find that everything about it is really well executed and customer-oriented.

  • Their catalog of audiobooks is unsurpassed.
  • It’s possible to pause subscription.
  • The player is great.
  • They run discount campaigns for members where you can get some great bargains and stock up on titles.
  • If you don’t happen to like something you can return it, even if you already listened the whole book. Wow.
  • Their 24/7 customer service chat is brilliant (I once had a problem with a return not going through and they sorted it out within minutes).

In short, Audible has become one of my favorite services and I’m very happy to pay for my platinum membership!

 

Backblaze

In 2014 I created an easy automated backup strategy to sort the backup issue out once and for all.

The Backblaze online backup service is an essential part of my plan. It works great. It keeps my data safe, yet I hardly ever even notice it.

Peace of mind, yes please!

 

Bodyweight exercise

Exercise contributes a great deal to productivity and wellbeing. In the past years I’ve done mainly weight-lifting based training.

In 2014 I shifted towards more bodyweight-based routines and it’s been great. Smaller risk of injury, better mobility and balance, cheaper (no need to go to the gym unless you want to), quick to throw in a bit of exercise while waiting for a track to bounce (lol, yes)…

It’s just a lot more holistic way to work out and I feel better with it, both physically and mentally.

I still like to mix things up but I definitely see myself going even more into bodyweight direction in 2015.

 

Deep Space Helsinki & Rise of Techno

I don’t listen to a whole lot of music, but when I do, in the past year I’ve found myself listening to more and more of techno.

Pretty much the only source for that for me has been the weekly Deep Space Helsinki radio show/podcast ran by Samuli Kemppi and Juho Kusti. Check it out, it’s great.

I’ve also been making lots of techno, or I should rather say “techno-influenced music” – I’m rather trying to do something of my own than catering for purists.

I have also been collaborating on a bunch of stuff with a friend of mine, techno producer Hannu Ikola. I really like where that is going.

Hopefully you’ll hear some of that stuff beginning to surface in 2015.

 

Doit.im

I’ve tried a lot of task managers and Doit.im is the one I finally settled on early last year. It’s been a great help in staying organized with all my projects and keeping the big picture in mind.

Doit.im have apps for all major platforms, it integrates neatly with Google Calendar and Evernote and much more.

Above all though I like the clean execution and usability. It’s also nice to know they are constantly working to make it better – updates have been frequent.

 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

I am a big fan of the idea of doing less, but better. Definitely easier said than done, I know. But this book by Greg McKeown condensed the whole mindset in a very nice way for me.

I know I will be coming back to this book again and again to remind myself of these important concepts.

Essentialism (Amazon)

Essentialism (Audible)

 

Evernote

Evernote keeps growing on me. I don’t use it for task management, but rather to archive information and other stuff I need to remember.

They have done some great updates to the software in 2014, improving on what was already a very nice app. I especially like their iPad app. Great.

 

FabFilter Pro-Q 2

This was a groundbreaking plugin release. A tweaker’s delight.

If you are only ever going to get one EQ plugin, then look no further.

It’s brimming with advanced features like spectrum grab, full screen mode, EQ match, different phase modes and auto gain compensation.

I mainly use it for surgical tasks that require high precision and good visual feedback, as I have other EQs I like for color/balance work.

You can read my longer review of the plugin here.

 

Farnam Street

Farnam Street has become my favorite blog of all time. I’ve got so much from reading it.

Farnam Street offers some serious insight and food for thought by referring great literature. The posts itself usually go pretty deep, but if I want to find out more about something, I can then get the book they are talking about.

They always have great recommendations!

I subscribe to their weekly email newsletter, I think that’s a great way of keeping up.

 

Future Beats LP

I already mentioned I don’t listen to a whole lot of music. Most of my available time is spent working on music, and because of that I usually just crave a bit of peace and quiet when I’m not working on something.

So with that said, out of the small amount of albums I did check out last year the Future Beats compilation on Doc Scott’s 31 Records stood out for me.

I was also fortunate enough to be invited to contribute a track on the album, but I’m being 100% honest in saying that it is not why I am bringing the album up here.

It’s simply a great album with plenty of good music. Have a listen.

 

Gearslutz

The Gearslutz forum is both timely  and timeless. Once again it helped me make sense of a lot of things in 2014.

The amount of world class music professionals and well-informed enthusiasts alike posting there always blows my mind.

 

Mastery

If I had to choose one book that has made the biggest impact on me ever so far, it would be Mastery by Robert Greene.

You can read my longer review here.

In short, it’s a book that examines the lives and paths of many great masters from Leonardo da Vinci to Mozart and Einstein, and connects the dots behind their success.

The book shows we truly hold keys to our own success. Very, very inspiring.

Mastery (Amazon)

Mastery (Audible)

 

ProAudioDSP DSM V2

The ProAudioDSP DSM V2 prismatic compressor/limiter became one of my secret weapons in 2014. There’s so many things this thing can do.

It’s a plugin designed by Paul Frindle. With over 40 years of experience in the industry, he has been involved with making such classics as SSL G and E series consoles and Sonnox Oxford plugins. The DSM is his latest venture.

You can use the DSM on individual tracks or whole mixes. You can impose character from one source to another. You can do de-essing or more traditional multi-band type compression (albeit with tons more bands). For broadcast people it’s a great tool for keeping dialog in check.

I also discovered it can add some pretty nice grunge sometimes when pushed hard. Sounds not unlike my good old Roland S-760 sampler.

Most of the time though, I use it in very moderate amounts to provide color and thickness on the master bus. It’s just a magical plugin that more often than not seems to simply make things sound better.

As with everything though you do have to be careful – if you don’t know what you are doing, don’t do it!

DSM V2 comes with a great set of presets. I often like to use those as starting points although I have created some of my own profiles as well.

This plugin is probably not a plugin for most beginners, but in the right hands it is a very powerful tool.

 

Pro Tools

Previously I mentioned I’ve moved to Ableton Live for making music. There’s one drawback in Ableton for me: mixing. Live is great for creative work. But it’s just not the most precise and intuitive mixing environment for me.

At first I found myself going back to Logic to mix tracks. But with the release of Pro Tools 11 I decided to demo it and pretty soon bought it.

Avid Pro Tools 11 is a really solid and professional platform for mixing and finalizing music. Pro Tools also does MIDI without problems these days so it’s not a problem to add some MIDI parts if required.

I can also hook up Ableton via ReWire if needed. A minor drawback is that PT only supports AAX plugins, but I can see why that is (stability). And it seems most plugin manufacturers have taken it well (even though it means a lot of extra work for them) and are now providing AAX versions of their plugins. There are also wrapper plugins available to run VST/AU plugins within Pro Tools.

The feature set is great, mixing feels precise (I love the metering and long faders) and I am getting great results with it.

By the way, the last time I’ve used Pro Tools it was version 4 – things have come a long way since then, but the no-nonsense professional approach is still the same!

 

SAD light

Finland is a pretty dark place for a lot of the year. The summer is nice and bright, but other than that we don’t get much sunlight.

It has been shown again and again that sunlight is important in regulating all kinds of functions in our body and brain.

I bought a good SAD light to make up for the deficit of real sunlight. SAD lights imitate the spectrum and intensity of sunlight at noon. Granted, it’s not the same thing as real sunlight, but it’s the next best thing.

It helps me stay more alert and connected to whatever is at hand, but maybe even more importantly it helps regulate my body clock so that I also sleep better. Which affects absolutely everything.

It’s been a good investment on personal wellbeing and productivity and I can definitely recommend it to others.

A word of warning: If you are going to get an SAD light device, make sure to do some research and get a good one. Because there are products being marketed with SAD jargon that don’t really fulfill the medical standards. Make sure the device you are getting fulfills the medical standards.

I use a device with full spectrum lamps. I’m also in the process of switching all other lights in my home to full spectrum – makes a huge difference. If you’re in Finland, Adlux is where I bought mine and recommend you do too. They know their stuff and they have excellent products.

 

Sample Magic Magic AB

This was another big plugin for me in 2014 (and continues to be, of course).

It’s a plugin designed with one thing in mind: better referencing. And that it does really well.

You can read my full review here.

Trust me, this plugin has the potential to transform your mixdowns! Proper referencing is that important.

 

SoundToys

I’ve had the full SoundToys bundle for a couple of years now and it continues to impress.

If you are looking for analogue character in the box, this is where you’ll find it in heaps and bounds.

Their plugins are all very good and useful for different things. The ones I’ve been using the most are FilterFreak, Radiator, EchoBoy, MicroShift and Decapitator.

My #1 tip for using these plugins would be to also use them in subtle ways. Decapitator for example is capable of a lot more than what it’s name implies. Make friends with the wet/dry control.

FilterFreak by the way was a big part of the sound on our LP “Burning Shadows” released on Exit Records a couple of years back. The subtle distortion and analog color that plugin gives, without butchering your CPU, is just beautiful.

 

Standing desk

Did you know that sitting down is killing you?

I switched to a standing desk setup for making music about a year back. I really like it.

It’s not the holy grail of ergonomics though and comes with it’s own drawbacks. But it’s definitely a step up (duh) from sitting down in a crappy position all day long.

Drawbacks?

  • You won’t be completely immune to bad posture standing up. It’s better, but you still have to stay aware of your position.
  • It can get heavy on your knees, depending on your body structure and build. You can combine a standing desk setup with a bar stool or similar to get a bit of rest now and then.
  • In the beginning it can be fatiguing but I got used to it pretty quickly.
  • Feet can get sore, which is easily fixed by using a rubber mattress (I just use a basic cheap gym mat).

Positives?

  • Aside the obvious posture issue, I was surprised to find out I feel a lot more alert and focused. I just mentally feel better working that way. Blood circulation is better as you are in constant small motion, which affects pretty much everything.
  • Also the cheap custom desk I built (using this principle) is actually very good for acoustics as there is very little reflective surface in front of the speakers.

 

 

The Age of Spiritual Machines

Another very inspiring book for me. The Age of Spiritual Machines is written by Ray Kurzweil. If you’re not familiar with him, check him out in Wikipedia (nuff said).

In short, Kurzweil is an inventor, writer and futurist who is the current director of engineering at Google.

His reputation for successfully predicting the future dates way back to the 80s. Simply, if you are interested in what the future can hold for us, Kurzweil is a guy you should be listening to.

In this book he paints a very forward thinking picture that stretches the limits and definition of evolution and what it is to be human. His message is we are very close to a big turning point.

The book is at the same time scary, intriguing, unbelievable, yet convincing.

Kurzweil has proven to be right many times in the past and that is what makes this book so striking. I should add that this book was written in 1999 and many of it’s predictions of the near future have already come true.

The Age of Spiritual Machines (Amazon)

The Age of Spiritual Machines (Audible)

 

Tokyo Dawn Labs

These guys made some serious waves in the plugin arena in 2014. First, they released the TDR VOS SlickEQ. Then towards the end of the year, the Kotelnikov mastering compressor saw the light.

Both plugins are available as free versions, and as very affordable “Gentleman’s Edition” versions which extend the feature-set.

I had the pleasure of beta testing both plugins and seeing the process that goes on behind the scenes.

Therefore it’s easy for me to assure these plugins are coded with impeccable attention to detail, quality and usability. These are forward thinking and proudly digital processors.

Go check them out at Tokyo Dawn Labs.

 

We Spin

We Spin is a modern music marketing education platform and community for independent artists. It’s ran by a friend of mine, Andrew Apanov.

I’ve been a member of We Spin since last spring and I’ve learned so much since then.

Being a successful artist these days means building up entrepreneurial skills as well.

We Spin helps with just that – Andrew’s content is always very current and on point.

I highly recommend trying it out!

 

 

Phew – there you have it! What about you? I would love it if you shared your highlights in the comments.

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  • Thanks for your thoughts! I followed several of the links 🙂 Happy New Year!