My Process and a Listening Guide for My First Solo EP

Volume 76 - seven minute read

Mar 2nd, 2018

My first EP as Cordio title HM-01 is available now. I’d love your support on my first of many releases! Be sure to purchase or find a place to stream it by visiting here

Three months ago I felt frustrated by the fact that I was making music but not doing something with the tracks I made. Sure, I’d put them up on Soundcloud and get maybe 25 streams if I was lucky. But I’ve always been passionate about not only the culture and facets of music, but also producing my own music from scratch. I was used to making something from nothing in my design work, but music was a whole other story.

The Backstory

Some quick music background on me; I’ve been a musician since middle school and throughout high school I taught myself many instruments and music theory. I graduated high school knowing how to play 20 different instruments including string and percussion instruments. I even got a 5 on my AP Music Theory exam and was 1st chair in All-State (Florida) for the Viola. I went to school at first to become a rap producer but ended up switching to graphic design my second year of school. I stopped producing and just recently picked it up again on-and-off a year ago until deciding to pursue it as a serious hobby a few months ago.

Anyways, after thinking of what I could do with this hobby and encouragement from friends, I decided I set aside some of my music to put into a short EP of sorts. I didn’t know what to call it, had no ideas for the direction of it, I didn’t even think I’d share to anyone other than a few friends.

Even now that it is available I feel a bit self conscious about it. It’s been a while since I felt like a complete beginner with a whole industry and that’s how I feel about music. It’s both exciting and doubt-inducing to put something out there that you know isn’t perfect but you need to put it out and move on.

To be honest, I didn’t want HM-01 to be perfect in the first place. Creating EPs for me and this point forward is giving myself goals to work on and improve my music production abilities and explore my own wants and styles in the musical world. I use my focus on product design in full-time work to solve problems and leave the artistic side of creative work out of it. Music for me is the exact opposite of this; I use it for artistic expression and make things entirely for myself. I have no idea whether people will like the music, accompanying art, and lore but I don’t think about that. I just make what I think sounds, looks, and feels cool to me and put it out there.

While I do want to get into the process of HM-01 and what I used in production, the one hint I will give for my work is I weave and hide all types of lore into my music work. Everything from the samples I use, the names of songs, the artwork, and more is based around different levels of personal interests. Ironically, I don’t do it from an “I’m an artist and need to be super mysterious” standpoint, it’s honestly just fun and interesting to figure out ways to play into the overall themes I want to portray.

ALRIGHT. Let’s finally get into some of the more technical side of the process.

The Approach

I would like to write a larger post about the type of music and artists that inspire me and my music, but for time’s sake I’ll give a quick genre-based overview. The main genres of music I listen to on a regular basis are rap/hip-hop, ambient, electronic, jazz, classical, and R&B. The ambient and electronic scene were introduced to me about 4 years ago, but the other genres have been a constant in my life since I can remember (yes I started listening to rap at 8 years old, I turned out fine I think).

I don’t really think I have a singular style of music and I approach all work differently. But, a general theme I usually use is heavily-sampled music. Music I’m really enjoying at the time usually takes precedence in my sampling. Outside from other music, I use a lot of sounds from the world around me too. I record a lot of random sounds on my phone and bring them into my music for percussion, melodic, and ambient purposes. (A great explanation and example of this comes from a favorite game sound designer of mine, Akash Thakkar here).

The Gear

I’m very adamant about having a minimal setup for my music work; the less gear I can use, the better in my opinion. At the time of writing this I have two Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering (20 and 33), and just ordered an OP-1 from them as well. But, I didn’t have any of this gear during the creation of HM-01. Here is everything (both hardware and software) I used to create HM-01:

The Hardware

Again, I don’t use much. This is literally all I used to create HM-01 (and the “throw-away” tracks that didn’t make the Cut).

MacBook Pro 13" 2017
Where to buy →

For all my production work I use the 13" MBP with no TouchBar. I really like the size and portability so I can work on music wherever. I even wrote a review of it here.

Korg NanoKey 2
Where to buy →

This Korg keyboard is perfect for what I was needing as it gives me a piano visualization of notes (a necessity for me personally) and is very compact. It’s about as wide as my MacBook and I can fit this in my bag. I’m able to travel and still work away from home.

Blue Yeti Microphone
Where to buy →

I originally got this about 5 years ago to record video voice-overs but have recently started using it for recording real-world samples at home when I’m not limited to just my phone microphone.

The Software

Software that you want to use is up to you in my opinion, but this is what I use and (again) what was used to make HM-01.

Ableton 9
Where to buy →

My DAW of choice for production. I think it has a great amount of presets and powerful customization of effects. It’s great for me personally as it has an equal balance for electronic and hip-hop style music, which is where my style typically falls.

Spire Synthesizer
Where to buy →

Spire is a multi-functional digital synth that comes with some great presets while allowing complete control over dozens of parameters to get exactly what you need.

GarageBand

While limited in production features, I use GarageBand to prepare and chop samples down from large audio files. For samples I typically only want 5 to 10 seconds of a song and find it annoying to do in Ableton. So, I resize audio files here and then export them to Ableton.

iTunes

While not a help in the production side of things, iTunes has been really helpful in organizing my samples and finished tracks while being able to add meta information to them for sharing and exporting.

Voice Memos

As I mentioned earlier, I use Voice Memos pretty often to grab random audio sounds as I’m out and about. As much as I’d love to carry around a better mic solution for this, Voice Memos does the trick. I actually find the imperfect sound better for my music style at times as well.

The Track List (Listening Guide)

I debated whether or not to share this part of my process publicly but thought it would be a good learning experience for others as well as a great keepsake and record for myself to see later on. I’ll be sharing the track here and provide a list of samples and instruments I used in each.

1. Ritual Five

Samples

  • 21 Savage
  • Winds of Fate (Anime)
  • Coffee Bag, recorded on Voice Memos
  • Hal (English Dubbed)[Anime]

Instrument Presets (Ableton)

  • Fifths Sweep
  • Muted2 S&H
  • Kit-Core Clint West
  • JX Chorus Bass

2. Leaving

Samples

  • Anitta
  • Hal (English Dubbed)[Anime]
  • Heart Comix All-Stars

Instrument Presets (Ableton + Spire)

  • PL Redux DP
  • Keeper Lead
  • Oxygene Bass
  • Donkey FX
  • Kit Core Formaggio

3. Still Indecisive

Samples

  • Rich Brian
  • The Notebook (Movie)
  • Gospel Choir All-Stars
  • Andreas Klein

Instrument Presets (Ableton + Spire)

  • Sub Bass
  • Kit Core 808
  • Heaven Pluck
  • Timeless Arpeggiator

4. Cut (EP Single)

Samples

  • Jaden Smith
  • Brave Story (Anime)

Instrument Presets (Ableton + Spire)

  • Kit Core Formaggio
  • Perc Noisy Attack
  • 5ths to Filter Sweep Pad
  • Basic Sinelike
  • Harps2 Tube

5. Secret Rare

Samples

  • None

Instrument Presets (Ableton + Spire)

  • PL Chromatic
  • Kit Chore Ichor
  • Introduce 2 Lead
  • Dusty Lead
  • Drive Bass

Dennis Cortés
www.cortes.us