Reflection on #jamcember 2020 Challenge

Well, I just wrapped up putting together a track a day, no matter how good or bad, and posting *something* daily over the month of December. My goal was to do all of the production on the MPC Live mk2, and just push content to a coherent enough thought or conclusion without necessarily worrying about all of the bells and whistles. Sampling sources, expansion packs, completing old incomplete tracks, that was all on the table for me throughout December.

Here are all of the tracks that I put together:

I tried to write up a blog post for each day, and attached it to each track. Some days I provided a bit more detail than others, but overall there’s some level of detail for each track there or in the blog if you are interested. Instead, I wanted to put this post together to put down some thoughts about why I did this, what I wanted to accomplish, lessons learned, and what I might do differently in the future, and suggestions for others who might take a similar challenge.

Why Make a Track a Day?

For starters, I was looking to do something different to push myself outside of my musical comfort zone. The hundreds of directories of half started projects on my MPC Live alone can attest to that. Quite a bit of this old content is suspect, and probably doesn’t warrant completion, but there’s also a fair bit of projects that aren’t too bad and just needed a push to put them into some kind of song structure.

There is also an appeal to just constantly fiddling with a track to make it ‘perfect’ when it is well passed done and at least for me, I start making it worse. Usually this is where working with another person can help because they can talk some sense into me, but I didn’t find anybody who was particularly interested in trying to bounce MPC Projects around and get a track done a day. I get it, there’s certainly a commitment level there that is hard to coordinate cooperation on. So this became a solo show, and was something I wanted to spend one to two hours a day on.

Finally, I have fallen into some bad habits, nothing serious mind you, but milling through web pages, watching nonsense YouTube videos, playing video games, well… it can eat up a lot of time and you have nothing to show for it. I figured I could easily pull back an hour a day from my time and get myself more focussed on something creative and no matter how good or bad, just putting it out into the universe.

What Did I Learn Making a Track a Day?

Possibly the most important thing that I learned was that I can do it, period. It seemed like a daunting task at the start, and I did consider just throwing in the towel near the end, but there’s also a certain reward in just completing something you set out to do that you never quite get if you’re willing to say “good enough”. Plus, it isn’t like I was aiming for perfection, it was more an act of just doing something, anything.

Putting a track down, you can actually do an awful lot on the MPC in an hour. I wouldn’t suggest that you can get a properly finished track, though I do feel that a few I did are super close, but it is entirely possible to get a near complete idea down. Now I know I say this and I skipped tons of mechanical bits intentionally, but having a game plan is very important when doing this. For me, I had the safety net of incomplete tracks to lean on and scramble together, so I was not worried that I would have a lack of content, just a possible lack of drive and will of character.

I’m also going to state for a fact, that after going through thirty one tracks, it is clearly entirely possible for somebody to do an entire production on the MPC Live nearly from start to finish. Between the synths, fx, and inputs, you can really put together something solid. From time to time people throw mud at the MPC Live, and while some of it is warranted, this is still a beast of a machine and absolutely a worthy successor to previous pedigree MPCs. It isn’t going to work magic, so garbage in is garbage out… as can be seen from some of the tracks I made 😀

I will end on the fact that there is a certain freedom of just doing a track a day and being able to give a problem the middle finger and move on. There are tons of warts on the daily tracks I have done, but also feels impressive to have knocked them out at all. Usually I take a week or two to get a track done, and looking back, if I’m honest… a number of them didn’t have that much more to show for putting in what probably amounts to an extra hour or two. I was able to set aside around fifty or sixty hours for the month and I’m allowing myself to be proud about that.

What Would I Change?

Oh boy, I suppose getting more hours in a day would be tough… or at least adding more hours to a 24 hour day, and getting 25 or 26. Yeah no, that’s not happening.

For me, I had a pretty good idea that I could set aside an hour to two a day on average. This meant for me that if I had a good run on a track, and still had an hour left, I considered prepping for the next day. This was especially handy on a few days where we had holiday stuff going on and I wasn’t sure that I was going to have enough sober time to think properly and get a track wrapped up with a bow on it. Predominantly I did most of the work on the day of though, so it worked out quite well. If I did this in the future, I do think I would be more conscious of prepping for a day, or possibly taking every few days to prepare for a three day chunk at a time.

I have the MPC Live, and it is portable, I do feel like I should have taken advantage of different locations. At the very least instead of sitting in the same room in the house, just move to someplace different for a change of scenery. It could have given me some different perspective and something to focus on in addition to the music.

Looking back I would have liked to get a bit more closed loop feedback. I could have asked family members what they thought and possibly tweaked some of the tracks a bit. There is however a bit of a double edged sword though in that it is possible that getting the feedback would have been too time consuming to address and would have pushed me into not wanting to complete this exercise. Maybe know yourself and who you are getting feedback from, so that you know if it is valuable to take in or not.

Any Suggestions For the Future?

Probably my biggest suggestion for somebody who wanted to attempt a track a day, no matter the platform would be to have a pretty good understanding of your gear. You’re not going to have too much time to experiment or dig through the manual, instead you’ll want to be laser focussed on the easy stuff, and know how to get yourself out of the mud if you get stuck.

When you do want to play around, be very thoughtful about how much time you want to experiment or try new processes and techniques. If it is working then great, but if it doesn’t work, just know when it is time to abort. One thing I was doing to keep myself sane was just plugging out the basics for a track frequently so I could at least have a scaffold to build around, kind of like giving myself the playground to work on.

This goes for life in general, but I also found myself having to know how to balance a proper level of commitment to content I made, so that I wasn’t over committed because I invested too much time in something that wasn’t working, but also not under committing and not developing an idea enough. Honestly, for a track a day, you’ll be under committing a *lot* (especially if you also have a family, job, and other commitments), but there is a danger in either… so just pay attention to yourself and don’t be afraid to be self reflective.

Speaking of self reflection, for me personally, I had a very loose roadmap of what I wanted to do between completing tracks, pushing the MPC, messing with canned loops, producing my own content, and that roughly fell out into about one week long chunks. This was something I did subconsciously though, and just had a feeling it was time to move on and try something different, rather than having written it down on the calendar. I bounced around here and there, but overall, whatever you set out to do, I suggest having a game plan so when you get bored you have a good idea what to move on to, or go back to, so you’re not struggling to determine what to do for the day.

#jamcember – Ninth Circle

Here’s to slugging out the last track for December, and heading into the new year!

This track came about from creating an audio track from a 32 bar loop on the Access Virus TI2 Darkstar. I automated a few parameters and figured it sound cool enough to add some drums and FX to it. I wanted to try and get something slower and more droning this time around, instead of some of the faster and more manic tracks I have been laying down the last month.

I had spent a lot of time automating different parts of each sound, and when I was ready to export it, I did something wrong and had lost all of the automation. This was a huge bummer, and I am not quite sure why the Q-Links didn’t maintain what I had put together. I’ll definitely need to scratch my head and figure out what happened… because I was switching automation lanes from Read to Write, using over dub… all that fun stuff… I am certain I took a misstep, and again, I am not quite sure what it was.

Oh well… there’s always next year to figure it out 😀

#jamcember – Deeply Stricken

The second of two remaining tracks for the month!

So this track has several key groups that I auto sampled off of both my Access Virus TI2 Darkstar and Waldorf Iridium. I figured I’d upload the patches for those interested or who are just looking for some synth sounds to play with… so you can get them below. I didn’t bother trimming anything… so the file is a bit large… but go nuts and have fun!

This last track I spent a lot of time focussing on note progressions and playing things out myself, to see if I could get a bit more feel into the song. I will say that I am mildly happy with the results, but I am a little sad that the flute part I put in just did not fit the song structure I came up with. It was a bit too out there, and a little too much of a change. I suppose these kinds of little nuggets are the types of things you record off for future rainy day inspirations, but no time for that now! It is time to start thinking about the next track.

Nearing the end of the month of doing a track a day, I’m going to have to start thinking about what is next for me. I’m kind of digging the pressure to keep moving forward, but I am also thinking that there’s a fair bit of tracks I’d like to go back to work on and see about making a proper album to publish. There are a few ideas that I am toying around with for next month so, we shall see which direction we go!

#jamcember – Cause and Effect

Just two more of these to go… holy smokes what a month!

Picture comes courtesy of a sunset in Aruba from a couple years back. Took the family to go see the island, and we all had a blast. Heck even got my wife into the ocean for a little bit, despite her being completely afraid to hop into water!

To get the notes I played around with Orb Composer a bit in order to come up with note progressions for Arp/Bass/Chord/Melody… The key is Ab, Major scale with a chord progression of i-iv-vii-II, or Abmb7/Eb, Dbm/Ab, Gbmb7, and Bbb/Fb. I tried to use the MPC Live Performance Pads to operate in the correct scale… maybe it worked? I didn’t play out too much live so it isn’t exactly like it probably mattered much.

I then swiftly turned to the Waldorf Iridium to do some sound design. I’m going to have to spend some serious time to get under the hood here, because the Iridium is clearly a super deep instrument. Wowza. Speaking of… I’m attaching below the Akai MPC Live/X/One compatible programs I created for the song…

Some of the programs are trimmed properly, but some of them are not. If you’re in to sample hygiene, well have fun :D. I should probably have spent more time recording these, but for doing a track a day, I wasn’t exactly ready for the full commitment of putting all that work in. Let’s see how things go next month once I settle down a bit.

#jamcember – Catch of the Day

Twenty Eight Songs In A Row… woah…

I’m not going to lie to you folks…

This has been a lot of back to back to back tracks for me, and I am kind of looking forward to the month ending so I can get into a different musical head space. This was just a straight up Expansion Pack kit that I loaded up, and then added a bit more to it with some samples from my brand spanking new Waldorf Iridium. I was more into just playing with the Iridium than making a track, but figured I needed to get moving and actually put something together.

To do something completely different… I tried to make a straight up 32 bar track, and then just add/remove content instead of messing with mutes and all. It felt different, though I am not sure that I am actually happy with how it worked for me. Probably a process that could be figured out for me, but it made things feel wonky. So *shrug*… at least I tried something new, even if it didn’t work the way I wanted.

#jamcember – Emotional Adjustment

This is not what I had intended to create… but that seems to be par for the course for trying to do a track a day 😀

The intent for this track was to put some content together in Reason and then make some create patterns that changed chord structures throughout the song. Started off good, made a bunch of chords, arpeggios, and bass lines to flow in a Bb Minor… chord progression of I-VII-v-ii… resulting in Bbmb7, AbM7, Fm/Ab, Cmb7… 

I then loaded it into the MPC to flip, and ended up with two different four bar patterns of I/I/v/v and VII/VII/ii/ii. This was all good to start, until I started trying to track out. Oh my did it sound jarring and horrible. Perhaps I should have stayed with the structure I/VII/v/ii and changed up the patterns there. Honestly, I was trying to make things in my life easier to flip the samples, but I didn’t realize my mistake until I had a roughly 60 or 72 bar song sequence put together and then listened to it for real. Ouch… a lot of burnt time.

Honestly, the I/I/v/v (well I/v) works fine and keeps the flow going. I am not into chord theory or anything… so I suspect that I just created a mess that never resolved for the listener. It definitely became quite jarring to listen to and I couldn’t release it as it stood. From there, I tried to just keep enough momentum to get some semblance of a track off the ground. This resulted in my removing all of the VII/ii content because the intro and outdo were all in I/v and sounded fine, I had just created this massive mess in the middle. Sadly removing content the way I did was a bit much and the song structure doesn’t really hold up as well as I would have liked. I had dumped a lot of time into trying something new out, but just didn’t have it in me to put a bow on the track today.

There is something here, but it’ll take some time to find it and fix it back into a manageable track. Today you won track, today you won!

#jamcember – A Grave Decision

Was struggling to pull anything together for day 26. I started a bunch of tracks but nothing really grabbed me. Must be a downer from all the excitement from Christmas. *shrug*

I felt like I was just pulling things together randomly… and then when I’d start to track out different sections nothing felt like it felt like it worked together. Heck, I removed half of this track because it just didn’t sit in place correctly and the transitions were quite jarring. It is possible that I am just getting tired of making a track a day, but I think it’s just the mood.

Instead of wimping out for the month and leaving a gap, I figured I would just hobble something together. The track certainly feels okay, but just not a lot going on with it. Maybe it is just a transitional piece which is fine, but at this point it’s just a bit underwhelming for me.

Plus… I just got home from a two hour drive, so it doesn’t help that I feel kind of tired and don’t want to think about music any more right now.

MPCBB 268 – Relaxing Action

There weren’t any other entries, so I figured what the heck and put together a track.

The sample itself was pretty basic, so I figured I would work on chopping it up and just finding a drum kit to play to it. I wanted to focus as much as possible on keeping the original audio track playing throughout the track without it sounding too repetitive, this meant making variations to work through, and seeing what worked. Ultimately I wanted some of the shorter chops to play longer through this process, so a quick detune of 6 semitones had me pretty well sorted so that I didn’t have any gaps of silence.

Near the back half of the track I also played around with having multiple sections playing the same program play at the same time just to see how it came out. With the chopped/flipped sample program being set to mono this worked out well enough, but I’m not sure it would have worked in my favor had the program been polyphonic.

Now to sit back and see what the other entrants do for their track 😀

#jamcember – Saturday Night Jive

My track for Christmas… woo!

This is another track that I tried to go for a more minimal sound, and it was made up of only three loops. I know the track itself is not very complex or technical, but I worked on making up for it by making a few variations of each loop to get some variety in the flips. Given that I am still doing a new track a day, and time has been at a premium, this gave me a bit more time to be picky on the loops that I chose to work with in order to put the track together.

I’m interested to go back to the start of this month long project and see what I have for some thoughts on the progression of how I have been putting tracks together in such a short time, and what I might carry over to my regular production techniques.

#jamcember – East Coast Comfort Food

Merry Christmas Eve!

I put this track together from just three samples… a drum break… an acoustic bass… and a piano melody. Nothing too fancy, but I wanted to spend the time today making different patterns from the different samples and then mixing it up and seeing how it came together.

I’m not exactly stoked by the track itself, but it does feel like it is worth taking the time to make a few change ups this way, even if I’m limited to doing a track a day. Honestly, it wasn’t too much more work, and I think where the results worked… well they did work out well. It’s just that I need to make the time to do it. Normally for these daily tracks I have been trying to just get one 4 or 8 bar chunk sounding “just right”, but then I end up trying to make it sound interesting by dropping sections, building, etc…

More food for thought to go back to as I’m trying to wrap up this month of making tracks.