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Reviewed: Ableton’s ‘Making Music – 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Musicians

I was as surprised as anyone to hear that Ableton, software giants behind the now ubiquitous Live, were publishing a book; namely ‘Making Music – 74 Creative Strategies For Electronic Music Producers‘ by Dennis DeSantis.

DeSantis is, among other things, a composer, producer, and lecturer, with a frankly intimidating array of professional and academic achievements. He is also Ableton’s Head of Documentation which explains why Ableton have chosen to publish his book. Outwith the professional link there is no mention of Ableton in the text – the strategies outlined within work equally well across all software platforms; indeed, they apply to musicians and producers outside the electronic sphere as well, albeit in a looser sense.

The book itself is a beautiful thing, utilising the same graphic layout, colours and font choices of Ableton’s striking branding. In stark contrast to the usual garish textbooks on music production – which cry out to be hidden away when not in use – Making Music would look great on a coffee table, or studio side table. It suits this situation well in the sense that the text is designed to be dipped in and out of; the book reads like a collection of sketches or recipes, or a series of collated newspaper columns.

 “the text is well written enough to ensure that no article feels patronising, and the odd anecdote and literary quote humanise the denser sections.”

Rather than having a running narrative, chapters are arranged as discrete situations, each encompassing a problem and solution. While these problems aren’t necessarily mind-boggling in terms of scope, it is of comfort to the average producer to know that these small problems aren’t specific to the individual – they are everyone’s problems. While any experienced producer will no doubt have arrived at their own solutions for the problems outlined, the text is well written enough to ensure that no article feels patronising, and the odd anecdote and literary quote humanise the denser sections. It would be an egotistical individual indeed that claimed they could learn nothing from an alternative viewpoint, and there are enough leftfield ideas scattered throughout the text that every reader would be bound to find something they hadn’t thought of (the advantage of listening to opera to help master dynamic shifts in DJ sets, for example).

There are three main sections throughout the text – ‘problems of beginning’, ‘problems of progressing,’ and ‘problems of ending’. The book falls slightly flat during the more technical ‘problems of progressing‘ section, with a few passages containing multiple screenshots of MIDI segments that would be greatly enhanced by the ability to ‘click and listen’ to the audio therein. The overall feel of the book meanders dangerously close to textbook territory during stodgier articles on musical theory, and access to a keyboard is preferable to make the most of what increasingly feel like lecture notes. These few more technical articles are very much in the minority, however, and it’s well worth the sacrifice of interactive elements to have something as satisfactorily solid as a real book.

It’s nice to see Ableton – who have a legion of die-hard followers – putting their name to this. People will buy the book just because of the connection to Ableton, pushing the readership beyond anything that could have been expected with a more generic publishing house. It’s a positive thing that all these readers will have a book on good creative practice, as a counterpoint to the generic how-to videos permeating the internet. The text also emphasises the importance of finding your own method – as evidenced by some of the directly contradictory passages – which is a message that’s easily lost in an era of paint-by numbers electronica.

All in all, Making Music feels like a valuable tool for all musicians, especially those working in the field of electronica. Whilst definitely geared toward less experienced producers, all but the most seasoned of veterans are bound to find something of interest. Besides that, the book is eloquently written, accessible, and excellent as diversory browsing material as your projects are rendering.

Making Music is available now via Ableton’s online store here.

James Brown

is a musician/producer from the north-east of England, now residing in a charmingly frenetic area of north London. He is generally engrossed in music production under his Plainview moniker, and has a soft spot for old-school sci-fi novels with badly drawn covers. You can find him out and about in Dalston and Stoke Newington most weekends, or Djing at his residency for club night French Cafe. Feel free to contact James at james_philip_brown@yahoo.co.uk