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

Making music Ableton

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.

  • Matt

    I didn’t have any actual problems before this book invented 74 of them for me. I bought it under the impression that Dennis had 74 Ableton specific creative strategies mapped out. With some simple user friendly and inspiring explanations of said electronic music production strategies perhaps? This is NOT the case. Open it up and the three sections are simply titled: Problems of Beginning, Problems of Progressing, and Problems of Finishing. Creating 74 generalized problems to whine about along the way, and fabricating a very generalized solution to each that may or may not actually solve the “problem”. The book has a very misleading title and immediately gave me a negative vibe. I only suggest purchasing if you want to throw more money at ableton or be part of their book club. For anyone seeking creative help with Ableton, I say just keep working at it, use the actual program, and watch more Ableton specific tutorials!!!

  • Reuben James

    After thinking for two years that watching a tutorial on how to make this sound and how to make a better kick etc would make me a better producer, I’m starting to find that this is not the case. From what I’ve read of the sample chapters on the website I’ve found this book to be a goldmine – and I am mostly a Logic user and only occasionally a Live user. You’re advice to “keep working at it” is good but to limit yourself to watching “ableton specific tutrials” is not (In my opinion) the best idea.