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The Music Production News Feed

Progressing in the Music Industry with Nick Halkes, Co-Founder of XL Recordings (Pt.2)

Following on from our first video a few weeks back, we return to the guest music industry masterclass given by Nick Halkes. Nick is currently the manager of Liam Howlett (The Prodigy), Stanton Warriors, DnB dons Bad Company UK, Ministry of Sound-signed One Bit and more. He is also a member of the Reach Up crew who are bringing their disco/boogie soundtrack to Blue Dot, Bestival and Festival Number 6 this summer. Furthermore, since we shared the first part of this video, his ‘Trailblazers’ podcast with Eddie Temple Morris has launched, which aims to explore the lives of electronic music pioneers. At the time of writing, they have covered Gary Numan, Mary Anne Hobbes and Fatboy Slim, and the programme is the number 2 music podcast on iTunes. We’re big fans already and, if you have any interest in electronic music, we recommend you subscribe right away. Don’t forget we offer a range of music industry courses here at Point Blank, including our new BA (Hons) in Music Industry Management, starting in September.

For the second part of his masterclass with us, we pick up where we left off last time, with Nick in NYC…

As Nick brings us along on his journey from WBLS back to university, Easy Street Records to City Beat, Club Promo to A&R and finally to the formation of XL Recordings and the discovery of Liam Howlett and the Prodigy. Much like the first instalment, the story is full of golden anecdotes. These include getting calls from the likes of Pete Tong to his shared phone in student accommodation and hearing ‘Numero Uno’ by Starlight at a party and encountering the familiar hostility of some DJs to track hunters. Plus the fact that Nick designed the XL label himself, despite having no graphic design tuition.

Perhaps more importantly, the video is packed with invaluable wisdom, foremost of which is to be true to your own vision when starting a label or brand. The thing for Nick, it seems, was the desire to pour his energy into something that would look exactly how he wanted and, for him to achieve this, starting his own thing was the most surefire route. Not only that but, as with The Prodigy, it is equally vital to respect the vision that the artists you work with might have, as demonstrated by the Prodigy’s initial reluctance to appear on Top of the Pops, and their subsequent long career stacked with several number 1 releases.

You can follow Nick on social media:

Guest masterclasses like this one are something we strive to bring students of all of our classes and recent examples include Shan McGinley visiting our radio students. Check out our courses in these subjects and beyond at each of our schools in LondonMumbaiLos AngelesIbiza and online. If you have any questions, please call a course advisor on +44 20 7729 4884.

Register to Access Free Courses, Plugins, Projects, Samples & More

When you register with Point Blank, you access an array of free sounds, plugins, online course samples, access to our social network Plugged In and much more! Simply register below and visit our Free Stuff page to get your hands on a range of exclusive music-making tools and tutorials provided by the team. Fill your boots!


The post Progressing in the Music Industry with Nick Halkes, Co-Founder of XL Recordings (Pt.2) appeared first on Point Blank’s Online Magazine.

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PB Recommends #50: Sharda, Venetian Snares, Hodge & more

Here we are, a half-century into our monthly whip-round of the tracks being played and obeyed by the Point Blank office crew. Once again it’s been a great month for releases, with new bits on some of our favourite labels like Livity Sound, ILIAN Tape, Lobster Theremin and Tectonic. There’s also new music from Wych aka K-Lone, who returns to the formative pastures of dubstep and grime; a syncopated beast from the one and only Venetian Snares; a joyous slice of breaks from Physical Therapy and one of the most infectious tracks we’ve heard in a long time (and current frontrunner for banger of the year) in ‘Chin Up’ by Sharda, the bassline moniker adopted by Manchester’s Murlo. Here’s to another 50 PB Recommends…

For more music, tutorials and class insights head to the Point Blank YouTube channel. We hope these sounds inspire you to take the next step in your music making, and whatever that means to you, we can provide the guidance you need at Point Blank. Our comprehensive BA (Hons) in Music Production & Sound Engineering is a great place to start looking, while we’ve also added two new degree courses ready for next semester: the BA (Hons) in Music Production and DJ Practice and the BA (Hons) in Music Industry Management. If you’re looking for something shorter, have a look at our radio and DJ. If you’d like to know more, you can find all the ways to contact us here.

Register to Access Free Courses, Plugins, Projects, Samples & More

When you register with Point Blank, you access an array of free sounds, plugins, online course samples, access to our social network Plugged In and much more! Simply register below and visit our Free Stuff page to get your hands on a range of exclusive music-making tools and tutorials provided by the team. Fill your boots!

The post PB Recommends #50: Sharda, Venetian Snares, Hodge & more appeared first on Point Blank’s Online Magazine.

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Reason 10.1 is here

Reason 10.1 is here!

We’re very happy to announce that Reason 10.1 is now available! This free update to Reason 10, Reason 10 Intro and Reason 10 Lite includes some exciting news that I think you’ll really like.

We’re introducing a new version of our Rack Extension SDK, featuring Player devices, improved sample loading with sample zones and pattern automation support. As you read this, a bunch of new Rack Extension Players are now available in the shop—including our own Drum Sequencer. The Drum Sequencer is freely available to all Reason 10 users for the month of May so don’t forget to download it.  Want to see the Drum Player in action? Check out the video below.

We have also added a pretty powerful update to Reason’s flagship synth Europa. You can now load your own samples and wavetables and use as oscillators in the engine. Not only that, you can also use the sample in the Spectral Filter which will then act as the spectral multiplier—a fancy way of saying we create filter curves based on your sample. It’s a really cool feature that we hope will result in a lot of great, new sounds.

“So, what about performance?” I hear you ask. We are aware of some performance issues with VSTs, and trust me, we’re working hard to adress them. Good news is it’s going really well! But it’s a complex project that requires lots of time for testing.  I can’t give you a date at the moment, but this performance optimization will be available as a free update for all Reason 10 owners later this year. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy everything that Reason 10.1 has to offer!

I would also like to take this opportunity to inform you that based on your feedback, we have decided there will not be any paid upgrades to Reason this year. So there’s absolutely no need to worry about missing out on new features later this year if you’re thinking about upgrading to Reason 10 now.

Mattias Häggström Gerdt
Reason Product Manager


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Learn seven ways to get better bass

The bassline is often the most important part of a track although it rarely gets the recognition it deserves. A great bassline either holds the music together, combines with a kick to provide the backbone of the track, or even comes screaming out of your speakers to take the lead. But with such varied uses, bass can be a difficult beast to tame… unless you follow these tips to get better bass. Want more? Check out our music production degrees for the most in-depth tuition we offer.

1. EQ is everything

EQ is the obvious way to bolster a bass, but don’t just assume that randomly boosting your bottom end at all points will do the trick – a good bass sound covers a lot more of the frequencies than you might believe, and is not just about the lows. First, enter the region of approximately 60-100Hz and boost by 6dB and listen to how that sounds. It should add more width or ‘girth’ to your bass sound, but be careful as excessive boosting here can also quickly muddy the low end. If you want more definition then you’ll want to be looking more at the mid-frequency range, and boosting by 6 to 8dB between 500Hz and 1kHz should really make your bass sound stand up and be counted. To increase punch, you sharpen the attack of the sound which you can either do by decreasing its envelope attack time or, within your EQ, by nudging things up around 3kHz (although this will very much depend on your sound and could go up to around 6kHz). Experiment with the bass solo’d and then within your whole mix and you’ll soon hear the drama that happens within each part of its frequency range.

2. Compress to impress

Compression is cool because it helps with two bass-heavy tasks: smoothing out the volume of an uneven bassline and helping add some punch to your sound. A compressor basically controls volume but it’s how it does it that is key and that is all down to the compressor’s settings. To create a more even bass track, you set a threshold to stop the volume of the bass going above a certain level – say -6dB – and a ratio to determine how much it reduces the volume if it goes above that threshold. Two other settings – attack and release – determine how quickly the volume is reduced and then increased after the signal drops below the threshold. A medium attack time will let some of the bass transients through and so give you more punch while a faster attack time and slower release will help smooth over an uneven bass. The actual settings on your compressor really depend on the type of bass sound you are using, but try these settings for punch: a ratio of 4: or 5:1 and attack and release times of between 50 and 100ms. Be careful not to go too fast on either of these as you might introduce some distortion. To smooth out an uneven bassline increase the ration to 6:1, the release time to 250-400ms and lower the attack time to as little as 5ms. At the end of the process, you might want to nudge the gain up as you’ll have reduced it in places. Again, use these settings as a starting point because experimentation is key!

3. Lay your bass on me

Creating the perfect single bass sound with EQ and compression is the ideal scenario but if you’re feeling lazy, don’t be afraid to layer different bass sounds together to toughen your lows up. In the same way as you can layer kicks of different types together – say a boomy sub kick and something a little more clicky – to create one almighty kick drum sound, so you can double up with basses. Just make sure that each one you layer doesn’t clash with the other and that each assumes a different role in the overall sound – one might be responsible for the attack part of the sound, for example. And, if necessary, be prepared to surgically EQ them away from each other so that their frequencies don’t clash.

4. And talking of kicks…

Your kick and bass will be the backbone of your track, but because they have a similar dynamic their relationship can be complex because there will be some crossover in terms of frequency and their pan positions (as both should be placed centrally in your stereo mix). So unless you are aiming to layer the kick and bass tightly together, almost creating a single sound – perhaps using a sine wave type sub-bass sound as part of your kick drone – you will need to make sure they sit apart in your mix so they don’t clash. This could be as simple as not playing a bass note at the same time as the kick but this obviously limits your arrangement options. The best idea is to take some of the EQ ideas from the first tip above. Use a spectrum analyser to examine both the kick and bass sound visually so you can see with surgical precision where each sound clashes so can either ‘lift’ the bass away from the kick or vice versa (lift the kick or lower the bass).

5. Programming your bass

You might want a bassline to stay static and unnoticed and that’s fine. If its job is just to bind your track together or to act as its backbone then a solid bass sequence doesn’t have to do much at all – just keep it punchy and not too overpowering in terms of girth (see tip 1). But if you want more interest you can easily get more dynamics with some simple programming tricks. A lot of synth bass sounds alter with velocity – the harder you press a note, the higher the resonance, for example – so at the very least introduce velocity changes as your bassline progresses. Adding legato – where notes almost sweep and slide into each other – is also a great option to introduce a more dynamic feel to a bassline, and even simply taking a note or two within a sequence up an octave will also make a bassline stand out and bounce along.

6. The many uses of the filter

Early dance music introduced the idea of subtle – actually not that subtle – filtering of basslines. Those early acid squeals were all about resonating and raising filter cutoff frequencies of the TB-303 bassline synth, and while that sound endures to this day, the filter has become an important tool for other bass programming tasks. You can use high or low pass filtering to keep sounds away from one another in the mix – as described above with EQ – or use a high pass filter to remove unwanted low end rumble frequencies (sub 30Hz) in either a kick or bass sound. Another tried and tested filter idea is to introduce movement to a bassline via an LFO. Apply this to your filter cutoff frequency for all sorts of effects – from acid screaming to dubstep wobble – or at a much lower rate for really subtle changes in the sound as it progresses through a sequence.

7. Effects? Not really…

Finally, as a general rule, ease off the effects with basslines because they can quickly be overpowered and muddied. Delays, in particular, can sound great in isolation but can quickly get out of control in a mix and reverbs and choruses can start spreading your bass love across the soundstage – not a great idea as you should keep it central. Distortion and overdrive effects can work on a bass sound if it’s quite a simple sub or synth sound to start with, but try not to go overboard.

So there you have it – seven easy-to-follow tips for getting the most from your bass. We offer tuition in music production at all of our school in London, Los Angeles, Ibiza, Mumbai and online, so if you want to get into more detail – you know what to do. To find out more, give us a call or drop us an email, finding our contact details here.


The post Learn seven ways to get better bass appeared first on Point Blank’s Online Magazine.

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Introducing the Winner of the PB x Pioneer DJ Accelerator Programme 2018: Ambian

We’re delighted to announce that Ambian is the winner of this year’s PB x Pioneer DJ Accelerator Programme. After the success of last year’s programme, which saw Gabby Gunn* playing huge events like IMS Ibiza and ADE, we’ve extremely excited to relaunch the initiative. Ambian, real name Robbie Palmer, impressed us with an excellent mix entry and an insatiable work ethic to match, and we can’t wait to start putting him on some of the world’s biggest stages.

The aim of the programme is to maximise the promise shown by an exceptional Point Blank student or graduate, giving them access to exclusive opportunities which include live performances at events including IMS, ADE, DJ Mag at Work and DJ Sounds. Ambian, with his accomplished mixing style, recent debut track release and an unwavering level of dedication, will begin the programme in the coming weeks. The first event will be a slot at IMS Ibiza playing for Pioneer DJ Radio, broadcast across the island. Following that will be the main support slot at DJ Mag at Work, and on into a year of guest mixes, gigs and networking opportunities.

After revealing his victory, we had a chat with Robbie to see what he hopes to make from the year.

Hi Robbie, congratulations on becoming the winner of this year’s Pioneer DJ x Point Blank Accelerator Programme! How does it feel to have won?

Thanks! To be honest it feels absolutely amazing to be recognised by the school and of course, Pioneer. I have worked extremely hard over the past year honing my skills and style and I feel I couldn’t be in a better position now to win something of this calibre. I can’t wait to fully immerse myself in everything on offer to me and carry on making my dream a living reality.

You’ve got a lot of strings to your bow but if we could go back to the beginning – how did you get into music? What were your first loves?

I think it all started at home for me. I had an older sibling that was DJingn and he would show me euphoric Trance tracks and high energy DNB stuff when I 13/14. I felt a connection and each year I found myself searching, hunting and familiarising myself with electronic artists every day. I think I was the only kid in my school that listened to High Contrast on the way home. At 17/18 my life then revolved around clubbing and experiencing the music first hand with friends. At this time the Dubstep scene was very strong and I was instantly drawn in by the huge bass and spectacular energy from people in the crowd. I experienced some of the best party’s I have ever been to at the likes of Cable, Fabric and places like Alexandra Palace and 02 Brixton. Being part of a scene and culture that young really helped cement and sculpt my thoughts and undeniable love for dance music. Without experiencing it first hand and feeling what I felt in the moments I doubt I would be where I am now.

Photo by MJB |

When you love music starting to DJ is often a logical step. But was there a moment or catalyst that made you think it was something you needed to do?

I wouldn’t say there was one particular moment but rather a build up of many moments from many events. From my first party, I have always been extremely fascinated by how one person can control a room of thousands of people. Being able to take them on a journey, controlling emotion and energy from the tracks they play had me in awe. I would attend every event possible but slowly I would find myself getting closer and closer to the DJ booth trying to catch a peek at the brightly lit equipment and the DJ’s techniques. Eventually, this led to a point where I was more interested in the what the DJ was doing technically then enjoying the party and at that moment, I guess you could say I knew what my destiny was.

Your production is coming along nicely too with the release of ‘Nebula’. What is your set up like and what would you say you aim to create when you sit down to make music – is it all about the dancefloor? A certain vibe?

Thank you. My set up consisted of mainly VST-based stuff for a long time but recently I have got into hardware with the additions of a Prophet6 and a Sub37. I love the natural colouration and tones circuitry can add over binary. I always felt within the box stuff it had to be perfect, everything had to be quantised perfectly and I would sit there tweaking automation over and over but now I believe in the beautiful mistakes you can get from being hands-on with a machine and recording in one take.

When I sit down to produce I think about four things: story, emotion, rhythm, and energy. I like to take people somewhere else when they listen to my music – to escape the real world and venture into a totally different mindset. I am highly inspired by film scores and how they capture so much emotion and I like to incorporate this into my music. For me, there is nothing better than a track that can make you question life, question existence and question yourself. It is important to me for people to be moved by the music and actually experience something within. I bring it all back to the club by incorporating coherent grooves from heavily sound designed bass and natural percussive afro rhythms that get your body moving without even thinking about it.

How do you see your production and DJing sitting together? Do they play into each other at all?

I see my production and Djing playing into each other very well. For me, it is crucial that they link. When people come to see me play, they are coming for a reason. They are coming to hear the sound of Ambian and that is what separates you from the next person. Whenever I sit down to produce I always have the clubs and festivals in mind. When I’m critically listening I will close my eyes and imagine how it would go down in the club.

You also run Sensus. Can you tell me a bit about the concept of the night?

 Any parties that particularly stick the memory?

Sensus is a Techno & House party formed by myself and 2 other lifelong friends. It was formed to provide a platform for ourselves to play out and to integrate into the scene with something substantial behind us. We started off at an amazing club called The Arch in Brighton and so far we have booked the likes of Route 94, Monki, Amine Edge & DANCE & PAWSA. We started off on the more Tech-housey route due to Brighton’s crowd and scene but as we move into London and Ibiza we plan to stay true to ourselves and take it down a much more Melodic Techno route which matches our sound pallet and individual styles as residents

One party that sticks to mind is our launch event last September with PAWSA. We were all really nervous about the turnout and I think we only sold about 200 tickets online. Luckily about 400 people turned up and it was absolutely packed. We knew this would be the start of something really special.

What about future events, or tracks of yours? Aside from the Accelerator programme what have you got in store this year?

We have just launched our next event in London at The Steelyard for 20th July with two of the biggest techno label head honcho’s out there. Noir Music’s NOIR and Suara Record’s COYU. We are extremely excited about this event and pairing these two together will make for a spectacular party in the capital. Of course, you can catch me and other Sensus residents playing on the night too. Aside from this, we have even bigger parties and line-ups planned London / Brighton / Ibiza but nothing I can reveal right now. Stay tuned!

In regards to my own productions I have been hammering away in the studio this past year and I feel I have finally found a sound and style I am happy with that represents me as a DJ & producer. I have tonnes of tracks in the pipeline that are waiting to be sent out to labels and A&R guys and thanks to this competition hopefully I can get it in the hands of some really cool people. If I cant find any fitting labels for my material I have always thought to launch Sensus Records and release it by myself.

Finally, what do you hope to achieve with the Accelerator Programme? Do you have any particular goals?

I would like to build on and take solid steps to reaching my ultimate goal which is to be globally recognised as a producer, DJ & event owner. Seeing how far I have come over this past year has felt really good but the work is never done. I am ready to immerse myself in networking and hopefully make the connections I need to make my dream a long-lasting reality. I like to go by a saying that is: ‘the harder you work, the further you get’ and I apply this to everything I do. I will not be slowing down at any point over this competition period and I can’t wait to put myself out there amongst some of the best artists in the industry.

Our amazing DJ studio in partnership with Pioneer DJ

We have a longstanding relationship with Pioneer DJ, as exemplified by our array of equipment in our DJ Studio, and we’re delighted to be teaming up with them once again for the Accelerator Programme. If you like the look of the facilities why not check out our courses in London, which now include our new B.A. (Hons) in Music Production and DJ Practice. For more info or to book a tour of the campus, speak to a course advisor: 020 7729 4884.

Register to Access Free Courses, Plugins, Projects, Samples & More

When you register with Point Blank, you access an array of free sounds, plugins, online course samples, access to our social network Plugged In and much more! Simply register below and visit our Free Stuff page to get your hands on a range of exclusive music-making tools and tutorials provided by the team. Fill your boots!

The post Introducing the Winner of the PB x Pioneer DJ Accelerator Programme 2018: Ambian appeared first on Point Blank’s Online Magazine.

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