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Rafael Anton Irisarri on creating ambient music

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  • Rafael Anton Irisarri on creating ambient music

    Rafael Anton Irisarri posted a very insightful thread on twitter. Some great advice/wisdom for newbies, like myself, who are learning to create ambient music. I think it's worth sharing here. I copied the entire thread below:

    Ambient music is a deceptively simple style of music. To the casual listener, it seems as if anyone can do it, at home (or otherwise), with whatever software. That is VERY true. ANYONE can make ambient music. Hence why some feel it's OK to use "Ableton Ambient" as a diss.

    Making a loop in Ableton is not hard to do at all. It’s rather easy from a technical perspective actually. The sound quality, the performance of its creator, the instrumentation used, whether it was done with a crusty tape machine or with software like Ableton is NOT important.

    The important thing is the content itself: is it MEMORABLE? does it have a narrative? Is the creator trying to make a larger point? That's what separates something like @WilliamBasinski “Disintegration Loops” (a masterpiece imho) from the YouTube wasteland of 800% slower memes.

    The best correlation I can think of to creating ambient music is stand-up comedy: it's one thing to tell jokes to a couple of drunken friends at a party & another to build an entire routine that works flawlessly with a crowd at a comedy club.

    If you are starting out making ambient music (using whatever tools you have at your disposal - Ableton or otherwise): that is GREAT. Don't be discouraged by ppl dissing what you do. Keep at it. Discover your "sound," study the amazing music that came before you, & learn everyday.

    More importantly: polish your craft before flooding the internet with content. In due time, you will also be telling jokes at the comedy club & we will welcome you. It's a rather large comedy club, there's space for EVERYONE.
    Last edited by dreamware; 12-11-2018, 05:15 PM. Reason: Missed a tweet
    Bandcamp | Youtube | SoundCloud

  • #2
    Briefly adding my own thoughts: Ever since I started writing my own ambient music, I've come to truly appreciate the genre. I never thought making ambient music would be easy, but now I understand the level of work and skill needed to create engaging and memorable ambient music. When I listen to artists like Steve Roach, Robert Rich, The Sight Below, Loscil, Tim Hecker, etc, I am in absolute awe of the quality and detail of their work. It makes me realize I have a loooong way to go if I even want to be 1/10th as good as them. Still I'll keep at it and I'll try to improve a little every day.

    To sum it up in a single dumb phrase: Making ambient music is easy, making good ambient music is HARD!
    Bandcamp | Youtube | SoundCloud

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    • #3
      Originally posted by dreamware View Post
      Briefly adding my own thoughts: Ever since I started writing my own ambient music, I've come to truly appreciate the genre. I never thought making ambient music would be easy, but now I understand the level of work and skill needed to create engaging and memorable ambient music. When I listen to artists like Steve Roach, Robert Rich, The Sight Below, Loscil, Tim Hecker, etc, I am in absolute awe of the quality and detail of their work. It makes me realize I have a loooong way to go if I even want to be 1/10th as good as them. Still I'll keep at it and I'll try to improve a little every day.

      To sum it up in a single dumb phrase: Making ambient music is easy, making good ambient music is HARD!
      I'd just like to add to what you've posted here, by saying it's just as important to understand the place of your "heroes" in relation to your own musical endeavors..respect them for what they have done, but don't let that respect hold you back from what YOU can do! Some people producing music..regardless of their chosen genre, can be held back or feel intimidated when they compare their own modest efforts to those they admire. While it's important to learn from those who've gone before..it's just as important for you as a producer to step back and remember you have your own musical voice..and as unsettling as that might be a times starting out, it's a stage we all have to go through and come to terms with..

      In other words, don't try and judge your own work too much when listening to that of others..they will, for the most part, ALWAYS sound far better than what you've produced..and they should..they've been at it a lot longer than you..so keep that in mind. But DON'T let that discourage you in any way..and there will be times when it will do just that. Instead, try to push all of that from your mind and just make the music you want to make and you'll find your own voice/sound/style in time. All the technical side of things will come to you in time, too, if you put in the hours and try different thing when producing..the rest will take care of itself, trust me. Don't worry about how good you are..you're as good as you level of learning will let you be. The important thing is to keep making music..the more you actually do it, the better you will become with practice.

      In the words of old Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

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      • #4
        It's very easy to diss another person's efforts but remember, those who do will be the people who will never have the courage to even try and have a go themselves. The music you make as a beginner in ambient is as valid as anything Steve Roach or Robert Rich make. In finding your own voice you will make something new that will appeal to people in the future.
        Graham
        https://www.youtube.com/c/THEBassBus
        https://soundcloud.com/bassbus https://hearthis.at/graham-blanche-ov/

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Ambient Mechanics View Post

          I'd just like to add to what you've posted here, by saying it's just as important to understand the place of your "heroes" in relation to your own musical endeavors..respect them for what they have done, but don't let that respect hold you back from what YOU can do! Some people producing music..regardless of their chosen genre, can be held back or feel intimidated when they compare their own modest efforts to those they admire. While it's important to learn from those who've gone before..it's just as important for you as a producer to step back and remember you have your own musical voice..and as unsettling as that might be a times starting out, it's a stage we all have to go through and come to terms with..

          In other words, don't try and judge your own work too much when listening to that of others..they will, for the most part, ALWAYS sound far better than what you've produced..and they should..they've been at it a lot longer than you..so keep that in mind. But DON'T let that discourage you in any way..and there will be times when it will do just that. Instead, try to push all of that from your mind and just make the music you want to make and you'll find your own voice/sound/style in time. All the technical side of things will come to you in time, too, if you put in the hours and try different thing when producing..the rest will take care of itself, trust me. Don't worry about how good you are..you're as good as you level of learning will let you be. The important thing is to keep making music..the more you actually do it, the better you will become with practice.

          In the words of old Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
          Thanks! Very well said. Yeah, I'll admit I often feel overwhelmed and intimidated when listening to the pros. It's kinda funny: logically I understand that I'm working on my skills and of course I won't sound like Steve Roach but the irrational part of my brain is still quite upset that I don't. It can be frustrating to invest so much time in a track, only to listen back and think how mediocre it sounds. This is often followed by moping and the usual "boo hoo, I should stop trying" pity party lol. When I begin working on something new, the cycle just starts all over. It's exhausting. This happens because that irrational part of my brain expects me to make perfect music right off the bat. I wish I could turn that part of my brain off! But you're right: the important thing is to keep making music. As long as I continue to put in the effort, I'm sure I'll learn more and continue to improve.
          Last edited by dreamware; 12-11-2018, 05:09 PM.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by dreamware View Post

            Thanks! Very well said. Yeah, I'll admit I often feel overwhelmed and intimidated when listening to the pros. It's kinda funny: logically I understand that I'm working on my skills and of course I won't sound like Steve Roach but the irrational part of my brain is still quite upset that I don't. It can be frustrating to invest so much time in a track, only to listen back and think how mediocre it sounds. This is often followed by moping and the usual "boo hoo, I should stop trying" pity party lol. When I begin working on something new, the cycle just starts all over. It's exhausting. But you're right: the important thing is to keep making music. As long as I continue to put in the effort, I'm sure I'll learn more and continue to improve.
            So, don't judge or compare..just produce and try not to expect so much of yourself at this stage. Like I said in my previous reply, you're only ever be as good as your current level of learning will allow you to be..and you never stop learning. So, with that in mind, you'll soon realize that the doubt and frustration you feel now, will always be there to some degree..it just gets a little easier to recognize it for what it is and then move on past it.

            I just checked out your work over on SC..I only listened to "Fade" and it sound pretty damn fine to my ears, which only serves to illustrate my point..we all think our own stuff is maybe just a little bit crappy, but we are both the best and the worst possible judges of our work, as we'll always find some flaw in the mix somewhere..something we think needs tweaking or something we left out or didn't think of while producing the piece in question..that's always going to be the case, to a greater or lesser degree..but that's NOT a bad thing..it's actually GOOD, as it makes you realize you can do better..and is a sign you're skills as a producer are growing..even if you don't think or feel that they are at the time. you need to know something is wrong before you can correct it or change it.

            As I said, I only listened to one of your tracks, so take the following with a fistful of salt: Don't worry about the compositional side of things..that is and always will be a totally subjective area, in which you call the shots and do whatever you like. I'd focus more on the basic technical side of things, such as EQ, Compression, Gain-staging and arrangement in general.

            Just to be clear here..I'm in no way saying you're lacking in these areas..just that the more you play around with them, the more "fine-tuned" their application will be, as you hone your skills.
            Most importantly..have fun.

            PS: now following you over on SC.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Ambient Mechanics View Post

              So, don't judge or compare..just produce and try not to expect so much of yourself at this stage. Like I said in my previous reply, you're only ever be as good as your current level of learning will allow you to be..and you never stop learning. So, with that in mind, you'll soon realize that the doubt and frustration you feel now, will always be there to some degree..it just gets a little easier to recognize it for what it is and then move on past it.

              I just checked out your work over on SC..I only listened to "Fade" and it sound pretty damn fine to my ears, which only serves to illustrate my point..we all think our own stuff is maybe just a little bit crappy, but we are both the best and the worst possible judges of our work, as we'll always find some flaw in the mix somewhere..something we think needs tweaking or something we left out or didn't think of while producing the piece in question..that's always going to be the case, to a greater or lesser degree..but that's NOT a bad thing..it's actually GOOD, as it makes you realize you can do better..and is a sign you're skills as a producer are growing..even if you don't think or feel that they are at the time. you need to know something is wrong before you can correct it or change it.

              As I said, I only listened to one of your tracks, so take the following with a fistful of salt: Don't worry about the compositional side of things..that is and always will be a totally subjective area, in which you call the shots and do whatever you like. I'd focus more on the basic technical side of things, such as EQ, Compression, Gain-staging and arrangement in general.

              Just to be clear here..I'm in no way saying you're lacking in these areas..just that the more you play around with them, the more "fine-tuned" their application will be, as you hone your skills.
              Most importantly..have fun.

              PS: now following you over on SC.
              Hey I really appreciate your thoughts on this! I will take your advice to heart

              And wow thanks for listening to my track! I do like it, I just think there is plenty of room for improvement. I kept fiddling with it and re-uploaded it twice . I know you weren't specifically referring to this, but I do think the EQ on "Fade" could be much better. The whole track is bit thin and lacking in mid range. I improved it a bit, but a lot of it comes down to how it was recorded and processed from my guitar so simply boosting the mids in my EQ is not going to magically fix it. I decided to leave it for now... at least now I'm learning to be more aware of my levels and frequencies so I'll count that as a win
              Bandcamp | Youtube | SoundCloud

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              • #8
                As long as you are your own worst critic you'll always be progressing! I understand your frustrations with mixing guitar. I stopped producing heavy metal tracks because I couldn't get my mixing quite right. I will return someday though!

                I find it interesting in how many different techniques are used to create long ambient tracks. Field recordings, loops, and I use slowly varying synths. I never knew about the Ableton Ambient diss before.
                Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
                Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by dreamware View Post
                  Rafael Anton Irisarri posted a very insightful thread on twitter.
                  Thanks for reposting that, rarely look at twitter. I think RAI is one of those artists I always stop at when I see a new release on Bandcamp, always delivers IMHO.
                  Latest release: never to be repeated

                  Hearthis | Soundcloud

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by BassBus View Post
                    It's very easy to diss another person's efforts but remember, those who do will be the people who will never have the courage to even try and have a go themselves. The music you make as a beginner in ambient is as valid as anything Steve Roach or Robert Rich make. In finding your own voice you will make something new that will appeal to people in the future.
                    Well said Graham


                    I may not post anything useful, but at least I do it often

                    Bandcamp // SoundCloud // YouTube

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