Forum Information

Dear users, I have decided to phase out the posting on the forums on this website and move any discussions over to this private facebook group. While the forums were great 10 years ago, they are now difficult to maintain due to constant spam. I spend most of my time just cleaning them up, rather than interacting. This, combined with finding it difficult to directly communicate with other users through several different social media platforms, I have decided to consolodate it all to one group where people can chat with me, ask questions and jibber jabber with other users on a regular basis. I will not make the forums offline as there is a wealth of content, but posting has now been disabled. Thanks to all those who have contributed over the years, and I'll see you over on the Facebook group! -Tom

What I Honestly Think - an Akai APC40 Review

One of the biggest frustrations I have (and imagine I share) as a live electronic musician, is the limitations on the hardware available to me. When I perform, I know how my loops sound, how my tune should progress and the parameters I need to control in order to achieve a crowd (and self) pleasing set. As a musician, I want two things 1) a machine that allows me to chunk processes down when necessary, and 2) allowing in depth real time manipulation when needed, something which is very difficult to do on a machine that is mass produced as the line between the two is different for everybody.

My current live set up consists of:

  • A Novation X-Station - for using the knobs and sliders to manipulate various parameters on effects that I know work well with my music
  • A Behringer Eurolight - a lighting desk with many faders that outputs MIDI, perfect for the levels of the 24 tracks + 6 return tracks I use when performing
  • A Korg PadKontrol - mainly used for turning effects on and off, and sending audio tracks off to Sends on the fly

I found within 5 minutes of plugging in my APC40, it catered to nearly all of the functions I require and control with those three pieces of gear.

The Look

The Apc40 is 420mm Wide, 335mm Depth and 65mm Height, with a weight of 2.64kg. I find it's large enough to give it a solid, quality, "This is my main piece of gear" look, but it's small and light enough to fit in my carry backpack without any distress. My recent setup nearly uses up 20kg, which is the limit for most domestic flights over here, so no longer will I need to turn up to strange city with only one change of clothes and a book!

While plastic, it doesn't feel cheap. I feel I could drop it and it would keep powering on (it will be interesting to see a report from the first person who drops one!). Drink spillage is a big issue for me, I have had a few pieces of gear die due to some drunk fuckers knocking beer all over my setup (not you John, you were trying to give me a hug, still no hard feelings) and I can see the layout of this unit being a little bit vulnerable to this, as it has lots of buttons and a tilted front panel, again something we will have to wait to get a report back about.

The LED's brightness isn't super bright, it's bright enough to always know what is going on, but they could be a little brighter in my opinion. The colors are nice and easy to distinguish.

The text on the unit is white, and red for the "shift functions". It can be a little bit difficult to read the red text, but the shift functions are so scarce it won't take you long to memorize them off by heart.

The knobs have 16 small rectangle green LED lights, which update themselves (if you are in "control surface" mode in Ableton) to whatever parameters you have selected. For example, let's say you select an Auto Filter in Ableton, the LEDs around the control surface knobs will update themselves to whatever the parameters are set at on the Auto Filter. If your cutoff is at 100hz, the LEDs will update to show a low value on the cuttoff knob, very handy so you always know where your parameters are. The only knob that doesn't have these LEDs is the cue level.

The Feel

The grid buttons have a nice feeling to them, and are easy to push, bang, hammer at will. The are not velocity sensitive however, so they only pick up a single push (as apposed to say a PadKontrol, which knows how hard you are hitting the buttons and sends different values). This could be a problem if you were considering using the Apc40 like an MPC or something to hammer out drum beats. The buttons have a slight click feeling, so you know when you trigger them... resting your finger lightly over the buttons will not trigger them, this is handy if you put your fingers on some buttons ready to trigger, but need to wait while looking at something else.

 

 

The knobs are endless (they have no start or finish, they just keep turning each way indefinitely) and are very smooth and feel quite sturdy. Moving them quickly is easy, and fine tuning with them is also nice. The are quite close together, but this isn't an issue to me as I have small hands (we come from a family of cow impregnators (just kidding ) ), I imagine if you have fat fingers you might find this slightly annoying.

The faders are smooth and have just the right amount of resistance. There is no clicks moving the faders up or down, and you can "flick" a fader up or down and it will shoot to the top or bottom, without any bouncing back once it hits the casing. 

The plastic buttons on the unit feel clicky and kinda cheap. This is one of the negative things about this unit. It is a shame they chose to make the navigation buttons, the buttons that I and most people will use most often, out of plastic. I can see these being the first thing to break or malfunction (prove me wrong).

The crossfader is very light and great if you want to do quick fades, or even some crab type scratching stuff (depending on the latency!). It is quite small, smaller than I usually see cross faders, about the width of a matchbox.

The Layout

The main grid matrix is 8 x 5 buttons... that means you can have 5 scenes in focus, and 8 tracks at once (remember you can scroll around easily to bring new scenes/tracks into view - more further down in this review) . I think the layout of this grid is perfect!

Under each set of 8 buttons, running vertically, each track has a

  • Stop all clips button - for stopping any clips that are currently playing in that specific track
  • Track selection button - for telling Ableton to quickly jump and highlight that particular track
  • Activator button - this is basically a mute. You can turn your track off and on with this button. Muting on multiple tracks is also possible
  • Solo button - for soloing the track (muting all other tracks bar the one you solo). You can also solo multiple tracks
  • Track arm button- arm the track ready for audio or MIDI recording (when this is enabled, if you push one of the grid buttons which is over a blank clip slot, it will start recording whatever is being fed into the channel)

Below each set of track grid/function buttons is a volume fader (which goes up to +6db by default).

To the right of the 8x5 grid, there are 5 scene trigger buttons. These will trigger the entire scene, or all the clips in the horizontal row to the left of the button (say you want to play 8 clips all at once on the same row, this button will trigger them all).

Below the 5 scene trigger buttons is a Stop All Clips button, which will stop everything playing in your set.

Below the stop all clips button (and next to the 8 track selection buttons) there is a master track selection. Pushing this will tell Ableton to highlight the master track.

Up the top left we have a set of 8 knobs that are used for panning and sending audio tracks off to your send return track. The 8 knobs will manipulate parameters depending on whatever one of the 4 buttons below the knob is selected (Pan, Send A, Send B and Send C).

The navigation buttons are in a funny place, I would have much preferred them to be at the bottom next to the crossfader.

The tap tempo button is quite large and good for mashing out the bpm, with the accompanying nudge buttons below.

The 8 device control knobs are laid out the same as the track control knobs, holding down the shift key and pushing any of the 8 buttons below will move you to the next bank of 8, so you have 64 device control knobs.

The play, stop and record buttons are quick close to the crossfader. I don't use crossfaders much, but imagine having the stop button so close to something that could potentially get a lot of work could be a bit daunting.

The Functionality

Latency

I had no problem with the amount latency this unit had (on a Macbook and a Presonus Firebox soundcard). Cranking that cuttoff knob gives a real time effect, no annoying delay at all! I did try to use the grid buttons for hammering out a drum pattern, and the latency was too much for me to do this accurately.

Navigating / Grid

When using the APC40 with Ableton, a red box appears in your session view. This red box is 8 x 5 and corresponds to what is currently displayed on the grid layout. Using the up, down, left and right navigation buttons on the unit moves the red box around your session view and updates the grid on the Apc40 accordingly.

  • The grid LEDs will light up orange if there is a clip in that current slot.
  • When you press a button to trigger a clip, it will flash green while it is waiting for the next bar (or whatever you have your quantization set at).
  • When a clip is playing, it will remain solid green.
  • When a clip playing has a follow action to play another clip, the other clip will flash green while in cue.
  • When a clip playing has a follow action to stop, the stop button of that track will flash red while in cue.

Holding down the shift key will turn the grid layout into an overview of your set, and by pushing buttons in the grid with the shift key down, you will do large jumps to various parts of your live set, handy for getting from one part to another without having to push the navigation buttons hundreds of times!

Holding the shift key and pushing the bank select (navigation) buttons, will jump the red box either up or down 5 scenes, or left and right 8 tracks.

All the buttons and faders are relative to the red box. Let's say you had track 1 - 8, and your red box had these selected... all the buttons and faders would manipulate these tracks. If you pushed the right nav button once, now the buttons and faders are controlling track 2 - 9.

Using the track selection button is a good way of quickly jumping to a track. Say you wanted to change an effect on track 4, just hit the track selection 4 button, and that track will come into view in Ableton.

Track Control

The 8 track control knobs are used for panning the audio of your track, and for sending the audio of your track to send A, B and C.

The knobs are also relative to where the red box is on your set. If you have track 2 - 9 selected, and you push the pan button below the track control knobs, the 8 knobs will control the pan of tracks 2 - 9. This is the same with the send buttons, you can send whatever tracks selected to send A, B, or C.

I would have preferred more sends, as I use up to 8 in my live performance, so I am restricted to A, B and C.

Device Control

This is where the magic happens. The 8 Device control knobs will automatically sync up with the top 8 parameters of whatever effect you are using in Ableton. This could take a bit of getting used to, but I treat the APC40 as an Instrument... something you could spend a bit of time with and get to know, which will ultimately increase your productivity.

The 8 knobs will update every time you switch an effect. If you select a Simple Delay in Ableton, it will tell the ACP40 that you have selected a Simple Delay, and update the LEDs around the 8 knobs with the exact values of what the Simple Delay's top 8 parameters are currently set at. This is great because you never have to worry about turning a knob and the parameter suddenly jumping... the knobs are always set at the last value you set them at.

There isn't just 8 parameters however, but holding down the shift key you can move between 8 banks. For example, a Filter Delay has many parameters, not just 8. Bank 1 will assign the 8 knobs to the parameters of the first delay, bank 2 will assign parameters of the second delay, and bank 3 to the third.

You can use the left and right arrows to quickly navigate between effects/synthesizers... if you have an Auto Filter followed by a Redux, and have the Auto Filter selected, the 8 knobs will change the Auto Filter, until you push the right arrow, which will make the knobs change the Redux.

The Device control section also has the following buttons :

  • Clip / Track - for switching the bottom area between Clip and Track view. Handy if you want to look at the Waveform/Launch settings of your clip quickly, before hitting it again to go back to the effects.
  • Device On/Off - turning the effect on and off
  • Detail View - pushing this will hide the bottom area, making your session view larger and easier to read.
  • Rec Quantization - Turns on the function that automatically snaps your MIDI input to the grid.
  • MIDI Overdub - Lets you overdub on a MIDI clip
  • Metronome - Turns the anoying metronome on and off

Track Control

I don't use these buttons at all, I just hit play and I am away.... but in the studio the Play, Stop and Record buttons would no doubt come in handy.

The tap tempo button allows you to hit the button at a bpm, and the set will match accordingly.

The nudge forwards,backwards buttons are good for DJs mixing with traditional vinyl or CDjs, it emulates nudging a record or CD slightly forward or backward to get the beat synced up.

Price

I am not going to tell you the price here, as it is different all around the world... I will however say that you get MASSIVE bang for your buck. This is a perfect first controller for the noobs, or a hefty multi function controller for you pros. It combines so many features of so many controllers into one, and is pretty damn cheap for what you get.

Competition

I own a Vestax VCM600 , a lot of people ask me how I compare the VCM600 to the APC4, but I don't have an answer. They are both very powerful controllers and I use them both equally. I like the layout of the Vestax and the APC40 the same, they compliment each other for how I perform. I use the Vestax VCM600 to control all my send/return channels and the parameters in them (it has a row of knobs above the fader, perfect for assigning to fun parameters on that channel) and I use the APC40 to navigate around my set and mess with parameters which I haven't otherwise used.

The VCM600 is a lot heavier, but that is because it is made to be a very durable and quality piece of gear. The case is metal, and the knobs and faders are very strong, I don't think it will ever die!

Conclusion

I love this machine. It has lived up to 99% of my expectations, and has combined all the things which a live act/producer REALLY needs... buttons, knobs, faders... I can see this unit not just increasing the productivity of my production massively, but also the fluency of my live set, ultimately meaning I can adapt my set based on crowd feedback, something which all live acts strive to achieve.

If you are getting into production/performance, or you are already a polished act, getting yourself one of these units will be one of the best things you can do.

Finally, here is a 20 minute video of me opening the box and plugging it in for the first time, you can see that after 20 minutes I am already doing lots of great things.

Thanks for reading!

-Tom

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Akai APC40 - Opening the box

Thanks to Akai and StoreDJ, I've managed to get my grubby little hands on an APC40 before the official release date. I strolled down and collected it yesterday, went straight home, set the camera rolling and filmed my first experience with the unit.

Watch the video as I plug it in and jump right into it!

To find out more information about the APC40 or to get your own, click here

I am spending lots of time with it over the next few days, and I will show it off at the official Ableton Live 8 launch in Melbourne on Thursday night  ... so if you are in VIC, head on down.

 

Akai APC40 - Opening the box from Tom Cosm on Vimeo.

 

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A Few Simple Steps To Drastically Improve Your Life

I would like to put forward a simple solution to a problem that may have not crossed your mind, but has no doubt affected your live negatively several times.

Due to the nature of my work, I get to watch large amounts of people doing strange things very often, and one of my favourite places to do this is at an Airport.

Airports are a great place to sit back and watch, because there is a very high concentration of emotion going on. You go to one end, and everyone is sobbing, crying, and saying good-bye to people they love. It can be quite depressing, especially if you hang out for more than half an hour. Most people just go there, see the person off, and leave, but I find it quite an interesting way to pass time between flights.

If you walk a little way around the corner, you see people waiting with grins of anticipation, talking ecstatically to their friends and family awaiting the arrival of someone they communicate fantastically with, but haven't seen for a long time. When they come through the gate, there are screams and hugs and laughter and joy and massive bursts of communication trying to catch up on the largest amount of trivial information possible in the shortest amount of time. It's freaking awsome!

So, go walking between the two of these gates for a few hours, and you get this really intense mix of two basic human emotions at their peak level. But that's not all the fun you can have at airports, oh no.... I would like to draw your attention to the baggage carousels.

You've got the first line of people, as close as they can to the carousel. They rushed from the plane to get the best spot at the front. They we're happy with themselves when they got there, until more and more people came and started filling in the gaps making it less special. Eventually that idiot came and stood in a way that obscures their view a little too much, so now they have to lean out a bit and look down the belt. They know the person behind them now has to do the same - but that doesn't matter because their bag has very important items in it.

Next you have the older people who used to be front line people, but now know to take it easy as they can use their cute dotty personality to blatantly push in when they need to... they are happy to pot around a few places back until the actual carousel fires up... that's when they freak out and start pushing through people to get to the front, shuffling up the chaos even more.

Usually the families stay at the back, until one of the kids spots a bag, and then the whole pack of them have to barge in. The kids want to be the first to get the bag, the older kids want to watch the younger kids get in trouble when the parents push up to the front to stop them from fighting or climbing on the carousel.

Chuck in some foreign people who are lost, some large trollies made of steel, hawking taxi drivers, drug/fruit dogs... and you have one massive melting pot of pure anarchy.

Then there is you and me. We stand back just enough, slightly off to the side giving us a view right down the carousel so we can see all the bags at once. We have plenty of time to move in when we need to. We can see the route we'll take to the front while we stand there quietly just watching, learning, and thinking “there must be a better way”.

Well there is! I would like to share with you the highly complex multistep solution that myself and the boys down at the labs have coined the Circumference Out Stretch Method.

  1. Take two steps backwards
  2. Step in only when you need to get your bag
  3. Scowl disapprovingly at anyone who does not follow the first two steps.

 


The carousel (usually) is an oval or a circle. Two steps back from the carousel means the chaotic circumference becomes larger and more organised. Everyone can stand shoulder to shoulder and watch everything in the middle of the circle. You could see your bag coming well in advanced, and easily step in, grab it, and step out. Everything would be secure, no one would dare step in and pick up a back that isn't theirs when everyone else is looking, and if you picked the wrong back by mistake, you would be quick to be corrected.

I don't understand why people don't do this already. I am hoping someone who has some sort of psychology background can give me some insight... it just seems like the most simple solution to prevent a large dose of unnecessary tension.

Crowds are funny things, they turn really stupid really fast... especially in high stress/emotional settings, but we need to do this, for the greater good of humanity.

I call on you to start implementing this simple COSM step process every time you pick up your bags. You might be the first, but people will soon pick it up and follow you after seeing how intelligent it makes you look! Make sure you stare in disgust at the stupidity of people who stand as close as they can to the carousel (embarrassment also works)... make them realise their own  mistakes, yet offer them warm welcoming arms when they lift the veil up and see the truth.

Please pass on the Circumference Out Stretch Method as far as wide as you can. Post a link on Facebook, Tweet about it, email it to your mum.... the more people who know about this, the better your travelling experience, and ultimately your life, will be.

Thankyou.

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The Cleaner's Revenge

Last year I teamed up with some good friends of mine and produced a short film for the New Zealand 48 Hour Film Competition.

On Friday, we get given a character, style and catch phrase... then we have 48 hours to come up with a complete short film. It's a massive experience full of laughing and crying (and hardly any sleep) and I am looking forward to getting involved again this year.

Below is our entry, The Cleaner's Revenge. I made the music and sound.

*has some pretty harsh language and blood/guts*

The Cleaners Revenge - Team SHUTTLE 48 Hours 2008 NZ from Ezra Holder on Vimeo.

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Lucid Dreaming

I have the jitters today, because last night I managed to achieve something I have been trying to do for a long time; go from my waking state straight into a dream while remaining lucid, allowing me to be "awake" inside my dream, and do whatever I want.

Lucid Dreaming has always been a passion of mine, ever since I discovered how wonderful it is as a teenager. Like a lot of people, watching the movie Waking Life opened my eyes as to what Lucid Dreaming is, so I started practicing techniques to check if I was awake in my waking life, in hope that one day I would perform one of these checks when I was dreaming.

The test I started performing is a simple task of flicking a light switch on and off whenever I remembered. Light switches don't work in dreams - in fact most technology doesn't function correctly in a dream.... so the idea is to repeat this test over and over when you are awake, until you finally flick that switch one day and nothing happens.

The point where you realise you are dreaming is not something that is easily accepted. The realism of being awake in your dreams is enough to scare the living shit out of you and not want to do it for a long time. I have to stress how real it is... you can small, see, touch... everything in as much detail as you can in waking life... Imagine if you just realised you were dreaming while you are reading this sentence... at first you would laugh about it and reassure yourself that you are not because this is too real, but it is so similar to waking state it can be very frightening, and it's tough to let yourself accept that you are dreaming.

After my first lucid dream I was hooked, I worked hard to bring in additional tests so I would lucid dream more often... and each time I hit this strange concious state I would experiment within my own mind! You can do all the fun stuff of course... fly around, travel to outerspace, fornicate... you name it.. but it starts getting interesting when you realise you can interact with characters in your dreams, knowing that they are actually created by your own mind. Have you ever sat down over a coffee and had a conversation with a splitting image of youself (without people thinking you are crazy)? I highly reccomend this.

One lucid dream I had tipped me over the edge once... I asked a dream character what it was like to be a figment of my imagination, and they turned into some sort of hideous demon, jumping on me with the intent to kill me. I woke up frightened, but that wasn't the end.. I had a False Awakening, an illusion that you have woken up, yet you wake up into another dream state.... I soon realised I was still lucid, and the demon came back, pounced on me, and I false awoke again. This process happened for what seemed an eternity... I kept waking up to the fear of this monster over and over.. I thought I was dead, until I finally woke up for real, sweating and shaking.

I stopped my practices for a while after that, it was just too shocking to repeat... but recently I have slipped back into it with a much more solid mind set on who I am and what is happening, and feel very safe when I achieve lucidity now.

As well as the dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD), where you become aware while you are dreaming.. there is a more advanced technique called a wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) where you master the process of going straight from a waking state into a concious dreaming state. I have tried for a long time to achieve this with very small amount of sucess, until last night that is.

Before I went to sleep, I started thinking about all the tasks I was supposed to achieve that day.. and it got the better of me and I stressed out just a little. You know that feeling you get when you have a bunch of little tasks that all amount up, and you can't comprehend them all as a whole anymore, so you go "argh" and have a little mental blank? I thought this was a very interesting state to get in, so I put myself into that again.... I did this for a few minutes and realised I could induce this kind of mindset without actually having anything to stress about.. sort of a meditation.... but where your mind is so overwhelmed with information that you draw an (uncomfortable) blank.... 

I didn't think much of it and continued to go to sleep.

I awoke in the middle of one of my REM periods (The part of your sleep cycle where you actually dream, and where lucid dreaming is most likely to happen) and for some reason decided to experiment with this feeling again.... I flooded my tired brain with trivial tasks until I couldn't think, doing this while I was trying to sleep, and to my absolute joy, zoomed warp speed straight into a perfect lucid dream where I was completely conscious and aware.

It was like I went from my bed fast forward to a upright standing position in a new location, again I have to stress that this state is exactly like waking life... every detail you can see and touch... it was amazing! I had a good 5 minutes in this dream state before I woke up... at which stage I repeated the process and went straight back into another, then another! I did this 4 times and each time I had the most vivid lucid dreams I have yet to have.

So, now I am trying to put two and two together... why did this process of forcing myself to get into a stressed state inject me headfirst into something that is usually so difficult to acheive?

One quick little answer I thought off is the studies that show that brain activity in the REM state is similar to that of when people try to think in a metaphorical sense. There are a group of people called the Human Givens who claim that the REM state is the brains way of sorting out issues from the previous day in a metaphorical sense... sounds valid right? So perhaps flooding my brain in this way injects me into this relm while the part of my brain keeping things real, not metaphorical, stays alert....

I have to do some more experiments with myself before I can get a good answer, but I am pretty confident that I have figured out something pretty neat!

I am interested to know if anyone out there has any experience with Lucid Dreaminig, and what their thoughts might be on this.

I can't wait to go to sleep tonight :)

-Tom

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Ableton Live Version 1.0

Somebody posted a thread up over on the Ableton forums with some screen shots of version 1.0! It's amazing to see how far it has come since then.

I remember getting a copy of three and then legitimately purchasing a copy when 4 came out, so I am not as old school as some people.. but I remember when it lacked midi tracks! That was a massive step up.

When did you start using Ableton?

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New Workflow Video + Ableton Project File

While I test out my new mac with Ableton, I thought I would hit record and capture the screen for half an hour or so while I work on a tune. Not sure if anyone would find this interesting, but I'm gonna put it out there none the less.

http://www.vimeo.com/3774412


I was also testing writing a tune just with Linplug Alpha Free, to see if I can write something just using free stuff, and it works really well.

Pro Members can download the entire project from the Download Archive.

You will need to have Analog and Linplug Alpha Free

http://www.linplug.com/Download/download.htm

Cheers

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An Introduction to Digital Audio Production

Hey! My name is Tom Cosm and I am a live electronic performer and teacher from New Zealand. This website is all about producing tunes and is full of tutorial videos, Ableton Live packs and free music.

The biggest and most important tutorial series I have created is what you are about to check out. It's a 10 hour long collection of videos that explain how to write a tune using Ableton Live from absolute scratch (you also get the Ableton Live file with the series, so you can open it up and see exactly how it was made).

The set has only Ableton Live native instruments and effects (no VSTs) so anyone with a copy of Ableton can follow this easily. All samples are also included in the live pack.

Topics covered in the video include

  • Creating your own sounds from scratch using Synthesizers
  • Making drum loops using the piano roll and samples
  • Using EQing, Sidechain Compression and other effects to fatten up your sound
  • Making your tune flow and progress steadily
  • + many more of my own production hints and tips explained in massive depth

When I create my tutorial videos, I like to talk as if you were right next to me. I speak all my thought processes and explain what I am doing clearly. It's all very friendly, unlike some tutorials that give you a feeling like your being talked down to.

I also do my teaching as a secondary job, with my primary job being an actual producer and performer. I am not some geek who has decided to try and make some cash by talking technical jargon about software, I actually move around the globe doing this for a living.

Here is part 1 of this series, so you can get an idea of how I have decided to approach making these videos. This is the ENTIRE part 1, so it is an hour long. If you want to have a quick look at some of my shorter videos, head over to the free video section of this site. (you can also find the second hour, part 2, in the video section for free).

 

Here is the finished product

 

I've put a lot of energy into making this series the quickest and easiest ways to get prodcuers putting those ideas that they have into practice.

Pro Membership gives you access to not just this video series, but the entire archives on this site. It costs $10usd per month, and you can cancell at any time

Great, I think that sums it mostly up! If you are serious about getting into audio production, and want jump in the deep end straight away and swim your own way out, I think I can help.

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