Getting more with less…

…But if you’re just starting, start out right.

Most of the stuff I work with can be seen in the logo above. And obviously my Casio CTK 4000 takes up a large amount because well, it also full fills a large amount of the stuff I do. Here I was planning to write up some common tips and tricks about programming with Max for Live; it got triggered because this morning I finished up on my LOM.Navigator patch; took me an hour or so, but I finally implemented functionality which allows you to not only see certain things in the so called “Live Object Model” but also change ‘m!

Alas..  My girlfriend is sitting on the couch watching some TV and I’m sitting behind my PC (which looks more like an audio studio these days; my APC40 is even permanently sitting besides my PC keyboard) and my attention got drawn to my Casio keyboard. I just like the critter. After carefully checking the specs last year I ended up getting the CTK4000 and not so much the “latest and greatest” 5000 because in the end the specs didn’t differ that much. Most of all I like the wild idea of having a grey/silver colored keyboard instead of a fully black device. Why all this black anyway? Silver is much more inviting I think, and most of all it makes it very easy to read all the descriptions on the device….

Anyway, so here I was turning up the volume a bit, hitting some keys, then recalling a few presets and before I knew it I was one more hour ahead again. Some of those sounds are just awesome. And it gets even better when you start layering.

And that got me thinking this up..  Really; even after working hours and hours with my favourite setup (Ableton Suite) and a massive amount of soft synths thus allowing you to tweak basically whatever you want it sometimes feels so good to pick up a “simple” keyboard again, find some good matching sounds (out of the 570 available presets) and just go with the flow and lose your mind in it all.

Which is my tip for the day..  Sometimes limiting yourself to certain restraints and limitations and then actually (and most of all seriously) going to work within those limits can really bring forth the best in you. All too cliche, believe me I’m well aware. But sometimes trying to work your way around a problem instead of just trying to easily skip it is the best approach here.

So will this make better music, better working material and in the end the hit song you’re always dreaming about ?

No, I wouldn’t set your hopes on that, sorry. However, I really think that sessions like that will leave something just as important: experience. Now its a ‘mere’ play session. But what about next time when you’re after a sound and suddenly remembered that like my particular case this evening: layering a Jazz guitar preset with a Sine pad can get you very radical results?  (OK; for you Casio CTK fans out there: 109 ‘Jazz guitar 1’ layered with 340 ‘Sine pad’).

That’s the kind of experience I’m talking about; sometimes using less can bring out more than you might imagine.

Still… having said all that it might seem that I’m one of those persons thinking that “less” can always be better. Yes and no (my favorite remark).  For example; if you’re just starting out in this wonderful hobby the first thing I’d honestly advice is to “lay out your cash and prepare to invest, heavily if need be”.

Of course a lot depends on what you want to do, so let me reflect this solely on my own personal situation…

When I started out I knew my main goal was owning a synthesizer. Or at least I thought that it was the goal at that time. First thing I did was study on all this. Simply take 4 weeks (not non-stop of course) and explore the market. See what its all about. During that time I learned about “soft” vs. “hard” synths. Analog vs. digital. And being a tech-like person myself I immediately could identify myself with the software side; after all, expansion could be just one download way.

Yet at that stage its oh so important that you start digging even deeper into the “other side of the story”. IMO of course, don’t get me wrong. But if you want a well balanced decision you should never allow the scales to “swing to one side”. That should only happen once you made your decision. And once you did its time to carefully lay out your cards and start asking yourself: “What do I want and why do I want it”. Most of all: “Will I be actually using this for years to come?”.

I think that last question could help you to save lots of money

But the most important thing; be willing to invest.

Yes, sounds all too easy and we all know spending is much easier than saving. But honestly; if you want something good then why not go for the best, all based on carefully made decisions ?

When I started thinking about keyboards I ended up with 2 favorites: a Yamaha MM6 and a Casio CTK 4000.  And if you skim youtube you’ll notice that if you look beyond the hype there really isn’t so much difference between them. You select a preset and you play it. Yes; with the Yamaha you’ll have a mod wheel and such at your disposal; true. But at the very core?  And is it really worth the extra 500 euro’s ?

I ended up deciding against an MM6 and going for a Casio. A good sound, a good machine and it allowed me to gain a little more leverage which I needed on the next move; a software synthesizer.

It was then where I learned about several DAWs and started to focus on Ableton Live in particular. Software alone was something which I didn’t quite fancy; keyboard and mouse usage is not uncommon to me; but when working with a synth I was kinda expecting a bit more than that.

And thats where I discovered the APC40. For me the perfect interface between hardware and software. I tweak and play with dials on my APC while I’m actually changing stuff in my Ableton liveset. At this time I already had demo’d Suite extensively and since I could even lose myself with Lite I kinda knew then and there what I wanted. As such ended up getting Suite. Not merely because it was “the best Ableton had”, but having already decided for Ableton I knew this critter could fulfill my needs the best. And once you come to such a conclusion I say “be willing to invest”.

Now, I think I can predict some of the reactions here…  “invest?  Wasn’t this all a very carefully planned path up to here?”.  Yes, you’re fully right; it was.

Yet here it was where I first came into contact with Max for Live. Being totally new on DAWs (“Cubase is a good music program. What’s Live?  Pro tools?  Doesn’t that sound a bit too pro’ish?”) and even more on Max (“???”) this was an investment indeed. No, not an impulse purchase. After carefully reading several reviews, product pages and even more 3rd party stories I eventually decided to buy Max for Live without any hands on experience what so ever.  I knew Live was the right environment for me, I knew for sure Suite would cope with whatever I wanted yet I realized that Max for Live was a massive expansion on what I already had then. I didn’t need it, I didn’t know it, yet I invested (and never regretted it as well).

And that is my main point here..  Be willing to invest, even if it may hurt you a little (I wouldn’t advice you to take loans on this, but Max for Live was an investment for me; esp. after getting Suite shortly before).  In other words: set your focus and GO for it!

IF at this point you’re now thinking “Oh, so I should buy Max for Live?” then you missed the point entirely. For me its about Live, but I can well see that for others its about Cubase. For example; expending it with Halion Sonic. Both aren’t exactly favorites of mine (that’s for later) but it is what I’m trying to say here….

If you feel very good with Cubase and you manage to get good sounding results with ease from it then don’t be afraid to invest. If you
have the means then go for it.

And to make things even more complicated; no, I also wouldn’t recommend investing everything on a “single horse” but that’s another different story all together. Point being; never overdo it.

Taken back into my context: I really love working with Ableton Live (Suite 8). I sort of “maxed it out” with adopting Max for Live. But now that they introduced the “partner instruments” its not as if I’m out there to buy whatever instruments I can lay my hands on. Quite the contrary.

The main idea is to lay a solid foundation from which to work with. That will be your main material so treat it well, but never ever start imaginating that what you have is the best there is so everything else is bad per default. Nothing wrong with being passionate, but always keep an open mind. A “one ring to rule them all” kind of solution will hardly ever cut it.

So also keep an open mind out for expansion.

Yet at this stage I’d advice you to carefully consider your options. Expensive doesn’t always guarantee quality.

And that leads me back to my main topic of the day..  Even if you do invest heavily in your gear to build a good solid foundation, even if you find a way to carefully expand a little at a later time on what you already build up and even if you take all of that several steps further…

At that stage, especially at that stage, I’d advice anyone to try and remember the roots.  Even for merely some fun; try going back to a limited situation from the past with all the expertise you gained in between. And then start goofing around, while still trying seriously to overcome certain obstacles..

I dare say that you might be very surprised here..  I wouldn’t even be surprised if you actually gained some new insights and maybe inspiration at that.

And now..  No; I won’t be playing some more on the Casio; I’m heading to bed



  1. Dude, wonderful read but looooong. I spend a few days to get through it. You should consider shorter posts and more quickly after one other.

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