Book Review – Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers by Dennis DeSantis
Looking for some guidance on how to get your creative juices flowing, keep them flowing, and deliver finished masterworks? This book takes on the daunting task of offering advice on it all.
by David Baer, July 2015
This is a review of a book for electronic musicians who might benefit from quality advice on achieving success in all stages of the creative musical process. Before we get one sentence further into this, let’s get one thing out of the way. Although the publisher is Ableton AG, the company responsible for Live, this could not be a more DAW-neutral presentation. It is assumed that the reader uses a DAW, but it could not matter less which DAW that is. The intended audience is someone who produces electronic music with a computer: EDM to experimental avante guarde styles or anything in between – genre is largely irrelevant. The reader is assumed to have some familiarity with the technology of computer music production, but beyond that, no level of experience is assumed.
The book is available in hardback or in electronic editions (links to these are found at the bottom of this article). My own experience was in reading the Kindle-format edition.
Making Music is not a tutorial on DAW production techniques. You won’t find one word of advice on recommended compressor settings, EQ strategies or the like. Instead it tries to help the reader get on with the imposing task of creating music – not recording it, not mixing it, but rather facing the challenge of starting with an empty DAW project and ending up with a worthy finished piece of music. It’s very much about what goes on inside the composer/producer’s head: how to find inspiration and motivation and how capitalize on those things.
The author has no shortage of credentials to suggest he is worth listening to. Dennis DeSantis has a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from Eastman School of Music and additional composition degrees from other highly-respected institutions. He has much experience composing/producing music in the techno genre and is also employed at Ableton as head of documentation. In other words, he not only knows his stuff, but he’s quite skilled at communicating his knowledge in writing.
There are three main sections in the book: “Problems of Beginning”, “Problems of Progressing” and “Problems of Finishing”. The contents of each section are just that promised in their titles. “Problems of Beginning” concentrates on getting a project started, for some people the most difficult stage of any music production endeavor. The middle section focuses on how to keep things moving along, avoiding any number of pitfalls that can lead to stagnation. While some find starting the most challenging part of a project, others have trouble wrapping things up (or even knowing when it’s time to do so). The final section concentrates on this.
There are 25 chapters in “Beginning”, 37 in “Progressing” and 12 in “Finishing”. Each chapter follows a standard pattern:
- Brief statement of the problem.
- Elaboration on the statement of the problem.
- Elaboration on the solution, sometimes with examples and/or references to other chapters.
The chapters are all reasonably compact. You could read any of them in about five minutes. Since I read the book in Kindle format, I cannot tell you how many pages are in it. But it took me about an hour to get through the first 20% of the chapters, reading at a casual pace. This is not some imposing tome that will take ages to read cover to cover.
I suspect many readers will read more than a few of the chapters and think: “Yeah, well that’s just common sense”. But if they are honest with themselves, they will probably often have the subsequent thought: “gee, in that case, maybe I should be following the recommendations here”.
Some chapters are true gems. Others, I’m not so sure about. In particular, the author devotes a handful of chapters to providing a crash course on harmony. Having attempted self-study of this subject by reading several books, I’m highly skeptical of the value of trying to encapsulate this knowledge in such a brief space. But it doesn’t matter. For every chapter that doesn’t meet expectations or doesn’t particularly have relevance to the reader, there will probably be at least as many that deliver considerable value.
For an example of considerable relevance – for me anyway – there’s the chapter titled “Active Listening”. This is one of the chapters available on-line (see just below), so I’m not giving anything away. To briefly paraphrase, the author states the problem as being this: we all listen to music for enjoyment, but this isn’t the best way to learn to improve your art; the solution is critical listening: not doing anything else but listening, and then mentally deconstructing what you are hearing, focusing on distinct aspects such as timbral characteristics, rhythmic characteristics, and so forth. All common sense, to be sure, but how many of you actually consciously do something like this?
I have a hard time believing that any reader won’t find at least three of four chapters to be invaluable, easily justifying the meager ten dollar purchase price. For me, one chapter alone made me happy I had taken the trouble to acquire and read the book; that one was “Goal-less Exploration”. I won’t offer any spoilers here as to what that entails. However, if you would like some examples of what to expect, just check out the book here:
There are a generous number of chapters available in full for your perusal, and some very good ones at that. The prospective buyer should have more than enough information to decide on the merits of a purchase.
The book can be read sequentially cover-to-cover or the reader can randomly read chapters as the motivation strikes. I think the optimum approach is to first read the book cover to cover, and then go back and casually read a random chapter at a time, maybe one per day. Hmmm, there must be some location for the book in one’s house to encourage such once-per-day perusal. 🙂
Seriously though, this book gets my enthusiastic recommendation. If you want down-to-earth advice on technical practice, stick with authors like Izhaki and Senior. If you are just getting started in electronic music production, try to get a little experience before reading this book. But once you have gotten your feet wet, make a mental note to come back then when you’ll be ready for it. Making Music tackles an elusive subject that few authors have chosen to address. I for one am most grateful that this author had the inspiration to do so.
Acquire the book at the following sites:
Electronic Formats ($9.99 USD):