Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 264: Trade Secrets: Tom Cosm

Next up in our series of DJ Trade Secrets is New Zealand's Tom Cosm.

Anyone who has been dabbling with Ableton and looking for info will likely have come across Tom's excellent tutorials. There is so much to be learnt from his fun yet informative method of teaching. A hard working musician in his own right Tom has accomplished much in his time.

The one thing you'll notice when watching his videos or reading his articles is the sheer enthusiasm for his trade, refreshing!

We asked Tom to let us know what he thinks about production, getting out there and doing your own thing, and this is what he had to say, be sure also to check out his site http://cosm.co.nz/ and check many of the tutorials he has online, they really are excellent.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into DJing/Producing and the whole scene etc?

I've always been a bit of a computer geek since a young age, and when my mother allowed me to go to my first "rave" when I was a teen (under the supervision of my sister) I became instantly hooked. Back then it was very much a "rave" scene.... Fast music, flashing lights, hard dance and happy hardcore. I was hooked.

When I left high school I studied towards a music degree, specifically Jazz. During this period I saved up enough to get me own laptop, and realized I could combine my love of music, mathematics and computer code together to create a product that was fun to produce, and that other people enjoyed listening to as well.

New Zealand has a very tight scene. It's small, but everyone knows each other and puts in 200% to make it a great place to party, which helped full my passion.

Because we are so "tucked away" down the bottom of the world, it was hard to get information and education on electronic music, so a lot of my methods are self taught, which I think strongly defines my particular style, both musically and my philosophies.

What do you think is more important, raw talent, or 'getting to know' people/making the right contacts?

I'm a strong believer of the theory that anyone can do anything provided they put enough effort into it, and have the right access to the tools they need to give them the practice and knowledge they need to work steadily at something, which includes things like upbringing and location.

The line between your talent and your ability to communicate with people is a pretty broad one in the electronic music scene, especially in New Zealand. If you are excellent at dealing with people but still don't have an exceptional level of musical skill, you can still climb the ladder as fast as someone who has excellent skill but lacks making contacts.

I know some artists who I consider absolute geniuses, yet they are useless at getting their music out there because they have sacrificed social skills for working with computers, however they are starting to make it big because their music just speaks for itself.

Now the internet has opened up the gateways of communication, I think the talent side of things is going to overtake how well your image is portrayed... people can log on and find whatever music they want by themselves, they don't have to be feed whatever the labels/radio/media decide what is good. It's a great thing!

Up at the Downs - Tom Cosm

So far what are your top achievements as a DJ/Producer?

Being able to continue giving all my music away for free, whilst finding an outside the square method of making enough cash to sustain a career as a full time musician. I don't have to adapt my music to fit any market, I can do whatever I want and I have no one looking over my shoulder or pressuring me to do what they consider to be right. I primarily write my music for my own personal pleasure, and it's fantastic that other people respect this and enjoy it as much as I enjoy making it.

The joy of knowing that anyone in the world can get my music at any time, for free, no matter how little money they have is an incredible feeling, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

You are known for you excellent knowledge of live, How did you personally approach learning Ableton?

The majority of my abilities are self taught. I originally started writing on tracker software, then made the move the Fruity Loops about 5 years ago. When I wanted to start performing my music I opted for the best solution, being Ableton Live. Chopping my Fruity Loops files into something that Ableton Live could use was a bit of a task, so I developed my own techniques to make sure this process was very fast meaning more time for producing/performing.

When version 4 of Ableton Live came out, I made the complete shift to Ableton and have never looked back.

What for you were the key moments/things that got you from bedroom artist to professional/full timer/where you are now?

Because of the free and open source way that the this project has been set up, it started populating around the internet quickly. Friends told friends, CDs got swapped and shifted all around the world and people started knowing who I was before I had any sort of name for myself.

In 2006, I was asked to play my first international gig at Boom Festival in Portugal, which was a massive deal. I put a lot of effort into this set and tried to leave the biggest impression that I could. Once people saw my set it was very easy for them to go home, fire up Google and find out all about me and my music straight away. They didn't have to buy anything, order CDs or hunt me down... they could get their information instantly.

I didn't mean to set it up this way... I just wanted to give everything away because of the buzz, but the nice side effect meant it was super easy for me to get my name out there once I broke through.

Do you think that it's easier, or harder now to make it as a DJ/Producer/band in this electronic age?

The term "make it" is a hard one. For me, making it is about communicating with as many people as possible and learning all you can, while doing it in a way that is sustainable and healthy your own ego so they way you retain information doesn't become distorted, then ultimately doing something with what you have gained to make a positive difference. I think that this kind of making it is becoming much, much easier.

If the term "making it" means becoming someone that is put on a pedestal on another level above massive amounts of people, then I imagine it is starting to become more difficult, however I'm not the best person to ask about that method because I don't care for it too much.

Top 5 tips for anyone looking to get in to music?

1) Listen to music. Lots of music, especially while you are in transit mode. Walking down the street, catching a bus, driving your car....
2) Give genuine and clear appreciation/criticism to people who create the music that you listen to, karma works.
3) Find ways to sneak up and jump in the deep end. Doing something exciting drives the want-to-learn-more factor. If you can get those endorphins flowing while you are learning things will go much faster.
4) Accept well constructed and clearly communicated criticism as one of your most valuable tools. When you write, you are looking at it with one eye closed, but having two viewpoints at something gives it instant depth and clarity.
5) When you stop having fun, find something else to do.

Top 5 things NOT to do?

1) Forget to backup your work
2) Forget to backup your work
3) Forget to backup your work
4) Smoke cannabis while you are learning something new. It changes the way your brain converts sensory input into storable information. It's a VERY powerful tool when you want to get that extra set of ears to listen to what you have done, but as I said before, having two view points is way more valuable than having just one.
5) Crank the sound while you are producing. Ears are fragile things, they weren't made to handle such loud noises, and once they are fucked, they are fucked forever. You will not be able to write music anymore, and that would suck for everyone.

Do you think the current scene is sustainable with the number of new artist coming through, competition for gigs, current state of record sales etc?

Absolutely. I think a lot of the middle men are going to start loosing out and the control is going to come back to the artists. Music isn't going anywhere, in fact the opposite. It's so easy for anyone to start being creative straight away, so there is going to be HEAPS or good solid mind blowing music coming out, and people aren't going to just stop liking it... so the logic says there is going to be a polarity shift. It will piss some people off, but it will make some people more happy.

What would you have done differently if you had a second chance?

Points 1-5 of "Top 5 things NOT to do"

When writing new material is there a particular approach you take (melody, then beats etc) do you have ideas in your head, or just what comes out at the time?

I usually start with some bizarre idea for a sound or using sounds to create some weird feeling that I have no idea about. As soon as I have that bit sounding slightly as I want it... the first complimenting element to come in is a kick, then a base, then a snare, then some hihats, then some percussion...... once the rhythm is laid down I go back to the initial idea and see how it sounds over something keeping solid time, learning more about it and what direction to take it in next.

Top time saving tip in Ableton?

Get your keyboard short cuts down. Spend some time learning them like you used to learn from a text book at school... it will only take you a few hours. Set yourself some tasks, have a coffee, turn your phone off and just do some hard work for a bit. The fluency that you will gain between your brain and the computer will completely outweigh those boring few hours. Trust me.

Plans for the future, upcoming gigs, new projects etc?

Over this (southern hemisphere) Summer I am taking it easy and working on lots of new material. I want to get my sound design down, specifically my knowledge of FM synthesis and the deep mathematics/physics of waveforms so I can really get the tools I need to do something new and exciting.

Over this period I plan to document as much as possible through video tutorials and make these available to the members of my website.

Once the European summer kicks in again, myself and my partner will go on an adventure!

What is the best thing about being a DJ/Performer?

It's a really good way to satisfy your cravings if you are an information junky. You get to learn about emotions, physics, philosophy, culture, history, management, mathematics, self awareness... you name it. It's the perfect path if you want a little taste of everything before you decide to settle down with your preferred choice.

If there was one thing you wish you knew when you started out?

If you play a wrong note, it is always one or two semitones (or steps) away from a right one, and humans love a little bit of tension and release.




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