My First CDR – Michael Mikkelsen

When and where did you first attend CDR?

It must have been five years ago down Plastic People. After a lengthy break from music, leaving aside a fair bit of clubbing (Friday nights at Plastic People were an obvious choice at the time), attending the odd gig and generally spending too much time waiting for shitty sounding MP3s to download, it became clear that I needed stimulation over and beyond what the day job delivered. I started producing around 2010 and after a couple of years of messing about with an old version of Ableton and a random selection of plugins, I finally felt fearless enough to burn one of my more or less finished tracks onto CD and set off to CDR at Plastic People.

How do you recall feeling?

No doubt nervous, but excited too. I guess I’d already benchmarked my work against other people’s stuff online –SoundCloud was much more about giving feedback and commenting back then – but that doesn’t really compare to the test that is having your track blasted out on a proper sound system. My first submission would have been below par, but rather than leaving with my head bowed in shame, I went home encouraged by the fact that my track had been played without causing a major exodus from the dancefloor.

What was the night like?

I know it would have been daunting and welcoming in equal measure. And rightly so – that’s exactly what nights like CDR are about. You go not quite knowing whether your track will cut the mustard or not, but even if it doesn’t, you’ve achieved in the sense that you’ve completed something and presented it to the world

Tell us about your music, and how you go about making it?

It’s obviously quite a cliché to not be able to describe one’s music, but I genuinely do struggle with it. Not that my music is particularly unique; not that it defies categorisation; not because I’ve got anything against labels. I guess I’m struggling mostly because I don’t think I’ve properly settled for a specific genre yet. That said, my sound does references 90s and early 00s Warp electronica a fair bit. I’ve also listened to a lot of the Kompakt stuff over the years, which will have had an impact on my sound. Last, but not least, I think there’s an unmistakable Scandinavian quality to my sound, meaning quite polished production wise, definitely easy on the ear and unapologetically poppy.

 

The way I go about making music varies from track to track, but unless I use a sample to get me going, I typically start off by messing about with a M4L step sequencer, get a pattern going and then build from there. I sometimes use synth presets as a starting point, but inevitably end up tweaking these. More recently, I’ve tended to program my own patches, typically using plugins that are easy to work with, my SH101 or the Microbrute.

In terms of production approach more broadly, I’ve done a lot of time restricted production recently, i.e. given myself 180 minutes to lay down the core components of a track, the assumption being that the creative return on any additional production time diminishes dramatically beyond the third hour. This is the basic idea behind The Fearless Few, which is a small but growing producers’ collective I originally started with Sam (Greyfield Woods / Two Silhouettes) and Rasmus (Deluca). We take turns to set production challenges – some of which take us way outside of our comfort zones – and fearlessly tackle these, typically within a 180-minute timeframe. It’s amazing what can be done over a short period of time – being forced to focus, make decisions, commit to material and make it work before time runs out is not just motivating, but also hugely enabling from a production point of view.

 

Any tips or tricks for managing to keep making music?

There’s a part of me wanting to say that if you’re passionate enough, you shouldn’t need to rely on tips and tricks to keep yourself going in music, but that’s way too simplistic. Getting your music out there has never been easier, but more people than ever are pushing their content across literally any conceivable platform – now even Instagram has been appropriated by music makers? Given the volume of content (in every sense of the word) channelled through people’s feeds nowadays, I’m not surprised that engagement has dropped. It’s harder to get a like, a share or even a listen and this can be hugely disheartening when you’ve put your heart and soul, let alone tonnes of time, into a track.

We all need some sort of response to what we’re doing and this is where initiatives like CDR are really important. But between such event I’d encourage forging links with producers in a similar situation to yours. You may be lucky enough to know one, maybe you’ve done a course with someone or failing that there’s always looking up and engaging with people on sites like SoundCloud. I know we’re all meant to play things cool, but I’d say worry less about that and more about getting a dialogue up and going, which sometimes requires you to adopt a more direct approach. I started The Fearless Few in exactly that way and although on many occasions I heard nothing back, the people who did get back to me are now either active in or associated with the producers’ collective.

When and how did you get in to making music?

Following quite a few years as a kid studying classical and later jazz piano, I eventually got into synthesizers and when I got my hands on the Korg M1 in 1988, I started messing around with making music using its 8-track sequencer and built in effects. Musically, results weren’t great – one of my mates back home is bound to have a dodgy cassette knocking about somewhere – but I got to know the M1 really well … much better than some of the kit I’m working with today probably.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I draw a fair bit of inspiration from synth and production tutorials on YouTube and I definitely listen to other people’s music – whether by established or other artists – in active listening mode, i.e. looking out for ideas that can be borrowed, developed and ultimately made my own in various ways. I really don’t see any problem with that – I used to work with a Hip Hop producer who was ruthless in his appropriation of other people’s ideas, but the end result was entirely his. The Fearless Few, of course, is another source of inspiration – seeing where different people take the same brief is always greatly inspiring and our challenges more often than not are meant to push people outside of their comfort zones, which also helps on the inspiration front.

Talk us through your setup

In terms of hardware it’s pretty simple really. Roland SH101, Arturia Microbrute and more recently the Make Noise 0-Coast (still need to break the back of that one). Synths aside, a pair of very decent but rarely used ADAM monitors and a MOTU interface. I work with Ableton and go to plugins include Reaktor (great in its own right, but made even greater by all the user-created ensembles out there), FM8, the TAL Juno 60 emulation (free), Korg’s Mono/Poly and lots of the Ableton synths too, of course. For effects, I lean quite heavily on Soundtoys and Ableton’s native plugins do the rest.

Has your practice change over time?

Definitely. I’m far more efficient these days and go about things with greater confidence, e.g. I do a lot of flattening of tracks to stop myself from endless tweaking of something that good enough as is. I also have reasonably standardised ways of getting a track off the ground, though these are often subverted (deliberately) in the challenges we take on in the Fearless Few. Even my use of Ableton has changed. In the past I’d mostly be working in the arrangement view, but lately I’ve used the session view far more, ultimately to avoid having to deconstruct tracks built in the arrangement to make them suitable for live performance.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

If would of course be great to dial the day job down and music up, but I’m fairly content with the way things are at the moment. I’m having to fit music in wherever possible which is not ideal, but spurred on by things like the Fearless Few and, of course CDR, I get enough done to convince myself that I’m in the game (or at least on its fringes). That said, no doubt like many others, I’d love to be able to spend more time on production and getting my music out there, e.g. lock myself away for a while focus on producing and subsequently promoting and maybe even performing an album’s worth of tracks. However, the way things are at the moment, I genuinely can’t see that happening anytime soon.

Any projects or tracks you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to let us know about?

Whist I’ve already name checked the Fearless Few a few times, this really is the most important project of mine for the time being and I’d love for fellow CDR heads to get involved. Doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned producer or a novice, the 180-minute production challenges really do help push production skills forward. Also, at some point in the not too distant future I’d love to organise Fearless Few nights, giving members (myself included) opportunities to get out and perform their music.

Where can we see/hear you in the next couple of months?

Well, I’ll definitely be attending the CDR events, so if you want to chat about the fearless few or anything else, hook up with me there. I’ve got some plans for live performances in the autumn, but it’s way too early to announce anything on that front.

Finally, have you any advice or words of warning for producers/musicians developing musical works in progress to play at CDR?

I’d say don’t be put off by the fact that some of the tracks that are played sound way better than the draft you only just managed to finish in your bedroom a couple of hours earlier. The beauty of the night is that you’ll hear stuff ranging from early drafts through to tracks that are on the verge of being released. A strong idea that might be lacking somewhat in execution can be as inspiring as a track that is much further down the line production wise. Also, and I might be wrong on this one, do go chat to fellow CDR heads – many of them might well find themselves in a similar situation to yours, so there’s no reason not to engage!

Check out the Fearless Few project on Facebook

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