Selling your music won’t make you money, but you buy more stuff to make music – inside the weird world of music producers!

I read an extremely interesting article on the 5 Magazine site earlier this week. They’re one of very few dance music outlets that I have any time for. The article goes into detail about how 2020 was the best year in decades for selling hardware and other gear to musicians.

It reminded me of a post that I wrote a few weeks back, but decided not to publish. Yes, believe it or not, but that does occasionally happen. This one was pushed out of the schedule by other stories on a particularly busy Friday.

It was about the launch of the Akai MPC One Retro. Now, those people who were around in the early years of dance music will often tell you that the technology they had to work with for their formative records was, in no unceremoniuous terms, crap.

Many a producer from that era will have plenty of stories about spending hours trying to work out which MIDI cable went where, all the way to hunting around for an obscure floppy disk with that little sample you liked.

They made good tracks with what they had, but frankly, it was because they had no choice. Technology has advanced and opened the horizons – and yet, there’s no end of clamour for things that sound like the past. What better example of that than my post about Traxsource earlier today?

What else explains Akai’s decision to release the MPC One Retro? It looks like several of their old samplers from the 90s, but is essentially a new product.

I just don’t understand this at all. The people who first made house music in the 1980s wanted to make tunes that sounded like they were from the future. Now, everyone wants to make tunes that sound like they were made in the 80s and 90s.

File this one under “more money than sense”. With a price tag of £640, I daren’t think how much you’d need to sell on Traxsource to break even.

Thank god it’s a Bank Holiday weekend…

You’ve seen the ads for his MIDI packs. But is Niko Kotoulas a musical genius or just a marketing man selling music down the river?

Take a look at this photograph. If you’re on Facebook and you produce music, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen that face sometime in the past few months.

If you haven’t, his name is Niko Kotoulas. To borrow the words of Troy McClure from The Simpsons, “you may remember me from such the MIDI pack adverts that seem to endlessly loop around on social media”.

He usually sells thousands of MIDI files for as little as $27 and makes blowhard, swaggering claims to the effect that his pack will change your life. The professionals use them, and so should you, he says.

I actually blogged a while ago on my own thoughts about MIDI packs. I know there’s a lot of more, shall we say, purist producers who think that the likes of Kotoulas somehow denigrate the integrity in music.

For some reason, they think everyone should learn about chords, scales, keys, harmony and everything else the way they did – which mostly appears to be through expensive professional lessons that they hated as a child. But why does it have to be that way?

Have they never stopped down from their pompous pulpit and thought about this? The ways that people learn are changing. Many courses exist online now that allow you to learn this stuff at your own pace.

Sure, Kotoulas uses some pretty lazy slogans to lure you in – telling people that he’s learnt music theory so that you don’t have to – but these are just marketing pitches at the end of the day. Anyone can make music to a certain level, but if you want to get ahead, you have to be prepared to learn more about how to make the music.

But when push comes to shove – I think Niko Kotoulas has worked out one thing that many others haven’t. Namely that he can make more money from selling those MIDI files than he could from most of the tracks that he’d be able to finish and release with those files. They’re more valuable in the hands of others than his own.

And that, in my opinion, makes him just a little bit of a genius.

Will Derrick May publish his new theory on music theory? There’s 4 days until we find out…

If you’re wondering what on earth I’m on about, the background to this post can be found here.

Now that you’re up to date, I thought I’d provide a progress report on the gauntlet laid down in that post, published six days ago. I challenged Derrick May to provide evidence that he could indeed play an instrument in a different key to the others in a song and still sound good.

With just four days to go, I’m disappointed to report that May has not yet completed the challenge. Let’s hope that he gets on the case very soon.

There’s a nice, warm apology on its way to you if it happens, Mr May!

In which I ask is sheet music racist without answering it!

This article has been getting some attention on social media during the week. Most of it is inevitably in the political correctness gone mad category. But it reminds me of something I originally wrote last September.

So, here it is in its entirety….


Back on Monday, I posted a link to an article asking essentially whether music theory was diminishing or ignoring aspects of more traditionally black music. In other words, is music theory racist? You can read the article here…

My initial reaction was basically a raised eyebrow, but I said I would watch the video once I had a chance and get back to you. I finally had the opportunity last night to do so – and I’m in some agreement with the premise.

I have to defer to others in some ways on this, as my musical knowledge is much more limited than that of Adam Neely. But you only have to listen to things like jazz and hip hop to know they don’t follow the same rules as a lot of other genres. They sound different, the structure is often different, the melodies and such are different – it doesn’t take an expert to work it out, though it does take one to explain it.

As someone who makes house music, I’m all too aware of using what music theory perceives as the “wrong” chord. I’ve done it myself before, but music theory is a guide. It’s not meant to be something you blindly follow as if it were some kind of cult.

Perhaps it is time that the rules of music theory were revised. It’s not like there is just one set of rules anyway…


The Six On Saturday column, which normally occupies this space, is currently having a week off. It returns next weekend.

When is a preset not a preset? Er, not here

The doomsayers who think MIDI packs are the worst thing in the music world since, well, the last thing they thought was the worst – prepare to have your minds blown. Do you fancy designing your own sounds, or do you fancy having someone do it for you?

I know there’s such a thing as presets on synthesisers, and have been since at least the 1980s, and now there’s this. You stick your sounds into it, run it through one of their 24 presets and use the result if you like it.

Not sure what exactly this does that hasn’t already been available for decades, but I’m sure someone out there must want it…

One reason why sample packs AREN’T totally evil

There are many out there who berate sample packs. They allow people who know nothing about music to make music, these purists say. You know where this is going, don’t you?

Their usual haunt these days is Facebook threads, where they’re happy to peddle rubbish that anyone who hasn’t studied at least a dozen music theories and learnt to play 47 instruments. I should know – I encountered one a few years ago.

I’ve mentioned the theory in the past that sample packs can be used for learning – and I happen to think some of them are particularly useful for learning about drum programming.

When I started out, I used to loop snippets of Masters At Work drums and try to work them out. I failed miserably every time, because Kenny Dope, who used to program drums for MAW, was an absolute pro.

Sample packs show you how to make them by breaking everything down to different categories – kicks on their own, hats on their own, snares and claps by themselves to show you how they work together and so on. From here, you can try and create your own drum patterns.

Everyone has to start from somewhere…

I should go make some records…

I sometimes get asked what the most frustrating aspect of being a music producer is. For me, the answer is pretty easy. It’s the fact there’s loads of other stuff you have to do which stops you from actually making music – a music producer is meant to produce music, are they not?

Running social media can take a lot of time if you’re not careful. I have to plan this quite regimentally, if I’m honest. I tend to write posts on my website in bulk. I can still make time to write something more spontaneous if need be, but that helps ease the pressure on this front. Releases don’t promote themselves and nor does anything else.

I don’t spend much time label shopping for my demos, which saves more of it. Knowing when to finish a post also saves time. So on that note, see you later!

STOP TRYING TO MAKE YOUR MUSIC PERFECT!!!

Sorry for the clickbait sort of headline, but it’s how I feel. It’s true, for starters. There’s far too much temptation to aim to get everything perfect these days, especially with all the technology available. I should know – it’s happened to me a few times.

But don’t! I’ve started working recently on 2-step garage records, which you’ll be seeing from me later in the year – I’ll write more about that in another post. One thing I’ve noticed is that trying to make everything sound perfect and correct doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work when that regular 4/4 beat is taken away!

You see those vocal chops, for example? Stick them so they come in a little early or a little late. You might end up with a pleasant surprise. You see those hats, snares, shakers and other drum elements? The next time, try to quantize fewer elements or even none at all. Somehow, it all starts to sound more human.

And humans aren’t perfect. So why the heck should music be? You also get things done quicker – stop treating it like rocket science and start treating it like something fun!