Music lessons at A Level are in danger of dying out – and if my education was anything to go by, I’m just surprised it hasn’t happened sooner…

Birmingham City University put out an interesting report during the week – and I can’t help but think my take on it could be a little controversial. Some of the contents from the report first – in 2019/2020, the number of students in the Midlands who opted to do Music for A Levels fell to just 1%. They also noted that independent – i.e. mostly fee paying – schools account for a hugely disproportionate number of A-Level music entrants.

I personally have no reason to doubt any of this is true. My memories from school tell me precisely this. At primary school, our music “lessons”, if they even could be called that, consisted of learning to play the recorder. It’s a horrid instrument that makes a horrid noise. And after that, we learnt to play a horrid tune with the aforementioned horrid instrument. All in all, it was just horrid.

At secondary school, a new level of pointlessness was achieved. I still remember my first music lesson at secondary – I was sat at a table with a little synthesiser on it. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but I was excited at the prospect of being able to learn to do something with this thing. But as the term went on, it quickly became apparent these things were there for show. We were barely allowed to use them, and even when we were, we were never shown how they worked.

Learning about chords? Musical theory? Arrangement? Forget it. There was no chance of doing anything like this. I can honestly say my music lessons in school were a complete waste of time. I don’t even remember anything that I did – and I can remember at least something from every other subject I did.

So if music education is still like this, frankly, I can’t help but think it deserves to die out. The only ones who used to know anything about playing an instrument were the ones who had private lessons – there was no chance for the rest of us.

The trouble with that is it just allows the independent schools to take over entirely – and thus the world of music becomes even more elitist and snobby than it already is. What a mess… 

Aren’t there already millions of sampled clap sounds online? Yet another pointless plugin is released to help producers waste time trying to make that “perfect” clap sound

This is one for those of you who have more money than sense – and let’s be honest, there’s more of them in dance music than anyone would admit. You can now actually buy a plugin that lets you make your own clap sounds – apparently, using one of the millions of samples that already exist isn’t good enough anymore…

It’s called Hand Clap Studio by Robotic Bean. It costs $49 and I know about it because I’m currently being bombarded by their adverts across my social media channels. Despite reading up about it here, I’m still of the opinion that this is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Whenever I do produce records, most of my clap sounds come from a pack that UK house and garage legend Grant Nelson put on the internet in the late 1990s. They’re tiny little MP3 files – but no one has ever complained to me about the claps on my tracks.

File under “who actually buys this crap?”.

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…


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!

Behind The Record – Don’t Give Up

So, what’s the story behind this one? Well, I came across this one on a search for remix contests. I rarely bother actually entering any of these, but I do occasionally look around to see if there’s anything decent around. And I really liked this one.

So I downloaded the vocal stems and did my remix. I upped the tempo to 126bpm, as I thought that the original tempo was too slow for what I wanted to do with it. I also decided very quickly that I wasn’t doing one of my dubs here. Labels that are unfamiliar with my work are often not immediately receptive to them – so a vocal mix it was going to be.

The drums came together really quickly. The snares were literally the result of looking through various one shot samples I have, and the rest come from the usual sources too.

Strings with a phaser effect thrown on and the modified electric piano come from the Roland JV-1080. As for the bassline which a few people have asked me about? It’s basically two square wave oscillators modified to hollow out the sound. I don’t remember the finer details, but I’ll get back to you on that one!

And now you know how I made it, the least you can do is buy it or stream it. You’ve got plenty of options for doing so…

There’s some extended reading involved for this one! How did I win the remix contest involved in producing this one? Part one and part two are here.

Confidence booster – the IQ Musique and Phie Claire effect?

Even someone like me has moments when they wonder whether something is going to be well received by people. I had such a moment a few months ago just after I’d finished a remix for IQ Musique and Phie Claire.

Here’s a clip before I continue.

Nice, eh?

Anyway, during 2020, I actually had quite a few times like this. I released music and it just didn’t seem to be hitting the mark in the way it normally did. Had I lost my touch? Was it the big bad Covid’s fault? I don’t know, but something just didn’t seem right to me.

Anyway, I accepted this remix project and I also accepted time was short. My wife was due to go in for a C-section to the hospital and I had to get this done before that. The prospect of trying to get this done afterwards – with two toddlers, a baby and a wife recovering after surgery – was not a pleasant thought!

You can read the full story behind the record here. But the short version is I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated as a result. I wasn’t especially happy with this dub, but dare not have said anything.

When it came out in January, it was extremely well received, much to the surprise of mainly myself. I even got a very kind message from Phie Claire herself telling me that she loved what I’d done with the song. Opinion amongst singers about dubs are mixed, so this was very nice to receive.

And when I checked on Traxsource and saw it was my most popular release….

…I was frankly over the moon. “Good Good Bad” is a track I still have a lot of time for, but I used to wonder if anything would knock it from the top slot. It had been there for around a year.

What got me into making music?

It’s been a while since I’ve shared this story, and I know it’s not on this site yet. So I thought I’d tell you all about it.

Ultimately, the reason I’m doing is it 95 North. I was interested in production for many years, but I only took the plunge to actually do it in 2015. I spent years being intimidated by the fact I knew next to nothing about it. I knew nothing about DAWs and my knowledge of music theory was virtually zero.

All I had going in my favour was what I’d acquired from years of listening to music. I could usually spot pretty quickly what sounded right and what sounded wrong.

Back in 2015, I started compiling tracks for a 95 North tribute mix. There were several records that I simply couldn’t get hold of, so I reached out to the 95 North page directly to see if they could help. Richard Payton replied and was incredibly helpful. I ended up doing three mixes, including six hours of music.

The experience encouraged me to throw caution to the wind and start. I got a copy of Cockos Reaper, downloaded a couple of very basic VSTs, a few old sample packs with mostly one shot sounds and started trying to work out how to create something. If I got stuck, I watched a YouTube tutorial to help me out.

It’ll be six years of doing it in a few months from now, and I’m still doing it and hope to be for a long time.