Inspiration for the original (during his TEN7 sabbatical)
Ducking and sidechaining effects
Drumbeat, bass line, synth and rhythm guitar
Open source music
IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. My guest today, on a very special episode of the podcast, is DJ LexFunk. His real name is Alexis Vazquez, but we just call him Lex at the office. He’s one of the senior members of the team, a Drupal developer that’s been with TEN7 since the days of Adobe Flash and ActionScript. It’s a great pleasure to welcome you, Lex, to the podcast.
LEXFUNK: Well thanks for having me. Adobe. That’s funny. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] It is funny. I remember you sitting in my office with your DVD of the portfolio of work you had, and amongst it was, certainly some Flash.
LEXFUNK: Yes, that’s true. We’re trying to bring it back, but nobody wants it.
IVAN: Nobody seems to want it anymore. I don’t know.
So, you are solely responsible for the music that plays at the beginning of every TEN7 podcast. It’s played now 74 times in the past. It’s the signature of the TEN7 podcast. We basically had it since the first episode back in April of 2017. If you remember back then, we actually called it an audiocast, it wasn’t a podcast. [laughing] I don’t know why we did that.
LEXFUNK: Because we weren’t all the way in. We were like, “Do we want to do a podcast?”
IVAN: I think you’re right; we weren’t all the way in. it was five minutes, right? It’s not a podcast. [laughing]
LEXFUNK: Yeah, we didn’t know what it was.
IVAN: We didn’t know what it was. Back then we had also just started being completely distributed and office-less, after being a brick and mortar shop for 10 years. So much has changed since we first started, and so this episode feels like it’s the right time to change the music of the show as well. What do you think?
LEXFUNK: Yeah. I was kind of excited to hear that you wanted a remix, and I had a few ideas. But, if we go back to the original track, you said April was the first release of the podcast?
IVAN: April, yeah.
LEXFUNK: So, the original recording was actually done in November of 2016.
IVAN: Oh, it was.
LEXFUNK: Yeah, it was. It was something I had worked on during my sabbatical and just had. And when you mentioned that you would want some music, I immediately thought of that track. Oddly enough the track [laughing] name I saved it as the whole project name—this is months before this was ever an idea—the file name is "That’s What She Said." For no reason. I don’t know why, maybe I had episodes of The Office in the background or something. I have no idea what it was. Then I was like, Well, that’s a perfect name. I’m like, He might like this one. [laughing] I think I played it at an In-Person for you.
IVAN: You did. Were we at the library, the Walker Library over in Uptown, maybe you played it there?
LEXFUNK: I think so, Yeah. I think that’s exactly where I played it.
IVAN: Yeah. I liked the hook right away. What was your original inspiration for that track? You said you made it during a sabbatical, so you were kind of taking time off. I’m sure you were playing a lot of music. What was the original inspiration?
LEXFUNK: Right. So, back during the sabbatical, I was treating every day as a workday to work on music. So, I was getting up 7 a.m., making coffee, going down to the basement studio and just working on music every morning, and then at night too. So then in the afternoons, I would spend time doing whatever else. But I was experimenting a lot with different sorts of synthesizer sounds and different plugins. I was catching up on what was new in Ableton Live [sound editing software] then and getting to know my equipment a lot better. I was watching a lot of YouTube tutorials on Ableton Live, learning different mixing techniques and how to automate sounds, which was sort of an experimental track that evolved, I guess.
IVAN: Do you have that original track handy that you might be able to play it?
LEXFUNK: Yeah. Here, let me play it.
IVAN: Let’s hear it. Let’s hear what it sounded like.
LEXFUNK: Alright. Here it is. [music]
IVAN: Yeah. I’ve heard the remix version of this so many times now, and I’ve listened to it so many times now, that I feel like this track that you just played, which is played for 74 episodes, is too fast. [laughing]
LEXFUNK: [laughing] It’s too fast?
IVAN: It’s too fast.
LEXFUNK: It’s weird. I don’t know. I mean, it seems too fast now, yes. It’s weird.
IVAN: It’s weird. So, let’s talk about the speed. That’s a major component when you’re composing music, to decide how fast is this thing going to be?
LEXFUNK: Right. So, one of the techniques I was working on, trying to get down was, sort of a ducking, sidechaining effect.
IVAN: I don’t know what that is.
LEXFUNK: I’ll explain a little bit. The synthesized sound, I’ll play it for you, this one. [music]
LEXFUNK: You hear how it kind of rises up?
LEXFUNK: What’s happening there is, when it’s quiet, that’s when the kick drum is hitting. Here it is without the ducking. So, it’s a lot louder. So, when we match that up with the drumbeat, which sounds like this. [music]
LEXFUNK: Each one of those bass hits actually play louder than the synthesizer, and the synthesizer will be turned down, which creates this pulsing effect. It’s the one thing that I was trying to learn how to work with that and try to make my mixes less muddy, and I think we achieved it. So, you can hear that in the track. Then, if we go back to the recording, you can hear it doing that. [music] Right?
IVAN: Oh, yeah.
LEXFUNK: Then when it gets to the part where the drums cut off, you can hear that synthesizer play out a lot longer.
IVAN: Yeah. It’s like it’s being amplified on a regular basis.
LEXFUNK: Right. So, that’s some automation that is built into Ableton Live that I configured that you can tell different channels to duck out when one’s at a certain volume, and that’s kind of what I did there. It’s called sidechaining, and I’ve watched too many videos on it. [laughing] That’s what I spend my time doing.
IVAN: [laughing] It’s amazing. So, there’s a vast number of layers in the audio, and when you hear the final sound, I don’t think you appreciate the number of channels and the number of layers that go into putting all of those things together.
LEXFUNK: Right. That’s kind of the idea behind the technique too. You play certain sounds at a certain time. If you play them altogether, very loud, it’s kind of muddy sounding and you can’t differentiate what you should be focusing on.
IVAN: When you first started screwing around with this track back at the end of 2016, was there a particular sample or a particular sound that you heard that you started with? Because I refer to it as the hook, but that’s kind of the part of the track that I think about as being the defining melody, or the defining thing that the podcast intro music is? I guess I wonder if you think it’s the same thing or if it started somewhere else?
LEXFUNK: No, it started somewhere else, definitely. So, it started with the drums, just that basic drum loop I had, and I just kept that basic drum loop, I didn’t do anything else with it. Then I added just a simple bass line over it. [music]
IVAN: Yeah, that one.
LEXFUNK: Just a basic bass line. But I think actually the bass probably came after the synthesizer part that I’ve already played. So, I had the drumbeat and the bass line and the synthesizer going, and then I wanted to add one more element, and I wanted it to sound like a rhythm guitar, sort of. I mean, it was still synthesized, but it ended up sounding like this. [music]
IVAN: That’s what I had referred to as the hook, that melody that you have there.
LEXFUNK: So that was probably the last part I added. I thought it was something that I needed. I brought it in for what I guess would be the hook. It was just a result of trial and error, trying different rhythms. There’s a lot of notes, but it’s the same note over and over again, for the most part.
IVAN: It reminds me of the software development process a little bit, doesn’t it? It’s iterative?
LEXFUNK: Yes, it’s iterative. It’s a lot of trial and error, even progressive, I guess.
IVAN: Do you have an endpoint you’re trying to get to? Do you know where you’re going?
LEXFUNK: Well, for this particular project, no. As far as I got is what we ended up using on the podcast. I didn’t come back to the project after that, until we wanted to maybe master a few things and switch some levels and come up with a better set of sequences for it. But, other than that, it’s all the same four elements, just the drums, the bass and a synthesizer sound that is layered itself, and then the guitar sound.
IVAN: Does it change after you’ve left the music alone for a month or two?
LEXFUNK: Sometimes. I often just come back to old stuff and think, Oh, let’s listen to that again. Maybe I’ll have an idea of what it could be. I usually think, This is pretty well done I would suppose, and it just needs to be sequenced in a way that’s maybe more of a song arrangement. But for the most part, I usually end up coming back to tracks and just finishing the sequences and not adding too much more, and just adjusting levels, mastering it more like that, rather than adding more elements to it.
IVAN: Is there a maximum number of elements that you consider, if you go over this threshold and the number of elements, like that’s too many?
LEXFUNK: No. I don’t start any projects with any rules, really. It’s just kind of, start with a clean slate, usually maybe a simple drumbeat, depending on the idea. That’s one workflow, you lay down just a simple drumbeat and kind of start messing around with the keyboard a little bit, figure out a chord progression or figure out a bass line you like, or figure out some sounds you want to use. Maybe some samples. Then just start trying different things out.
IVAN: I think it turned out really well and it’s definitely been something I’ve enjoyed listening to at the beginning of every podcast. Now that we have a new remix, what was your initial reaction when I said, “Hey, what do you think about remixing?” What were you thinking when I asked you about that?
LEXFUNK: I was intrigued by it. I definitely wanted to do a remix. Immediately when you mentioned it, I wanted to change it up a little bit and give it more of a Latin vibe, at least the drums. I didn’t know I was going to slow it down so much, but that is kind of what I was thinking. I think you let me know, maybe, I don’t even know when the original text you sent me was, probably in August of this year?
IVAN: Yeah, it was at the end of the summer, a couple months ago now.
LEXFUNK: Right. And you’re like, “Maybe in a few weeks. You don’t need to do it now, but in a few weeks do it.” I think I waited two months before I even touched it. But I was thinking about it and I had ideas. You also had ideas, right? Like this Morse code thing that you passed to me.
IVAN: Yeah. When I suggested it to you at first, I was like, We could use some freshening up. Something different. Some change. I’m going to ask Lex what he thinks, and he could work on it if he wants to. Then it was about a month and a half later I was surfing the web and reading articles, and I discovered a website where you could give the website text and it would give you the Morse code beep, dots and dashes of that text you gave it. I thought, What would be the first thing I would put in the text box on a site like that? [laughing] Well, not my name. So, I put in TEN7 and I thought, Oh, that sounds kind of cool. I’m going to share this with Lex, maybe he could use it somehow. [laughing]
LEXFUNK: Right. I liked the idea of it, and so I actually took that original audio that you sent me, and I was able to download the file from the site. I actually recorded it into Ableton, and then I was able to figure out what the dots and dashes were in a MIDI form, so that I could change the pitch of it, and change the sound.
IVAN: And you made it echo too, didn’t you?
LEXFUNK: Yes. So, I don’t think technically it’s Morse code sound anymore, because it’s a lot more dots and dashes. I don’t know, can you do reverb in Morse code? I don’t think so.
IVAN: [laughing] I think Morse code is not even eight bit, it’s one bit, or two bits. Why don’t we play the original and then play the remix, and then let’s talk about the process of what happened in the remix and how you changed it.
LEXFUNK: Alright. You want to play the original in full?
IVAN: Yeah, let’s play the first 30 seconds or so the people are used to.
LEXFUNK: Alright, here that goes. [music]
Okay, now the remix.
IVAN: Now the remix. Here it is. [music]
Man, there’s a lot going on there, and I think you can feel the essence of the original, and you can still see that it’s different. Definitely Latin flavor remix. Absolutely. That was the first thing you said that came to mind, definitely, there’s that. So, also, slower. Let’s talk about the beats per minute. 125 for the first one, right. You slowed it down.
LEXFUNK: Yeah. We ended up at 107 which just felt right. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Of course it did.
LEXFUNK: It does. I started with just the drumbeat right? Well, first I started with the Morse code thing, and I was like, All right, let’s see what that sounds like over drums. Should I play that part? Do you want to hear that?
IVAN: Sure. Go for it. Yeah.
LEXFUNK: It starts off at 125 and then it’ll slowly slow down to 107, and it just sort of clicks into the right speed. You listen. [music]
And so, we get down to 107, and it just feels right. [laughing] It was the right speed I wanted. I wanted the track to be more laid back and not so in your face. So, when this started off at 125 bpm, it seemed like it was too much. There would’ve been a lot going on. I don’t know when other people listen to podcasts. I mostly listen to them in the mornings while I’m doing a little bit of work. I don’t need the theme song to be right in my face, high energy to start. I wanted something a little bit more laid back.
IVAN: I love that you landed on 107.
LEXFUNK: Well, yeah. I think I worked with 110 for quite some time, and then I was like, What’s 3 bpm? Make it 107, We’ll see how that goes. I actually liked it better. That’s where we ended up. Other elements came after that then. Once we got to that point where we had the Morse code and the beat, and I kind of knew what the speed was, I started bringing in other elements. I started bringing in the bass part.
IVAN: Yeah. [music]
LEXFUNK: It’s basically the same bass line, but then I got rid of the super-layered synthesizer sound and went back to something more simple, but it’s the same chord progression. It still keeps the same general vibe.
IVAN: Then that guitar riff. Yeah. And it also comes in much later than the original. Ooh. Teasing us there a little Lex. [laughing]
LEXFUNK: [laughing] Right. I guess to start, the remix elements are the key parts and the drumbeat and the Morse code. I wanted to play that and showcase that before we got into what we’re calling the hook, or the main riff that brings both of these mixes together.
IVAN: Together, yeah.
LEXFUNK: I changed a few elements, but there is still some continuity between both versions.
IVAN: I’m glad you didn’t get rid of it. When I listened to it the first time I was like, This is much slower. I don’t recognize it. Where’s the little guitary part? Oh, there it is. So, I think the only edit I had to this whole intro music was to put the volume up on, I guess what we’re calling the hook now, right? The riff?
IVAN: Because I think like you said, it really is the thing that connects the first version of the intro music to this remix.
LEXFUNK: Yeah. I think it was actually a good edit because when I listen back to it, I’m like, Is it? It’s the main thing. I think that was a good call. Then, I guess, I teased you a little bit with this other sound.
LEXFUNK: Let me play that back. [music]
It was something I had put in. That came actually from the original version of the track. There’s a whole section that has all sorts of little electric guitar-sounding synthesizer riffs. I didn’t know what to do with them, honestly, so I cut them from the original. Then I brought that one back for the remix and I thought, the podcast intro plays for what?
IVAN: 30 or 40 seconds.
LEXFUNK: 30 seconds. So, to me it was probably too much, but I can work it into the outro version, where we play that at the end.
IVAN: Oh, a longer tail at the end. Yeah, that might be a good thing. We’ll have a little bit of a longer tail, I like that, yeah.
LEXFUNK: But then you keep asking me to make an EP version of those tracks. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] I do. That was my next question. Have you thought about what a full-length EP of the song looks like?
LEXFUNK: Yeah. We kind of got the base. I gave you a minute 01:30 version that’s probably too long, you won’t use the whole thing. I think I can come up with some sort of arrangement is a little bit longer that should satisfy your needs.
IVAN: Thank you for like four or five minutes’ worth.
LEXFUNK: [laughing] Five minutes. However long you want, man.
IVAN: Yeah, four or five minutes, that’s what I’m going to go with.
LEXFUNK: [laughing] Okay.
IVAN: [laughing] Tell me something that I just thought of right now. How do you feel about open source music?
LEXFUNK: Open source music?
IVAN: Yeah. We spend our lives building code that’s based on open source technology for our clients. We contribute back into the community with things that are open source, but I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about open source audio and open source sound. What are your feelings on that?
LEXFUNK: I guess I don’t have many thoughts about it. I never thought about open sourcing the music part. There’s things out there that you can open source the creation, the ability to give everyone the tools that they need to make music, but the music itself usually isn’t open source. I mean everything is highly licensed now anyway.
LEXFUNK: Do you think Taylor Swift would ever come out with an open source album?
IVAN: I don’t know. What does that look like? Is it a free download?
IVAN: Is it all of the components of the whole sound?
LEXFUNK: I guess that’s sort of an idea, like me looking at somebody like Chance the Rapper. He released all of his music for free.
IVAN: Oh, he did?
LEXFUNK: He just did shows and made money doing touring. Or didn’t Moby put a pretty large chunk of his library online and allowed people to use it in other creative works.
IVAN: That’s right.
LEXFUNK: It’s been done before.
IVAN: It has been done before, and I suppose the only reason why you might not open source the music is because of the licensing agreements, right?
IVAN: Because you can’t then make money off of the streaming by other parties. You have to go the touring route and the performance route by actually earning dollars from that. Didn’t Beck do something like release an album that never had anyone play any of the songs. He released the music and the notes, and then you could play the album yourself and it would be however you interpreted the track?
LEXFUNK: I do not know. I’m not sure. I haven’t heard of that one. But that sounds like a Beck thing to do. I know he’s done other things. A lot of artists will come out with sample packs, or producers will come out with sample packs that you can make money on them sometimes. But other times they’re just free, and this is kind of a set of sounds I used to create a few projects. That kind of thing happens a lot. I guess, when you open source code, people are using GitHub, they’re using something that’s kind of a place where everyone goes. Right?
LEXFUNK: Most of the open sourcing is people passing files to each other in forums and that kind of thing.
IVAN: And changes the ability to change the sound. I suppose that’s what the remix is right? You’ve taken your original and you’ve committed some new changes to the project file.
LEXFUNK: Right. You’ll see that too. Bands will release stem files of songs. Calvin Harris released, I think, five acapellas from one of his albums ahead of a big EDM Festival and let everyone just remix it and do whatever they wanted with it. So, it happens. But it’s organized as many of the open source projects are, unless I don’t know about them. I guess I never thought to go look for open source music.
IVAN: Yeah, it just struck me now as something we should talk about. Really interesting stuff. I love talking about the progression of how this all started and hearing all of the different clips that you played for us today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for creating the music for the podcast. Thank you for remixing it, for changing it, and thank you for spending your time with me today talking about it.
LEXFUNK: Thanks for having me on. What’s the next remix going to be? [laughing] What do you think?
IVAN: [laughing] Well, when I feel a change coming on, I will let you know, and you will be the one who tells me about the remix. I do think, though, that your idea of having a longer tail, a longer version for the outro, I like that. Maybe if you’re listening to this podcast, we will have implemented it for the end of this particular episode.
LEXFUNK: Let’s do it.
IVAN: Let’s do it. Lex is LexFunk, and you can find him on Twitter as @lexfunk. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.