Clicksound MIDI Templates – Interview with Clicksound Co-founder Jon Dennis.
Natalie and I met through our mutual passion of music and production a few years ago. At the time, I was working for, strangely enough, a sample distribution company and Natalie came strolling in one day looking to expand her library of sounds as she was just starting to develop her independent music production company, Rockbarn Media.
Immediately discovering our innately similar interests and ambitions, we set about launching Rockbarn Media together as business partners. I had always been thinking about the concept of MIDI Construction Templates and how I could use my experience as a professional producer and create my own templates. Just a few months down the line of Rockbarn, with everything ticking along nicely, Natalie and I decided to start setting up Clicksound.
After already having set up one business off our own backs successfully during a recession, setting up another one was always going to be on another tight budget! So, we knuckled down and from the outset of Clicksound, we decided to do everything ourselves, from building the website/online shop from scratch to developing the products, launch strategy and so on. The result has been a great advantage for us as not only do we have complete control over all aspects of our business and are completely in-tune with it (excuse the pun!), but creating a business during a recession also means you immediately have to make a hugely lean machine and Clicksound’s proving to be a terrifically fit athlete!
The inspiration for Clicksound has evolved out of my own professional musical career, which started over 20 years ago when I was a teenager and landed my first record deal with Strictly Underground Records. From day one of my producer career, right up to the point where we committed to start developing Clicksound, there has been very limited availability of sample library or construction kit-like material formatted in MIDI alone.
The focus of the industry instead has lead us to see the massive and amazing development of audio sample libraries and a brilliant, expansive evolution of that strand of production tool, which – don’t get me wrong – is fantastic. I love these tools enormously, but I felt there was a gap that I could fill. I decided to address this by creating a product that has the same production values, ease of use and range of styles as the audio alternatives, but with the flexibility and malleability of MIDI and ultimate customisation at its core that will stand on its own, but also be complimentary to creating projects with both our MIDI material and audio samples. Think of our products as a source of inspiration, just like sample libraries or construction kits, but instead of being bounced to audio, we stay in MIDI, keeping all elements live, active and ready for producers to edit, pull apart and completely make their own.
I’ve got a couple of decades-worth of professional production expertise in numerous styles and genres of EDM, having been signed, in the early days, to many independent labels to later, being signed to a number of major labels like Universal, Warner and Mercury. At the centre of my production has always been MIDI and it’s been the same for Natalie too, so it’s been a natural step for us to create MIDI Construction Templates.
On a tuition level, I wanted to be able to put my expertise into our products as we all have to learn from somewhere, just like I did! I know that if there had been MIDI Construction Templates around when I was starting out and developing myself as a producer, I would have definitely used them as a way to help me learn production techniques such as mastering and generally how things are put together when creating a track – with access to MIDI material that I can go right into, play around with, work out how this producer has done that, discover different combinations, the list goes on!
Every producer is different, no one producer will write the same track or even necessarily in the same way, so essentially it’s like asking what sets Apple apart from Microsoft – they both create similar product ranges! The biggest difference I suppose is that right from the beginning we decided not to create full-length, ‘completed’ songs.
Instead, we wanted to create a palette of MIDI elements which gives a producer the opportunity to spin them out for themselves and have the space, flexibility and freedom to work the project into whatever they want to it become.
Our principle is to give you the building blocks of a track, not a pre-fabricated structure as we personally feel that allowing producers space to develop an idea and create with a palette is more beneficial to the imagination than having to deconstruct a full track to take the elements you want out of it and then customise.
Of course, some people will prefer to work retrospectively; getting a complete track, deconstructing it and then pulling it all back together again in their own way. Everyone has their own individual way of working and we just provide another perspective.
Similarly, another thing that we have always felt strongly about is to concentrate on ensuring that no one template sounds like any other. Each template MUST be a new idea and not just a spin off from a previous template and equally must sound as genuine as if it could be released somewhere like Beatport.
We put a lot of time and effort into crafting each template, and for us it really is crafting and creating a polished product that will always be new, original, contemporary with a healthy dusting of innovation, but most importantly, always inspiring.
Essentially, it’s important to remember that there really isn’t any competition at all, we, like everyone else in the industry are just adding to the variety of the library of sampleware available, which is ultimately a very good thing!
As with any business, things develop, but if you check our original business plan, Loopmasters distribution in Year 2 is on there! So, yes is the answer! The most important thing in the beginning of Clicksound was to build over our first year or so a solid business and brand with a quality product that has been honed, crafted, gained notoriety and proven as successful and as something that producers really want and can celebrate. We’re terrifically thankful that organically, across the globe, Clicksound and our products has done just this, as we had hoped.
We’ve been running now since March 2012 and in just over a year and a half, we feel that our brand is established enough to spread our wings further. We have had a great relationship with Loopmasters right from the start of Clicksound and there has always been interest from Loopmasters in what we are doing, for which we are very grateful and a wee bit flattered (everyone likes to hear that they have had a great idea!) 18-months down the line, we feel that we can provide Loopmasters with an established and unique, distinctive, polished product that will appeal to both producers at the beginning of their journey right through to the more seasoned pros. Our website will continue in exactly the same way as it has been from the launch of Clicksound with new templates always in the making. All our products that are available on Loopmasters will still be available on our website, plus we’ll still be selling our additional products like our Classical and Symphonic MIDI Construction Template range and our smaller EDM Micro Templates which are essentially ‘condensed’ templates that are great for dipping a toe into what we do!
Our initial launch will be a selection of templates for Ableton Live and Logic Pro by some of our artists that we work with such as Tucano, Joe Zay, Tempa and Projekts.
We will be kicking off with our latest release which is a Big Room style House template for Ableton Live from Joe Zay as well as a selection of his Ableton Complextro Templates. We are also releasing a stunning range of Deep House, Progressive and Complextro Templates for Logic Pro and Ableton Live by Tucano, Projekts and Tempa.
In addition to this, we will be adding our existing and ever-growing EDM catalogue to Loopmasters over the coming months with styles ranging from Drum and Bass, Dubstep and Trap to Electro House and Funkstep, so there’s lots to start off with and lots more to come.
Keeping everything in MIDI is an essential part of what we do and that will always be our backbone. We like to do something that sets us apart, but at the same time compliment other creative sources. If people want stems, then one of the beauties of our products is that you can actually create your own from our templates; so you can change the MIDI elements to exactly what you want and then bounce your stems, so we feel we don’t need to bounce stems for people.
Plus, the whole essence of our product is creative freedom and customisation, so perhaps it would be a little counter-intuitive to bounce our templates as stems, thus taking away a certain element of flexibility. Equally, as our products currently stand, they are about 20MB roughly each to download, so we love the fact that our customers can get started using their products within just a few minutes of buying it.
It’s always interesting seeing, or rather hearing what techniques other producers use. There are the obvious ones such as the mastering process and the commonly used Sidechain kick, but it is good to sometimes break away from what everyone else is doing and try and create something new and innovative.
I’ve always been driven to be innovative with what I do and experiment to create something cutting-edge, in my mind, rules are there to be broken. It’s when these rules are broken that often we discover amazing new techniques and in actual fact, it is my belief that the ‘sound of EDM’ today is built upon the foundation of breaking or at least stretching the commonplace rules.
All this is one of the principles that we encourage in the crafting of each of our templates, so the end-user gets a mixture of traditional elements mixed with new ideas and styles of production. All these can of course then be stretched, changed, customised etc. etc. by the end-user so they can then get breaking some rules of their own!
We are all a little bit chameleon-like at Clicksound and all of us are able to successfully write different genres because we’ve all had experience professionally creating records in different styles.
With technology as it is today, it’s much easier to achieve a great sounding mix, however, understanding a genre and its sonic idiosyncrasies is extremely important and sometimes takes a learned ear to decipher, so we use our expertise to pick up on the evolutionary process of studio production techniques in each genre and apply them faithfully to our templates together with our own signatures.
As I say, we like to keep things fresh and try to experiment with new ideas. We’ve always made a point of listening and analysing production techniques used within each genre and then give it our own twist in-house.
What our customers get is a platform upon which they can build that has its foundations made up of experience, innovation and commonplace techniques used across the industry today.
With Clicksound and our music production company Rockbarn Media, we end up listening to all kinds of things, some things we almost wouldn’t even want to admit to! I love listening to anything old skool such as the late 80s Hip House and Hip Hop, in fact, we had what I like to call, ‘A YouTube Jukebox Night’ in one of our studios the other night where we literally plumbed in anything that came to mind from De La Soul right through to Massive Attack to Goldie!It was epic!
At the moment, I love what Deadmau5 is doing, I’m often listening on his Soundcloud. Similarly, away from EDM, I often listen to bands like Muse, Empire of the Sun, anyone really who seems to enjoy evolving their music and keeps me guessing! So, pretty varied playlists really. Hitting ‘shuffle’ on my mp3 player often creates the most bizarre range of music – especially when Natalie’s music gets mixed in from Goldfrapp through to Queen, Howlin’ Wolf to Turkish Folk Music and Daft Punk to Danny Elfman – she’s the really weird eclectic one!
Our work with our music production company Rockbarn Media certainly has helped when it comes to being ‘on it with your game face on’ as soon as you walk into the studio; no time is wasted! Equally, it’s definitely helped in terms of keeping an eye on the fashions and vogues of music at that moment in time.
In the advertising world, everything needs to have been done pretty much ‘yesterday’, we often get briefs in the evening that need to be delivered finished by the following morning and equally, we often have to think on the fly and come up with a number of different ways of doing things. So, yes, from an organisational point of view, it has helped enormously.
Another advantage with Rockbarn and our commercial music is that we can be asked to write literally any kind of music, any style, any genre and that genuinely has been from EDM through to traditional Samba, contemporary Tango, full-on symphonic/film, minimalist piano, indie acoustic to Charleston and beyond!
Like I say, we are a little chameleon-like and both Natalie and I have a lot of professional and academic expertise in all kinds of different music and the wider the variety of music we create, the more we learn, can develop and get creative with methodologies, techniques and styles.
This obviously, naturally feeds in to the creative process for Clicksound and I think gives us the edge to be as innovative as possible as we have to invent so often and we constantly have a number of different working ideas on the table at once.
Vayron is a personal project between Natalie and I that has been born out of the brief that we pitched for O2 through Rockbarn and won with our track called Ascent, which has now become the title track for our debut EP which has a mixture of vocal and instrumental euphoric electronica tracks.
Our lives are built around constantly thinking of new ideas, so Vayron is very much another outlet for ideas. Sometimes there is an element, an effect or sound for instance that I’ve put in a template and I’ve popped it in the memory bank for possible future use and adaptation perhaps with a future Vayron track, but I do see Vayron very much as an experimental arena.
In fact, one of the principles that Natalie and I have with Vayron is to try not to conform or sound like anyone else, it’s very much our own personal musical outlet, and one that I’m very proud of.
I think in terms of how I produce templates, writing full tracks with Natalie for Vayron keeps us both in the game of thinking about the big-picture, complete track. With our templates, you have to have that ‘big picture’ in your head but not put it into practice as we don’t want to prescribe to you or give you a full track. We have to ask ourselves, “if I were going to spin this out to a full track, what tools would I need?” This is so that we can ensure that an end-user will never be left wanting for more building blocks.
I think the only particular producers that we aim our MIDI Construction Templates towards are EDM producers in general. The beauty of our products is that they can be completely transformed by the individual user, so from a technical point of view, a producer can buy an Electro template and create a completely individually-stylised Electro track or take elements from it to use within a Techno track or even a Deep House track.
We neither aim for just seasoned producers or absolute beginners, but try to create products that can be satisfyingly played with at all levels of the producer ability spectrum. We would like to see everyone within this spectrum grab hold and have a go with our templates, just like absolutely anyone could grab a sample library and get to work with it in their DAW.
We’re very proud of our educational qualities and always wish to encourage anyone who wishes to produce music to have that opportunity and to never be limited by frustrations of inexperience.
We want producers to use our templates as inspiration to write their own music, so we’d love to see someone going right in to all the MIDI parts and pulling them apart to utilise within their own style. Being in MIDI, it’s really easy to take any of the elements and change the pitch, speed, rhythm, velocity, sound, effects and so on to suit whatever project you are working on.
Each MIDI Construction Template contains the main elements and building blocks of a track respective to its genre – so you get the building blocks for a Deep House track with Tucano Deep House MIDI Elements Vol. 2 for instance, which is available as one of our first releases with Loopmasters.
Our templates are project files for Ableton Live and Logic Pro. This means that it is no different from you opening one of your existing projects from your computer. As soon as you open the project file in your preferred DAW, you can get straight to work as everything will have automatically loaded using the built-in Virtual Instruments and Effects.
Typically, for each template you will get a package of MIDI tracks tailor made for that particular style. All include MIDI drums, basslines and/or bass sounds, synth leads, pads and effects relevant to the genre. Everything is colour coded to make it easy to navigate around the template and quickly establish ‘what is where’. We also include a ‘Notes’ section which contains any relevant information such as which tracks have automation and how to use the Sidechain compression on new tracks for instance.
Each template also includes a pre-configured Mastering channel that uses the built-in plug-ins of the DAW. This is a completely customisable and ‘tweakable’ mastering channel but as it stands, it contains all the main components such as EQ, Compression and Limiting adapted to that genre that will immediately give you a crisp, clear, loud, well-balanced and professional sounding mix.
Overall, each template is a professional, quality product packed full of MIDI elements that you can use as part of your creative arsenal.
Infinity and beyond! Developing more templates and templates for other DAWs such as Propellerheads Reason and Steinberg Cubase, developing more styles and different takes on a template within the format that we have established…obviously, with the launches of Ableton Live 9 and Logic Pro X this year, there are tonnes of possibilities and things to experiment with included within the recent upgrades.
Thanks to our friends at Ableton, Push has already landed in the Clicksound studio and we are looking at the possibility of creating some dedicated Push MIDI packs. Generally though, the plan…being creative, innovative and definitely a little maverick!