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Plughugger Review

"When renowned sampling masters Sample Magic takes on the subject of house music production, the expectations are very high. But after reading through the near 150 pages, it's clear that Sample Magic have created one of the most relevant texts about modern dance music production.

Although the analytical part of my brain automatically enter Skeptical Mode as soon as I hear the words 'the secret of' something - it's still something I find hard to resist. So when sample library masterminds Sample Magic announced a 148 page physical book, with CD about production of house music, I quickly made sure I would get a copy as soon as it was released. Could this really be it? I asked myself. Sample Magic is not a company that fools around. But 'The secrets of house music production'? Apart from the marketing side of things, that's a pretty bold statement, if you ask me.

The first thing that entered my mind when receiving my copy, was how well-produced the book was: the whole design smells quality. From the paper to the layout. After working in publishing for many years, I do know one or two things about magazine production, and one of those things is that the person responsible for the budget always says 'Over My Dead Body' to all extravagances such as glossy cover, thick paper and the use of an unusual format. Especially during times of economical downturn. Although the high standards of material indeed does make the price higher, I'm glad Sample Magic didn't do what everybody else is doing: printing on toilet paper in standard slightly-larger-than-a-pocket-book-size. The thick colorful paper looks good and the format is practical: the book won't flip shut if you don't hold it in place. This is a book that looks good and you'll be enjoying reading it.

All in all, The secrets of house music production is a book that goes through all steps in a dance music production. Although it doesn't deal so much on matter of the creative process and how to generate new ideas, the book covers pretty much everything from the bottom up. From the first beat of the drum to the arrangement and to the final master.

The first chapter is dedicated to the drums and starts off with the foundation of dance music: the kick. On the dance floor the kick is king and in optimum conditions the baseline is his closest ally. Writer Marc Adamo (DJ Magazine/Future Music) does a terrific job in dealing with the whole seriousness of the kick - from the selection to how and why to layer kicks, to compression. What impressed me here, was the fact that the writer is very sober about it (about all parts in the book as a matter of fact). If you're one of those who usually just dial up a nice kick and start rolling, there are a couple initial mental preparations you'll learn to go through before you do anything. The kick has a purpose and is you job to nail that purpose even before you begin, and Sample Magic does a great job in explaining this. In fact, all tools and techniques are viewed in the same clear light: it shouldn't just sound 'cool' - in the best of worlds it should also make sense in the context.

The book covers all other parts of the drum kit, teaching you many valuable tips on when and why to apply certain compression or when to use transient designers, and the chapter ends with a couple of examples on how drums in different genres are built up. You heard about swing and the legendary feel of the MPC? You've ever wondered how exactly is the best way to work with swinging up your beats? How much should you apply? Should you apply swing to just your drums or the whole track? The answers are in here.

The structure of the book is basically like this: each chapter starts with a short introduction, followed by a general discussion. Then it moves on to how to choose and finally how to improve the sound. There are lots of hands-on examples in programs such as Battery, Reason, Logic, Autotune, Melodyne and Live. Every section is also filled with small but relevant tips and tricks. Between the chapters are interviews with artists such as The Young Punx and Jody Wisternoff who tell about their way of working.

There are a fair number of pages dedicated to vocals and how you use vocals in the best possible way. Although the book doesn't teach you how to write lyrics, the advices it hands out are very good, and is more useful than many of the books I've read on the subject. If you really want to learn how to improve your lyric writing, I do recommend the book 'Writing better lyrics' by Pat Pattison (it's a very clever book that teaches you several different approaches and how to move forward when you are stuck). The chapter on vocals naturally discusses the value of the hook, how to cut up vocals to create a great take and how to create some advanced editing stuff with Melodyne. It's clear that the writers of this book have been recording vocals in real situations. The tips and advices are as with everything else in this book: practical practical practical.

Apart from the chapters concerning the kick and snare, I quickly moved forward to see what Sample Magic had to say about mixing. The chapter on mixing takes up no more than 18 pages - but this should be viewed against the fact that most of the production has already been dealt with in the previous chapters. The book even goes so far to present a 32 step guide on how to create a good mix. Although everybody develops their own methods for creating good balance in the music, this serves as a good round-up of what needs to be done.

If there is anything I feel Sample Magic missed out, it's the oh-so-boring but oh-so-powerful matter of pan. If you use panning sensibly and with some planning you can create extra space for your instruments. When I'm in nagging mode I might as well bring up the CD. The CD contains 671 loops and samples taken from the libraries of Sample Magic. While the samples are among the best out there and the fact you're getting them for free with the book (which greatly improves the value for the book) I sort of hoped for an exclusive Sample Magic release with fresh samples totally designed for the book. That would have been a blast. As it is now you're only getting some 520+ megabyte sample material for free. I know, I am an ungrateful bastard and unfortunately is taken. I've already checked. Although the book is perfect in its form, I also feel that it would have been nice to see these techniques for real. To visually see the production techniques as video clips would have been absolutely fantastic.

This book has the destiny of becoming a classic. It's equally essential as KLFs The Manual (still spot on after all these years). Not only does the book focus on production that is relevant for makers of electronic music, but it's also executed in the best possible of ways.

You'll learn not just how to do it, but also why - and this with a minimum of blabber. Compared with the popular tutorials by Computer Music and Future Music - this book takes production, not one step further, but two. It gives you the answers of why and gives you a deeper understanding of how everything ties together.

Everything I've learned in music production have been through hard damn struggle. Here you have years of wisdom packaged in a glossy, wide format with 148 colorful pages. It's still only january, but I would be surprised if anything can top this one during 2010. Don't waste a moment. Buy it. This is the electronic musicians bible."