Contribution by Lilit Barseghyan, Sophomore at Lowell High School.
As a high school student interested in music production, there aren’t many resources available to help expand upon this interest. I spend a good amount of time trying to find classes or teachers around San Francisco to help me learn the programs and skills I need.
While searching for classes, I stumbled upon a music production school, Pyramind, and spotted an announcement about a special event they were going to host at their campus. The M Machine, Ben Swardlick and Eric Luttrell, former graduates, were returning to Pyramind to host a small group session where students and others could come join and listen to how they started their career and ask questions. Seeing as how this could be a useful experience for me, I signed up and went to the event.
Once I approached the building and stood in line, the first thing that struck me was how much older everyone was, either college aged students or older. As I walked into the main room where the session was taking place, I also noticed that from the 40 people there, only 3 of them were girls. That really got me wondering…was it that girls didn’t have as big of an interest in music? Or was it that not as many of them got into musical fields?
Anyway, the event began with the two members of The M Machine introducing themselves, Ben, and Eric. Their story started off with how they met each other at Pyramind, along with another group member named Andy. Back when they first arrived at the school, they formed a group called Pance Party and produced “glitch-house” music for fun. Later on, they started to play gigs at small parties around the city for friends. After a series of many lucky events, like meeting Skrillex, getting a warehouse all to themselves, etc, Pance Party realized their potential and started to take music producing more seriously, then began calling themselves The M Machine after Andy designed a huge M (out of ice hockey windows, acrylic material and led lights). The M Machine started to go on many tours with other famous artists including The Glitch Mob and Porter Robinson, which led to them being here.
Throughout the event, the audience was welcomed to ask questions to Ben and Eric. Many of these question covered important topics, such as tips and advice to future producers on their quest for a career in music production. Here were some of the questions:
Q: How long do you work on a song?
A: (Ben) Less than a week to six months. If something feels really good and all the beats fit perfect then it’ll take less time than other songs were we just get stuck.
Q: Do you have a special work style?
A: (Eric) It’s different every time. My advice is get all your sounds in order and get your tracks in order. There are no rules. If your computer can hold it go for it.
Q: Did you mess around or learned from others. What helped you mature?
A: (Ben) When you do something for many hours, you get a feel for it. Also, if you’re good in hearing then you hear it fits well. We also limped into some cool thing as we experimented. When you recognize that something is cool, it’s as important as organizing your work perfectly.
Q: Does every member have a different role in creating a song?
A: (Ben) No, we all can take a song from start to finish. Eric is awesome in arrangement and I step away from the computer and let him copy and paste sections or move things around. There’s no defined roles but we have strengths. Andy, the third member would come up with crazy sounds.
Q: When do you know a song is done?
A: (Eric) It’s never done. At certain point you have to let go. Back in the warehouse stage we were trying to race to be the first ones to release a song so it could be put on the OWSLA album.
Q: What’s one thing that you’d change seven years ago or do differently?
A: (Eric) Doing live shows and hauling the gigantic M. First time we rented a trailer and drove 40 hours non-stop to do the show. We would only stop to switch drivers. Then had to ship it to other shows and we weren’t popular enough to make it financially. So, decided to go with video shows instead.
(Ben) Also, release your music. Don’t just play for some people and get a few negative opinions. Don’t doubt yourself, people respect confidence. And they take it more seriously if you’re confident in yourself.
Q: How did you build your team?
A: Management was first, then a booking agent, the OWSLA label, Kobalt Music Publishing, business management, etc.
Q: Do you master your own tracks?
A: (Ben) Yes. We mix super low. Bring to a separate session Ozone 5 to bring it to decent loudness without ruining it. You notice certain glitches and then mess around and fix it.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: (Eric) It’s always fun to try something new. The recent style of our music is more laid back and it’s not screaming at your face. More funky and groovy. It’s about people dancing and having good time. Some of our fans went what the fuck is this? But as artists we feel like experimenting the whole time.
Q: What inspires you? What do you do other than making music?
A: (Ben) Carpentry videos on YouTube. I like super precise tools.
(Eric) I enjoy listening to music on youtube. Something like Hasoweh by Super Flu and Andhim. These guys make beautiful music.
After the Q&A session, the event came to a close and we were given the chance to go up to Eric and Ben and have a quick word with them, either to say thanks for their generosity and time, or just to ask other questions that weren’t asked before. I took this opportunity to ask Eric about my current situation, and see if he could recommend any resources to me. He told me that the best thing I could do now, was to watch a whole bunch of YouTube videos and self-teach myself in anyway I could.
Overall, I feel like this event was a great experience for me and others, and I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did from that day if I had gone to a concert instead. Also, I want to give a huge thanks to Ben and Eric for showing up and taking out time from their day to come talk to us and give us tips about future career interests. It was a funny yet educational experience that I am glad I didn’t miss.
Eric Luttrell on the left, Ben “Swardy” Swardlick on the right
Photos by Marisa Pfenning.