Sometime in high school, my mom and I were browsing in a computer store like we always did. I can’t remember the exact store, but I know it’s a chain that doesn’t exist anymore (likely Circuit City or Comp USA). Next to bookstores, computer stores were my favorite places to visit. See, I’d had a computer since I was four years old. My uncle, my mom’s older brother, was a computer engineer in the mid-80s and he convinced my mom to get my brother and me computers because “they are the future”; he was ahead of his time! As a child, I spent hours on my computer typing stories and playing games, so computer stores were some of favorite places to go. You never knew what kind of games or programs you might find.
That day, I saw a program at the store that looked intriguing. It was a music production program called Techno Ejay. I flipped over the box that it came in to read the description.
Drag and drop samples and create your own songs! it said.
Wow, sounded awesome! That easy? Cool!
And only $30? Whoa, I just had to try it!
Mom wasn’t so sure about it, though. She thought it was expensive. (Not really; $30 in 2001 is only $41 now in 2017 …. I’ve bought apps that were more expensive than that.)
But she bought it for me anyway.
Not only was I interested in it because of the price but also the idea that I could create my own music. Especially electronic music. A few years before I got Techno Ejay, I got the soundtrack to the movie Lost in Space. That was one of those movies that my parents took me to see because they remembered the original 60s show. I LOVED the music. So we went to Sam Goody after seeing the movie and I bought the soundtrack on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman.
It was one of my top albums of the late 90s. The music on that soundtrack was so different from anything I had heard before. Before I got the Lost in Space soundtrack, I was used to simple four-minute pop songs with lots of lyrics and vocals. My parents switched between soft rock or oldies on car trips. So that’s what I was used to hearing.
But the electronic music on that soundtrack was long and had unknown sounds and free-flowing structures. And minimal to non-existent lyrics too! I’d never heard anything like it. Ever. This kind of music never got played on the radio stations my parents always listened to in the car.
Hearing these songs again takes me right back to listening to this on my headphones on the bus going to the middle school across town. I’d turn these songs up loud, trying to drown out the stupid antics from the other kids on the bus, watching the world go by outside my window.
The Crystal Method – Busy Child
Propellerheads – Bang On!
Death in Vegas – Song for Penny (I used to play this LOUD at home when my parents weren’t home and on my Walkman when I was walking between classes)
When I saw Techno Ejay as a teenager, I was still really into the soundtrack to Lost in Space, so when I saw a music program for creating your own electronic music, I was excited to try it! Who knew that I too could create my own electronic music just like the stuff on that album, with Techno Ejay!
I brought it home, installed it and immediately began using it. I realized that the program was simple to use, just right for someone like me who had never made music like this before in my life. Over three hundred samples on a CD, all categorized by DRUMS, BASS, SPHERES (a.k.a. pads), and even the ability to make your own melodies using a sequencer and save them to your songs! All you had to do was drag and drop the samples into one of sixteen tracks, then control individual track volumes and even whether the track would be panned left or right. It was more about using samples than creating from scratch. Perfect for beginners like me!
These days, I sing over my own music. Back then, I had MAJOR confidence issues with singing, despite being in the choir and taking voice lessons. So rather than singing, I chose to do spoken-word poetry over the music. Since I didn’t have a microphone (hard to believe there was a time when computers didn’t come with built-in microphones!), I used a handheld tape recorder.
To add vocals to my techno compositions, I spoke my vocals into the recorder, then ran an auxiliary audio cord into the computer and played what I had recorded into the computer and used it in my song. At that time, I had a computer program for converting LPs and cassettes to WAV files, so I used that program for getting my vocals into the computer. (Quite a very different setup than what I have now, that’s for sure!) It meant that my vocals were not that fitting with the music, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was having fun with making my own music!
And have fun I did. I spent hours making my own songs in the comfort of my bedroom. I’d open AOL Instant Messenger and chat with friends while I played with samples in Techno Ejay. Sometimes I stayed up late into the night with my headphones on, dragging and dropping samples into the interface and making my own freely structured songs. I didn’t even thinking about proper transitions and all the other things that I keep in mind when making songs these days. It was all about experimenting and having fun. And isn’t that what creation is all about? Having fun with what you’re doing?
Fast forward to 2017, almost twenty years later (GAH!!!). Since Techno Ejay, I’ve used GarageBand, Logic Express, and these days, I’m into Logic Pro X, which has way more customization than Techno Ejay does. Logic, after all, is meant for pros. Techno Ejay, however, isn’t. There’s no ability to fade between tracks or do a lot of panning throughout a song (automation is one of my BFFs in recording and producing my own music). There’s no EQing (equalization) of tracks to balance out their places in the mix either. And no way to customize chords for the endless pads they offer in the program. You’re stuck with whatever chords are already there in the sound.
Going back to using Techno Ejay for fun (through an emulator, mind you; I’m a firm Mac girl now!) required me to think a lot more simply! It also made me realize that I’ve moved beyond using samples and that I prefer to do my own stuff from scratch.
And you know what? That’s fine. Because Techno Ejay was meant for people like 16-year-old me who had never produced music before. You don’t want to overwhelm music production newbies with all the settings and options of a program like Logic Pro. I’ve been using Logic for a few years now and I still don’t know everything. There’s a reason people go to school for years and years to learn all about Logic Pro. One of my good friends even has a masters in electronic production and knows her way around Logic. Me, I know what I know by launching myself into it and seeing “hey, what does this button do? Or what about this? Wait, I want to try this other thing, let’s go to YouTube and look for a tutorial.”
I know not everyone is like that, but that’s how I learn. I just get in there and try it. And if I make a mistake, oh well, that’s part of the learning process. I’m like that with sewing. Writing stories. Cooking. Crochet. Anything creative. Because everyone has to start somewhere, right?
And using Techno Ejay was just the beginning of my love of producing music. Wanting to make music was something I’d always wanted to try, but never had the chance to do. I knew it was possible. After all, I was a band and choir kid. So the music we played HAD to come from somewhere. But until I saw that box on the shelf at Comp USA, I never imagined it would be possible to make music. I was a band kid who played whatever was put in front of her. And in choir and in voice lessons, I had to sing whatever was on the page. No changes whatsoever. It never occurred to me to make my own songs or do something creative with music until I bought Techno Ejay.
So thank you, Techno Ejay. Really. I might not be here using Logic Pro X and writing my own songs if it weren’t for you.
And now to end this post with a little something I came up with last night in one hour using Techno Ejay, a composition called Shadows in the Night. I’m pretty proud of this, if I do say so myself. It’s within the constraints of the program, but still has my own dark wave touch to it that I put into most of my own songs!