Author: Marc Adamo (with additional content by David Felton)
Published by: Sample Magic
Year of Publication: 2010
Price: £34.95 plus shipping
Buy Online: Sample Magic's website.
It's not every day that a company known for making sample CD's publishes a book, so when I first heard about Secrets of House Production, my curiosity was piqued. I'll admit to being a bit skeptical, not because Sample Magic had a bad reputation or anything, but because usually these types of books are just horrible. I've seen a few books that claimed to be definitive guides to making and producing dance music, but most of them were a bit short on valuable info, trying to cover too much information in bite sized bits that don't get the depth they deserve.
From the get go, however, it's clear that this isn't your average "How to Produce ____" book. While we've all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, it's hard to not notice how nicely put together this one is. The cover and pages inside are all full color and glossy and the stock has enough weight that the book stays open easily if you have it in front of you in the studio. The layout inside is very appealing to the eye and includes plenty of illustrations to help you visualize the concepts being discussed or follow along with the tons of tutorials. My only complaint is that the main font used is a bit thin and difficult to read unless you you're in really good light. This only appears to be a problem when it is black text on white. The reverse is much easier to read. Keep in mind, my eyesight is not fantastic, but given how many of us spend hours parked in front of computer monitors all day, I'm probably not the only one that would have a little trouble. A bolder font would remedy this easily.
So it looks great, but none of that matters if the content is overly vague, outdated, or just plain worthless. Fortunately, the content measures up to, if not actually surpasses, the appearance. The book is sensibly organized into chapters covering drums, bass, vocals, music, song structure, effects, mixing and mastering, and an "outro" discussing the money aspect of music-making. These chapters are then further divided into still more specific sub-sections. For instance, the drum chapter has separate sections covering kicks, snares and claps, hi-hats, cymbals and percussion, synthetic percussion, and drum programming. These subsections are then divided into smaller headings that make it easy to find the answer to the question you're looking for quickly if you're using it as a reference in the studio. Again using the drum chapter as an example, the kick section is sub-divided into a section discussing the significance of the kick in house music, notes on depth, length, and vibe, a section on getting the right sound (further divided into specifics for classic, deep, electro, minimal, and progressive house), using compression, using transient shapers, using EQ, and layering your kicks. Sprinkled throughout are step by step tutorials and helpful quick tips relevant to whatever the section you're reading about is discussing. And between many of the chapters are interviews with various movers and shakers in house music.
I'm not meaning to get so detailed in my descriptions here, but I wanted to demonstrate the depth and detail that this book goes into on the topic. I wracked my brain, but I honestly couldn't think of anything they missed here. I guess there really isn't much mention of acid house, but I don't know how much of a contemporary acid scene there is to be honest, so perhaps that was on purpose. If you need to know something about making house music, chances are you're going to find it in here. I think that's why this guide succeeds where many others have failed. Instead of trying to cover every dance genre under the sun, they've honed in on a single one (one with a rather varied range of sub-genres, granted). This lets them dissect the genre to all of its respective parts in detail, leaving with you with few, if any answered questions. That said, don't turn your nose up at this book if you don't make house music. A very good portion of the information here applies to most types of dance music in one way or the other. Even experienced dance producers may find they enjoy this just as a study of what makes dance music work the way it does.
The writing style throughout is easy to read and understand (not always the case with tutorials), and the organization makes finding information a snap. The individual tutorials are easy to follow and cover a good range of subjects including showing you how to program your own sounds of various types on a synth. The interviews are brief, but interesting and provide an additional voice or two to the author's. Oh, and did I mention it comes with a free 500 MB sample CD to get you started? Well, it does.
If you can't tell already, I loved this book. Sample Magic got it right on just about everything. Everything but the price, perhaps. It's clear that this book couldn't have been cheap to publish. But whether or not people are willing to shell out $50 for a 144-page book in the age of the internet remains to be seen. I think they could get away with printing on a cheaper paper stock and no one would complain. Even at this price, though, I can't recommend it enough. This should certainly be essential reading for any budding house producer, but there is something here that just about any dance musician will find interesting or valuable. I do hope Sample Magic will consider making this into a series with future installments covering more genres such as electro, trance, drum n' bass, etc. If they're done as skillfully as this one is, they'd quickly become the go-to encyclopedia of electronic music production. [10/10]