Yeuda Ben-Atar wants people to learn Ableton Live. More specifically, he wants people to learn to play the music software as they would a musical instrument. So, if you happen to enroll in Ben-Atar's intensive, four-month program at Beat Lab Academy, you will likely start at the very beginning — with music theory.
On a chilly January evening in Eagle Rock, a small class of would-be music producers does just that. After the review questions have been answered, Ben-Atar pulls out rhythm sheets. Line by line, the students use their voices to mimic the patterns of the notes on the page. Some get it immediately. Others struggle as they try to catch the beat. “Listen to the poetry,” Ben-Atar reminds them, one by one, they continue to “ta ta ta.”
Ben-Atar, 30, didn't intend on teaching. “I didn't know I was good at that,” he says. Turns out, he is. After becoming an Ableton Certified Instructor, he began teaching at local music schools and studios.
“During my experience, I saw in classes what works and what doesn't work,” he says. His aspiration was to teach people to play Ableton like an instrument, instead of giving lectures on how to use a computer program.
A year ago, he went out on his own and opened up Beat Lab in a tiny Eagle Rock strip mall, where the bustle of Colorado Boulevard intersects with the cozy charm of a residential neighborhood. They opened with eight students. Right now, there are 16 students split up into two different twice-weekly classes, with a couple more anticipated to join later in the semester.
Raised in Haifa, Israel, Ben-Atar began playing piano as a child. It was through a piano instructor that he was introduced to music production software. After a stint in the military, where he picked up guitar, he went to Tel Aviv for music school and met his future wife. When she got a job in Los Angeles, he came too, but spent the first two years here unable to work due to visa restrictions.
“For two years, I was depressed at home because I couldn't work,” he says. To keep himself occupied, Ben-Atar started making his own controllers. “I never learned soldering. I'm not a programmer,” he says. “I'm what some people might call a hacker. I tinker with it.”
Still, Ben-Atar figured out how to make music with items like a Dreamcast video game console and a Nintendo Power Glove. A few of his devices are inside Beat Lab. Before class starts, he plugs an old Nintendo controller into a computer and uses it to play a warped, hip-hop beat. Back in Israel, Ben-Atar latched onto the futuristic sounds of artists like Daedelus and Flying Lotus, and the sound of the beat scene continues to influence him musically. In addition to producing his own tracks under the alias Side Brain, Ben-Atar has also worked with violinist Paul Dateh and the two have played Low End Theory together.
Right now, though, Ben-Atar is focused on teaching. As class continues, the group moves on to chords. Thanks to a large screen at the front of the classroom, the students can watch Ben-Atar close-up as he demonstrates various chords and their uses. He tells them what works best for deep house or R&B tracks and what they might want to use when creating a film or video game score. Then he has the students try to identify various chords with the small MIDI keyboards stationed at every desk.
Learning Ableton in a classroom setting isn't for everyone. “It depends on the person,” says Ben-Atar. “I learned by myself, but I came from other softwares. If this is maybe your first time going into computer music, it might be beneficial to learn, not only for the software itself, but for the fundamentals of using the computer so that you can better understand how to use the software.”
The four-month stretch of classes is divided into three sections that last between five and six weeks. Sometimes, people who have some experience with Ableton come in at the start of the second session. Rarely, Ben-Atar says, will students leave after the first six weeks.
His students aren't all would-be EDM stars. Some want to make dance music. Others are more interested in hip-hop. However, Ben-Atar also sees a lot of interest from singer-songwriters who want to take a more active role in producing their music. He's also seeing an influx of female students. “Production is something that was majority men,” says Ben-Atar, “but it's time to change and that's really great.”
Beat Lab also hosts a series of free, open-to-the public seminars led by artists and industry professionals. Infected Mushroom has stopped by here. Chris White, aka Control resident DJ Whiiite, is set to appear on Jan. 30 (contact Beat Lab to confirm the time). They also host occasional women-centric seminars.
After a year of Beat Lab, the work of former students is just beginning to surface. Ben-Atar says he's looking forward to an R&B album that two Beat Labbers have in the works and anticipates hearing more from his students in the next year.
Graduates are invited to come back to Beat Lab, where they can work in the classroom or pop into the on-site studio. As Ben-Atar stresses, it takes more than one, intensive Ableton Live course to become a top-notch producer. “They get the tools in the four months,” says Ben-Atar, “but it's up to them to clock in the hours to become a master of their craft.”