A look inside Morgan Page's masterclass at JBL Fest 2022

Headliner dives deep into Morgan Page's masterclass at JBL Fest 2022 in Las Vegas, as the electronic producer and DJ uses bespoke Quick Tip Cards to achieve 'the flow state' in front of an audience of influencers, emerging creatives, and audio professionals...

Before we take the plunge here, let's take a look at Quick Tip Cards as a concept, and what this Morgan Page masterclass is all about: it essentially started by Page writing 'tips' down for music production. That led to a 900-strong spreadsheet of tips, which he then took to Twitter, randomising the tips and firing three out per day as Tweets. That gave him valuable market research, and led to the creation of a 56-card deck of Quick Tip Cards, designed to achieve 'the flow state'. And here we are.

“These [Quick Tip] Cards are like knowledge compression,” opens Page, who is addressing an already highly engaged and notably eclectic audience. “Boil them down so they're in your hand with no distractions; take them on a plane or into the studio, and get into the flow state faster.”

That's his mantra: the flow state. “It's a wholistic process that repeats itself,” he explains, and to achieve that in his workflow, he created six categories for his Quick Tip Cards, which started out in music production world, although their reach is far more wide and varied, and can help anyone in any industry, he claims.

Category one is Philosophy: his approach before getting into the studio, getting the mental state right; two is Preparation, where he gets his materials and tools ready - “get the plumbing right, so it's not left to right brain,” he smiles, adding that the templates need to be ready to go off the bat. Category three is Composition, which he has a lot to say about:

“Building the song note by note, beat by beat – it's the 'generating the ideas' stage, building the raw ideas, riffs, melodies, bass lines... Work as quick as possible in there, where you're not thinking about mixing, you're just in that one zone.”

To Page, the flow state is when you're working in such a state that you don't think about eating, going to the bathroom, or even time as a 'thing'. Timing slows down, in fact – as most creatives will acknowledge when they're in their 'zone':

“I remember before I did music for a living,” Page smiles, arms wide. “I was 12 years old and doing a bit of remixing, and I got into a flow state for the first time. I remember thinking, 'I can feel it in my blood, this is what I was born to do!' I was up all night doing a remix in my parents' basement. Music unlocked a flow state.”

Category four is Arrangement:

“Here, you should spread your ideas out for maximum impact; in this session, I'll be creating an eight-bar loop with chords, lead lines, bass, and percussion, but the point is, you have to leave room for the music to breathe.

“You're going to have new ideas and find new ways to combine the layers, and in my template I have little markers for verses, pre-chorus, the drop... [pauses] There is a structure in there, and it is one of the essential ingredients – as is tension. This keeps me on track during the recording and mixing process.”

Category five is Mixing – but more on this later, as it's probably his deepest dive - and the final step is Maintenance: the un-sexy, forgotten step, as he describes it. He encourages his audience to think about the DAW, and actually practice the DAW, rather than take it for granted - learn it inside out, and master it:

“We may practice our instruments, but finding fun in the mundane parts is essential; you'll be faster in the next song. So channel inspiration, and avoid expectation.”

“You want to create a sustainable workflow,” Page continues. “I have seen so many producers get burned out, have one hot song, go on the road, and they can't begin the cycle again; they lose the flow state. I had to dig back into the philosophy of making music and art to keep it going and have a long career. Get into the state, repeat it, and keep going so it doesn't feel like a job. It's a long process but it's worked for me over the years.

“When in the studio, it needs to resonate with yourself, but if you try to chase a hit it's like colour by numbers. What you're hearing on the radio is an old trend; you won't make pure art. Keep the editor in your head silenced. Write fast, move quickly, break things, and move on.”

Better workflow equals better art. Morgan Page

Page is quick to follow up here with his 'Seed vs. Graft' analogy – essentially, if you try to be clever in music, it probably won't work.

“Listen to what worked 30 to 40 years ago and cross pollinate with that song,” he says. “It's a fallacy to think everything is 100% original. Even melodies are recycled and tweaked; it's just different timbers of layers. If you can hide those brush strokes you won't get sued... Or just do a cover, it's the best loop hole ever! [smiles] Respect the genres, innovate a bit, and use what's working already.”

Pick A Card, Any Card...

Over the next 30 minutes, Page runs through some of his favourite Quick Tips, and summarises each of them concisely. Some standouts include: Quality vs. Quantity (build a body of work to achieve quality); Gut vs. Logic (outpacing the left brain logic part of the brain and use faster gut decisions); Embrace Wabi Sabi (there are three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect); Kill The Periphery (remove everything within arm's reach); and perhaps my favourite of all, Define Your Legend, which was focused on creating your own system. As a producer and mixer myself, the idea of something as simple as implementing colour-coded cables at both ends appealed so much that, well, I already did it. And it works..!

“Better workflow equals better art,” he declares. Noted.

Next, Page brings up his Ableton template.

“It's all in eight-bar chunks so I don't get lost, and these are basically my guard rails,” he says, scrolling through the project. “It's all organised in groups: kick bus, drum bus, chord bus, lead bus, mid bass bus – which is where I keep all my bass layers – and these are also typically in the order I compose, too. Then I have a vocal sample here that I can chop up, an FX bus, and a master bus. And this is a very lean template.”

Page is composing today with Syrum [synth], some EQ plugins and a Valhalla reverb.

“This [kind of] template I've built up over 20 years; the key is to stay in that flow state, work smart rather than hard - and if you find yourself repeating something over and over again, make a macro for it. I also make sure everything is tuned, and gear is functioning. The setup keeps changing at my home studio, so it should always be wired up and ready to go.”

He starts off with a kick and some chords, opting for syncopation over block piano, and starts riffing around, recording to click. He quantises, then riffs on the lead – turns on his side chains and they start to make it pump. He then adds arps to keep it moving, continuing to build layers. He practices what he preaches for sure: leave room for it to breathe.

Page comes up for air.

“We have broken the inertia, we have a progression, and it's already getting formed,” he declares. “But now we want to get to the steak of the song! Forget all the detail and window dressing, this is the foundation.”

He then pulls up two loops – one is a little busy, he admits, and he decides to save his centre hi hats for later, to prop up the middle of the groove.

“As we build the song, I like to think, 'What is the engine room? What is powering it forward?'. Is it coming from the bass, vocals, phrasing, LFOs, wobbles, or drum loops?”

He praises [Canadian DJ/producer] Deadmau5 for creating 'all that movement' from just chord stabs and melodies, and underlines how unresolved tension can also give a song a real backbone: stable notes vs. unstable notes; drones, leads, build-ups and breakdowns; automation, and, of course, the most important part of all in electronic music: the drop! It really is fascinating stuff – and educational at the same time.

Page begins “adding treatments so it doesn't sound so plain vanilla”, starting with some rhythmic treatment - chopping the lead, taking information out of it, which in turn changes the note divisions, and also demonstrates nicely the different space achievable through this methodology. 

Next comes the bass, and a vocal sample, which he plays around with for a few minutes and adds sidechain [compression] to allow it to pop.

The Rule Of Three

Mixing, as mentioned earlier, is the fifth of Page's six Quick Tip categories. Naturally it's a focal point of his workflow, and he recalls the time he learnt about the all-important rule of three:

“[Grammy-winning mix engineer and producer] Jack Joseph Puig told me you can only really focus on three elements at once; your brain can't divide its focus, as it's cognitively linked to three things, possibly even less,” Page explains. “It's the bandwidth we have to process things. Maybe it’s drums, chords, and vocals... Ultimately there are three layers, and that's all you get; everything else is masked, and you'll have to shoehorn it into a mix. So I keep it to three key elements and it makes the mix down process much faster. I then use arrangement to spread those elements out later on.

It's about maximum emotion, minimal bandwidth. Morgan Page

“Arrangement is the mix down,” Page adds, borrowing the analogy from mixer Chris Lord-Alge.

“If you have your song properly arranged and spread out, the mix becomes easier. You don't want everything firing together, that is crucial - so I build with purpose. The drop is the highest bandwidth moment with everything firing, so you've got to hit it hard, therefore you need to build with purpose and mix with intention; use arrangement to make that happen. Duck the volume before the drop, stuff like that – it keeps it much simpler. Spread out the ideas and let them develop, and have fun with the breakdowns. Solo sounds rather than listen to everything at once for breakdown combinations. This way you can keep fresh ears. The problem for me most of the time is I've heard a song 500 times, so how can I unhear it? Be the editor, finish the song, and make it a finished product.”

Wise words, indeed. Page goes back to his track to demonstrate some mix techniques: he filters the chorus, which means we hear the leads clearer, and explains that if he was sending said track to a vocalist, he would mute or at least bury the sampled vocal, and filter down the chords as well, to make room for the vocalist to hear themselves when tracking a demo.

“Opposites attract,” he says. “I will often take a long kick with a short bass or a short kick with a long bass and use sidechain compression to glue the elements together. I'll combine synthetic source and organic source – acoustic guitar and digital synth – and merge them together in a bus. It's nice to have that 'live' layer underneath the quantised synths. Energy is more valuable than time; we don't want to fight physics, so I spread out the bandwidth-hungry sounds across the sonic space.”


Page moves on to his go-to sonic treatments, and as a nod to Jack Joseph Puig... there are just three: filters, distortion, and reverb.

“I am always thinking of depth of field,” he explains. “I will move elements back in the mix and blur them out, then ping something to the front like an aperture lens! To create this I use filters, reverb, lo-fi bit crush plugins; a phaser will make something more mono coherent... And I tune everything. Not take it too far, but thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths... Maybe I'll tune the snares up a fifth, for example. And if I get nerdy I might tune white noise – put a comb filter in there. Some guys will tune reverbs to a certain key, which is crazy – but some plugins do that automatically now. It's about maximum emotion, minimal bandwidth.

“So many sounds are inaudible: super low bass, high transient clicks. They will steal emotion, but they are not part of the story. Go in and control the sonics; you don't need all the things that hinder the storytelling. We are massaging data here. I use distortion as texture to create presence and power; what is the minimum it does to achieve the desired effect, you know?”

Final Thoughts

As this inspiring masterclass comes to an end, Page reiterates the importance of practice, as we revert back to his sixth category: Maintenance.

“You need to practice perfectly; it's easy to get lost tinkering, making small changes, kicking the can down the road. So dive in fully, practice and fail; and it's usually not as scary as you think. Consolidate sessions, delete files, check your batteries – get rid of the maybes. Batch them together and it becomes fun. Find a theme for each day of the week for regularity, and you'll be rewarded by better flow in the process.”

So Page's message is simple: as a content creator, it rests on you, because you are the brand. And achieving a flow state is about keeping it in there and repeating it - and if you do that, quantity of work will ultimately provide quality... And who knows, perhaps a source of income as well as a source of satisfaction? Kudos to that.