Software for musicians: the art of engineering art

18 April 2012
IET London Network - Central member Neil Hall at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi

Personal passions can be turned into successful IET events as IET London Network - Central member Neil Hall proved when he put forward an idea for a lecture close to his heart.

The IET is always keen for its members to come forward for ideas for events of any kind that are related to their personal or professional passions. One recent success story comes from Neil Hall of the IET London Network – Central, who put forward the idea of hosting an event that delved into the world of engineering electronic music.

Making sweet music

“The idea came together because I’ve been involved with electronic music for a number of years, back from when I was a student and I’ve always been quite passionate about it. I’ve produced tracks and even played at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi,” Neil explains. “I came across music software company Ableton through this personal interest. Even though I’m an engineer and technologist my strongest subject is art, and to me Ableton is the perfect mix between being creative and technical,” he explains.

There is a lot of technical work involved in developing electronic music, from developing sounds by applying various effects through to wave manipulation filtering. Neil felt that Ableton would be a great company to approach to provide members with an insight into some of the fascinating and contradictory aspects of the creation and use of these tools for musicians. The committee approved the idea and Neil began work on putting the event together.

All in all the event took 12 months to go from concept to reality. Firstly Neil had to approach Ableton with the idea. As the company is based in Germany a lot of liaising was involved; firstly with the head of communications who then invited Neil over to the headquarters to meet with the co-founders.

Visiting Ableton HQ

Of course Neil jumped at the opportunity to go behind the scenes and experience what Ableton does close up.

“I went over there to meet with them and have a look at the business. Through this trip I was able to understand what went on behind the scenes, which was a fantastic process. It was great to meet the characters involved in the company, their personalities, motivations etc. Also, the environment – Berlin is a fantastic city and its history has had an influence on the music developed there,” he enthuses.

Once they’d got to know each other better, both the CEO Gerhard Behles and his long-time partner Robert Henke agreed to speak at the event.

“Gerhard and Robert were partners in the band Monolake and together they started the foundation work for Ableton,” Neil explains. “Gerhard took this forward and became CEO and [now a professor for sound design at Berlin University] Robert continues to be involved in the company by providing creative input.”


With everyone on board the next challenge was to promote the event, which the Local Network had felt would especially appeal to younger engineers. With that in mind the Younger Members Committee got involved by distributing an electronic flyer for the event to all their contacts, posting it on Facebook.

“There was also a lot of interest from companies that work with Ableton, particularly schools,” Neil highlights, “so the flyer was also sent to them and they also played their part advertising the event.

Runaway success

On the night, the event: entitled ‘Software for musicians: the art of engineering art’ was a runaway success, with IET London: Savoy Place bustling with people from all walks of life. A wide cross-section of membership attended as well as many people who hadn’t visiting the IET before; approximately 400 attendees came to hear Gerhard and Robert talk. Neil was hugely proud of its success and the feedback he received from attendees on the night.

“We had people of all different ages and backgrounds congratulating us for putting the event together. It was particularly rewarding to get feedback from the chairs of other IET committees who said it was a fantastic event and think we should aim to do more similar events in the future,” he says.

Get involved!

Clearly Neil’s passion resonated with other members as well as the wide community and LNs are interested in holding more events related to members passions. When asked if Neil would recommend members coming forward with their ideas he said: “If it's a relevant subject, absolutely!”

But Neil’s tale doesn’t end there. Not only did he create and develop a successful IET event he also gained a lot personally from the experience including new friends and skills which he’ll be using to develop new music.

“It was a lot of fun putting it together, particularly going over to Berlin and experiencing everything in person. I’ve made some new friends from the whole process and I’m going back to Berlin soon to see them. I’m also going on a producers course soon to learn some new techniques I can use on the Ableton software, so at the end of that I’ll also have a new track!”

Neil would like to thank the IET London Network – Central’s committee members and IET staff for all their support in making this event a success.

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