Spotlight: Sam Ryan, Electronic Music Production & Ableton Instructor

Sam Ryan Ableton instructor

This week we sat down with Sam Ryan, one of the few Certified Ableton Trainers in British Columbia, SAE Institute Vancouver’s resident Electronic Music Production and Ableton Instructor, and self-declared music lover, about how he started with Ableton, his career, and his passion for teaching.

Please tell me a bit about your background. What brought you to SAE? Why Electronic Music? 

I began music thrashing out in rock bands during high school. Right after that, I attended a semester of audio school at the Institute of Communication Art and then did Jazz studies at Vancouver Island University. I then completed 2 years of audio schooling at the Centre for Digital Imaging and Sound. During that program, I managed to develop a client base as a producer and engineer. I had a PA system at the time and was doing sound for various shows which is where I met most of my potential clients. My focus became working with solo artists who wanted to sound like a band. I helped produce the sound they were going for.

Why did you specialize in teaching Ableton?

I was asked to teach at SAE Institute in 2009 by my friend from college (who I met at audio school and whose sister I ended up marrying). In 2011 I was asked by the school if I could teach the students Ableton Live. I dove in headfirst and got certified as an Ableton Live Trainer. The program blew my mind as an audio engineer. The software felt like a musical instrument and sparked a creative seed in me. It brought me back into making music for myself and not just in service of my clients.  

I didn’t grow up liking electronic music, but after getting into Ableton Live, the power of the tools and the ability to shape sound into whatever you could imagine was a game-changer for me.  I also ironically began appreciating electronic music by recording a traditional African drum album. From that, I understood that music doesn’t all have to be about “getting to the chorus” and that it feels amazing just to be in a groove and feel with a community of like-minded people.

What’s your favorite part of the curriculum? 

I love teaching psychoacoustics (auditory physiology). I find it mind-blowing to explore how our senses work and I love seeing students’ minds explode with new paradigms of perception when exploring the tools we have to play with that alter the sense of acoustic space.

What is the most important thing you took from the classroom to the real world when you graduated?

The best advice I ever got for engineering is so simple. Put a microphone where it sounds good!  I take that mentality into everything I use. In the end, I use my ears as the ultimate judge.  Techniques may or may not apply, so I don’t just rely on them. I put a huge emphasis on this point for my students to gain confidence in themselves and not just parrot techniques without question.

Who inspired you to pursue your career in audio?

Some of my biggest inspiration has been a few select teachers in my music education who blew up my world and showed me it was way more than I imagined. Also, I am a vampire feeding on my clients’ passion.

Anything else you’d like to add?

From my teenage years, I have had a gut feeling that vibration is at the core of how the universe works. Looking out through musical eyes is a beautiful way to see and understand the world.

Sam Ryan is SAE Institute Vancouver’s resident Electronics Music Production and Ableton Instructor. He has produced and engineered alongside some of the music industry’s most accomplished heavyweights including Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden).

In addition, he continues to keep his hand in the world of live music performance with his group, Lionzgate, composed of Sam and Harbourside IT graduates, Keanna Arnason and Jarrett Plett.

You can hear some of his work here