Two tips in one post today. Why? Because they’re short and sharp and I need something to fill the looming postaweek deadline!
I’m not a drummer, however, a couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a £2.99 pair of drumsticks from eBay. Having recently invested in an Alesis Palmtrack, I’ve developed the ‘found sounds’ sampling bug. Whether it’s me making silly noises with my mouth or banging spanners together, I’ve managed to create all manner of richly dynamic percussive sounds for use in my tracks. What’s better, they’re not from a sample CD, nor are they nicked from another record (two past times I indulge in equally and having nothing against, incidentally). They’re mine, I made them and no one else can claim to be their keeper. A bit like fitting your own bathroom, there’s a tangible sense of pride in that.
But… there’s only so many noises you can make by hitting things with your hands and there’s nothing quite like the tactile feedback of a drum stick, hence my purchase. It’s something I highly recommend any aspiring producer/beat maker/sonic experimentalist has a bash at, literally. Not only can you hit things more accurately and procude variations in timbre and tone, you can also use them to enter 64th note drum frills and hi hat patterns if you’ve got a midi controller with some decent pads on it. Give the latter a try – you won’t be reaching for the quantise button afterwards, I promise.
One slight problem, you will look like a tit walking around the house hitting things with drum sticks.
The perils of patch browsing
I’ll keep this one short. If you’re browsing the patch bank of a synth and come across something which appears to fit the track, stop and use it (although, please fiddle with it a bit to make it your own). If I could have a pound for the number of times I’ve gone past that point, hunting pointlessly for some kind of patch nirvana, I would have a lot of pounds. And no music. There’s a reason you liked it… so stick with it.
Kit list: Apple Mac G5, Garageband, Reason 4, Logic Pro, Korg Triton
Eagle-eyed readers of the previous part of this series will have spotted a somewhat seismic gap in the noted period. Eleven years to be exact, for those too lazy to check.
If truth be told, I continued to make music between 1996 and 2000. This coincided with me reaching my late teens and, as confused as anyone is at that stage in their lives, I gave in to many a distraction. Going out, drink, girls… Work, even. Once you’re unleashed from the shackles of being a kid and suddenly in possession of the keys to your own car, you’re inclined to make the most of it. And more often than not, that usually involves leaving the house.
Consequently, my music suffered and eventually died a complete (albeit unmourned) death in 2001 when I met Lindsey Allen. Lindsey was the beautiful, blonde-haired girl who would become my soulmate and, in ten years time, accept my nervous, sweaty request of marriage on a sweltering day in Kefalonia. Back then, however, we were just happy to bask in all the glories of newfound romance. All of a sudden, making music was of little interest.
Skip forward to 2007. We own a house and have stable jobs. We’ve even shopped at a garden centre. Basically, we’ve grown up a bit.
Before the house purchase, we lived in a couple of tiny places. They were far too small for any kind of studio to exist, however I did, on occasion, dust off the Triton and remind myself of what I was missing. It was only now, with our own bricks and mortar, that I could seriously consider getting back into it. For days, I eyed up the then empty spare bedroom. It was perfect.
So, with little trepidation I began researching the required gear. I didn’t want to go back to the PC, having torn out my hair multiple times in the past building – and consequently fixing – them. No, I decided to turn to Apple.
Initially, a G4 sounded like a safe bet; cheap yet still capable of running some form of midi sequencer. It harked back to the days of the Atari (something I also briefly considered investing in).
Then, I noticed that a G5 could be had for a small premium. And with that, I bought a dual 1.8ghz variant through eBay, from a guy who worked at the Planet Rock radio station (the machine clearly had relevant roots).
My first experience of the G5 was Garageband, which came handily ready-installed. Bearing in mind I’d not properly worked with
any kind of DAW or sequencer for several years, I was entering almost unchartered territory. However, what I discovered was jaw-dropping.
Instantly, Garageband let me back into my midi-driven roots. But along with that was the sheer power of the thing. Bearing in mind this was essentially a free piece of software which came with any new Apple Mac, it was actually a very respectable standalone DAW with plenty of useable sounds. I couldn’t quite believe just how far things had come on. Back in the 90s, you had to be a real geek to have any idea of how electronic music was sequenced, let alone be so easily exposed to the tools used for doing so.
This got me a little excited. If this is what mass-market fodder like Garageband is like…
The next step was Reason 4 and having dabbled with earlier variants and it’s often forgotten ancestor Rebirth some time ago, I was instantly familiar with its self-contained loveliness and addictive tab switching to reveal dangly virtual cables. It was obviously a huge step up from Garageband but it also fully reignited my passion for making music. The sounds you could create were a world away from anything I’d used in the past.
There was only one stop left: Logic. It had been a long time. Would we still get on? Would we recognise each other? What if it had gone a bit weird, met new friends and consequently become a pretentious sod?
It hadn’t. Logic Pro sealed the fate of our spare bedroom. I was back.
I’m not going to dwell too much on why, or go into any detailed discussion on the reason I love Logic (if you’ve kept reading this far, you’re doing well, I wouldn’t want to lose you now), but I’d never have thought after my brief and underwhelming dabblings with it on the PC in the late 90s, that it would become such a staple in later life.
I instantly got to work. Any new piece of software I can lay my hands on, whether it be a DAW, soft synth or effects plug-in, seems to inspire me instantly and Logic was no different. Within a couple of days I’d written a full-length track, the first for about ten years. Listening back, it resembles much of what I’ve described in the last few paragraphs; someone getting reaqauinted with music making. Someone experimenting with a new set of toys. It’s therefore a bit paint-by-numbers and by no means a masterpiece but I do at least have it to hand, which is more than can be said for my earlier works.
So, here it is, the aptly named Returned. I can only apologise for the dreadfully contrived intro:
p.s. My blogging buddy Chris has been charting his own history of bedroom production. It’s quite different to mine and I really recommend a read. His third and final part can be found here.
Alone in a York hotel, I put down a simple gated pad melody. Realising it wasn’t quite biting through, I treated it to a dose of compression. The standard logic unit was grabbed, as always, and my favourite ‘Acoustic Guitar 1′ preset did wonders.
A dash of stereo delay made it stand out yet further over the bed of bit-crushed, arpeggiated strings I’d bounced to audio moments before.
I would have gladly handed over an important body part to have been able to do that back in 1996. But to do it with such ease? On a laptop? In a hotel room? Without spaghetti cabling? Well, said body part would have come with a free member of the Ellis family.
It’s a boring cliche, but it is astounding just how quickly technology moves on, particularly in the world of audio and midi production. I can do anything I need to on my laptop. Aside from a tiny contoller keyboard, I don’t need anything else. Samples, synths and effects are all a few clicks away and putting them all together is an unbridled joy.
I’m in York on business, yet I’ve been able to bring my studio with me, hidden safely between tomorrow’s suit trousers and pants.
Such portability wasn’t really present back in the mid-nineties when I made my first significant jump into what could be described as ‘serious’ gear. Living at home and working a well paid weekend job with dad’s band, I had plenty of disposable income. It was therefore only natural that I started what was to be a long-running addiction to buying studio equipment with my first big purchase: the Korg Triton.
I’ve never been as excited as I was in the days leading up to it’s delivery. Having played it’s predecessor, the Trinity, at a trade show a year or so previous, I knew very well what this thing would be capable of. And I wasn’t dissapointed.
The flagship workstation sounded like nothing else I’d experienced. A world away from the TG300, it offered a lush sound palette and complex onboard effects. Add to that a sampler and a little ribbon you could rub to make everything sound even more wonderful and I was quite literally in geek heaven. It’s also worth highlighting its continued presence today both in commercial studios and, more predominantly, on the road, where its workhorse capabilities are still relied upon by some of the most skilled professional keyboard players in the world.
One moment stands out for me during my early days with the Triton. I had finally mastered the art of sampling and had successfully captured a beautifully played Gilmour solo from Pink Floyd’s live album, Pulse. Then I found the reverse button. Within a day or so, I’d built a track around the now ethereal sound which resembled anything but an electric guitar. I clearly remember saying to myself, “wow, I can do anything now…“; there was finally sense of the freedom I’d yearned for which would allow me to create the music I had in my head. As much as I still hold an affection for the days of the Atari and TG300, they were limited and as I reached my teens, I became increasingly frustrated with what I wasn’t able to do.
It wasn’t all down to the Triton, however. It was around the same time that I made the switch to Logic, developed as it was back then by Emagic. It wasn’t love at first sight, but as I was to find out, it would become something of a staple…