BadBadNotGood are a Canadian instrumental band that combines jazz with electronica, and traditional instrumentation with psychedelic synth sounds. In 2016 they released IV, which BBC Radio 6 picked as their album of the year. The album finds the band using odd rhythms, jazz-influenced harmony, and long, dub-like delays, and they bring on several guest vocalists to accompany them. For live performances, they use a Roland Juno-60 for synth lines and a Korg SV-1 for the electric piano tones. It’s likely the SV-1 provided most of the Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Organ sounds on IV. They have also used a Dave Smith Prophet 08 in the past for synths, though this seems to have been replaced by the Juno. Additionally, the album credits for IV list a variety of synths used, including the Juno-60, a Yamaha CS-80, a Korg Poly Six, and a Crumar electric organ. The CS-80 (or 60) might have been used more on the album and just not been toured with for being a vintage instrument. Although there are fantastic emulations of the CS-80 and the Poly Six, I’ll stick to TAL U-NO-LX for the recreations, because it's easy to use, sounds great, and will keep the tutorial from being too plugin-heavy.
The movie Drive came out in 2011, mixing stylish violence with a subdued thoughtfulness, and has become a modern classic. The film is influenced by European cinema and 80's retro nostalgia, and it opened up the doors to similar 80's retro-inspired works like The Guest, Stranger Things and It Follows. The original soundtrack features ambient works by Cliff Martinez, and the soundtrack also makes memorable use of several synthwave songs by artists such as Kavinsky, College and Electric Youth.The movie was also rescored by Radio 1 in 2014, replacing the original score with an array of new songs by modern artists, a nice but poorly received homage.
James Blake is a British musician, whose distinct style incorporates Electronica, R&B, Soul and Dubstep, whilst combining acoustic and electronic elements to accompany his soulful voice. He has released three albums and collaborated with Beyoncé, Bon Iver, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Jay-Z. His sound palette relies on intimate pianos, glitchy vocals and thick synthesizers, mostly from his Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08. Blake has used the Prophet 08 as the main synth for his entire career, and its recognizable sound appears on all of his albums too. I'll dive into songs from each of his albums, deconstruct the synth patches and put them back together in the software synth Arturia Prophet V, a software emulation of an older Prophet synth.
In 2014, Childish Gambino released the EP Kauai. Named after the Hawaiian island, Kauai joins the mixtape STN MTN as part of a dual concept album intended to be a follow-up to 2013's because the internet. The EP sees Gambino, stage-name of Donald Glover, reunited with long-term collaborator Ludwig Göransson, a multi-instrumentalist as well as a producer. Göransson plays guitar as well as keyboards, and owns an enviable collection of music equipment. Kauai produced one single, Sober, that contains all my favourite instrumental elements; smooth Fender Rhodes, growling synth bass, chorused Roland Juno chords and a great drum beat to underpin it all.
Mild High Club is the psychedelic project of Alex Brettin, based originally from Chicago and now Los Angeles. The latest album, 2016's Skiptracing, oozes with 60's pop influences and spaced-out guitars and keyboards; it also contains a confident musicality, influenced by baroque and jazz harmony. In interviews, Brettin has mentioned having formal music tuition, which likely informs his musicality, and he seems to use whatever equipment he has to hand, with many elements of his sound coming down to unconventional use of effects and sonic experimentation.
Here at Reverb Machine, I usually cover sound design, but for this article, I'd like to deviate slightly and cover another side of music-making: composition. Even with the best sounding patches, and the tightest production, boring compositions will still sound boring. I'll start out by discussing chord progressions and how to make your chord arrangements sound more interesting.
Post Malone released White Iverson in 2015, it was originally uploaded to Soundcloud and the song quickly became a huge hit, currently with over 500 million views on Youtube. Although Post Malone was branded a one-hit-wonder after the song's release, he has since followed the song’s success with the singles Congratulations and rockstar. The White Iverson beat is built around a pretty simple arrangement that features a lush, ambient synth pad over a synth bass kick and a trap-style hip-hop beat. There is also some clever vocal manipulation that uses Post's sampled vocals as a choir instrument in certain parts of the song. I'll use the powerful Xfer Serum synth to create the main pad and bass synths of the song, and also shed light on some production tricks to use for this type of slick hip-hop.
Synthwave is an electronic music genre heavily influenced by 80’s synthpop and film soundtracks, and has reached wider popularity in the last 10 years. One of it’s most popular artists is Timecop1983, a Dutch musician otherwise known as Jody Leenaerts, who combines nostalgic 80s synths with a dream-pop production aesthetic and melancholy songwriting. Last year he released the EP _Lovers, Pt. 2_, a follow-up to 2016’s _Lovers, Pt. 1_, which I’ll focus on deconstructing in this article.
Deerhunter are a psychedelic indie-rock band from Atlanta; they've released 7 albums that have seen them experiment with ambient music, garage rock and dream pop. They don't seem to be gear-heads, they favour cheap guitar pedals and record on Tascam portable eight-track recorders. However, there is one guitar pedal they use that I want to concentrate on, a pedal that strongly shaped the sound of the album Halycon Digest: the Eventide Pitchfactor. The Pitchfactor is a powerful harmonizer pedal, capable of harmonizing chromatically and diatonically, and capable of applying delays to the harmonized notes to create sequences. This Deerhunter sound is usually an acoustic guitar played through the Pitchfactor into a big, modulated reverb. Cox actually favours cheaper reverbs such as the DigiTech DigiVerb and Behringer Reverb Machine (no relation). Although the Pitchfactor is a deeply powerful pedal, and easily programmable, Cox actually just uses many of the factory presets to guide his songwriting.
Tears for Fears' 1985 album Songs from the Big Chair is full of timeless synth-laden pop hits, combining stark poetry with slick production, the album's biggest hit was a last-minute addition titled Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Initially titled with Run instead of Rule, the song went on to blitz charts everywhere and has remained a classic of the 80s synth era. The duo, consisting of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, were primarily songwriters, and the albums tight production was a result of utilising new at-the-time technology as well the duo's perfectionism. Everybody Wants to Rule the World was one of the simpler tracks off the album, made up of mostly MIDI programmed tracks, with the only organic elements being guitar and vocals.
Kanye West's seventh album, The Life of Pablo, was released in 2016 and eschewed a traditional release, instead being exclusive to Jay-Z's Tidal streaming service for over a month upon release. The album has been revised several times since its release, with West reworking lyrics, adding guest vocals and tweaking the mix, going on to call the album a “living breathing changing creative expression.”. Four months after the album's initial release it was again updated with an additional song, Saint Pablo, appended to the album.
Francis and the Lights is the musical project of Francis Farewell Starlite (that's actually his legal name). Debut album Farewell, Starlite! was released in 2016 and features guest appearances by Kanye West and Bon Iver. The album opener See Her Out (That's Just Life) is built around a crunchy synth-line, layered vocals and a minimalist arrangement. If you haven't heard it then check out the music video.
HOMESHAKE, aka Peter Sagar, is a solo musician from Montreal known for RnB influenced indie-pop with a lo-fi, home-recorded aesthetic. Formerly Mac DeMarco's live guitarist, Sagar uses cheap synthesizers and drum machines to accompany his guitar playing and soft vocal delivery; his newest album, 2017's Fresh Air, expands upon his sound by incorporating adult-orientated rock into his palette. I'll dive into his sound, analysing the equipment Sagar uses to craft his sound and the way that Sagar likes to choose and program his tracks.
This past Friday, Netflix released the much awaited second season of its hit series Stranger Things, and season 1 composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the Austin-based synthwave band S U R V I V E returned for the second season with another excellent offering of 80's influenced synth music. The duo tend to favour vintage hardware synths and gravitate towards warm, lush analog sounds and emotional arrangements. Episode One of the new season, 'MADMAX', ends with a scene of Hopper and Eleven eating dinner accompanied by an uplifting synth piece called Eight Fifteen, which I'll break apart in this article.
In 1967 The Beatles released the song Strawberry Fields Forever which forever defined the psychedelic rock genre. The recording was complexly pieced together from multiple live takes or different arrangements, and although most of the song's genius is a product of John Lennon's writing and George Martin's production prowess, it's Paul McCartney's use of the Mellotron in the song that I'll focus on.
In 1999 The Flaming Lips finally achieved a mainstream breakthrough with their album The Soft Bulletin. The album opener Race for the Prize's mixture of emotional, Disney-esque strings, pounding rock drums and sci-fi lyrics set the tone for the rest of The Soft Bulletin, and is now their signature song and frequent set-opener. For a bit of background info on the recording of the song, check out the band discussing the song's inception in the Pitchfork Classic documentary for The Soft Bulletin.
With the second season of Stranger Things just around the corner I want to take a quick look at a simple but exemplar track from the Stranger Things OST by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein of the band S U R V I V E. The group gravitate towards vintage synthesizers and favour live performance over MIDI programmed parts. To get an idea of how Dixon and Stein approach their music, check out Reverb.com's video S U R V I V E Explores Four Vintage Synths. The track I'm looking at is Biking to School, the song that plays when the gang ride their bikes to take a disguised Eleven to school.
Songs from the Big Chair was released in 1985 and spawned the hits Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Head Over Heels. A new wave classic, the album is a masterclass of songwriting and production, full of classic 80s synth sounds that have a more mature feel than many of their contemporaries, and one of my personal favourite albums of all time. Shout went on to become one of the most recognisable songs from the mid-eighties and is also recognised as the group's signature song. Featuring a repetitive chorus, power chords and an intense rock backing, the song was a no. 1 hit for 3 weeks.
The latest Toro y Moi album Boo Boo features a plethora of 80s synthpop / alt-R&B textures and beats, sounding simultaneously nostalgic and modern. Most of the 80s vibes on the album come courtesy of a Yamaha DX7, a digital hardware synth released in 1983 that utilises a difficult to program synthesis technique called frequency modulation (FM) synthesis. Many of the DX7's preset sounds are classics and can be heard on countless 80s pop records. Although subjectively cheesy sounding, DX7 sounds are a great way to add an authentic 80s vibe to your own music.
I'm going to start the series off by looking at the song that plays during fake Will's funeral, Elegia by New Order. A dark instrumental featuring eerie sounding synths and guitars, the song was written in memory of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the band's former incarnation, Joy Division. The song was originally recorded in 1985 for the album Low-Life, and a 17 minute version was also released in 2002. Although not part of the original soundtrack composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon from Survive, the lush and eerie synths of Elegia sound right at home in Stranger Things. Many people will also know the song from the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain trailer; here's my remake using some of the synths I'll cover:
Allegedly influenced by John Lennon's experimentation with LSD, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was originally released on the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It features two distinct musical parts: dreamlike verses in 3/4, and a straightahead rock chorus in 4/4. The song opens with an immediately recognisably arpeggio melody that sound somewhere between a harpsichord and a plucked guitar; I'll show you how create this sound using plugins and effects.
Beach House are a quintessential dream-pop band, they hail from Baltimore and a big part of their sound is their layering of keyboards, mostly vintage organs and string synths. The duo don't seem too fussy about the gear they use, instead relying on old, cheap organs for their beats. A Pitchfork article described their practice space: "Old tour set pieces and at least 20 vintage organs—they call them “grandma organs”—line one half of the large room." They don't talk about gear much in interviews and there are no pictures of the band recording, so it's tough to figure out exactly which keyboards these "grandma organs" are. Although organs are a big part of the Beach House sound, another huge factor that I won't cover as much is their muted drum beats and guitarist Alex Scally's work, which is mostly a clean Fender Strat played with a slide through a lot of reverb. Instead I'll focus on their synth heavy songs to work out what makes that element of their sound so unique.
Pond recently released their seventh studio album The Weather and it's fantastic, after my Sweep Me Off My Feet tutorial I've had a couple of requests for the synths in 'Paint Me Silver'. What a lot of people don't know is that the main hook is based on a Todd Rundgren & Utopia song called Cosmic Convoy. Although 'Paint Me Silver' starts out with a direct sample from 'Cosmic Convoy', the main hook is based on the lead lick later in the song overdubbed by the Pond members. I was lucky enough to see Pond on their recent tour and their live synth setup consisted of a Moog Sub Phatty, a Korg Poly-800 and a Dave Smith Prophet 08. They mostly used the Moog for basses and the Korg for chorused pad chords, and for 'Paint Me Silver' they used guitar for the lead, so it's hard to tell what was used for the studio recording. I played with some differents synths and decided that the lead synth is either the Korg Poly-800 or a Roland Juno-106, which they also use regularly.
Division was the first song to be released off the 2016 album Epoch. Featuring grinding guitars and post-rock-esque breaks, it has been the set closer for most of Tycho's Epoch tour shows. I'll demonstrate how to create a synth lead like the one used throughout the song on a Korg Minilogue, Native Instruments Monark, and in the free TAL-NoiseMaker, although any synth with 2 oscillators will be able to play this sound. Listen to the song below, the synth lead appears at 0:47
Welcome to another synth tutorial for Mac DeMarco synths, if you haven't already then check out part one, a tutorial on the synths in 'Chamber of Reflection'. In that article I looked at a Roland Juno sound and an organ sound and processed them with some tape emulation plugins to create Mac's signature woozy sound. In this article I'll look at a couple more Mac songs and try to copy the patches within my DAW. Mac's new album This Old Dog is his most synth-heavy album yet, with dreamy sounding synths sitting alongside his classic chorused guitar playing. I'll also look at a song from his mini-album Another One that came out in 2015. Mac's favourite synths, judging by the sounds the appear on his albums, videos of his live performances, and pictures of his home studio, are the Roland Juno-60 and Yamaha DX7. Both synths are timeless classics with unmatchable sound, however both have a wealth of imitators and emulations that can be found inexpensively. Throughout the article I'm going to use TAL U-NO-LX for the Juno sounds and Native Instruments FM8 for the DX7 sounds; for free options check out TAL U-NO-62 and Dexed.
'Chamber of Reflection' really stands out on 'Salad Days' as the only song with none of Mac's signature chorused-guitar playing, instead using layers of dreamy sounding, swirling synths. Interestingly the hook of this song is lifted from a 1975 Shigeo Sekito song called "The Word II". A lot of sites and comments erroneously refer to Mac sampling this song, which is incorrect as the original recording isn't used in 'Chamber of Reflection', the ending of the melody is different. Instead the main theme has been re-recorded with synths and a live rhythm section. Here's my recreation that I'll talk you through
I'm a big fan of lo-fi music and I'm going to look at two guitar pedals that I frequently run tracks through to get a dirty lo-fi sound: the ZVex Instant Lo-Fi Junky and the Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl mkII. These pedals emulate the noise, tone and wow & flutter of gramophone / vinyl record players, which is a very low-fidelity sound, especially compared to something like tape. I'll try them out on synth, guitar, bass and then the whole mix.
Welcome back to more Tame Impala synths. In this part I'll mostly tackle the synths sounds found on 'Lonerism'. I've already looked at 'Mind Mischief' and 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards' in previous parts, so if you haven't already then check them out. I'll also look at the elusive Roland JV-1080 that was used to create the track 'Gossip' off of the latest album 'Currents'.
“And messing with sounds is easily my biggest hobby, so that makes it pretty fun… not having to think artistically and just being the guy with the hands on the knobs and switches.”
Tycho started out as something of a solo project for bandleader Scott Hansen, and has since evolved into an ambient rock band whose signature sound consists of swirling pads, dreamy synth leads, and muted electric guitars, usually backed by live drums and bass guitar, all washed out with a saturated wall of reverb.
I'm going to talk about the synth lead in the song Awake from the album of the same name. Here's what we're going to end up with:
'Sweep Me Off My Feet' by Australian psychedelic band Pond is a space-y synthpop-esque song from upcoming album 'This Weather'. It features heavily layered synths to underscore frontman Nick Allbrook's fantastic vocal performance.