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.Read More
This is the first part of Stranger Synths, a series on the synthesizers used in Stranger Things.
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:
Both the harpsichord and eerie voice-synth on Elegia are from the E-mu Emulator, a range of digital sampling keyboards from the early 80s. They used floppy disks to store samples and boasted analogue filters and output stages to warm up the lo-fi samples. The Emulator was used by a lot of 80s synth artists, you can hear it all over Tears for Fears Songs From The Big Chair, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's Junk Culture, several John Carpenter soundtracks, and was even used by Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller's Day Off to play samples of himself coughing and sneezing to feign illness on the phone. The Emulator was functionally similar to the Fairlight CMI and both synths share several of the same sounds.
As the Emu Emulator was a sampling keyboard that used floppy disk-based samples, using samplers is a great way to get some classic 80s Emulator sounds in our own productions. There are a few sample libraries available, such as those by UVI and Rhythmic Robot. Listen to the parts played on Rhythmic Robot's Universe of Sounds Vol 2 using the patches Harpsichord Grand and Vox Oo Ooh.
The Emulator featured a full control panel to shape the sound beyond the basic samples, it was these controls coupled with the analogue filter and output section that made the original unit so popular for it's sound. We can process our own Emulator samples further to improve on the initial sound, most beneficial I found was using compression as well as Native Instruments Transient Master to increase the sustain and fatten the sound. I used aggressive EQing to boost the treble frequencies and brighten the sound and then delay & reverb to create a big spacious sound.
If you're worried that the sampled Emulator instruments lack the analogue magic of the original Emulator, or if you just don't want to pay for the sample libraries, then you can create sounds with a similar vibe to the Emulator patches in other synthesizers. I'll show you how to create the Harpsichord in TAL U-NO-LX, a Roland Juno plugin and the vocal sound in Arturia Prophet V, a Sequential Prophet VS plugin.
Harpsichord synth sounds are relatively simple to create, the most important element is setting the amp envelope with a short decay and no sustain to create a plucked timbre. A Juno-style synth is great for this as the onboard chorus really makes the patch sound sparkle. From the default patch lower the Sub Oscillator to halfway and set both the HPF and LPF filters to halfway, then set the Resonance in the Filter section to around 6. Set the ADSR Envelope with no Sustain and the Decay/Release both around 5, then turn on Chorus effect and that's it! Process with some nice delay and reverb and if you want to explore this sound further then experiment with using the Pulse wave instead of the Saw wave.
To create the vocal sound I'll use a wavetable synth with a vocal wavetable as the main oscillator. Arturia Prophet V is perfect for this as it has vocal wavetables, and the vector synthesis aspect can be used to easily blend this with other wavetables to create some interesting sounds. Start with the template ProVS 1 Osc Structure and change Oscillator A to 076: vocal2. If you want to make the sound interesting you can change Oscillator B to different wavetable and blend it in a little to make it more interesting, 124: piano2 works well for this. After this lower the ENV AMT and CUTOFF to make the sound a little darker and more analogue-esque. Adjust the amp envelope so that the notes don't bleed into each other too much by decreasing stage 3's level.
The other prominent synth on Elegia is of course the growling bass that grows and recedes throughout the track. There's plenty of synths that can pull off this sound but the real champions of this sound are Moogs; it's possible that the Elegia bass is the Moog Source that the band owned and had already used on Blue Monday. Although it looks radically different, the Moog Source's sound is similar to a Minimoog so we can use most Moog synths or plugins to get a close sound. I'm going to use Arturia Mini V, but there are plenty of free Minimoog emulations too.
The aim of this sound is to get a huge rich sound with the filter wide open, and then automate the cutoff frequency knob throughout the song to control the strength of the bass sound. I've gone for over the top-huge with all 3 oscillators on and set to Sawtooth with volumes up to full, and the External Input Volume switched on and turned up to 6. This feeds the sound back into the synth, effectively acting as an overdrive. I've set the Filter Emphasis (resonance) to 9 0'clock and after that adjust the Cutoff Frequency manually throughout the song. After the Moog I've ran the sound through Soundtoys Decapitator to add even more drive and then some really light plate reverb to make it sound just a little less dry.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back soon for more Stranger Things synths! Click the link below to download the patches for Arturia Mini, Prophet and TAL U-NO-LX.
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.Read More
One of the most distinctive elements of Flume's sound is chopped up sounds, especially vocals. You could either record your own vocals, find a guest vocalist, or search through sample packs for good vocal samples. Flume uses sample packs a fair bit and says he's picky about choosing samples for his productions.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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 0:47Read More
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.Read More
'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 throughRead More
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.Read More
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.”Read More
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:Read More
'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.
The song starts with a thick sounding deep synth bass, I tried a couple of synths and the Prophet was the one that got me closest to this bass sound. The Moog was too dirty and the Juno was too clean but any Prophet-type synth will really nail this sound. Set OSC B an octave below OSC A and set the volume so that it's a little quieter and blends well with OSC A. Raise cutoff and have all the sustain up to max for a big full sound, then turn on legato and set the glide to roughly the right time (below it's set to 450ms).Read More
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out in 2004 and is now regarded as one of the greatest films of the 2000s. A memorable aspect of the film is Jon Brion's soundtrack that combines lush strings, lo-fi nylon string guitars and melancholy piano.
Brion's work on the soundtrack led to him working with Kanye West on the 2005 album 'Late Registration', where he providing the strings and brass arrangement, as well as co-producing and helping with the creative direction of the album. Additionally the soundtrack has had a big influence on indie and dream-pop bands as well as hip-hop artists, being directly sampled in several songs:Read More
Welcome back to another episode of Tame Impala Synth Sounds; Part 1 was mainly about the Roland Juno-106 patches on 'Currents' and how to recreate them using the original hardware or using software. In this article I'm going to look at some of the different sounds used and how to recreate them. As I go through I'll mention the original hardware, the software alternative I use, and then the free software alternatives.
The Less I Know the Better
This song isn't actually as synth-heavy as it sounds, although it gets wonderfully layered during the last chorus and outro. In the verses a lot of the instrumentation is in fact a MIDI-pickup equipped guitar run through a Roland GR-55, a guitar-specific synthesizer / effect unit. I don't own one of these (yet...) so I'm not sure how these sounds were created, but here's Kevin Parker explanation:Read More
I'm going to write a few thoughts about recreating specific synth sounds that your hear in songs and want to recreate yourself. If you only have access to limited gear this can be great as a lot of tutorials you find on the internet will focus on synths you might not have; also it's really good to have one synth that you know well enough to recreate all your favourite sounds on.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." (Chinese Proverb)
First things first, research the artist and try to identify which synths they use. Look at studio pictures and see if you can identity synths as Moogs, Rolands or Korgs. Read some interviews and see if they namedrop their favourite bits of gear. Do they use analog hardware or do they work on laptop-based setup that would more point to the use of soft synths? Look at live videos and see what equipment they use to recreate their sounds. Do they use effect pedals? Finding answers to these question can really help take some of the guesswork out of recreating their sounds.Read More
Tame Impala are a psychedelic band from Australia, their sound has mostly consisted of guitar heavy 60s/70s-style rock, washed out with delay and phasers. However their most recent album 'Currents' features heavy use of synthesizers and electronic elements, continuing the electronic experimentation found on 'Lonerism'. Although there is a huge variety of interesting sounds on 'Currents', by far the most common are the lush chorused sounds of the Roland Juno-106. The 106 was released in 1984 and has a classic 80s sound, with an easy to program interface.
The key to the Juno sound is it's famous onboard stereo Chorus effect. A great software emulation of the Roland Juno is the TAL-U-NO-LX. There is also the free MZTK DCO-6 for Windows and u-he Diva which emulates the Juno and many more.Read More
I've been using Ableton Live for coming up to 10 years now, at first while I was still experimenting with it I was pretty disorganised with my projects, but since learning more about the program and using it for more serious projects I've come up with a couple of ways to organise my tracks and speed up my workflow.
1. File Names by Date
When you´re working on a track it'll typically go through several different versions or stages of completion. Sometimes these changes will consist of small tweaks but other times you'll be making big sweeping changes that take the track in a new direction. You may reach a point where you want to go back to a previous state of the track because something worked better before an edit, or you may want to compare changes to a mix.Read More
I've been listening a lot to Disasterpeace's wonderful Fez soundtrack lately; I decided to find out how he created his sounds and was surprised to see he creates them mostly in Native Instrument's Massive, a synth I have but haven't played with in years. I did some experimenting and managed to come up with the patch for the song 'Compass'. A more filtered version of the sound appears in 'Beacon'. For extra authenticity add a bit-crusher (8 bit) and some slow pitch modulation.