Artist stories

Artist Feature: Key Wane

Posted July 17, 2017, 8:02 a.m.

Artist Feature: Key Wane - Beyoncé, Drake, Big Sean

It would be easy to forget when looking at his album credits that Key Wane is just 27 years old. He has the producer/artist roster some work decades to rack up. In fact Key Wane seems to have a knack for not just working with A-List artists at the top of their game, but providing them with hit single after hit single.

But with all that success and more platinum records than he even has time to hang on his walls right now, Key Wane is staying humble, hungry and active. We caught up with him to talk shop and hear his story.

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Artist stories

Music Talk: ZETA

Posted July 7, 2017, 8:38 a.m.

ZETA is a collaboration between Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner), Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Katie Jackson. The UK artists seek to push their own creative boundaries by exploring epic soundscapes that intertwine with stunning visuals.

This unique project fuses the retro synth heavy decade of the 80s with futuristic and breathtaking imagery, bringing past and future together in a Cyberpunk-esque package. With a huge span of influences ranging from metal, future garage, retrowave, prog, classical and various game and film soundtracks, their music embraces the sounds of electronica, but with textures and layers inspired by the whole musical spectrum.

We had a chat with Paul about creating music for ZETA and how Reason plays a big role in the creative process.

Tell us a bit about how ZETA came about and what your intention was when launching the project!

I guess it kinda formed by accident! So I'd known our singer Dan for a while through the Progressive Metal scene - I was busy with my project Chimp Spanner and he sings for TesseracT. We'd always planned on working together but just never got around to it. It wasn't until I shared a song of my partner Katie's that he approached me, thinking it was a song of mine. After I explained the mixup we decided that it'd be awesome to all work together and, here we are! Originally we'd intended to make a futuristic/chill kind of album, and then for a while it was all-out Synthwave, and then it naturally settled somewhere in the middle. I think it works because we all have a shared love of influences old and new, ranging from Tears for Fears, George Michael and Vangelis to Ghost in the Shell, Future Garage, sci-fi games and all of that.


Being an (almost all) electronic album, what was your approach on producing the album, as opposed to any guitar centered albums you've done previously?

Well the workflow was very different for me. I'm used to just writing on my own, instrumentally. With Zeta what'd usually happen is Katie would give me a MIDI file and a demo mixdown from Cubase. I'd listen a couple of times for reference and then dump the MIDI in Reason and basically start from scratch, then embellish with guitars or add new sections, chord changes, etc. So I guess it was more like re-mixing than anything. Then we'd send it off to Dan to do his thing, get the stems back and edit them in Reason, then figure out what needed to stay or go in the mix to make them fit. So yeah; for someone who's used to doing everything all at once it was a very different experience to bounce the songs around between three people. But it seems to have worked well. Of course some songs I wrote directly in Reason from start to finish but in either case the focus was on drums and bass. I found that once I nailed the rhythm section everything else fell into place, which really isn't too dissimilar to how I approach guitar music.

I've accumulated so many REs over the years that I had a device for just about every job, and where I didn't, I just made one myself in the Combinator.


How did Reason help you creatively when writing music for the album?

It's just fun! We tried Cubase at first; Silent Waves is actually the only track not made in Reason, and it would've been if I had been able to find the project. But I just wasn't happy with the sounds I was getting. Everything was kind of "cold", and I found the environment kinda taxing to work in, especially when it comes to automation. So we made the decision early on to switch. With Reason it felt like I was playing with a bunch of cool toys rather than working. I've accumulated so many REs over the years that I had a device for just about every job, and where I didn't, I just made one myself in the Combinator. But yeah more than anything it's just that fun factor. And then of course on a technical level the clip based automation is just such a time-saver. You can go really crazy with it and not have to worry about setting things back to the right position afterwards. In Cubase I'd normally just leave stuff as it is because I can't be dealing with my parameters being left at the wrong value after MIDI or host automation.

OK, synth nerd alert: what was the most used synth on the album?

Tough one! I'd say Antidote, just because it's so versatile. It's great for those dark unison Future Garage style basslines, as well as pads and leads. But beyond that, I used a lot of The Legend and Viking (wanted that authentic Moog kinda feel). And I'm pretty sure Quadelectra's Jackboxes are on every track (707, 808, Linn Drum). The Kings of Kong ReFill is also fantastic if you want even more retro drum machines. That features a lot also.

Any special, secret Reason production trick used in the process?

Well there's a tonne of side-chaining haha. Kinda comes with the synthwave/future territory. Typically what I'd do is take all my melodic elements (except for lead instruments and vocals) and put them in a group channel called "SC". Then I'd either key the compressor using audio from the kick, or more often than not I'd just use Pump RE and trigger it via MIDI. Having certain instruments outside of the side-chain group keeps the mix from sounding too ducked and keeps those elements more in focus. Also Audiomatic's Tape and Bottom presets got a lot of use on the album. I have no idea what they do, but they make the mixes sound kinda warm and fuzzy, and I like that. Scream's Tape setting is also great for warming up basses and kick drums. Distortion isn't necessarily a destructive tool. It can be really musical.

Scream's Tape setting is also great for warming up basses and kick drums. Distortion isn't necessarily a destructive tool. It can be really musical.


Any tips and tricks for mixing vocals in Reason?

Hmm, considering this was my first time mixing vocals, I think it might be me who needs a few tips and tricks! But I mean, it was a learning
experience. I'd say automate. Lots. I'm kind of a set-and-forget guy normally, but for vocals it just doesn't work. You have to really ride the faders and "play" the mix. Also try using ducking on your reverbs. So you could send a lead vocal to a nice long reverb with a compressor after it. Then use the Spider to take a copy of that dry vocal and send it to the sidechain input of the compressor. Kinda like lazy-man's automation. When there's singing there's less reverb. When there's no singing, there's more reverb. Works pretty well most of the time.

Could you share any synth patches used on the album?

Well a lot of the patches are really not that complicated; most of the basses and pads are really sort of "naked", in that they're not dressed up with a lot of effects or complex routing. It's mostly sawtooth oscillators (either dual detuned or something with a rich/wide unison section like Korg MonoPoly or Antidote) and then a suitable amp/filter envelope depending on whether it's a bass or a pad or whatever. I've included a few patches here, although they're not much to look at!

DownloadDownload Zeta's Reason presets here!
(Please note that some of the patches requires Rack Extensions)


A few people have asked about the snare on The Distance. And I can tell you it's a layered 707 snare, 707 low tom, and the BBGunSnare_BSQ sample from the Reason FSB, all running into a gated reverb! Ohhh and guitars are almost entirely presets from Kuassa's excellent amp REs!

Follow ZETA on YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Bandcamp.

LIsten to ZETA's new album here:

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Artist stories

Artist Feature: DJ Pierre

Posted April 19, 2017, 10:54 a.m.

Here’s a thought experiment… how many musicians can you name that invented an entire musical genre from a single song which the genre even takes its name from? Is there a song called Jazz? Did someone write a track called Blues? No. That unique honor is reserved for Phuture and their song Acid Tracks, from which the global cultural movement of Acid House was born.

DJ Pierre sat down to tell us the stories of his early days, show us around his latest work, and share some of the new talent and artistry he's nurturing in his creative incubator space at Afro Acid Digital in Atlanta.

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Follow DJ Pierre on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Spotify.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda and Reason

Posted March 28, 2017, 7:44 a.m.

Edmonton based producer Neil Thompson, aka Dr. Perceptron, has been writing and recording electronic music since the early nineties. Initially from the UK, he has been in the arts discipline of the computer games industry since the late eighties, with companies such as Psygnosis, Sony, Bizarre Creations and now BioWare in Canada. He continues to actively pursue his twin passions of art and electronica, submitting music for games as well as releasing his own albums via Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

We got a chance to speak with Neil about how he approached creating music for Mass Effect: Andromeda with Reason.

You are one of a handful of Edmonton producers who’ve gotten track placements in the new Mass Effect game by BioWare. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into producing music for Mass Effect.

I've been in the games industry for a long time, but not for as long as I've been a keen amateur musician! I come from a musical family and after brief attempts at learning "traditional" orchestral instruments, I discovered the electric guitar and that was the end of any formal training. The move to electronic music came during the rise of the dance / rave scene in the late 80's and early 90's when my love for the older school of artists like Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Kraftwerk started to combine with artists like The Orb, DJs like Sasha, John Digweed and CJ Bolland in particular, whose album "Electronic Highway" defined the convergence of European techno and pure electronica. Then Pete Namlook's explorations into electronic sound and his many collaborations (particularly with Klaus Schulze) were a huge inspiration.

When it became easier to self release work through sites like Soundcloud, I started to put stuff out more aggressively and several years ago the then EP of Mass Effect, Casey Hudson, heard a couple of my tracks ("The Sheep Look Up" and "The Jagged Orbit" from "The Brunner Sessions" album) and tweeted how reminiscent they were of the Mass Effect universe. Fast forward a few years and BioWare are working on a new Mass Effect title and I was approached by Jeremie Voillot and Mike Kent (the audio directors) to submit three tracks for the game's soundtrack and I was only too pleased to do it!

At the time of creating your music for Mass Effect, did you already know your songs were going to be in the game, and if you did, did that affect your writing in any way?

Originally, I was considering submitting some existing tracks, but with an opportunity like this I realized that it was a great chance to write some music specifically with the intent of capturing some of the mood of the game.

It's a really interesting story line with a great antagonist that lends itself well to a musical interpretation: anything sci fi is fun to interpret as it lends itself perfectly to the kind of avant garde electronic sounds that I love to make!

Do you have a favorite Reason production trick you can tell us about?

Not much of a trick, but more a rethink of my technique: I got really into modular synthesis a few years ago and now have a pretty large eurorack set up. It made me change the way I thought about using the modules in reason: I now do far more work using standalone LFOs (Pulsar mainly) to drive the oscillators independently of the matrix or the sequencer. It gives an unpredictable and more organic feel to instruments such as Parsec where you can drive the modifiers and filters all independently... Plenty of happy accidents to be had with this approach!

Plenty of happy accidents to be had with this approach!

Top 3 Reason devices?

Thor is fantastic and still a constant source of inspiration: I love huge sweeping tones and Thor has that in abundance.

Synchronous is my go to effect as I like to use a lot of filtering and glitch type effects. The graphical interface makes it a great tool to mess with and see what comes out.

Kong partnered with the Propulsion Drum Sequencer by Lectric Panda I find to be an immensely powerful combination. All my percussion tracks begin with this set up.

What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?

I do like the new Players, particularly the Dual Arpeggio but the Pitch Edit has proved to be most useful so far. I use it to correct vocal tracks and it's really easy and really fast.

Pitch Edit has proved to be most useful so far. I use it to correct vocal tracks and it's really easy and really fast.

Do you have a favorite game soundtrack?

I've always admired the work of Richard Jacques and it was quite the honour to meet and work with him on a game we did at Bizarre Creations called "James Bond: Bloodstone". Richard's score for that game was tremendous! Very Bond.

If you asked me to name my favourite soundtrack in any medium, it has to be "Blade Runner" by Vangelis... It still gives me chills when I listen to it today and I've spent a lot of time in Reason trying to recreate the sound of his CS-80... with some success :)

Follow Dr. Perceptron: Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, Soundcloud.

Check out Mass Effect: Andromeda.

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Posted March 28, 2017, 7:44 a.m.

Artist stories

Niki & The Dove: Artist Feature

Posted Feb. 14, 2017, 8:23 a.m.

The way they both got into making music, by embracing mistakes and deviations in their piano lesson homework, is just the beginning of a highly compatible and equally unique take on songwriting and production for Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf. As the two producers in Niki & The Dove, they work together as a set of checks and balances - as much musical collaborators as editors, carefully crafting their sound. In this artist feature we sat down with Gustaf and Malin and had them both take us through a couple songs on their latest album, "Everybody's Heart is Broken Now."

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Follow Niki & The Dove on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Spotify, YouTube.

Posted Feb. 14, 2017, 8:23 a.m.