Posted Jan. 17, 2018, 10:59 a.m.
When Justen's parents forbid him from listening to the corrupting influence of "secular music" - they inadvertently helped him train to become a music producer.
Thanks to peer to peer filesharing and an abundance of instrumental mp3 hip hop mixes available there, Justen Williams was listening to Top 40 hip hop minus the vocals. And what was left, he could study in unobscured detail to see how the kick fit with the bass and why those effects create a specific mood.
But it wasn't until a college friend introduced Justen to Reason that he saw what he'd always dreamed of: an entire beatmaking studio right on his computer screen. After getting his own copy of Reason, Justen Williams never looked back. His production skills and collaborations with New Orleans artists have landed him placements with Ford, HBO, Empire, Dancing with the Stars, NFL Films, and album production with Kourtney Heart, Justin Garner, and Dee 1.
We joined Justen in New Orleans to discuss his early beatmaking and production experiments with Reason and his biggest viral success, Sallie Mae Back.
Posted Jan. 5, 2018, 9:27 a.m.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Drew Lustman aka FaltyDl has been releasing his eclectic electronic music over the years on such renowed labels as Planet Mu and Ninja Tunes, as well as his own Blueberry Records imprint. Drew has put out six albums including his most recent ouput Heaven is for Quitters and he has also toured with James Blake, opened for Radiohead and remixed for the likes of Seun Kuti, Photek, The XX, Disclosure, Tricky and Ellen Allien.
Drew makes all his music in Reason and we figured it was time for a chat about how he goes about creating his music in Reason and what the thinking is behind it.
What's your favorite thing in Reason 10?
Reason 10 really nailed the integration of VSTs. I had started to play around with some 3rd party plugins in Reason 9, but everything jelled with Reason 10. It's funny to think my favorite thing about Reason is using non-Reason products with it, but that’s the spirit of music. Inclusion, experimentation and freedom. I used to feel tied down by the limitations of not being able to use VST’s, now it's been blown wide open and my wallet is my only limitation haha. Also being a lifetime Reason user, it's really nice that the GUI has been solid for the past few versions. If there is one thing every artist hates, it's change to their workflow. Although once you push through, new opportunities usually arrive.
How do you get started with a new song?
Just play. Have fun and experiment. I can honestly say, 10+ years into making electronic music i still don’t have a clue what I am going to make when I head into the studio. And every time I think I do, it comes out completely different. I’m not accurate like that. But I never cared about it either. My advice is make everything you want to make. You can decide later if its crap! Also, no one has to hear it… hehe
What's the best music making tip you ever got?
What you don’t know starting out is if music becomes your livelihood, pays your bills etc. your relationship with it may change. Go with the flow, go easy on yourself when the tunes don’t just come naturally. They will again.
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
I like saving racks, songs Ive completed, then erasing every single note and just letting the set up remain for another day. It’s a good way to get a vibe going quickly.
I like treating the mixer as an instrument.
I like treating the mixer as an instrument. Doubling instruments, giving sounds multiple channels to phase against each other with LFOs can really make some freaky human sounding stuff. I still smash ‘tab', switch Reason around so to speak and wire things awkwardly. One thing I am trying to be more conscious of these days is relative volume across different levels, meaning Line Level vs Instrument Level vs master level etc. I try and leave enough headroom at the end of a track so i can mix more freely and not worry about adjusting everything.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
Scream 4 Distortion has been a mainstay for me since Reason 3. The tape saturation is pretty spot on!
I use the NN-XT sampler in pretty much every track. I come from before you could just print audio into Reason and had to start a track before the sample is triggered in order to hear it. It was painful back then, but created a good listening habit which made me a more active listener. I find I can focus on the most minute musical event in a song and completely forget its context, only to then listen to the entire song and think what the hell did I just do for 45 minutes?
The tape saturation is pretty spot on!
Dr OctoRex is still a beast. I don’t think I use it to it’s full potential, but I come from sampling breaks and have always used this alongside recycle. Integrated audio has changed the need for this but hey I’m a bit old school.
What do you do when inspiration just isn't there?
Leave the house. Go for a walk, call a friend. Move a muscle, change a thought. Forcing the thing works maybe 10% of the time. Collaborate! Send stems to a pal and ask for some back. Inspiration, muse, whatever you call it is a fickle thing. It never shows up on time and often when you aren’t even close to your studio.
Inspiration is a fickle thing. It never shows up on time and often when you aren’t even close to your studio.
What’s your all-time favorite album?
Impossible to nail down. Here are a few;
- Feed Me Weird Things - Squarepusher
- In a Silent Way - Miles Davis
- Apostrophe - Frank Zappa
- Drum and Bass for Pappa - Plug
- Ruins - Grouper
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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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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!
Download 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!
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LIsten to ZETA's new album here:
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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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