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!
Follow ZETA on YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Bandcamp.
LIsten to ZETA's new album here:
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Posted Jan. 16, 2017, 12:42 p.m.
Meet Tobtok, a.k.a. Tobias Karlsson, a 24 year old house DJ/producer hailing from Uppsala, Sweden. Growing up with Michael Jackson and Nile Rodgers being huge influences, Tobtok took the natural route via French-sounding house and nu-disco before delving deeper into his own niche of electronic music, where Reason always has played a big part. Tobtok is currently signed to legendary UK label Ministry of Sound and in 2016 he released the song "Fast Car" which to date totals over 30 million streams on Spotify and Soundcloud. Be sure to download the Reason lead synth combinator patch from that song further below!
We spoke to Tobtok about his song writing process and how he uses Reason in his productions. Check it out!
What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?
It's definately the new Pitch Edit feature! I've always tried to stay in Reason for all sides of production but it's been hard working with vocals up until now. I love to work with samples in all its shapes and with this new feature it can be applied and used with all kinds of sounds. I've been editing guitar-leads with the pitch-edit and it gives the sound a whole new and interesting character.
How do you get started with a new song? What sparks your creativity?
I often start out with a Radical Piano to write basic chords, usually around a vocal. Sometimes you stumble upon an interesting sound or sample and play around with it which engages the rest of the music making. I usually ignite my creativity with hours of listening to music. Later on, bits and pieces that caught my interest kind of gets imprinted into my memory and in to the music making. Today for example I was listening to some Swedish pop song and found a specific percussion sound that I got obsessed with. After a good few hours of investigation I found out that it was a "Wooden Frog". It is now sitting nicely in my latest tune!
Sometimes creating a new track can be easier than finishing one. How do you decide when you're done?
My archive of unfinished clips has really stacked up over the years. I'm very fortunate to work with a lot of the major labels and with it comes deadlines. Usually the record has to be done in a few days so you have to make big choices and just let it be finished when it sounds right in the moment. It's so easy to think that you are finished when the arrangement is good and the mix is sounding tight, but after a few listens you always hear new stuff that you want to change. But sometimes you have to say to yourself that this is a finished product, let it go and move on to the next project. The industry is moving very fast and it's all about keeping up with it.
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
Well, I think the biggest advantage in Reason is that it has its own sounds, which a lot of people are missing out on. I always use a lot of Reason's own sounds because it stands out and always maintains a standard.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
Radical-Piano, NN-XT Sampler, Audiomatic Retro Transformer
What’s your all-time favorite album?
I have to be a bit boring and say Michael Jackson - Thriller! It's hard to beat.
Any words of wisdom for other music makers out there?
Have fun and just keep learning new ways of working, because the beauty with softwares and computer-made music is that there's no limits to what you can do! Also, believe in your own talent and respect the craft. It's hard to stand out with your music in this day of age, and a lot of people are following the same formulas so it's a big advantage to try and take yourself out of those barriers and create something people have never heard before. Although it's always good to take inspiration from others but try to put it into your own perspective! Lastly, don't be driven by fame, because you should do music for your own pleasure, and if others enjoy what you're doing it's a bonus but your own passion is the most important thing!
Download Tobtok's Combinator patches
Fast Car Steel-Synth
This is a synth-based steel-drum sound which I used to layer the lead melody and plucks in my single "Fast Car"! I've used variations of this patch in a lot of tracks and it has this carribean vibe to it!
Radical Piano - Nice Standard
Probably my favorite and most used instrument in my productions is the Radical Piano. I usually start out with this patch because it fits well with house records as I've boosted the highs to make it more stabby and pop out in the mix.
Pretty Dope Xylophone
Used in a bunch of my remixes. This Xylophone sound is quite heavily compressed to give it this "in your face" attack. Great if you are looking to do a nice tropical lead!
Follow Tobtok on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram!
In August 2016 Tobtok opened for Avicii during his Ushuaia residency on Ibiza.
Posted May 28, 2014, 1:26 p.m.
Hilton “Deuce” Wright II, is a record producer and songwriter from Detroit, MI. Along with his cousin B. Wright, the duo known as WrighTrax created music for some of today's top urban pop artists including: Big Sean, Mike Posner, Lil Twist, Drake, Rick Ross, and many more. Currently based in LA, Deuce is working on new projects for Lupe Fiasco, Elzhi (Slum Village), Gilbere Forte, and Mike Posner. An avid Reason user, we sat down with Deuce to talk music making.
Can you tell us a bit about how it works making music and producing for other artists?
Every situation is different. Most times I’m in the studio with the artists and sometimes I’ll work on music with a couple co-writers and send it to the artists or one of their representatives. I’ve cultivated tons of relationships over the years and continue to do so. Relationships are everything and create the opportunities to work with the artists.
How do you use Reason in your music making?
Reason is where it all starts for me. I’ve built a custom default song template along with numerous favorites list that have my most common used & needed sounds that are easy for me to access. I’ll usually start with a chord progression, drums in Kong, and/or a Dr. OctoRex loop.
What's the best music making tip you ever got?
"Make something!" I actually heard that in a Props YouTube video! It’s so true though, even if it’s terrible, just the process of making music is good for your habit development. Also: stay objective! Detach yourself from the music and be able to critique it without your emotions getting in the way.
What do you do when writer's block strikes?
I listen to & study other pieces of music that are similar to what I’m trying to make. I’ll usually have three references that I’m referring to sonically, musically, and production wise. They can be used as a starting point or as a creative boost when I get stuck.
What has been the best moment in your music making career thus far?
I think the best moment for me thus far has been to watch/listen to music I made in my dorm room, bedroom, and basement get played on national television/radio, and be available in stores worldwide. To watch an idea grow to that level is truly awesome.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring producers and musicians?
As cliche as it sounds, DON’T GIVE UP! The only people that don’t succeed are those that quit before their time. It’s never too late.
To get you inspired, Deuce created some patches for use in your tracks. Download the archive, check out the demo song and then make some music!
Please note: The patch MeeKeys and the demo track requires the Radical Piano and Pulsar Rack Extensions.
Posted Oct. 4, 2011, 11:50 a.m.
When Jordan Atkins-Loria (DJ Lucky Date) was introduced to Reason, he instantly recognized the potential of its synths and set about to master them. Originally following tutorials he found online, Lucky Date began making his own tutorials which showcased his penchant for modern electro dance synths in Reason. As his tutorials grew in popularity, so did his career as a DJ and Producer.
In just a couple short years, DJ Lucky Date has gone from making his first video tutorial to completing 4 electro dance ReFill sound libraries, charting on Beatport, and massive club and festival gigs as a headlininer.
We met up with Jordan one night in LA where he had a few thousand Angelinos jumping and screaming at Avalon in Hollywood, CA. Before the show he walked us through some of the secrets to his massive sounds and even gave us the patches so we can share them with you all.
Posted Nov. 5, 2008, 12:36 p.m.
Electronic music fans will recognize the name Bon Harris as a founding member of one of the world's most influential electronic acts - Nitzer Ebb. Apart from his own bands, he has done writing, production and programming work with artists such as Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson.
As an electronic musician, Bon relied heavily on large modular systems to create his music and often dreamed there was a way to make music on the road without hauling the whole studio on each trip. In the end, he found Reason.
Being used to the modular approach, Bon Harris constantly finds himself patching audio and control voltages on Reason's back panel. Only in software, it's much faster and there's an undo function as well.
We met with Bon Harris in Los Angeles to talk about his use of Reason in his production work and on the new Nitzer Ebb album. He also gave us a thorough lesson in how to craft a Nitzer Ebb-style bass patch using Thor, a vocoder and a mile of virtual patch cable - check the video!
Nitzer Ebb-style bass, a tutorial
In the video, Bon Harris shows a trick for animating parameters using CV. We asked him to elaborate on that subject and he sent us an example file and a very
thorough description of how his bass patch was created.
Download the example song file (Reason version 4), put on your lab coat and taped-together thick glasses and get ready to dive in!
Here is what Bon Harris says:
Start off with Thor (or your preferred module), a Matrix Sequencer, and a Spider Audio split/merge. Cook up a sound and sequence you like.
I chose a 3 oscillator Pulse Wave bass, with sync on oscillator 2, and some LFO mod to PW and pitch (on the sync'd oscillator - #2), for a bit of animation. Patch the audio output of the Thor into the Spider audio splitter and send dual splits to channels 1 and 2 on the mixer. Channel one will be the basic sound, channel two will be the vocoder sweep EQ sound.
Add the BV512 Vocoder, (while holding down the shift key – so it doesn't auto patch). Re-patch audio split #2 from the Audio Spider to the Vocoder input, and the patch the Vocoder output into mixer channel 2. Mute channel 1 (the basic sound), so you can hear the Vocoder sound solo. Set the switch on the BV to "Equalizer", and choose how many bands you'd like.
I went with the basic four band, because it's early and I haven't had much Tea yet. Muck about with the 4 EQ bands, and the shift knob until it starts to get "fruity".
Add a Subtractor, (again, holding the shift key, so that it doesn't auto patch to anything). Flip the rack around and patch the LFO 1 CV output into the Shift CV input on the BV512 Vocoder. Mess around with the Subtractor LFO 1 settings and the BV512 shift CV amount on the back panel, and the shift knob on the front panel.
Now the Subtractor is acting as a modular LFO to sweep the BV512 EQ shift.
You could stop there if you wanted, doing an A/B between mixer channel 1, (basic sound), and channel 2, (BV512 EQ w/LFO mod). You could layer them, use the BV sound as an alt bass, whatever.
I decided I wanted to have more options, so I went one more step. (This last paragraph is for Turbo Nerds. If you have a life I would suggest getting back to it. Quickly.)
Earlier, in the basic Thor patch, I had routed the Matrix "Curve CV" output to the Thor back panel "Filter 1 Freq" CV input, for some filter accents. I decided that might sound good on the vocoder shift as well. I added a Spider CV merge/split (with the shift key again –otherwise the machines WILL take over and all humans WILL die). I re-patched the Curve CV output, (on the Matrix back panel), to the CV splitter input on the Spider CV. I sent CV split output #1 back to the back panel Thor Filter 1 CV input, re-establishing the filter movements I had already setup on Thor.
Now, my shift CV input on the BV512 is already patched from the Subtractor LFO, and I now also want to use the Curve CV from the Matrix (on CV split output #2 of the Spider CV). I re-patched the Subtractor LFO output into input #1 of the Spider CV merger, and re-patched the output of the merger into the BV512 shift CV input. Now I've basically got a four input CV mixer going in to the BV512 Shift CV input. Last, I went to the Spider CV splitter, took the Curve CV split output #2 and patched back into the Spider merge input #2.
Now I can play with the CV amount on both the Subtractor LFO and the Matrix Curve CV inputs on the Spider CV before sending them to the BV512 shift CV input. As you can see, (if you are still awake), this patch involves patching the Spider CV split output back into its own merge inputs.
Once this patch was complete, I went train spotting.