Posted Jan. 15, 2018, 12:46 p.m.
Over the last few years, a new retro music genre has emerged, bloomed and taken on a life of its own. Synthwave, or Retrowave is an electronic music genre heavily influenced by the sounds and aestethics of 1980s movies and its soundtracks (think John Carpenter, Vangelis etc) and video games. This nostalgia-induced style of electronic music pays tribute to the style, feel and sound of the 80s. Musically, Synthwave music often draws inspiration from bands that build their musical foundation on drum machines and (nowadays) classic synthesizers.
Emerging in the late 2000’s, Synthwave acts like Kavinsky, College and Com Truise were among the first to make the genre widely known and loved. Both Kavinsky and College were featured in the Synthwave-heavy soundtrack for the movie Drive, which definitely helped many discover the sounds of Synthwave and bring the genre into the mainstream. The Netflix hit show Stranger Things also features Synthwave music in its soundtrack and the whole series could of course also be considered an homage to 80s movies.
Synthwave music is often inspired by and based around 80s style components such as drum machines (such as the Linn Drum) and analogue synthesizers like the Roland Juno and Jupiter 8, mixed with more modern production techniques like creative use of sidechain compression.
With its rich plethora of drum machines and analogue inspired synthesizers, picking Reason to produce a Synthwave track is a perfect match. Here to show you how it’s done is producer and musician Paul Ortiz of Synthwave group ZETA.
Producer, musician and Reason producer Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner) is a member of Synthwave group ZETA, along with Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Katie Jackson. Together they fuse the retro synth heavy decade of the 80s with futuristic and breath-taking imagery, bringing past and future together in a Cyberpunk-esque package that is ZETA.
Follow ZETA on YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Bandcamp.
Make a Synthwave track yourself with Reason's free trial!
Posted Nov. 14, 2017, 10:20 a.m.
From the hip hop’s immortal 808 kick to the sound of the mighty Linndrum, drum machines have provided the pulse and energy in electronic music for more than 40 years and we keep getting hypnotized by the robotic grooves they provide.
The history of the drum machine actually goes back all the way to the 1930s, when Leo Theremin (yes, that Theremin) built a sine wave based rhythm instrument called the Rhythmicon. The size of a refrigerator and notoriously hard to use, it wasn’t a hit and it would take another 30 years before rhythm machines actually started to come out as products. Early examples such as the Wurlitzer Side Man used vacuum tubes for sound generation and mechanical rotating discs for sequencing and they didn’t make a huge impact on music when they came out. Gradually, drum machines shrunk in both size and price with the adoption of solid state electronics and products such as the Donca-Matic range from Keio-Giken (that would later become Korg) in the late 60s.
Drum machines were initially thought of as accompaniment tools that practice your playing to when a drummer wasn’t available and indeed they didn’t really see much use in recordings from the era. In the early 70s drum machines started to appear in pop productions with Sly & the Family Stone scoring the first #1 featuring a drum machine: Family Affair.
As electronic pop music started to evolve, drum machines became part of the sound and not a novelty. With more advanced products such as the Roland CR78, artist could program their own rhythm patterns and the electronic rhythms could be heard on more and more pop records.
In 1980, the Linn LM-1 came out. It was a pricey unit at almost $5000, but it offered sampled drum sounds and helped define the sound of the 80s as we know it today. Ironically, the most iconic machines of the era: the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 didn’t make a huge impact when they first appeared. They were analog drum machines (apart from the hi-hats and cymbals in the 909) and didn’t sound as modern as their sampled counterparts that came out around the same time. The 808 & 909 route to legendary status went via pawn shops and classified ads where a new generation of hip hop beatmakers and budding house producers could get their hands on these machines for peanut money.
Looking to add the sound of iconic drum machines to your beats? Reason’s Redrum was designed to mimic the 80s legends both in sound and workflow. And the mighty Kong Drum Designer lets you craft your own synthetic drum sounds. The Propellerhead shop is a gold mine for these sought-after sounds. Rack Extensions to emulate classic drum machines, drum loop libraries constructed with the legends from years gone by - take a look at which of these top drum machines will work for you.
Don’t have Reason? Start with a free 30 day trial and see what Reason can do for your music-making.
Posted Oct. 9, 2017, 2:01 p.m.
Today Propellerhead are launching Rack Extension subscriptions. And I dare say it’s the first time plug-in subscriptions are done the way they should have been in the first place.
First, let me get a few things straight. Subscriptions are not replacing sales. You can still buy all Rack Extension products as usual, and we absolutely have no plans to change that. Secondly, Rack Extension instruments and effects are more popular with you musicians than they ever have been, even after we introduced VST support. Thirdly, Propellerhead are as dedicated to the Rack Extension format as we ever have been. There’s lots of stuff in the RE pipeline.
With that out of the way, let me get back to why our subscriptions make more sense than anybody else’s. Other company’s subscriptions usually mean one of two things. Either you subscribe to one product at a time which gets really expensive and a pain to manage. Or you subscribe to a fixed bunch of products, usually all from the same manufacturer. This means you end up paying for a bunch of stuff you really didn’t want. Not good.
So, what if you could choose between hundreds of products, creating your own personal mix of plugs from a huge selection of manufacturers? And what if you could just switch out the ones you find that you didn’t use as much as you thought, only to add completely new and fresh products, even ones that just came out? What if you could up- and down-size your music arsenal freely, between those periods when you make a lot of music and the other times when your life is filled with other things than making tracks (yeah, right).
All that is exactly what Propellerhead subscriptions are all about. Letting you mix and match your musical life in the way that’s best for you.
With this freedom, there are a million ways you could organize your plug-in life. Let me just share my one favorite. With Reason comes an amazing set of devices and those will always be the backbone of the rig, for all of us. In addition to that, most people add a few essential Rack Extensions, those select ones that you learn really well and use on almost all projects. And now, on top of that you can add a subscription that you vary over time, with projects, with musical styles you’re into or with new techniques you want to explore and learn.
The Reason devices. The REs you own. The mix of instruments and effects you get from subscribing. The best of three worlds rolled into one.
Click here to learn more about Rack Extension subscriptions!
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:
Try Reason 9.5 free for 30 days here!
Posted May 16, 2017, 8:28 a.m.
”VST support in Reason? When hell freezes over.” That seems to have been the common way to express it. Now that you’ve all recovered from the shock I thought I’d give you some background to this decision of ours, and how we’re thinking about it going forward. But first I need to thank you all for the ridiculous amounts of positive feedback that we’ve received on the announcement of 9.5. I’ve been reading the comments in all the social media channels to get a feeling for how the news landed, and I must say that I blushed. We are seriously humbled and extremely grateful for your amazing support!
The reason is actually pretty simple: Because your music now requires it.
I won’t talk about how VSTs in Reason actually work, other people are better at communicating that. I just want to say something about why we did it and what it means going forward. The reason is actually pretty simple: Because your music now requires it. Musicians get inspired by a lot of things, but the instruments and effects themselves are certainly a big part, if not the biggest. There’s been an enormous explosion of cool plugins over the last few years. As a musician it’s wonderful to see so many developers unleashing their creativity in designs of all shapes and forms. And we just didn’t want Reason musicians to miss out on that. It was that simple.
As you may know, we’ve had some reservations on the plugin formats out there, VST included. The technical designs leave the host vulnerable to problems that might affect your song document. The lack of integration standards make basic tasks like finding sounds, automation, setting up remote control etc, harder than it should be. And that takes focus off what is always closest to our heart – your music making. And there are market problems too, finding the perfect EQ for your specific situation takes hours of unnecessary account registration and downloads. And purchasing a plug often means putting in your credit card on one web site and getting the actual product from another.
So, all of the above is what lead us to creating the Rack Extension format. It really does solve all of the above by cutting one giant Gordian knot.
Having said that, the VST world has really evolved too, in a very positive way. Technical quality is much better than it used to be. So is platform compatibility. The VST 2.4 standard has really gelled. And there are now integration conventions that allowed us to do what we think is the coolest VST implementation in any DAW, from a musical perspective, maximizing Reason resources such as cv and gate, the Combinator, players, browsing, etc.
But in the words of Agent Smith, “Why choose”? We now have three classes of devices in Reason, each one with its own merit, and that’s a good thing. There are the devices that come with the program when you buy it. There are the Rack Extensions that you can add after the fact. And now there’s a third category, VSTs. And make no mistake, we are committed to all three “formats” and will keep working on them all. For each one we will keep finding the optimal path forward, the path that supports you as a musician in the best way we can think of.
We are committed to the RE format and will keep working on it from all perspectives
I would also like to take this opportunity to say a word about the Rack Extension format, a word that is maybe more directed to our beloved developers, you who have supplied the Reason community with over three hundred amazing products so far. We have not stopped. As you know, we just did a serious update of the SDK this year, allowing you to create even cooler products. Next up is a serious update to the technology for building sampled based Rack Extensions. I think that shows that we are committed to the RE format and will keep working on it from all perspectives, both where it can go technically and how we can make your products available to Reason musicians all over the world. And if you’re thinking musicians are less interested in RE products, now that we have announced Reason 9.5, I can tell you that I have the data, and nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to check out what other developers have been doing really recently, look at Resonans, Arkana and the new version of ABL3 (specifically how it uses cv out). And yes, we’re all looking forward to ReSpire.
Last, I’ll take this chance to plug our yearly May Madness sales. Never before has there been so many cool Reason devices to choose from, at such amazing prices. Since we made Reason 9.5 a free update, you might just have some cash to spare. Don’t miss out.
Happy music making, and please keep the feedback coming, we couldn’t do our job without it.