The age-old adage, “be in the right place at the right time” leaves out the most important third element. “Be ready.” AnonXmous did what he had to do to make sure he put himself in the right place, ready for the right time. But long before that he invested countless hours honing his skills so that when those did converge serendipitously he would also be ready. And now he’s got three Grammy nominations and a Universal publishing deal to show for it.
AnonXmous is the creative mind behind Nicki Minaj’s biggest single to date (Anaconda), as well as records with Chris Brown, Timbaland, Fergie, and work on the best selling Empire soundtrack. To hear him speak of his accomplishments however, he’s just getting started. We sat down to hear his inspiring story and learn some clever techniques he has to stay creative and inspired himself when approaching new writing sessions.
Dunderpatrullen is a four-man electro-collaboration with roots ranging from the wild, untamed forests of northern Sweden to the flower covered fields of southern Scandinavia. The quartet makes music and visual entertainment in a category of its own. Behind the powerful music-making machines, the band members Jim, Stefan, Patrik and Erik fill the musical void left behind by now obsolete retro-consoles you once grew up with and still love. Dunderpatrullen takes you on a musical adventure through a full-color shower during which they make you feel like riding a mental roller coaster of nostalgia.
We had the chance to speak with them about what role Reason plays in their musical production. They've also been so kind to make two video tutorials showing a couple of their secret tips and tricks! Check it out!
What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?
The new Player devices, hands down. They are amazing for creating new
ideas you probably wouldn't think of otherwise. The new Pitch Edit is
pretty neat as well.
How do you get started with a new song? What sparks your creativity?
The way of getting started with a new song varies. Jamming along to a loop
with drums and a bass line might do the trick. Sometimes it could be more
specific like "I feel like making a really fast and explosive track", or
"let's try out this mellow vibe I've been thinking of".
Inspiration comes from all types of sources. It could be a really great
video game or movie soundtrack, a random song or sometimes an idea just
pops up in your head out of the blue. For some reason the bathroom has
become this holy place for melodies to pop up in the head while taking a
Scales & Chords is also a great way to mess around with unusual scales
or keys you perhaps don't use that often.
What do you do when inspiration just isn't there?
We do something else! You can't force inspiration, so chilling out with a
gnarly video game or watching a movie does the trick sometimes. Hanging out with friends is another neat
way to replenish your inspirational resources. Forcing creativity just tend
to get you frustrated, and creativity and frustration doesn't match that
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
Not that we ALWAYS do this, but we work with sampling stuff from our own
video clips and turn them into "audiovisual experiments", as we like to put
it. We chop up the audio sample and put it into Recycle to turn it into a
rex file. Then we just mess around with it on the keyboard to find some
catchy phrases and sometimes match it to the respective video.
A great thing with Reason is that it’s really easy to come up with some of
the strangest ideas and actually make them work.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
Erik: It has to be Thor, Synapse GQ-7 Graphic Equalizer and Kong.
Jim: It's probably the good old Subtractor, NN-XT and Thor.
Jim: Funny thing - I had also wrote down Sigur Rós before we combined our
answers. I choose their untitled album with untitled songs and made up
language. I think they are really good at creating instrumental music that moves you
without the need of explanation with lyrics and titles, and to me that's a
really important part of music.
Since 2010 Fare Soldi are a household name for everyone who loves modern disco stuff. Their obsession about looking for the perfect groove let their remixes (for Duck Sauce, Beyoncé, Congorock, Toro Y Moi among others) rise to reach dancefloors all around the world, released on quality labels like Southern Fried, Ministry of Sound, Kitsuné. We caught up with the Italian duo to find out more about how they use Reason and ReCycle in their music making.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you use Reason and ReCycle when making your tracks? Usually we start with browsing samples in our library, then, using ReCycle, we find the peaks in the wav file, and chop it as we please: it might be a drum, or a bass, a voice, even some keys, anything. A little work on the right knobs, and the chops are ready to be played on Reason on a lovely blue Octo Rex.
Then starts the fun part: getting inspired by little samples and starting playing them on a keyboard can take you anywhere, so focusing on pitch, rhythm, and beat, can often bring up a new groove and of course the proper bpm of the track. So now the puzzle has started, and we just need to finish it with the proper pieces: a bass (whether a real one, a sample, or a Thor patch), drums, and all the magic up above like vocals, pads, amusement park sounds, whatever.
Your sound incorporates a lot of sampling, where do you hunt for samples? Most of the ideas comes from weird vinyls we have been collecting throughout the years, visiting flea markets all around the world; of course we know how to spot symptoms of good samples, certain labels, years, producers, world areas, but mostly, it is about mustaches, so the more on the cover, the better.
Sampling for us is not just taking “a sound” but is rather a matter of being inspired by the vibe in it, which comes from a sum of details like who’s playing, what is playing and last but not least some analog quality mixer, compressor and FX.
Do you have any production trick that you always use? Often we use 2 audio splitters on the kick signal, (taken from the Redrum separate exit in the back) to feed every compressor in the rack and fine tune some different levels of side chain for every audio element in the track. We use also a lot of layering in the samples, duplicating Octo Rex and playing different pitches at the same time, but with different balance, EQ, compression and side chain of course.
What do you do when writer's block strikes? To get the wheels back in motion we usually try to start with something very weird, or very far from our usual musical routes, and start playing with it without thinking about following steps like arrangement, mixing, automations etc. Oh and a lot of moka coffee, of course.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring producers and musicians? Listen to as much music as you can, all genres, all eras, everything can bring inspiration. Work on your own style and peculiarities, at the and of the day is all that matters.
When you come across a video where someone samples percussion and snoring (!) together with an older gentleman covered in tattoos, it's hard not to be curious. Therefore we had a quick chat with New York-based mad audio experimentalist Hot Sugar to find out more about his approach to music production.
Your music is full of unique sounds, could you tell us a bit about how you create them? I record a lot of sounds on portable recorders then import them to the NN-XT to make patches. I make everything from basses to keys or sustained organ type patches. I'll compose a melody and add instrumentation surrounding it. After that I import drum samples i've recorded into Redrum or Kong and make a beat to accompany the riffs I created. Between the drum machines and the samplers you can make a whole song.
My favorite patches are the ones I've made using recordings I couldn't hear at the time (usually because they were too quiet or even silent). Just because we don't hear something doesn't mean there isn't a sound, tone or texture to present. I love recording "silence" and cranking up the volume afterwards to hear the intricacies our ears cant. I've made number of patches from roomtones that at first seemed silent but once distorted and compressed sounded like eerie whistles or even basses. I usually throw them into the NN-XT too.
When I travel to a place I haven't been to before I turn on my recorder and capture it (whether a new place a couple blocks from my apartment or another country entirely). Sometimes I like to scroll through my folders of recordings and press play without reading the filename. Some are recognizable but most are confusing and disorienting. I try to picture the spot and by then my imagination gets the best of me. Once I'm lost in that world I can hear other melodies and things going on so the songs start writing themselves.
Any Words of Wisdom for aspiring producers and musicians? There are plenty of stock sounds offered by a program like Reason but there are an infinite number of other ones outside that are just waiting to be recorded and brought back to your computer. The sounds that come with the program are incredibly impressive but the real gift Reason offers is the ability to transform whatever you want on your own.
Yours truly is old enough to have been around when digital samplers first arrived. Admittedly I never touched a Fairlight or an Emulator back when they were fresh from the factory – those products were way out of a teenager's league – but I distinctly remember the first time I laid hands on an S612, Akai's first sampler. Its modest 128 kB RAM could hold a single 1-second sample at maximum quality (32 kHz) – but none the less it was pure magic to be able to record something with a mic and instantly trigger it from the keyboard. I spotted that particular Akai sampler hooked up in my local music store, and tried it out by sampling myself strumming a chord on a Spanish guitar. My first sample...!
As the years went by, I gradually became spoiled like everyone else; there were tons of high quality sample libraries available on floppies, and soon enough the market was swamped with dedicated sample playback instruments such as the S1000PB, the E-mu Proteus, the Korg M1 and the Roland U-series to name but a few. This trend carried over into software instruments; manufacturers and others kept sampling like crazy for us so it seemed more or less superfluous to do it yourself. Propellerhead was no exception – with no sampling facilities and no hard disk recording, Reason remained a playback device for canned samples for almost 10 years – but in Reason 5 and Record 1.5, they got around to adding a sampling feature. In typical Propellerhead fashion, don't do it unless it's done right. The trick to doing it right was to bring back the simplicity and instant gratification of those early samplers – just plug in a source, hit the sample button, perform a quick truncate-and-normalize in the editor, and start jamming away.
Setting Up for Sampling
The sampling feature is part of the Audio I/O panel on the hardware interface. On the front panel there's an input meter, a monitor level control, a button for toggling the monitoring on/off and an Auto toggle switch – activate this and monitoring will be turned on automatically while you're recording a sample (figure 1).
Figure 1: Reason's Hardware interface now sports a sampling input
On the back, there's a stereo input for sampling and this will be hooked up to audio inputs 1 and 2 by default. In case you're sampling a mono source such as a mic, and the source is audio input 1, make sure to remove the cable between audio input 2 and sampling input R - otherwise you'll get a stereo sample with only the left channel (figure 2).
Figure 2: The default routing is Audio Input 1/2 to Sampling Input L/R
Now, if you're sampling with a mic you may want some help with keeping the signal strong and nice without clipping, and perhaps a touch of EQ as well. In that case you can pass the mic signal through Reason devices such as the MClass suite and then sample the processed signal (figure 3).
Figure 3: You can process your audio input prior to sampling, for example with EQ
Sampling devices or the entire rack
You might wonder "hey, what's the point of sampling Reason itself when I can just export an audio loop?" Well, there are situations where that method just doesn't cut it. A few examples:
When you want to sample yourself playing an instrument, singing, rapping or scratching, you're running the audio through Reason's effect units and you want to capture with the sample.
When you want to edit something quickly without leaving Reason, for instance if you want to reverse a segment of your song or reverse single sounds such as a reverb 'tail'. Just wire it into the sampling input, hit the sample button on the Kong/NN-XT/NN19/Redrum, pull up the editor, reverse the sample, done.
When you want to sample the perfect 'snapshot' of instruments doing something that's non-repeatable, for example when a sample-and-hold LFO happens to do something you wish it would do throughout the entire song.
When you're doing live tweaking that can't be automated, such as certain Kong and NN-XT parameters.
It's a straightforward process where you simply take any Reason devices you want to sample and plug them into the Sampling Input. In this illustration, Reason has been set up to sample from a Dr. OctoRex (figure 4).
Figure 4: Routing Reason devices to the sampling input is this simple
When you sample straight from the Reason rack, you'll want to make sure to enable the monitoring, because unlike situations where you sample an external acoustic source, you'll hear absolutely nothing of what you're doing unless monitoring is enabled (figure 5).
Figure 5: Turn on monitoring so you can hear what you're doing
These utilities let you sample just about anything straight into Reason: iTunes, Windows Media Player, YouTube, Spotify, anything with audio (including other music and audio applications of course). Now let's have a look at using one of these utilities, SoundFlower — the setup procedure is similar for all these utilities, whether on PC or Mac (consult the included documentation for specifics).
After installing SoundFlower, start up Soundflowerbed (it's in the application folder). Now you should have a flower icon on the Menu bar. Pull down the menu and make sure that the built-in output is selected in the Soundflower 2CH section: (figure 6)
Figure 6: Make sure to select the built-in output
Next, open System Preferences and select "Soundflower (2ch)" as both input and output:
Figure 7: Open System Preferences to select the correct input
And finally, open Reason Preferences and select Soundflower (2ch) as the driver on the Audio tab:
Figure 8: Now set up the input in Reason's Preferences
Now you have set everything up so that Reason can tap the audio stream, and anything playing back over the built-in output can be sampled. Though in this particular example, do not enable monitoring on the Sampling Input panel since this will create a feedback loop!
The Sample Editor
The editor is very simple and straightforward to use — it lets you trim, reverse, normalize and loop samples – so we won't go through the basics here. Instead we'll explore the fact that you can edit not just your own samples, but even those contained in ReFills, and the edited samples can then be self-contained in song files so that you can share songs without the recipient owning the actual ReFill(s).
So, any sample you load into NN-XT, Kong, NN19 or Redrum can be edited manually. This means that you can also edit individual REX slices, since those can be loaded as patches into NN19 and NN-XT. While the new REX player DR. OctoRex lets you reverse individual slices, it doesn't always yield the desired results since there's often a very long 'tail' at the beginning of the slice so it has to be triggered way in advance. And sometimes there are 'bad' slices that aren't trimmed properly, end too abruptly, and issues like that. But by editing the slices manually you can shape them just the way you want, trim, reverse, fade in/fade out, normalize slices you find too quiet even at max volume, etc. Or you can create weird 'beat repeat' glitches by making very short loops on individual slices.
Here's how you do it: Create a Dr. OctoRex. Load up the REX file of your choice. Copy the notes to the Track. Then create an NN-XT and move or copy the OctoRex notes to the empty NN-XT track. Now, open the patch browser and load the same REX file into the NN-XT. The slices will show up in the NN-XT Editor window like this: (figure 9)
Figure 9: A Rex loop opened in the NN-XT
Now you have REX playback with the option to edit each slice. Simply select a sample on the NN-XT Editor display, and then right-click and select "Edit Sample" or hold [Alt/Option] while clicking on the Sample button. (figure 10)
Figure 10: Reason's built in sample editor
Here's one of those samples that are difficult to use when reversed, because it's about 10% percussive sound and the rest is just a hint of reverb. So what we'll do is reverse it and trim off most of the 'tail' by using the Crop function... (figure 11)
Figure 11: A long tail can be cropped
...and then, create a short fade-in on the trimmed tail by highlighting the beginning of the slice and clicking the Fade In button... (figure 12)
Figure 12: Fading in helps the sample start smoothly
...and now we have a more manageable reversed slice.
As mentioned earlier, another thing you can do with slices is to create very short loops to get that glitchy digital hiccup feel. It might look something like this: (figure 13)
Figure 13: A short sample with the loop mode set to back/forth
Here's an example of a factory soundbank REX loop where individual slices have been reversed and/or looped in the editor. Bars 1-2 and 5-6 play the original loop for comparison, bars 3-4 and 7-8 feature the tweaked loops played by the NN-XT.
As a quick demonstration of what you can do with just a mic and whatever potential sampling sources you have lying around, I went to the kitchen and spent half an hour recording random stuff with a Sennheiser e945 hooked up to an Apogee Duet. The song file below is based entirely on the following self-contained samples:
Bass drum: Large empty drawer closing Snare drum: Small drawer (full of utensils) closing Closed HH: Water tap, short burst Open HH: Water tap, long burst Additional percussion: Scissors, more drawers closing Bass 1: Microwave starting up Bass 2: Slapping the top of the microwave Bells: Butterknife against large beer glass Poly synth: Microwave "ready beep" FX drone: Dishwasher starting up
Sampling may seem a chore at first, with lots of trial and error, but it's actually quite easy, and ultimately it's rewarding to make music with your own unique sounds. When someone remarks "cool snare, where'd you get that?" you'll be able to say "oh, that's just me vacuuming up some Lego bricks". So grab a mic and go on a quest for hidden sonic treasures in your garage, your kitchen, your car... but go easy with the bathroom samples.