Night two in the studio with the Moog Mother-32 (click here for Part 1), and the creative ideas are only growing richer.
Feeling the fire long into the night… check it out:
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This song must make you… need… to dance… and make you feel dirty… like you wanna be REAL naughty with someone…
Hear more! Click here for Part 3 of working on this track, where I create a variation from a complex sequencer-programmed riff…
Warning: Everything below is for Studio nerds only. You have been warned.
My Music-Studio Workflow for Past Two Nights:
- Experiment with sounds / timbres on the Mother-32 analog synth until one inspires me. Then, with synth and 76-key keyboard, I improvise melodies and basslines, while tweaking the tone of the synth in real-time, with physical knobs and switches.
- Then, record (into my DAW) long improvisations of riffs, solos, basslines and such by playing the keys of my 76-key keyboard, which controls the sound produced by the Moog synth.
- Next, playback my improvisations and at leisure, pick the most exciting & best sounding parts to focus on. These can be developed into specific riffs and melodies that I want to hear more of.
- Now I unplug the 76-key MIDI keyboard from the Mother-32, and replace it with the MIDI Out sent from my computer via Ableton Live.
- From here I can start programming the Mother-32 with my favorite riffs, melodies and basslines via the Piano Roll in Ableton. This is how I ‘tighten up’ the sound and get all the rhythms exactly lined up.
- Once the Piano Roll is programmed, I send the MIDI from DAW to Mother-32, and the output of the Mother-32 is recorded right back to a new Audio channel on the DAW. (I can also manipulate the Mother’s tone controls during this playback + recording stage).
- This process produces a nice chunk of sound to work with. I’m getting to the place where I have “blocks” of sounds that I can move and arrange into a finished piece in Ableton.
Upsides and Downsides of this Workflow:
Every workflow involves compromises. Here are some thoughts on my current studio workflow.
It’s very creative-focused and fun. First I play with the Mother-32 synth tone/timbre, then start jamming out improvised riffs with new sound I like. As I improvise, I continue to refine and experiment on the tone + riff combo until distinctive and interesting musical concepts start to emerge. By layering multiple ideas, I can quickly build up full-sounding tracks.
In fact, I’d rate this workflow about an ‘A’, which makes it quite good by my standards. I’ve spent years in less-than-adequate studios, so right now I feel great.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all roses. There are definitely some minor drawbacks to my workflow…
The biggest, baddest downside by FAR is that the Mother-32 analog synth has NO PATCH MEMORY. Now, I’m not complaining. I knew this going in, and naturally, this is a pretty typical characteristic of most analog synths. (As I explained in my ‘First Synth‘ article, I was willing to sacrifice almost any special feature to get better sound-for-my-money.)
This means the ONLY way to ‘remember’ the perfect synth settings I just spent 90 minutes creating is to copy down the EXACT settings onto paper (hey, that’s only… 14 smooth-turning knobs and 9 up-down switches, plus up to 16 or so possible patch-cable connections…)
So, you have to either A) record all your ideas right away, before you start shaping a new synth tone or B) always remember to write down the EXACT Mother-32 settings on paper… and even then you’re not guaranteed to find the same exact sound twice.
In fact, because of the nature of analog synthesis, you probably will never be able to replicate the same sound exactly… although you may be able to recover most of the original sound through endless knob-twiddling.
Adding Musical Variation to the Track
Here’s another potential downside: by only using similar sounds from the Mother-32 so far (other than kick drum), I’m approaching “ear fatigue.” I’ll need to find some sounds and timbres that add contrast.
In fact, I need a whole contrasting section (a “B” section of some kind)… but that may come another night.
I’m not worried - in fact I’m looking forward to adding contrast. I could challenge myself to stick with the Mother all the way through, and find completely new sounds in it. Or, I could use organic instruments like piano, guitar, harmonica, or my voice.
The drum programming will also fill out the track, adding interest. I’m challenging myself to write some *incredible* drums for this track… something you don’t just hear every day.
I’m also going to return to the bassline and make many little variations on it all the way through the track. It’s a pumping bassline that deserves to be played with.
There’s also a lot of room for rests in what I’ve composed. Instruments can take breaks… drums can cut out. Right now I’m layering but in the near future I’ll also be subtracting again.
I would also like to experiment with automation on the finished track. Ableton Live has some great options for filter sweeps, crazy pumping sidechain compressors, and many others that I’ll need to experiment with.
Here more! I created this beautiful synth chorale as a possible contrast to the pulsing buzz-saw of this track.
Some Specific Steps From Tonight:
- Learned how to send MIDI notes from my computer sequencer (DAW) to the Mother-32 unit, so the synth can now play complex patterns that I program in advance.
- Bass synth tone: getting more tone into the sound… thickened it up.
- Bassline redone as midi notes and re-recorded with the new tone.
- Drums: Added a simple 4/4 kick to hold time & shaped the kick drum sound to fit the track (kick was originally from a 909 patch).
- Improvised *a lot* with mid range synth riffs- at least two hours noodling on the 76-key keyboard connected to the Mother-32.
- Came up with two mid-range ideas I like: A falling arpeggio pattern, and a two-part harmony dubbed “Striking Strings.” You can both ideas sketched into tonight’s demo.
- Delay Pedal: Spent more time getting to know my MF analog delay - how and when to use it… and when NOT to use it. It’s AWESOME on leads. Not much good on basslines. And, in the midrange, ‘it depends’… you don’t want delay to the point of overkill on every element of the track.
- Tested out several varieties of sidechain compression. The best use so far is to help the drums cut through the bassline without losing balance.
- Put a touch of EQ and gentle Compression on the Master track to gel the mix together a bit more.
More New Music to Come…
There’s definitely more to do, but it’s gotten quite late…
For now enjoy the short clip, and I hope this sheds some light on how I work in the studio.
Hear more! Click here for Part 3…
Have any questions about what I’m doing with the track? Let me know in the comments section below!