An eclectic blog with topics including (but not limited to): Software Engineering, Music, Recipes, as well as random bits of prose and poetry.

Synthwave Album

For the past few months I’ve been learning electronic music production.
In the past, I’ve mostly worked with recorded audio. Drums, guitars, vocals, and the like.
This is something that I haven’t played with since I first started recording. When I was about 21 I lived in a tiny apartment that had a huge walk-in closet. I didn’t have many clothes, but I had a computer with a pirated version of Fruity Loops, an electric guitar with some fuzz pedals, and a cheap microphone.

My routine was this: I would make a beat in Fruity Loops, maybe with some weird synth noises, and then record myself jamming on the guitar. It was mostly pretty formless and experimental, but I also recorded some of my first structured songs as well. Most of that stuff ended up on my first 3 albums, which are mostly available on My Soundcloud.

After that I mainly stuck with human drummers, most of whom had much richer rhythms than I could compose in that little closet with a stolen sequencer program. Life was good, and so were the beats. I always considered my electronic production to be making do with the resources available. Settling for something substandard rather than exploring something new.

Fast forward to 2020. I’ve been out of the music game for a long time, but at the beginning of the year I had pledged to publish some creative work. Then coronavirus hit, and we were all in lockdown (still are, at the time of this writing). I had been saving money for studio time because I’d been sitting on 10-15 songs that had mature lyrics and compositions, but didn’t trust myself to record them correctly. This didn’t seem like the right year to schedule time with new people in a new space, so instead I invested in a better audio interface, my first really nice vocal microphone (Townsend labs, y’all!), upgraded my DAW, and bought a bunch of awesome plugins that modeled classic studio gear.

One of those plugins, which I bought on a whim, was an emulation of the Juno 106 and 160. This was a classic Roland synth from the 80s I heard was used by Tame Impala, Frank Ocean, and Tyler the Creator on some of my favorite albums. It has a rich thickness that is unmistakable, mostly due to a cheesy chorus effect.

That 80s synth sparked something in me. For the past few years I’ve been listening to New Retro Wave music, mostly while coding. It’s a subgenre of a subgenre (electronic > synthwave > new retro wave) that caught some good attention on the Drive motion picture soundtrack. I really fell in love with the genre and started a playlist of tracks including some of my favorite artists such as Perturbator and Magic Sword. Now I had the tools to make that music myself.

Instead of recording my singer/songwriter compositions, I published a couple New Retro Wave songs on Spotify. They almost took no work at all. I really felt that they wrote themselves. I called my 2020 goal complete, and probably could have just moved on, gone back to poetry or the startups that were starting to ask for my coding skills.

My inspiration was not sated.

I kept making songs from May through September, and soon had enough for a whole album. I had also spent a lot more money on software synths, but that’s a different story (Hi Arturia).

It has been a long time since I felt like music was just flowing through me like that. It also really sharpened my mixing skills as well. Without the flaws of my vocal or guitar performance to distract me, I could really focus on how the elements of the song were blending together. I also learned a lot of really cool tricks for things like getting great bass without killing the kick drum. I also understand how to use compressors correctly, and how to use distortion/saturation as a mixing tool or a creative tool.

My mixing skills have improved so much during lockdown that now I’m mixing for old friends from my AquaTerra days. They have been collaborating on songs one track at a time, and making very creative tunes.

I’ve also started branching out into modular synthesis with my first analog synth, a Moog Mother-32. It’s not on the album, but I definitely made some use of modelled Moogs on more than one of those tracks. I can’t wait to see what new worlds I unlock with this hardware as well.

Soon my new album “Masked” will hit all the major streaming and download services. I’m really proud of it. It shows my ability to adopt a completely new genre, and (hopefully) showcases my growth as an engineer. Mostly it just shows me having fun, making music for myself.

It launches Friday, November 13th on Spotify, Apple Music, and the rest. Use this Smart Link to pre-order it on whatever service you prefer and it’ll arrive after the stroke of midnight that morning.