After a hectic few weeks Andy Price returns to the world of album-crafting and bloggery, this time he’s managed to get his hands on quite a few very cool new tools that are both a help and a hindrance!
“I’ve not quite got to the level where I’m songwriting on a flight of stairs yet, but I’m willing to give it a try”
These last few weeks I’ve found myself absorbed by a variety of new instruments and equipment, namely Novation’s trio of brightly coloured, mobile instruments (Launchpad Mini, Launchkey Mini and Launch Control) which I sampled at BPM this year and have now been tasked to review for MusicTech magazine.
Making music anywhere – including the office – just got easier
Composing melody ideas with the Launchkey Mini has proven to be both straightforward in terms of setup and mind-expanding in terms of scope. The range of sounds I can very simply and flexibly weave between my compositions with it are limitless, without tedious setup and tweaking time. I’m having a lot of fun with it already and it’s making me re-think my melodic approaches. I’m even starting to properly use Ableton Live and occasionally even just Novation’s own Launchkey/pad iPad apps as my main DAWs, shaking me out of a reliance on Cubase. I’ve actually (tentatively) tried a bit of mobile music-making. I’ve not quite got to the level where I’m songwriting on a flight of stairs yet, but I’m willing to give it a try!
Novation’s Launchkey Mini – a versatile (and very mobile) composing tool
Similarly the Launchpad Mini has got me composing in a wildly different genre than what I’m used to writing. With high-octane DnB beats, loops and synth parts, it’s quite exhilarating and very easy for someone new to this kind of music-making to play with and feel like they’ve been producing it for years (see my full review of the Launchpad Mini in issue 129 of MusicTech magazine)
The Launchpad Mini from Novation – another time-sink, incredibly fun and simple to use.
I’ve also recently reviewed the Sennheiser HD-25 Aluminium’s for MT magazine, although these are primarily a DJ’s set of headphones I’ve found the clarity and nuance of audio separation to be incredible for my mixing purposes. It’s fun to go back to older recorded songs and re-listen and tweak my mixes while monitoring with the HD-25’s. I’ve always used headphones to monitor, not just because of my lack of home studio acoustics but because I feel ‘closer’ to the mix, and the HD-25’s are a real quantum leap compared to what I’m used to.
Sennheiser’s HD-25 Aluminium headphones rank among the best headphones around today, perfect for mixing… anything in any genre!
As previously implied I’m more of a guitar-based singer songwriter generally, however I’m no stranger to using keys when I need them. Quite honestly they’re normally an afterthought, with the chordal structure already worked out on guitar, and the synth elements are similarly sprinkled onto pretty much pre-structured songs. There are some exceptions to this rule as previously explained
Here’s the title track from my last album ‘The Fall’ – It started with quite a simple and melancholy guitar-picking part that I recorded several versions of. I overdubbed some lead guitar but was never totally satisfied with the result. It just didn’t have the right vibe. Loading up Steinberg’s Halion Sonic I found a very nice grand piano sound that suited the sort of mood I was going for, listen for yourself to the results:
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The piano melody I had in my head from the get-go, but it literally took me all night to get the right combination of good enough takes, being erratic with my key-playing ability. I also used NI’s Absynth to add the weird otherworldly zingy synthy backdrop. Even after a full night of working on the track and getting some great key-takes I wasn’t entirely happy. I left it a while then mixed down a version and went roaming with my iPod. I soon realised that I was over-analysing things, and after a dark stroll through a local park the track made much more sense than it did after a night of staring at my project on a screen. Perhaps as I continue to use the Novation gear I’ll be more brave about actually taking my instruments out and about, and composing in unusual, provocative environments.
This was the final track to be completed for my album last year and the most key-heavy. Somehow I’ve found that playing the Launchkey seems more organic than my previous MIDI keyboards, perhaps due to it’s smaller size or just the sheer undaunting, colorful aesthetics of the design which might be having an impact on my perception of key-playing. Instilling me with confidence and making ‘getting the right take’ less of an uphill struggle.
As yet there’s still nothing on this album that I’m totally satisfied with, despite having idea-after-idea. My process for this record is a little different to the last one though, I’m endeavouring to use more tools than I’ve ever used before (being a Music ‘Tech’ blog and all) I’m really trying to push my songwriting to new levels – although that’s all well and good to think, in reality it’s very easy to just get lost in this range of new instruments and just have fun making interesting or just plain cool sounds. I like to think that it’s opening more doors and approaches… but we shall see!