Mac DeMarco Synth Sounds

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Welcome to another synth tutorial for Mac DeMarco synths, if you haven't already then check out the Chamber of Reflection synth tutorial. In that article, I looked at a Roland Juno patch and an organ sound and processed them with some tape emulation plugins to create Mac's signature woozy sound. In this article, I'll look at a couple more Mac songs and try to copy the patches using the same soft syn. Mac's new album This Old Dog is his most synth-heavy album yet, with dreamy sounding synths sitting alongside his classic chorused guitar playing. I'll also look at a song from his mini-album Another One that came out in 2015. Mac's favourite synth, judging by the sounds the appear on his albums, videos of his live performances, and pictures of his home studio, is his Roland Juno-60, and when I saw him on tour in 2017 this was the main synth used by the keyboard player. For this article I'll use TAL U-NO-LX, a software version of this synth, to emulate some of Mac DeMarco's synth sounds.

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On The Level

Similarly to Chamber of Reflection, On The Level features dreamy sounding Juno lines over some suitably 80s sounding chords. The synth chords have a definite FM-ness about them and were recorded from Mac's Roland D-50 synth, which he talks about in this article . You can recreate it using Roland's own D-50 plugin from their Roland Cloud service, which uses the same samples as the original hardware. Hear what it sounds like below, using the preset A-1: Perc E-Piano from Bank 6. To find out more about the D-50, be sure to check out my article Exploring the Roland D-50 Synth.

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The lead synth is a Roland Juno-60, and is a similar patch to the one I recreated in the Chamber of Reflection tutorial. The sound consists of a saw and sub oscillator (a 2nd oscillator tuned an octave down), a little LFO vibrato on the oscillators, the filter controlled by the envelope and the classic Juno chorus switched on. The envelope needs to be set with a long decay which makes it sound plucky, and a long release for the notes to slightly bleed into each other. Check the picture for the exact settings in TAL U-NO-LX. 

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For The First Time

More dreamy sounding chords abound, there are two main synth parts in For The First Time: a vibrato lead smothered in delay and a much drier keys patch playing bassy chords. To create the keys sound in TAL U-NO-LX, turn off the sub oscillator and turn on the square oscillator; this makes the patch sound nice and rich. To create the stab effect, lower cutoff frequency to 3 and raise ENV (envelope) to 4. In the ADSR section, raise decay to 6 and lower sustain to 0. This modulates the filter with the short-decay envelope, creating the effect. 

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The lead sound is very similar to that in On The Level, with some small adjustments. Switch on the square oscillator, raise both the HPF and LPF filters, and increase the ENV release time. This makes the sound a little thicker and a little brighter. In the original track, you can hear the notes being repeated through a delay and this delay being sustained in a ghostly way. This is a cool trick that adds sustain and can be done by running a compressor after your delay. 

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Another One

Another One features both lead and chords supplied by the Roland Juno-60. The chord tones are mostly supplied by the sub oscillator, with the sawtooth and square wave oscillators providing the high-end that is mostly muted by the filter. Turn on all 3 oscillators and raise the pulse-width (PW) to 3. Raise the HPF to halfway to stop things getting too muddy, then lower the VCF frequency almost all the way down, raise resonance to 4, envelope to 7 and mod to 2. Set the ADSR with a short attack and sustain, and long decay and release for a nice long envelope. Raise LFO rate to 3 and raise the LFO fader under the DCO section to around 1 to create some subtle vibrato.

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For the Another One lead, turn the sub oscillator down to the halfway mark, turn frequency down to 2, resonance to 1 and envelope amount to 4. Raise decay a little, to the 7 mark and that's all there is to to it!

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Watching Him Fade Away

The This Old Dog album closer, Watching Him Fade Away, is built around a particularly muted synth track. Listen closely and you can hear a lot of filter movement triggered by an envelope, however it also seems a little irregular so the filter could also have some LFO modulation or could've just been manually adjusted while recording. The basic sound is pretty simple so you can get away with using any polyphonic synth for this sound. I'm sticking with TAL U-NO-LX and using a patch with the Saw and Sub waves and a bit of LFO vibrato in the oscillator section for the same vibrato effect as in the leads above. For the patches filter movement, I pulled the cutoff most of the way down (not all of the way, I don't want the sound too muted) and raised the ENV control of the filter to halfway. Then I programmed the envelope to have a short attack, long decay and a bit of sustain. This gives each chord some movement and makes it a really interesting part. Make sure to tweak the envelope settings and the envelope/filter amount to get the sound right in the sweet spot between muted and bright.

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This article was originally written in June 2017, and was updated in June 2018.