Exploring the Yamaha DX7

When you think of 80s music, some of the sounds that come to mind are sparkly electric pianos, metallic basses and cheesy orchestral elements. Many of these sounds came from one synthesizer: the Yamaha DX7. It was released in 1983, and was the first digital synthesizer to have an impact on popular music. Along with its eventual spiritual successors, the Roland D-50 and Korg M1, the DX7 marked a move away from warm analog sounds, to complex digital sounds. For a producer, the DX7 meant more sonic options in one box, and more versatility in a recording studio.

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Tame Impala Production Tricks

In just under a decade, Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala’s music, has formed a distinct sound that has captured the ears of music lovers all around the world. I, being one of them, found a keen interest in trying to figure out how Parker makes everything sound the way it does. After doing some research, I realised that trying to achieve this sound would be impossible without draining my wallet, until I noticed that many of the techniques used in Tame Impala’s songs can be done by simply manipulating effects in music software programs such as Ableton Live. Using these techniques, I managed to pull off some covers that could be associated with Parker himself. In this article, I will be using an original piece I made in Ableton to showcase the sounds of Tame Impala. 

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Mac DeMarco Synth Sounds

Welcome to another synth tutorial for Mac DeMarco synths, if you haven't already then check out part one, a tutorial on the synths in 'Chamber of Reflection'. In that article I looked at a Roland Juno sound 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 within my DAW. 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 synths, judging by the sounds the appear on his albums, videos of his live performances, and pictures of his home studio, are the Roland Juno-60 and Yamaha DX7. Both synths are timeless classics with unmatchable sound, however both have a wealth of imitators and emulations that can be found inexpensively. Throughout the article I'm going to use TAL U-NO-LX for the Juno sounds and Native Instruments FM8 for the DX7 sounds; for free options check out TAL U-NO-62 and Dexed.

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Tame Impala - 'Cause I'm a Man Synth Sounds

'Cause I’m a Man was the lead single and second song released from Currents, Tame Impala’s 3rd offering. The songs lyrics deal with masculinity, and musically it adds an unmistakable soft rock, r’n’b flavour to the Tame Impala sound spectrum. Lots of different elements are used to accompany Kevin Parker’s vocal performance, with the majority of them coming from Parker's Roland Juno-106 and JV-1080 synths, the latter of which he coaxes several almost orchestral sounds from. The cover's two chrome spheres may refer to the 'greater force [man] answers to', and the song's press release alludes to the songs conception on road.

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Dissecting Kanye West's Good Life Beat

Good Life was the third single from Kanye’s third offering, 2007’s Graduation, and shows us a more synthpop-based approach to hip-hop than his previous albums, and the song went on to win Best Rap Song at the 2008 Grammys. Good Life features the vocals of T-Pain, and production by Kanye, DJ Toomp, Timbaland and Mike Dean. DJ Toomp is known for working with T.I., and he also collaborated with Kanye on the Graduation songs Can't Tell Me Nothing and Big Brother, being a big influence on the sound of the album. Good Life combines layers of synths with a prominent sample from Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing). If you haven’t already then check out my other Kanye articles on Good Morning and Saint Pablo. There is actually a video from the studio of Kanye working on the song, still in its early stages, which you can watch below to get an idea of the layers involved in the beat.

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A Guide to Cadences

In this guide, I'll show you how to understand and write your own jazz-influenced chord progressions. The most frequently used progression in jazz composition is called the ii - V - I cadence. My last harmony article tackled Chromatic Chords, and I outlined how to use out-of-key chords to add some spice to your own writing, and in that tutorial, I mostly used roman numeral based chords to relate the chromatic chords to the root chord. In this article, I’ll look at chromatic chords that veer further away from the home chord, and journey through jazz-related harmonic territory. This type of cadence guided composition can sound refreshing in comparison to a lot of modern 4-chord pop songs.

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Exploring the Roland D-50

The Roland D-50 was released in 1987 and quickly replaced the Yamaha DX7 as the most popular synth on the market, going on to appear in countless pop songs and soundtracks, as well as defining the sound of the late 80s / early 90s era. The at-the-time revolutionary synthesizer used a complex new form of synthesis called ‘Linear Arithmetic’ synthesis, that combines real-instrument samples with synthesised waveforms. The unit featured a joystick for easy sound manipulation, an onboard chorus effect and was the first synth to feature onboard reverb. It was revered by producers and composers for its ability to easily emulate real instruments and has many classic patches. Like the DX7, it went on to be described as one of those ‘hated’ keyboards, as it’s responsible for some very cheesy new-age sounds, as well as fake slap-basses. Nevertheless, it is still one of the most complex synthesizers ever made, it's sounds are incredible, and it is now making a comeback.

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Deconstructing Kanye West’s Good Morning Beat

Good Morning is the first song on Kanye West’s third album, 2007’s Graduation. The song follows The College Dropout and Late Registration’s academic theme, whilst presenting itself as more mature and focused than it’s predecessor by opening with an introspective song instead of a skit. The song was produced solely by West, although Graduation saw him allowing others to co-produce his work more than previously. Kanye uses two samples in Good Morning, one of Elton John and another from Jay-Z, which are accompanied by layers of keyboards provided by London-based producer Andy Chatterley. In this tutorial, I'll talk you through the synth patches and how Kanye chops up his samples.

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Tame Impala - Gossip Synth

In this article, I'm going to revisit Gossip, by Tame Impala. The short, instrumental piece, included on the 2016 album Currents, consists of a pulsating synth line and dry DI'ed guitar leads. The synth was recorded from a Roland JV-1080, a rack-mounted, digital synthesizer that used sampled elements to emulate a variety of sounds. I actually included a section on Gossip in Part Three of my original Tame Impala synths series. However, I've decided to revisit it, along with a couple of other Tame Impala songs, in part because Roland has since released a software JV-1080 instrument, as part of their Roland Cloud library of instruments. It is a subscription-based service but comes with a one-month free trial.

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A Guide to Chromatic Chords

In this article, I'll explain the difference between diatonic chords and chromatic chords, and explore some cool, ear-bending harmonic choices that we can use in our own music. You may have stumbled across interesting sounding chord combinations already and been unaware of exactly why they worked well together, and some music theory can help better understand and use these chord combinations.

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James Blake - Timeless Synths

This is a follow-up to my James Blake Synth Sounds article, in which I briefly looked at some classic James Blake sounds that he gets from his Prophet 08 synth. In this tutorial, I'll take a deep-dive on another James Blake song, Timeless from his 2016 album The Colour in Anything. After the song's release, Blake shared another version of the song featuring a verse by rapper Vince Staples. Kanye West was originally set to appear on the song, but the collaboration didn’t come together.

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BadBadNotGood Synth Sounds

BadBadNotGood are a Canadian instrumental band that combines jazz with electronica, and traditional instrumentation with psychedelic synth sounds. In 2016 they released IV, which BBC Radio 6 picked as their album of the year. The album finds the band using odd rhythms, jazz-influenced harmony, and long, dub-like delays, and they bring on several guest vocalists to accompany them. For live performances, they use a Roland Juno-60 for synth lines and a Korg SV-1 for the electric piano tones. It’s likely the SV-1 provided most of the Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Organ sounds on IV. They have also used a Dave Smith Prophet 08 in the past for synths, though this seems to have been replaced by the Juno. Additionally, the album credits for IV list a variety of synths used, including the Juno-60, a Yamaha CS-80, a Korg Poly Six, and a Crumar electric organ. The CS-80 (or 60) might have been used more on the album and just not been toured with for being a vintage instrument. Although there are fantastic emulations of the CS-80 and the Poly Six, I’ll stick to TAL U-NO-LX for the recreations, because it's easy to use, sounds great, and will keep the tutorial from being too plugin-heavy.

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