RPM Challenge #5 – Synth Party

Just a few days left! This will probs be my last post until after the deadline – just wanted to check in a bit with my progress since last time, no in-depth look at my approach this time, just a quick rundown of what I’ve accomplished.

iPad as a synth workstation

Things have moved very quickly in the last four days. Immediately after finishing tracking the vocals, I made a push to lay down a bass part on everything. With the simple drum beats I put together for the scratch takes, at that point I had acceptable, if very minimal, recordings for each of the songs. I got that done, more or less, by Thursday night, and it wasn’t really anything terribly exciting: I used the same approach as for guitars and vocals, tracking about 5 takes for each song and then, when needed, putting together an edit from those. For the most part, I was able to run one take for the majority of a song, just slicing in the odd passage here and there.

After that, it was on to tracking synth and keys parts. I’m not quite finished with that, but I’d say I’m about 95% of the way there. 8 of my ten songs are fully tracked, I think, and two more have everything arranged and just need to be layered a bit more richly.

I had a whole lot of fun with MIDI sequencing for this project. I’d never really delved too far into what you can do with MIDI until now, and I feel like I’ve still just scratched the surface. In that past, I’ve either done everything “in the box”, or just tracked parts that I’m playing live, but this time I wanted a really rich synth sound, and most of my good synths are iOS apps. It’s really amazing what you can get on iOS – for example, Arturia iMini is basically the same synth as their Mini V, but since it’s not a “serious” soft synth it’s about a tenth of the price.

To give myself the freedom to really experiment with what my iOS synths had to offer, I tracked the synth parts as MIDI, cleaned them up and tweaked as needed, then in a separate pass sent that to the iPad to record the actual synths. That was great, but still wasn’t quite as rich I’m aiming for. During the RPM Challenge I came across an amazing YouTube channel called SynthMania, which is an amazing source for experience, techniques, and some really charming Italo disco , which gave me a lot of really interesting ideas. In particular, this very timely video about synth layering made a lot of things click in my mind:

So that became my main technique – track a part, in MIDI, and then bounce it out to a handful of different synth patches. To make things even richer, I also experimented with tracking the same synth patch twice, slightly detuned. This quickly made for a huge number of synths, and the really fat sound that I’m looking for.  Here’s a wee screenshot as an example, from Turpin Hero which I shared a clip of in an earlier post – all in all, there’s 11 synth voices (including an organ) build from six MIDI tracks:

All that’s left is to finish bouncing out few more synths, and then get to work on mixing and mastering this insanity. I should be well into my mix later tonight – and not a minute too soon, there’s just two days left and, being weekdays, they’re going to fill up pretty quickly. But the scope of what’s left is pretty reasonable, in my mind, and I’m hoping to have a finished product by the time I go to bed Monday.

As a teaser, here’s another before-and-after clip, again from Turpin Hero – first, just the track after I had laid down the “real” guitars, vocals, and bass, and then the same clip with all the synths piled up on top.

There’s just over 48 hours left in the month, so I’d better get back to work. We can do this!

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