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Bedroom Studio Tips Revisited

Three years ago I posted a list of some music production methods and tips on my blog that still gets some attention. Now, here’s some other good read (I hope).

Moreover, you really should check out the most popular post on this blog about the best tips on music production that I can think of.

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A volca Confession

The first volca I got was the bass, and it was the last of the modules I sold. I’ve had three volcas – bass, keys and sample – and I’ve owned two of them for over two years.

While they had their own ecosystem they never quite fit in my particular, DAW-driven, workflow.

The three detunable VCOs of the bass, and the ring modulation of the keys, are great features, but in practice, when I wanted a bass or a lead sound for a track, I sometimes tried using a volca first, but then ended up designing those sounds on other synths. Like always. While the volcas sound fine for the money, they are not on par with my other synths, well that’s just me.

Anyway, I recently acquired the discontinued monotribe, and oh man, that timbre is golden!

Its sound might be clicky, noisy and dirty, but I do prefer this tone over the analog volcas’. To my ears, the filter is so much better on the monotribe, and the LFO is wild and really dope.

I still have to test run it in context of a full track though.

I didn’t expect much of the drumpart, but it’s cool enough it turns out.

So yeah, try to get a monotribe if you haven’t already. I got mine to 70 USD, meaning it’s the next cheapest gear I’ve got.

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Tips for the monotribe

The Korg monotribe is a desktop analog monophonic synthesizer with an additional three preset drums sounds. Its sound is warm and rich but quite clicky and noisy – although I think I prefer this timbre over the newer volca series. The monotribe was released in 2011 and is now discontinued.

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How to Silent the VCO When Processing External Audio

The synth has an audio in port to feed external audio into 12 dB/oct lowpass filter (which uses the same circuit as the classic MS-10/MS-20). The crux is that the synth engine must be triggered to run the filter, meaning it’s not possible to process external audio solo (without being modded). But the LFO can modulate the oscillator so that it becomes nearly inaudible. The workaround below is not exactly neat, but should do the trick. On the monotribe, do as follows:

  1. Press PLAY button and then REC.
  2. Set RANGE select switch to WIDE and press the highest key on the RIBBON keyboard during the whole sequence.
  3. Set EG to GATE.
  4. Switch TARGET to VCO.
  5. Set MODE to 1SHOT.
  6. Set WAVE to SQUARE WAVE.
  7. Set LFO RATE knob to minimum speed and INT. to maximum depth.
  8. Select TRIANGLE WAVE on modulation waveform WAVE.

How to CV Control the monotribe with the Analog Keys’ Keyboard

OS version 2.11 allows the SYNC IN connection to be used as a pitch CV/gate input. This makes it possible to control the monotribe with an external keyboard or sequencer (which is great because the ribbon keyboard is almost impossible to play). There are many ways to do this, but the theory is the same: send CV and gate via a TRRS 4-pole mini jack – where gate is tip and CV the second ring.

Now I got an Elektron Analog Keys which can send both tip and ring from the same CV output, but to do that to the monotribe I’d need a special cable (sort of TRS to TRRS) and I haven’t soldered any yet. So until then, I hacked a workable cable with many different pieces I found laying around (e.g. the composite video cable was provided with a TV I acquired last year). Again, you can build this patch cable more streamlined, but here’s my solution:

  1. Connect a composite video cable to SYNC IN on the monotribe and connect a RCA connector, white male to white female and red male to yellow female. On the other end, connect a pair of adaptors, RCA female to mono 3.5 mm mini jack male and then another pair of adaptors, 3.5 mm mini jack female to 6.3 mm jack male and plug white in CV AB and red/yellow in CV CD on Analog Keys.
  2. While this setup only uses the tips, and demands both CV ports on Analog Keys, set CV A to Gate, V-Trig, 5.0 V and CV C to Pitch V/oct, C 3, 1.000 V, C 6, 4.000 V. (CV B and D are not used.)
  3. Download and install System Updater 2.11.
  4. Prepare the monotribe as described in the documentation that came with the download package. Activate CV/GATE mode, set the Pitch CV curve to V/oct and GATE polarity to high.

P.S. It’s also possible to create a feedback loop by feeding the headphone output back into the monotribe’s audio in. This will render a mild thickening, and if you have some kind of attenuator on the feedback signal path, you can dial in some overdrive too.

Entering the Matrix

I got a reasonably priced Oberheim Matrix-1000, originally released 1987. It’s a polyphonic synth with six voices, two DCOs per voice, fully analog signal path and extensive modulation routing options – and its sound is beautiful.

But yeah, it’s a rack module and without editing options via the front panel, and it has a thousand presets and only 200 of them are editable remotely via MIDI.

The trouble with this particular item was that the fifth voice chip was broken (which I found out after buying). Moreover, the firmware running the synth was slow and contained bugs.

Fortunately someone on the internet has updated the code and they have made it available on a EPROM chip, so I ordered that. I also found a replacement voice chip and got that as well. Installing the new firmware and voice chip into the old machine was easy enough – the chips are just sitting in sockets. The voice chips counts from right to left (one to six) and are marked U101-U601.

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About Recursive Modulation

Here’s something for you synth programmers to try out: Modulate certain aspects of an envelope with itself.

For example, set the modulation destination of the filter envelope to affect its own parameter, such as its (linear) attack or decay time, by a positive or negative amount. This should render a concave or convex shape, respectively.

This effect is referred to as recursive modulation.

Now try to set filter envelope attack to 32, and envelope amount to 48. Then go to the modulation matrix and select the filter envelope as source, and modulate the destination filter envelope attack by 48.

It’s also possible to use this method on a LFO. Modulating its own level will also affect the shape of the LFO. And by modulate its own rate, will affect both the overall rate and the shape.

About Effects Chain Order

First off, there’s really no correct order. It’s all about preference, what you want to achieve and context. Although some effects do seem to work better in certain places of the signal path than in others. Still, feel free to experiment.

Inserts and Send Effects

Effects are chained in either series or parallel. For parallel processing, use send effects to process a copy of a signal (without affecting the original). Use auxiliary sends for time-based effects, such as reverb and delay.

No rules, but in most situations it makes more sense, and saves processing power and setup time, if for example reverb and delay are shared between all channels, rather than inserting a new instance of each effect in an insert slot on each channel.

Use insert effects to change the signal completely, e.g. dynamic processors like compressors, expanders, noise gates, transient shapers.

In terms of signal flow, the channel insert connections usually come before the channel EQ, fader and pan.

Daisy Chain Effects

It is possible to daisy chained effects into the signal path. The order of the effects determines the sound and have different impacts. Here’s a suggestion:

  1. Noise gate
  2. Subtractive EQ
  3. Dynamics (compressors, limiters, expanders)
  4. Gain (distortion, saturation)
  5. General EQ
  6. Time-based modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser)
  7. Pure time-based (delay, reverb)

To clean up the signal, put the gate first, and it will work better with a wider dynamic range (than for example after a compressor).

Then use an EQ to cut away the unwanted frequencies; do this to avoid enhancing them with later effects. (Also maybe roll off frequencies below 30 Hz.)

Then place a compressor to adjust the dynamics of the signal.

After that, put on some overdrive boost or tape saturation effect. Also, such effects can work well in the beginning of the chain – as part of the initial sound – due to the harmonics generated by a distortion device, which bring richness to the effects that follow.

After gain effect, EQ to shape the tonal balance, but be careful when boosting.

At the end of the chain, modulation effects are usually placed after gain-related effects and before pure time-based effects.

Pure time-based effects such as delay and reverb usually come last in the signal chain.

The Mastering Chain

This post is mainly covering effects chain for channels and buses, but when entering the mastering stage, a conventional order of the mastering chain is:

  1. EQ
  2. Dynamics
  3. Post EQ
  4. Harmonic exciter
  5. Stereo imaging
  6. Loudness maximizer

Read more about mastering, http://palsen.tumblr.com/post/76108679797/mastering-bedroom-style.

Minimal Bedroom Studio

As a consequence of scaling down my home studio, I sold two audio interfaces, Apogee Duet for iPad & Mac and Propellerhead Balance, to acquire an Apogee Quartet instead. (Yes I was checking out the newer Element 46 and even if the Element series audio quality and mic pre technology are a step above, the Quartet’s specifications are good enough for me, and more importantly I wanted/needed 8 outputs and a convenient front panel control.)

I decided for a 4-channel audio interface because I didn’t need 20+ hardware synths and drum machines up and running all the time. All that stuff took up too much space and I didn’t really use them. They were connected to a mixer – functioning more or less as a patchbay – and now that mixer is redundant. Remember, limitations drive creativity and all.

With the current setup, I’m able to insert outboard gear, not only to use Minitaur and Mopho as analog instruments, but also as signal processors/external filters. That is, with a little bit of routing in Ableton Live, I can send hardware and softsynths to the Moog ladder and Curtis low-pass filters.

Right now I got three analog monosynths (Minitaur, Mopho and SH-101) connected, and Analog Keys operating as an analog polysynth, master keyboard, sequencer and MIDI to CV converter. I can record all synths mentioned on separate tracks at once.

The plan is to switch gear depending on the project. It’s a clean, minimal setup which seems to suit me.

Recently, most time has been spent tweaking the setup, experiment with the gear, and programming and sound designing on the synths. I haven’t made any real compositions for a while though.

Next up could be a cassette tape recorder (to be able to make some lo-fi tape compression/saturation). And I think I’ll get the Strymon Deco pedal and put it in an effect signal chain.

Downscale for Creativity

At one point I had all gear connected, like this. That’s over 20 hardware synths and drum machines, integrated in a working and sort of intuitive ecosystem. The idea was to be ready and not having to unpack and reconnect shit, which could be time-consuming and kill inspiration in the meanwhile.

But, I tried this setup for a month, and for me it didn’t work that well. Every time I saw the pile of stuff I suffered a little from some kind of performance anxiety, I froze. It was like all this premium gear was looking at me and saying, “we’re just perfect and you got all possibilities in the world man, why can’t you produce better music? You’re not worthy.”

In spite of its purpose, the setup with all gear mounted and routed had become counterproductive. Truth is, I always worked best with constraints, regarding concept or gear, and to some extent, even budget. For me limitations do drive creativity.

Therefore I disassemble the gigantic keyboard stand and everything on it. (Also, I live in a relative small flat and a home studio like this takes more space that I can afford.) I haven’t yet worked out a storage system for all gear, but I think I put (hide) them in some drawers.

The new idea is to only have a master keyboard/MIDI controller, an audio interface, a mixer, a pair of studio monitors connected to a DAW, and then temporarily plug in the hardware I want to use for a certain project. Right now I’m working on three tracks and there are only four synths on my desk: Elektron Analog Keys, Moog Minitaur, Roland SH-101 and Casio CZ-101.

CV on Analog Four

If you got an Elektron Analog Four (or Analog Keys) and devices that can be operated via CV (control voltage) and Gate trigger connections, here’s how to do it, e.g. connect Moog Minitaur and Arturia MiniBrute to sequence, automate and processes them on Analog Four.

1. Connect a stereo ¼” (female) to CV Output A and B on Analog Four, and dual mono ¼” to Pitch CV (tip) and Gate (ring) of the Minitaur.
2. Connect Audio Out on Minitaur to Audio Input Left on Analog Four.
3. On Analog Four, select track Trk 1.
4. Select Osc 1 > IN L.
5. Pass all frequencies on 2-pole ladder filter: Filters > FRQ 127 and RES 0, and 2-pole multi mode filter: Filters > HP2 > FRQ 0 and RES 0.
6. Set the envelope on Amp > REL INF (if you don’t plan to use the Osc 2, sub oscillators or filter self-oscillation of the Analog Four).
7. Select track CV.
8. Set CV > CV A > TRK > TR1 and CV > CV B > TRK > TR1.
9. Select CV A configuration page, and set:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 3
VOLTAGE 1 > 1.448 V
NOTE 2 > C 6
Voltage 1 > 4.634 V

10. Select CV B configuration page, and set:

TYPE > GATE
POLARITY > V-TRIG
LEVEL > 5.0 V

11. Connect a stereo ¼” (female) to CV Output C and D on Analog Four, and dual mono ¼” to Pitch (to VCO) (tip) and Gate In (ring) of the MiniBrute.
12. Connect Master Out on MiniBrute to Audio Input Right on Analog Four.
13. On Analog Four, select track Trk 2.
14. Select Osc 1 > IN R.
15. Pass all frequencies on 2-pole ladder filter: Filters > FRQ 127 and RES 0, and 2-pole multi mode filter: Filters > HP2 > FRQ 0 and RES 0.
16. Set the envelope on Amp > REL INF (if you don’t plan to use the Osc 2, sub oscillators or filter self-oscillation of the Analog Four).
17. Select track CV.
18. Set CV > CV C > TRK > TR2 and CV > CV D > TRK > TR2.
19. Select CV A configuration page, and set:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 5
VOLTAGE 1 > 1.004 V
NOTE 2 > C 8
Voltage 1 > 4.004 V

20. Select CV D configuration page, and set:

TYPE > GATE
POLARITY > V-TRIG
LEVEL > 5.0 V

Set up the old king SH-101

If you got a Roland SH-101, the set it up like this:

1. Connect a stereo ¼” (female) to CV Output A and B on Analog Four, and dual mono ¼” to CV In (tip) and Gate In (ring) of the SH-101.
2. Connect Output on SH-101 to Audio Input Left on Analog Four.
3. On Analog Four, select track Trk 1.
4. Select Osc 1 > IN L.
5. Pass all frequencies on 2-pole ladder filter: Filters > FRQ 127 and RES 0, and 2-pole multi mode filter: Filters > HP2 > FRQ 0 and RES 0.
6. Set the envelope on Amp > REL INF (if you don’t plan to use the Osc 2, sub oscillators or filter self-oscillation of the Analog Four).
7. Select track CV.
8. Set CV > CV A > TRK > TR1 and CV > CV B > TRK > TR1.
9. Select CV A configuration page, and set:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 3
VOLTAGE 1 > 0.986 V
NOTE 2 > C 6
Voltage 1 > 3.956 V

10. Select CV B configuration page, and set:

TYPE > GATE
POLARITY > V-TRIG
LEVEL > 5.0 V

Note that the voltage levels are roughly set. Also bear in mind that it seems that some split cables use left for tip and right for ring, while others directly contrary.

Tune Other Gear

If you got other gear, then connect a tuner to the audio output, select CV A configuration page and start with:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 3
VOLTAGE 1 > 1.000 V
NOTE 2 > C 6
Voltage 1 > 4.000 V

Then just tweak the voltage settings – 1 V per octave in the mid range – according to the tuner, this usually works.

Lastly, don’t forget to check all four voices on the KIT > POLY CONFIG > VOICES to use Analog Four as an analog polysynth while using the two external sound sources of your choice.

P.S. I totally missed this, but this blog, Holy Bot, turns four years today, yay!

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