How to make synth music sound modern?

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raymondh
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Post 20 Apr 2015

Hi all

I am going to try and make a modern synth-based song, to cover an 80s track.
The goal is to make it sound contemporary rather than retro. Pretty much anything I make ends up being retro sounding whether I like it or not, so I'm interested in any views on what to do, or what not to do, to make a synthpop style song but with a modern sound.

I'm not sure whether it is about production techniques (mixing, FX, sound design, mastering) or whether it is more about the arrangement (structure, melodic content etc) or both.

My current thinking is (open for debate, please challenge if you have different views) as a *general* theme;
- modern songs tend to have more layers (its easier and cheaper now to do that)
- synth sounds are bigger (in the 80s many bands could only afford the cheaper, thinner sounding and monophonic synths)
- more "obvious" use of sidechaining
- less melodic content
- snare drums less prominent (and certainly less gated reverb!)
- more use of distortion on synths and high levels of saturation
- modern pop is definitely louder, and often more compressed

Obviously there are plenty of examples to counter each point, so just looking for themes and trends.
What really confuses me though, is that we have things like the retro transformer, that still makes a track sound "retro but modern". I don't know why!

In terms of synth sounds - I know I can use Parsec and sound more modern immediately. But do I have to stop using my JX8P or Bitley's Fairlight Samples?

What do you folks think?

thanks!

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Benedict
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Location: Gold Coast, Australia

Post 20 Apr 2015

Hi Ray

I have wondered this myself. I think it is in the way brains were trained then as opposed to post-Nirvana. I'm with you in:
  • remove melody - use only the simplest riffs
  • distort everything - that bright crystalline thing
  • compress, compress and limit, yep even the distorted stuff
  • layers of processing along with layers of synthesis
The question is whether you want to in your heart?

:)
Benedict Roff-Marsh
Completely burned and gone

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eusti
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Post 20 Apr 2015

80s are hip once again!!! ;)



D.

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raymondh
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Post 21 Apr 2015

eusti wrote:80s are hip once again!!! ;)



D.
That is too funny!!!!

pLansford

Post 21 Apr 2015


mod·ern

mädərn/

adjective

 
  1. 1.
    of or relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past.




Modern is simply letting go of everything you know to create something different.  If you do that, you will be modern.  The truth is everything you'll hear today won't be modern next month.  There are so many different styles and people doing crazy things, I have no clue what you mean by modern.  I can tell ya everybody wants to hear something different though.  I think sound design is pretty important and you made a good point about Parsec.  On the other hand, dumbing down melodic content has nothing to do with being modern but more to do with manipulative pop music.  If you want to do that, then sure, keep it simple, but I hear plenty of "modern" tunes that are on the other side of that spectrum.

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Gaja
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Location: Germany

Post 22 Apr 2015

I might recommend not to use gated reverbs or snare sounds that sound 80's. Use thors noise instead and distort it, then alter the note lengths according to the groove of your beat. Or use a plucked synth sound as percussive element.
Try and use weird FX. The weirder your FX sound the less 80s it will sound (try for example a pitch shifter in a delay's feedback loop - the echo has breakout jacks on the back for this kinda stuff).
Cheers!
Fredhoven

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jfrichards
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Location: Sunnyvale, CA

Post 22 Apr 2015

Not sure what you mean by modern Ray.  Something like this?
http://phead.mu/s/sJdRnjLn
If so, this is a Thor with six oscillators running and a Pulsar sending synced sine waves as CV into numerous parameters and effects in the Thor, including a Formant.  It is extremely layered and modulated.

Image

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submonsterz
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Joined: 07 Feb 2015

Post 22 Apr 2015

Don't make old 80`s tracks that's as simple as it is lol.
if you gonna be doing covers of old 80`s tracks they all ways gonna sound 80`s ish .
unless you screw and warp the sounds being used beyond recognition 

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Lunesis
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Post 22 Apr 2015

I would say go in this direction:

[soundcloud_track]http://soundcloud.com/somedesperateglor ... cific-deep[/soundcloud_track]

Stick with the darker sounds, big atmosphere, and make the drums crunchy with less verb and delay and more in your face. Just enough reverb on the drums for a nice room sound, I find usually between 30% and 40% on the send knob. Another thing I like to do is make the drums totally dry and create a parallel channel with about 50% reverb and blend to taste. Try not to use synthy percussion hits like toms or clavs, and focus on the groove between the hats, bd and snare. More stereo spread and keep the bass nice and chunky, but not too much ;)  Try to stay away from synth leads or basses that sound too bright or poppy. Try more moody.

Love the groove here:

https://soundcloud.com/isunray/up-in-th ... e-download

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submonsterz
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Post 22 Apr 2015

I did just have another idea speed it up to 165 or above bpm and put a slamming good donk on it :)
that will work lol.

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zakalwe
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Post 22 Apr 2015

eusti wrote:80s are hip once again!!! ;)



D.
mitch murder co-produced it too!

pLansford

Post 22 Apr 2015

Lunesis wrote:Stick with the darker sounds, big atmosphere, and make the drums crunchy with less verb and delay and more in your face. Just enough reverb on the drums for a nice room sound, I find usually between 30% and 40% on the send knob. Another thing I like to do is make the drums totally dry and create a parallel channel with about 50% reverb and blend to taste. Try not to use synthy percussion hits like toms or clavs, and focus on the groove between the hats, bd and snare. More stereo spread and keep the bass nice and chunky, but not too much ;)  Try to stay away from synth leads or basses that sound too bright or poppy. Try more moody.
Those are some good tips, Mr. Lunesis although I think dark and moody just suits both of our personal preferences.   :D  Aside from my murky philosophical post, I want to agree with the synth percussion part here and one thing I notice is people are trying to be very organic these days whether it's real hand percussion samples or field recordings (from teenage pop star to underground techno).  I think the programming is important as mentioned above eg odd 1/16th perc hits.  Interesting thread here.   :thumbup:

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raymondh
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Joined: 15 Jan 2015

Post 23 Apr 2015

jfrichards wrote:Not sure what you mean by modern Ray.  Something like this?
http://phead.mu/s/sJdRnjLn
If so, this is a Thor with six oscillators running and a Pulsar sending synced sine waves as CV into numerous parameters and effects in the Thor, including a Formant.  It is extremely layered and modulated.

Image
Wow, that's pretty amazing John!! 

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raymondh
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Joined: 15 Jan 2015

Post 23 Apr 2015

Benedict wrote:Hi Ray

I have wondered this myself. I think it is in the way brains were trained then as opposed to post-Nirvana. I'm with you in:
  • remove melody - use only the simplest riffs
  • distort everything - that bright crystalline thing
  • compress, compress and limit, yep even the distorted stuff
  • layers of processing along with layers of synthesis
The question is whether you want to in your heart?

:)
Hi Benedict
Thanks, I will try all of these things :)


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raymondh
Posts: 1771
Joined: 15 Jan 2015

Post 23 Apr 2015

Gaja wrote:I might recommend not to use gated reverbs or snare sounds that sound 80's. Use thors noise instead and distort it, then alter the note lengths according to the groove of your beat. Or use a plucked synth sound as percussive element. Try and use weird FX. The weirder your FX sound the less 80s it will sound (try for example a pitch shifter in a delay's feedback loop - the echo has breakout jacks on the back for this kinda stuff).
Good ideas - thanks!

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raymondh
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Joined: 15 Jan 2015

Post 23 Apr 2015

RHarris wrote: mod·ern

mädərn/

adjective

 
  1. 1.
    of or relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past.




Modern is simply letting go of everything you know to create something different.  If you do that, you will be modern.  The truth is everything you'll hear today won't be modern next month.  There are so many different styles and people doing crazy things, I have no clue what you mean by modern.  I can tell ya everybody wants to hear something different though.  I think sound design is pretty important and you made a good point about Parsec.  On the other hand, dumbing down melodic content has nothing to do with being modern but more to do with manipulative pop music.  If you want to do that, then sure, keep it simple, but I hear plenty of "modern" tunes that are on the other side of that spectrum.
Yes good point. I don't know what I mean by modern either! It's very subjective!

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raymondh
Posts: 1771
Joined: 15 Jan 2015

Post 23 Apr 2015

Lunesis wrote:I would say go in this direction:

[soundcloud_track]http://soundcloud.com/somedesperateglor ... cific-deep[/soundcloud_track]

Stick with the darker sounds, big atmosphere, and make the drums crunchy with less verb and delay and more in your face. Just enough reverb on the drums for a nice room sound, I find usually between 30% and 40% on the send knob. Another thing I like to do is make the drums totally dry and create a parallel channel with about 50% reverb and blend to taste. Try not to use synthy percussion hits like toms or clavs, and focus on the groove between the hats, bd and snare. More stereo spread and keep the bass nice and chunky, but not too much ;)  Try to stay away from synth leads or basses that sound too bright or poppy. Try more moody.

Love the groove here:

https://soundcloud.com/isunray/up-in-th ... e-download
Haha very clever Brent, you're holding up a mirror for me!!!! 
I think it's quite revealing then. Both of those tracks use a bunch of retro synth sounds, but they do use different processing techniques and some different arrangement - exactly as you suggest here! Thanks!



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raymondh
Posts: 1771
Joined: 15 Jan 2015

Post 23 Apr 2015

Lunesis wrote:Stick with the darker sounds, big atmosphere, and make the drums crunchy with less verb and delay and more in your face. Just enough reverb on the drums for a nice room sound, I find usually between 30% and 40% on the send knob. Another thing I like to do is make the drums totally dry and create a parallel channel with about 50% reverb and blend to taste. Try not to use synthy percussion hits like toms or clavs, and focus on the groove between the hats, bd and snare. More stereo spread and keep the bass nice and chunky, but not too much ;)  Try to stay away from synth leads or basses that sound too bright or poppy. Try more moody.
RHarris wrote:
Those are some good tips, Mr. Lunesis although I think dark and moody just suits both of our personal preferences.   :D  Aside from my murky philosophical post, I want to agree with the synth percussion part here and one thing I notice is people are trying to be very organic these days whether it's real hand percussion samples or field recordings (from teenage pop star to underground techno).  I think the programming is important as mentioned above eg odd 1/16th perc hits.  Interesting thread here.   :thumbup:
Great advice here too. I bought Republik so might try and use it here...

thanks!


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