Inside The Mix | Music Production and Mixing Tips for Music Producers and Artists

#54: Michael Oakley | Music Production: How to Get Started Part 1

November 22, 2022 Michael Oakley Season 2 Episode 31
Inside The Mix | Music Production and Mixing Tips for Music Producers and Artists
#54: Michael Oakley | Music Production: How to Get Started Part 1
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Having worked in Glasgow's cover band scene for some years, Oakley penned what would become his debut album, California, in 2016. Lesley Daunt of The Huffington Post wrote in 2017 of the lead single "Turn Back Time", "Oakley's captivating beats and celestial synthesizers have given a fresh approach and revival to classic pop".

In 2017, Oakley released California to critical acclaim from The Huffington Post and popular YouTube channel and record label NewRetroWave.

In 2019, the artist released his sophomore album, Introspect, which was listed in NewRetroWave's Top 10 albums list of 2019.

In 2020, Oakley issued the track "Wake Up!", featuring Ollie Wride, as part of the soundtrack to the game Wave Break: High Tide, through Funktronic Labs. In the same year, he contributed an instrumental remix of his 2016 single "Rabbit in the Headlights" to the soundtrack of the mobile game Retro Drive.

On 16 April 2021, Oakley announced the release of a new single, "Is There Anybody Out There", co-written by fellow labelmate Ollie Wride and produced by Jon Campbell of The Time Frequency.

Oakley released his third studio album, Odyssey, on 14 May 2021, through NewRetroWave Records. 

To follow Michael Oakley, click here: https://linktr.ee/michaeloakleyofficial

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Marc Matthews:

You're listening to the Inside The Mix podcast with your host, Mark Matthews. Hello and welcome to the Inside the Mix podcast. I'm Mark Matthews, your host, musician, producer, and mix and mastering engineer. You've come to the right place if you wanna know more about your favorite SY music artist, music, engineering, and production, songwriting and the music industry. I've been writing, producing, mixing, and mastering music for over 15 years, and I wanna share what I've learnt with you. Hey folks. Welcome back to The Inside The Mix podcast. Now, in this episode, I'm very, very excited to welcome our guests today. We've got the one and only Michael Oakley joining us today. And, uh, so for those of you who are unsure who, uh, Michael is, Michael is a, uh, Scottish singer producer who, uh, is residing in Canada. Uh, it's currently signed to new retro Rave, uh, records. Uh, he is retro inspired electronic sound made its debut in 2017 with the album California. And it's continued through to the 2019 album Introspect and also Odyssey in 2021. Um, so I've taken this from your, your bank Am here. Michael, describe your music as melancholic postcards for my heart wrapped up in synthesizers and drum machines. I love that description, mate. How are you?

Michael Oakley:

And thanks for joining me , that, that's like the Tri McClure intro. Hi, I'm Michael Oakley. You may remember me from such albums

Marc Matthews:

as Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly.

Michael Oakley:

Oh yeah. No, thank you for having me. I, um, Very excited to do this. You know, I mean, I'm sure I say that with every interview, and some of them I'm less sincere than others, . But I genuinely, I, uh, I really love talking about, uh, the creative process. Mm-hmm. because, I think there's a lot of myths about mm-hmm. the creative process and the mixing and production process. Um, and a podcast like this is the type of thing where we get to see the scaffolding. Yeah. Because when people see the finished tracks, they don't see the different drafts of the track that was along the way. They maybe don't see that the idea started. As a 16 bar loop that was 10 beats per minute, faster, and a completely different key. And sounded nothing like what you heard in the record. Yep, yep. So it's, it's a great chance to kind of dive into that, to sort of hopefully make people feel a lot better about the creative process, knowing that, uh, you know, I make many, many mistakes and that's, that's, that's an important part of the process.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah, fantastic. And that is exactly what this podcast is about. So I'm really, really excited to, to dig into the, that the creative processes and, and the songwriting and composition and music production and, and everything in between. Um, so just for the audience listening, so what, what Michael's gonna do, we're just gonna go for a brief, uh, musical journey as they say. Um, just to just get any, anyone who hasn't, hasn't heard of you, just just up to speed and where, where we're at. And then obviously we're gonna discuss everything that. You sort of a mentioned, so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna jump forward a bit. So from your bio, I've taken it that you, you've originally from Glasgow and you, you were in a cover band scene and releasing music, and then you released the debut album of California. So I think what'd be quite cool is you're in a cover band. and then you sort of transitioned to that album of California. Maybe just a bit of background in terms of how you made that step from the, the cover band scene to California.

Michael Oakley:

Well, even before that, I, I think, um, I was in a band trying to get, uh, mainstream record deal and, uh, you know, the, the music that I was doing at that time, this is, you know, we're going back to like 2007, and this was at a time when, you know, retro was still a little bit. Regarded as hokey. You know, retro wasn't quite taken as seriously. I mean, retro was the killers adding synthesizers into indie music. That was, that was retro and it wasn't the kind of authentic retro, it was just, oh, here's some nice, you know, micro co sounds that sort of sound a little bit retro, that that must be retro. But it wasn't. But yeah, I was in a band, we were doing music that was somewhere, you know, between the Killers, Duran Duran Col.. Um, and uh, and it didn't work out. And the fallout from that for me, um, was, I kind of got. You know, fed up of, of the whole thing. So what do you do when you're a musician and you're fed up of writing music? You form a covers band and do weddings and, you know, you, you, you haul out your talent for money . Yep. So, uh, so joined a covers band in 2009 and, uh, I must say that, that that experience was invaluable because, You had to pick the songs, which got people up in their feet. So when you were picking songs and you would play those songs on the night, you would get a real direct experience of watching body language, you know, erasure a little respect immediately. People go on the dance floor, the killers, Mr. Messed up right side. Immediately you'll see them go on the dance floor. Um, there's just certain songs that are timeless and there's something. charming and characteristic about those songs which evoke a certain, ah, in somebody that makes them want to get in the dance floor. So, I mean, I, I, I really got. A good education on what songs are the ones which have stood the test of time and which ones are the ones that people emotionally connect with. Um, certainly on a dance floor level. And, uh, and so I was doing that for, must be about seven years, seven or eight years, and. and then the opportunity and situation happened with new retro wave. Um, because I had got really sort of, I got, it's funny because I got to a certain point in my life where because I wasn't writing, I always felt like there was unfinished business. And because of that, there was an unhappiness, like a, you know, that was just like, I have this thing that I want to do, and. Am I gonna come into this life and not do the thing that I want to do and live a complete life of plan B? You know, like always, always settling for the second best option. So, , a few life situations happened. I had went through a, a separation from a girl that I was in a long term relationship with and the combination of that feeling kind of like I wasn't happy in my place of life at that point, um, it kind of pushed me to start writing again cuz I sort of had, had things to talk about. I had a, I thought, and you know, I can channel. Uh, cat artistically into something, but this time I'm not going to make music that is for a record company. Um, I'm not gonna make music that's trying to fit in. I'm gonna make the music. That is what I wish was still being made that I grew up as a kid listening to, um, and that was how the songs from my first album came about. That's, and that was, the transformation from that was quite, it was quite rapid. I mean, it was, I mean, the most shocking way I can put it is that within a year, um, I had. immigrated, got married to someone else and released an album and traveled to Los Angeles to work with people to finish that album. And then woke up one day, uh, in Canada, married with fun enough, with a kind of almost freak out anxiety cuz I was just like, Oh my God. Like, has all this really happened to me? Like, it's like you sort of start to catch up with yourself, . So yeah, I mean, it was quite instantaneous, like just how that all came about. Um, but, you know, I'm some, I don't believe there's errors in the system, you know, like in life. I, I do think that, you know, that, um, you have to, if you really want something, then you have to go through a series. Obstacles, challenges to to overcome, to really say, do you really want it? Okay, your relationship's gonna hit the skids. Now, do you really want it? Okay, well now you're not gonna be happy in your job because that unhappiness is what's gonna be the driving force behind pushing you to elevate yourself to do the thing you want. Are you sure you want this? And it's that, it's that continual thing. Sometimes people get to a point in their life where they say, I don't want to suffer anymore. I, I, you know, I'm just happy to settle. Um, where. I was aware that I would always, I would, I would be so unhappy if I didn't pursue it. And, uh, if I was married to somebody and I was still in a covers band, not pursuing it, I would be, I would be their nightmare. Tru, truly f.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah, that, that, that is a rapid transition. And I think what you said there at the end about how, um, you get to a point whereby do you wanna pursue it and you make that decision. And there was a, there was a, I was listening to a podcast where it might have been a short the other day and it was, um, there, there was, I dunno if it's evidence based research, which was to say that often when you are at that point and you, you kick it to the curb, it's at that point often that you could have then kicked on and done what it is that you wanted to do, which I thought was quite.

Michael Oakley:

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. At that point is usually the point where you're literally standing at the door ready to knock. Yeah. Yeah. And, and you're just, ah, no, this is silly. You know, some, something gets in your head. Now, for me, I guess I had a disadvantage of, uh, growing up in Glasgow. in the underbelly of Glasgow. There's this kind of mentality of, um, and I talk about it in Glasgow song when I, you know, the line, don't reach above your station. There's this, there's a, like in Glasgow, you can't really wear like flashy, flashy designer clothes because your friends will say, who do you think you are? You know, what you, what you dress like that for? And it, and it's a, it's a sort of joke sort of thing. They, they do it as a sort of joke. Underneath that, there is that little element of who do you think you are? You, you know, you're not Michael Buley, you're Michael locally. Who do you think you are? And, and there was always that. Uh, kind of underbelly of, of that mentality of staying small and, uh, not reaching for your dreams because it didn't really happen for a lot of people where I grew up. You know what I mean? It was, um, I didn't, I didn't grow up in poverty or anything like that, but I certainly grew up in a very working class, uh, area. And uh, you know, it was always about, there's not many people that become successful musicians. You know, that can be your., what do you, what are you gonna do for a career? And it was like, well, I wanna do music. And I even thought about this because I, I went to university. and, uh, I was going to become, well in my head, I was going to become a, a, a teacher, like a lecturer, a college, a music lecture. And um, halfway through the course I realized, what am I doing? This is not me. You know, I'm, I'm not only too, IM mature for this. Um, there's somewhere, somewhere else I have to be. You know, it was that feeling of I want to do music, but I want to write music and I want. Have like a career as a singer songwriter, and, uh, but the weight of the scale of the thing seems so insurmountable that you think, uh, maybe I'll just stay claiming my, you know, my bursary every month and just get a part-time job because it's easy and. You know, you take the easy option, but like you say, you know, sometimes you can get people who are literally standing at the door of, of the success that they're looking for, and that little voice that I might have had from Glasgow of Who do you think you are, Michael, this is, this is, this is, this is a pipe dream. You know, that little voice could creep in to sort of tap you in the shoulder and tempt you, and then. Uh, and you wouldn't even know that you were at the door already. Yeah. I mean, but everybody, every single person, um, who has been successful has some kind of backstory of, you know, overcoming challenges, their own personal challenges or demons to, to get to where they want to. And, and, uh, there comes a point where you've got to get real about what you want and, and how you're gonna.. Marc Matthews: Yeah, I, I And it is amazing. Is it, it's amazing to think if you could quantify the amount of people who were at that door and it didn't quite. Take that leap of faith and then went with it, it would be, it's a stark number of people, I imagine. So that, that's quite, I say that's quite nice. It's not quite nice. But I was gonna say it segue nicely then, um, into our music production and songwriting side of things and what you mentioned earlier about myths. Now I'm really intrigued by this. Michael Oakley: It's Yeah.

Marc Matthews:

I cannot wait to, uh, and I'm sure the audience is, is, uh, salivating at the prospect of what these myths might be, but I think it'd be quite. To start with. Now, what I think is also before I mention this question is, um, having looked at your sort of repertoire on YouTube and whatnot, is that you actually list the tech that you are using. Um, from your productions, which, um, we'll, we'll dig into a bit in a minute cuz specifically the Ableton 10 versus prepare versus reason, which I'm quite intrigued to, to learn more about. But I think what would be quite cool cuz is a songwriting music production. So is maybe if we start like the songwriting process. So you are, you're in a situation whereby you're writing music. How, how does a song start for, for Michael Oakley? Where, where do

Michael Oakley:

you. Well, usually I, if I'm, if I'm sitting trying to sort of just compose ideas, I usually like, I, I do a whole pre-production process that I encourage everyone. To do, who's an electronic musician? So you, you know, the kind of back thing for most pro producers is, oh, I'm gonna get a door. So you decide on what you're gonna use. In my case, it's Ableton at this moment in time. Um, and then you say, okay, some of the stock stuff is, is good. It's okay, some of it's really good, but I need to get some synthesizers. So you buy a bunch of synthesizers. Um, Plugins, like, you know, reverb effects, EQs, more niche type effect stuff. And, um, and that sort of forms your toolbox. Now, most people don't go through the syn because all synthesizers now have like a, a menu option where you can star. Your sounds. I, I go through every single synthesizer that I have, and I favor the sounds that I like the most so that when I open that synthesizer up. I only see the sounds that I like, cuz I'm, I don't wanna waste time when I'm composing. The last thing I want to do is spend half an hour chasing a bass sound or half an hour chasing a snare drum sound. I mean, it's, you know, you, you have to really get from A to B as in the flow as as quickly as possible. So when I sit down, I default to. Usually likes of Omnisphere, maybe. I love Omnisphere. I love Reveal Sound Spire. Um, those two are probably my favorite and most used out of all of the synthesizers that I have. I just, I find that's a sound I gravitate towards, so I'll open those up. And I have my own, I guess, private reserve we'll call of my favorite sounds that I've selected so that when I go through them, Oh, there's that pad sound that's really nice, and I'll start to kind of play around and find something, maybe a chord sequence or if it's a more poly based sound, maybe I'll come up with a sort of little arpeggiated riff type thing and then I'll start to revolve around something, something I'll just click and it will just be like, that's nice. I'm gonna start to. continue to affect the sound if I want to take it more lofi or add more effects to it, and then I'll start to build around that. Um, but another way I do like to work is I like to kind of find some drum sounds and build just a kind of a loop. I mean, I've certainly had moments where I've been out listening to like a playlist and I hear a track and I. Those drums are really nice, you know, that the vibe of those drums. And I will go home and recreate my version of that type of drum sound and then start to build something completely different around maybe the drum arrangement that I heard. Um, I've certainly done that a few times. Um, but I think that that's the crucial part is if you're gonna buy plugin, know how to use them. You know, like I know preset surfing is, is kind of fashionable these days and that's fine, but you, you really want to know how to use the, the tools that you have. Um, I'm going through a bit of a, a reduction phase at this point, actually before I start writing for my, for my, my next album. And, uh, I guess the principle is less is. And I, I mean, I'm terrible. I mean, you know, people talk about gear acquiring syndrome, like I am plugin acquiring syndrome, and I literally have went now from probably about maybe 24 synthesizer plugins down to like 10. And I'm gonna cut it down even more, um, just to the, the, the nucleus of the sounds that I want to work with, because that's, Key component I think people maybe miss is limitations are your friend. I, I used to like have a hardware set up and I had like a, like a June 1 0 6, um, an AKIs 2000 sampler, um, a Zoom 1201 in like effects, multi effects unit. Everyone had the, at Leasts three six, the O Compressor, um, had that. Um, I have a couple of rack synthesizers, um, a JV 10 10, which is this little box that had all the 10 80 sounds and I was using medi. I was using a crappy old PC running Cubase medi, a mixing desk, and., you know, I only had 16 uh, channels to, to work with at that point with the cubase I was using. So you were stuck with 16 tracks. Um, and then polyphony, things like that, you know, that this, this only has 32, not polyphony. So if you're using this as a multi timber row module, you know, you've gotta be really careful about what sounds you choose to use from that or, or are you gonna bounce the sound to a sample? if it's drums, to free up eight notes of polyphony. And those limitations, they were a little frustrating, but they forced you to really get the best out of what you had. Whereas now, um, the possibilities are endless. And I think that that actually is doing harm to creativity. I don't, I think people are, are maybe a little too. Convenient to use presets and drop stuff on and slap effects on without quite understanding fully how to use them and, and what maybe like new ways that you can use and find your signature because within all the plugins you use, I have a signature within the plugins I use because there's a certain way that I use those plugins that no one else will. There's just certain. Things I like, um, if you know what I mean, like there's a re plugin I love called seventh Heaven and uh, it is a gorgeous reverb, but I only like to use it for drums. Because it just is, there's something about the room sound of that reverb that really makes me feel like, oh, that makes the drum room feel of those whole of those sounds together feel quite organic. Um, but other people would probably use it for more likely for a vocal, you know, and, uh, other instruments maybe just to get a different feel. You know, you, you wanna sort of find out what. Your interpretation of how you use those plugins are, and, and you only get that by really understanding how to use the tools that you have. It's better to have two synthesizer plugins, one reverb, um, and maybe a couple of other multi effects things I compress or, um, and know how to use those than having 15 synthesizer plugins, five reverbs, and a whole bunch of other, and you're just hoping for the best. dropping the plugin on finding a preset, and you just, you don't know how it works. I mean, uh, you, you really do have to know your, your tools to get the best out of them.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah, I totally agree with that. And. It might sound quite harsh, but it, it's kind of like the old saying of all the gear and no idea in a way, isn't it? It's you, you, and it's kind of, um, you're buying all this stuff, all these, all these vsc, all these plugins, and the hope that you put something together because you've got so many possibilities that, that, that something's gonna materialize. What I'd never considered is what you said right at the beginning there is actually going through the plugin. And favoring all the cause. I do favorite patches that I find, but it's more of a case of like, I'll surf through and then favorite, I dunno why I never considered doing that before. I'm actually just going through the actual, the bst, the plugin, and then favoring the sounds. Cuz much like you, when it comes to production, I do have a, there's a particular sound that I like and whether it's pads, whether it's lead strings or whatever, um, and I do generally come back to those, but I, I definitely agree with the fact. I think when it comes to plugins and, and specifically sound design, knowing how to, just the basics really, like LFOs and, and, and envelopes and just knowing how to use them and how they can interact and how you can start to manipulate those preexisting sounds is, is crucial. Is that something that you sort of learned through experimentation or did you, did you do some sort of course or did it come organically?

Michael Oakley:

Um, I think it's a, probably a combination of organically and, uh, probably one of the biggest learning experiences that I had, and not a lot of people know this about me, but I do a lot of work for sample pack companies, um, software developer companies, um, I've done work for splice sample Magic Zen Heer, uh, Roland, um, on their cloud service. Um, I've done work for review sound, even cuz I love SPI and a lot of synthesizers I've done preset banks for. Yeah, and I think probably the biggest learning curve that I got was probably when I started working for those companies because it was a different mindset. You know, you, I was switching from composing and making sounds that I would use for my productions to a. Mindset of I'm creating a product that has to have a diverse range of sounds that will maybe appeal to a wider range of people. I mean, that's what a factory sound bank is on any synthesizer, you know, there's, yeah. Probably about three quarters of the factory library you'll never use. Maybe more, you know, um, I only use probably about 5% of a sound library on a factory, if even, you know, you just find what you like and you use it. But that was the biggest learning curve because then I had to really find. How do you make that sound? You know, what is it that you do with the envelopes and the filter and what type of filter to get that type of sound? You know, it's, um, that was a different learning curve and I think that that has been one of the best. Learning curve experiences for me because now I'm much faster at tweaking to find the sound that I'm looking for in, in my own productions actually. Um, definitely and because I was working in different styles, I was kind of forced to work in more pop based styles, modern pop trance, music, IDM stuff. You know, there's, it's, it's amazing the mind, the shift of mindset because, you know, with with, you know, I guess a really easy description of when you make retro type sounds, you know, you can instantly get that retro sound by putting. they attack up slightly on the filter of the a dsr cuz it makes it just a little bit quacky. You know, that kind of, well, well, and, and immediately that just evokes those kind of bass sounds that are eighties sounds or poly sounds or brass sounds. And, and so that's a, you know, a very con like, condensed description, but it's just little things like that. Yeah. You know, the attack can really change the, the face of something. On the filter. Um, you know, but yeah, it's, uh, that's been the biggest learning curve, I think. Um, because it pushed me, because then it. Okay. If I don't do this, I'm not getting paid. You're sort of in that, you're, that you've got that, that sort of, the deadline is this, so you have to meet this deadline. So it's like, right, how do I make that PPG wave choir sound on this synthesizer using formats? It's like, okay, I need to figure this out. And you, you're, you're pushing yourself, you're pushing your comfort zones.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah. Do you think that there specifically with, with plugins, um, Because we chat about plugins, but do you think there could be a tendency for them to be overly complicated? No. There's a plugin that I use in particular, and I, I really like, and it's, it's Anna too and I think it's a fantastic plugin. They market it as the Netflix of plugins. And it goes back to what you said there about appealing to everyone, um, because the sound bank on it or in it rather is, is huge and much like you, I probably don't touch half of it, if not like three quarters of it. But do you think there could be a tendency for them to be a bit too complicated? Too many features?

Michael Oakley:

Yes, I think so. I think so. I think, um, I think that there's probably, we're splitting the musician level from beginner to intermediate to more advanced for sure. And more advanced musician producers would use something like pig. Yeah. Yeah. I love by Arturia. Um, oo is actually not too bad, but then like, it, it's a really good synthesizer plugin. I can see from the DUI how, you know, you could maybe be intimidated a little bit, but it is actually very simple. It's all laid out. But, uh, oo sounds great. And that's, that is a really good synthesizer. I've used that before. But then something like, it's amazing, I think the interface of, of a plugin. Will determine whether or not you like it or not. There's a lot to do with the DUI because the DUI on Spire for me was one of the biggest caveats. I mean, I love the sound of Spire first and foremost, but the interface is very accessible. It's very easy to get to grips with. Um, it's not so advanced that you can't understand it, you know, certainly. I mean, this is going back to when I was working with a hardware setup. You know, I had to manually wire the routing for things. You know, even little things like, oh, this multi effects unit. I have to connect the out for the auxiliaries to the mixing desk so that I can then, Turn up the auxiliary on each channel to get reverb on this, but not on this, but on this and this. And then I went delay on auxiliary too. And you had to learn about rooting. And similarly with, um, you know, synthesizers, you need to have an understanding about rooting to know that if you assign the cutoff filter, To the a dsr, then that's gonna change again, the, you know, just the, the shape of the sound. And it's, and it's a different type of thing. But then if you just assign likes, ofpi, you can just assign the, the, the main oscillator, um, a DSR to it, then you've only get one control because you're then just controlling that. But, Have that separate, and you have the filter to a separate, a dsr, then you can actually control the body of the sound with the main, a dsr and then the filter, uh, to the, the other, a dsr, the envelope will give it a different character. I mean, I, I, I like to always put it to a separate, a dsr because then sometimes the sound can have a bit too much body, so I. Take off the, the sustain maybe and, and just have the decay on and pull that back, and then it slightly just shapes the sound just a little bit more to what you're, you're, you're looking for it to be. Um, but g there has been some plugins where the DUI has put me off using it for sure. I, I, I've, I've bought a couple of plugins and just haven't enjoyed using it, and I've then, I deleted the off my, off my eye Mark . Yeah, it's kind of like I'm not gonna name any of just in case

Marc Matthews:

No, no, no. It might come ahead. It'd be nice to become knocking at my door for some sort of endorsement.. I don't want, don't wanna write them off before they've come knocking, you know? Um, but no, it's quite interesting that you, uh, you mentioned that cuz you do see some plugins in there. It looks like they've sort of like done the kitchen sink sort of thing with them. Tried to get to appeal to everyone by putting everything in there. And I. You're cutting off the nose to, uh, to spite their face. I wanna have a better way of putting it. I

Michael Oakley:

tell you one actually, just, just, just, just, just the other day actually, towel sampler completely updated their DUI and it's night and day. It is a much better interface. And actually just the way it looks visually, there's less colors, there's less, um, like I guess what I would call. inducing, what is all this? Why is there so many colors on this? And I love towel sample, but I'm glad that they changed the DUI on that because now it looks a lot more streamlined and it's easier in the eye. Yeah.

Marc Matthews:

I, I agree with that. I haven't seen the update, but I know when I've done like little shorts that I've put on Instagram or whatever, when I'm just going a little demo of a plugin, and I always refer back, and I've said it in previous podcasts, that I always go back to plugins where there's, I don't like all the flashiness around the plugin and all these extra bits of, of, um, of animation. I don't need to see the spinning tape underneath. I just, I just want it to work and I want the controls to be there, and I want it to be intuitive. I don't need everything. And I always, and every time I see that or I see an update with that, I'm sort of like, I'm totally on board with it. So I totally agree with you on that one there. So with regards to sound design, say if you are a producer who's just starting out, what part of the sound design process should a new producer or new sound designer start? Experimenting with or learning about? It

Michael Oakley:

depends. I mean, if, if, if I always wanted to, to make sounds. Yeah. Whereas I know that not everybody that I know who is a composer wants to set making sounds. They just want to preset surf. And I mean, that's fine because there's a wealth of, you could buy Nexus and load that up with. Expansions. I mean, like I say, it's a very different process for me when I'm composing because I fall into that category probably where, you know, I do edit the sounds to the shape of what I'm looking for, but most of the time I, I'm looking to find the closest approximation of a preset that will. What I'm looking for and then take it from there rather than start from scratch. But I do think that it's, it's crucial for, um, you know, producers to have an understanding of, of sound design. Certainly, you know, I mean even if they just know a DSR and how that works. Tactic case, sustain release, how to shape a sound, and then also how to. I mean, the most common thing, assign the filter to a separate a dsr and just seeing the difference of how that changes the sound. You know, seeing what different poles of filters will do and how that changes the sound. Um, I don't think that you'd have to get too in depth to know the basic tenets of that. but I do, I do most certainly, um, advise that you know how to, to, to do that. Um, effects is a completely different animal, but again, you know, I, I honestly think that the most I've ever learned from like production is through simply just setting, opening up the device. and just playing with it until I'm like, oh, okay, that's nice. Um, and then you understand how it works and you start to go, oh, okay, rather than watching too many tutorials because there's nothing better than. In field. Yeah, just getting your hands dirty and just doing it. Load a piano sound or something, and then just start slapping on a new reverb and saying, okay, this is a lot more digital sounding and there's more decay time for this, and because of that it gives you nicer drone sounds. You know, you start to sort of get these little opinions that you have of the plugins, like, oh, that's better for drones. A favorite reverb of mine isn't Native Instruments Rom, and I love it because there's the freeze function and the freeze function can allow you to make some great textures. I mean, really, if you wanna make background ambient textures or pad type stuff, you can really create some really nice stuff, freeze it, export it to wave, and then start to manipulate that to your liking. Um, But that's like, again, you know, this is just trial and error. I've came to that conclusion because that's my preference of how I like to use it, but that's a reverb that's got like a 62nd decay time and it, and you would, I mean, a lot of people would probably think, well, well, what the hell would I wanna do that for Well, because if you cut the low end off and you just end up with that nice. That's how you get a lot of those urich sau type, um, dreamy vans sort of things. You know, everyone knows that, you know, reverb, if it's too much low end on the, the EQ of the reverb, you just get mud and you just get a horrible, it's in the mix. But when you cut that out, it obviously allows more breathing space for the whole thing. But that works for long decays, you know, and pads. Um, like little poly sounds, it can just like arpeggiator in particular that just dreamy sort of arps, it adds a nice air to the whole thing and you, you can pull it right back in the mix, but it just creates that nice floating kind of ambience in the background that just makes it feel other worldly.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah, fantastic. A 60, yeah, a 62nd decay. I'm gonna have to look this up. I haven't used that particular plugin, but I love the sound of that cuz much like yourself, I like creating those really sort of ambient and rich textures like you described there. And I think that's something I'll need to have in my, in my weaponry for all you music fanatics out there. Here's a podcast to add your must listen list. Nakedly Examined Music is a podcast about songs and songwriting. In each episode, host Mark Lin Myer speaks with a, so. About three of their songs, which you get to hear in full nakedly Examined music explores what motivates, created decisions at every step of a song's creation. From the initial idea to the final recording, it also provides a picture of how songwriters work has changed over the course of their career. This is an ideal context for introducing you to new music, and you're going to come away from the podcast with many new favorite. You're also gonna learn more about legendary artists, and you'll get filled in on scenes and genres that you always felt like you should know more about. You'll come away, a better listener, and a more inspired creator. Start listening today wherever you listen to your podcasts, or find the show@nakedlyexaminedmusic.com. One question that sprung to mind then, um, whilst you talking is have you ever, like, I've, I've used reactor in the past Native Instruments reactor. I haven't. For quite some time. Have you ever created your own synth and used that in your production? So something like reactor or, I know Max, max msp, I dunno if you'd use that in a production, but maybe something like reactor and, and created your own symptom scratch and used that.

Michael Oakley:

Um, I, I know of reactor, I, I have native instruments contact. Okay. And I have a few of those instruments. I did have absence as well. I mean, they seem to have done quite a few bits and pieces that are like that, but I've never, I mean, in terms of modular, I guess, like building blocks, I'm, it's too time consuming for me. I, I, I just, um, I don't really like to spend too much time, like when I'm trying to create, certainly, Because it gets in the, in the way Yes. Of, of the creative process. But then I also would have to counter that with some people who are musicians, like to make more experimental, progressive, you know, sound morphing based music like ambient music in particular, and. A lot of kind of progressive techno stuff has more of that kind of evolving thing, so that sort of sound works for that. Whereas I'm more about. Melodies and building a something that would constitute a song so that, you know, I have structure where I've got, you know, inverse, pre-chorus, chorus, you know, that sort of thing, a bridge and whatever that I've got going on in, in the track. Whereas if I was doing more experimental and looking at a larger, longer, Thing then I would, I would probably be into that, but it just doesn't appeal to me for my type of, uh, music production, although it is fun.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah, I, I can imagine it is very time consuming. Um, creating it. I remember when I did it and um, I think the end product wasn't, this is way back when the end product wasn't particularly great and I kind of looked at it afterwards and said, I probably could have spent that time a lot better doing something else. But you, you saw live and learn, um, I'm well aware of time here. We're already 40 minutes in and I've still got a raft of questions here. Um, but this is brilliant. I'm loving this. It's right. So, yeah. Yeah. So what, what I think would be quite cool is to maybe, um, I think maybe move on to a bit of the, the, cuz we've talked about synthesizers and whatnot, and maybe delve into a bit more in terms of the DWS that you use. So in what I've picked up on from, from online is that you're using Ableton and a bit of reason now, are you rewiring. Um, for one of our, I think, I think that's what Logic calls it. I dunno if, if other DWS call it that. Um, but maybe, maybe a bit more of why you've opted for Ableton, and I know you said you used Cubase in the past. Um, and maybe why you used reason as well.

Michael Oakley:

Well, when I, when I used Cubase, um, qbi. It was just simply because I had like an old Pentium, you know, this is, we're talking way back in like 1998, you know, that, that, that kind of period when I, I started to build a hardware set up. Um, cause I was just like a kid, you know, I was like 15 or something, making, making, uh, music with whatever gear that I could get my hands on, you know? And, uh, and that I sold all of that. to buy a laptop. This is 2004, and I sold all of that hardware set up to buy a laptop in reason 2.5 and just run a usb, um, controller keyboard. Um, similar to, I mean, almost like the one I've got, you know, here right now. But I, I had, I had. And I actually found that I was way more productive with reason than I was with my hardware setup because the challenges with the hardware setup are you can't. Work on multiple tracks at the same time without having to then recalibrate every single device to to, to the specifications of what that track had. And I was spending 20 minutes setting up hardware for, oh yeah, this song has these settings on the sampler, and then I need to load in., the scuzzy drive of samples in, um, you know, and all that stuff. So I got the, the, the laptop and immediately started to make more music because I could save the session. It was like automatic recall and I would be working on several ideas at the same time, so move to reason. Um, but again, the technology limitations of the. meant that I still could only run like 12 tracks, you know, on this like crap laptop. I mean, it was like technology still hadn't quite caught up unless you had thousands and thousands to spend. And I didn't. So it was, it was literally, again, I was forced with limitations to have to bounce., um, parts and trigger them as wave samples. And, uh, that was, that was interesting. But, uh, but then I got, I got better laptop over the time and I eventually managed to get to afford, um, a MacBook, a MacBook Pro. And uh, and that was it. You know, I was using the latest version of reason at that. and that was what I guess I used for the entire California album was, um, using Propeller Head Reason, which is now Reason Studios. But I, I, I moved over to Ableton for introspect from a second album because the VST support at that time for Propeller Head reason was just, was not good. Um, it was just, Unpredictable. And you know, I, I could only use two instances of review sound, spire. And the thing was, you know, clocking up that it was, the computer was too slow and that wasn't the case because I tried out Ableton and I could load 10 instances of Spire with no problem. And it was still only like 20% cpu. So I, I, I really only switched from. Uh, reason to able to, out of frustration, um, because I couldn't use this, the plugins that I wanted to, I was in the middle of a song working on a track for, for introspect, and I couldn't get any farther ahead because just the, the implementation was really frustrating. So I was, I ended up converting that session over. To Ableton and like I had to bounce all the MIDI and then load in and find the same settings, and I just thought, I'm not going back until this has been fixed. So I'm still un ableton right now. I mean, I love the platform. I think that reasons are wonderful platform. Um, it is incredible that, that there is no software package that offers that amount of tools in one box. Um, for what it does, it is, it is the best for inbox, especially if you're an electronic musician. It has, the way it's laid out is almost like old school, like a rack. With that, that appeared to me. The visual aesthetic of reason is just so. Alluring, you know, you've, your samplers the way they're laid out, and you can use them like an old school sampler and they have the synthesizers laid out in a way, here's your subtractive synthesizer, here's your, um, more additive type synthesizer. Um, and here is a more modular based synthesizer. So they, you know, they catered for different types of things within that program. So it, it still is a phenomenal program and I have used it again, I, I, I rewired it into able., um, and have used some of the, the sounds that way. Um, although I don't, I don't see myself using the platform as my sole platform. And then, Using, uh, external plugins as third party plugins in that, I just think Ableton's a more stable platform for that. Um, but I have such a, a deep love and affinity for a reason because it is just such a wonderful program. Um, but yeah, just the work, the workflow I like better in Ableton. It's just a lot better for working with audio as well, I think. Um, dragging and dropping audio. Chopping audio, um, You know, just working with it. But, um, but yeah, so from that moment on, I've now been a user of Ableton, um, occasionally bringing reason into Ableton if there's any particular things that I want to, to use from that platform.. Marc Matthews: Yeah, I can jump from reason to Ableton. I've used Ableton a bit myself. And you, you're right, that I think in terms of like the, the manipulation capabilities of Ableton, it's so quick. And like the, the flex time, I know logic, they call it flex time. I think it's called something similar in Ableton from when I used it. It's so good. Um, and it doesn't impart artifacts on what you're doing as well, and it's, and it's very intuitive. And you've also got the element whereby, um, I know you do, you, you, you're on the live scene as well. Are you using able. To trigger sounds when you're performing as well? Yeah, I use, I use Ableton, uh, whenever I've done live shows. Um, and it's been solid as a rock. I mean, I've never had a crash or any, uh, issues with the, with the platform. It's very stable. Um, and that was triggering a click track to my drummer and. And, and the guitarist, you know, like sending multiple signals out and things like that, and yeah, it's, it's very stable for that. I mean, the whole concept of Ableton Live was that it was originally conceived as a live performance tool, and then it was, An afterthought that it got used as an actual recording platform. And it's kinda strange how it's morphed into being a recording platform that people happen to use as a live platform . Yeah, because it was actually conceived as the, the opposite of that. Um, yeah. And then I think they just completely changed the platform to suit that ideology.

Marc Matthews:

Yeah. Yeah, I can see that they're kind of pivoted. I, I guess they realize, you know what, if, if we got more producers using this for the actual production element, you probably need to lean into that direction. But going back to what you said about reason, I used Reason five, and I think that was, I'm fairly certain reason five was before you were it, it allowed you to use third party plug-ins. I could be wrong.

Michael Oakley:

They, they just were so late, they were so late to the game with implementing vst and I think that they tried to do rack extensions as their third party plugin. And I think it kind of, it, it was kind of fun for a little while., but I just didn't think that that ecosystem was gonna be a long term work because when, I mean the game changed so much. I mean, I think a lot of what made reason very, very, um, alluring to people to use was the fact that this, uh, is the most CPU efficient program. So, you know, if you've got a med level, Pc, you know, uh, then you can run this platform very, very well. You know, it's such a great ecosystem. It's very economical with your CPU and ram. Whereas what happened was technology got to a point where, you know, Your default home computer now has a quad core processor, so you know. Yeah. So it's like you, that now is not really a factor in people's minds where they're like, oh, I need to save cpu, you know, because this might not run, you know? Now people don't have that. Concern and, and I just think that propeller head were way too late to the game in implementing VST into that platform. Especially when you had things like Omni coming out and all these great third party software plugins that people wanted to use. You know, people wanted to use the co legacy software like M one and, and I just think they were a little, a little slow to, to catch up to that. You know, I don't, I, I think it hurt them.. Marc Matthews: Yeah, I would said earlier with regards to, cause I, I can't remember the, the actual keyboard shortcut, but you can flip it round with a reason, can't you? You can see the rewiring on the back and you can actually start moving and rip and patching things together, which I thought was amazing when I was starting out. And I think it was the synthesizer of thought, I think it was called thought that came with reason. I loved that when I was starting out. I mean, that was a great tool to start out with. Um, it still sounds great. Yeah, it does. It. I haven't used it. Does it still sound good? It's wonderful. It really is. It's, um, it still has a certain quality characteristic, which you think you're impressed by when you hear it. Um, but I think that the other ones maybe haven't aged so well, you know, subtract or, um, oh yeah. And, uh, Mouser.

Marc Matthews:

Oh, that was, yes. Yes. I remember. Yeah, man, I haven't used those in years. It's one of those ones where I, I shouldn't like, I mean, I could make time. I'd love to go back and, and look at reason again and start using it. Cuz I know I've spoken to a few producers that, that use it. Um, but it's great to hear that your first album was done solely with reason. I I wasn't aware of that. I, I think that's amazing. That's that's

Michael Oakley:

brilliant. Most of my friends were using Reason. Yeah. And.. And with each update they got angrier and more frustrated. And they felt, they felt, they felt, I mean, I, I can remember the moment when they announced VST implementation, but they didn't give, uh, VST three, I think it was, it was one of them. They were only able to get one layer of vst. I think it was VST two, but they didn't offer VST three. And again, it was a sort of, , give us VST and give us it properly. You know, we're paying for an update here and most of my friends who no longer now use reason and they were like die hard fanatics of reason. They were religiously like fanboy of reason. They switched because they were so angry at paying for an update and then they felt that they had been shortchanged too many times. And I can understand why, because I was, I felt frustrated. I felt like the updates that they had, uh, put out there just really came up short. You know, they, they should have given us VST 10 years before that they announced it, the.

Marc Matthews:

Beard, isn't it? You'd think, I think as an organization they, they'd look at the landscape and think, you know what? These other companies are doing this and they're seeing that success and, but I dunno the power's the be and the decisions they make. But yeah, like I say, a bit late to the game. Um, Michael, once again, we're almost at the hour mark here and then we're, we're, this is fantastic . I, I've still got so many question. Make sure you check out next week's episode, episode 55 of the Inside The Mix podcast for Michael Oakley, part two.

Michael Oakley:

This is Tim Benson, AKA R nine. My favorite episode of Inside The Mix podcast is episode 40 with Zach Vortex. I really love this one is it gives a real insight into Zach's own work ethic, his music, how he markets himself and manages to balance all of this with his family life.

Behind the music: Michael Oakley
What is preproduction and why is it important for a songwriter?
Why sound design is important
How complicated plugins affect workflow
What is sound design? The essential elements
How do professionals make synth sounds?
Reason vs Ableton: Which is the better DAW?

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