"I have resisted the explosion in modular, monosynths, polysynths and gizmos... because of the lack of focus they inflict."
I was born in 1970 and my first real brush with music production was working as a recording engineer in Bristol. I started making tea and buying cigarettes for Portishead during the recording of Dummy. Off the back of my trip-hopping, I moved to work in London in 1994 and could afford to build my own studio. Some of you will remember the sort of gear that was available at the time — I had a big Soundcraft desk, Akai S3000, ADAT and Atari. Fast‑forward to 2018 and, when not organising a music festival (Deer Shed), I dabble. But these days my setup takes up much less space.
I have resisted the explosion in modular, monosynths, polysynths and gizmos not because of lack of funds, but because of the lack of focus they inflict. I am trying to write 'clever pop' music — think 'Once In A Lifetime' by Talking Heads. So I use Ableton, and sometimes Reaper. I have a Push 2, a desktop PC, a first‑gen Focusrite 18i8, some small Genelecs, a AKG C1000 microphone, my guitar and bass. Everything else I have ever owned has gone to eBay.
But despite the size of this setup I feel an almost limitless power and capability. Bass, guitar and mic are permanently plugged in, all within arm's reach, with my mic on a desk stand. My guitar goes into Bias Amp, bass into Ableton's multi-dynamics and drums are provided by EZdrummer 2. I have taught myself to finger drum and I can sound like a full kick‑ass band without leaving my nice, solid wooden chair.
When Ableton's weaknesses come into play (lack of comping and easy tempo mapping) I switch to Reaper. But I do not want to lose Ableton's benefits so I use Reaper's ReaRoute, an ASIO driver which means I can internally route from Reaper into Ableton and back out again. This works very reliably and doesn't seem to impact latency.
We all struggle with gear lust, but whenever I read a review of some gorgeous polysynth (the OB‑6 for example) I spend some time with u-he's Diva soft synth and the desire subsides. The benefits of total recall are very hard to give up.
Most of the time, when writing, I turn off my PC screen and just work with the Push. I can save using Crtl+S if Live is in focus. Only renaming stuff draws me back to the screen's on/off switch.
Working by myself, multi‑instrumentally, I love the Push implementation of the session view — I love that I can record into any clip slot on any instrument by just hitting a pad. I love the new Capture feature in Live 10 that will capture a drum loop that I've finger drummed in, work out the tempo and do a remarkable job of keeping the unquantized feel. I love that Bias Amp sounds as good as my Deluxe Reverb, at least within the limits of what is acceptable in our family house. And I love EZdrummer 2. Drum machines didn't finish off drummers but EZD2 coupled with finger drumming skills just might!
I only wish I could take it with me on the train, though the new Surface Go with Live and touch‑control app Yeco is currently messing with my mind and wallet...