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Why I Love... My Setup

Oliver Jones
By Oliver Jones

Photo of author's minimalist studio setup.

"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...

Published January 2019