Did I mention that it's for Propellerhead Software Reason 7? Hmm, Reason 8 is out on 30 Sept. And did I reveal that I flirt with Reason, but use another DAW for most of my work? So it was with predudice and disdain that I sat down to discover how to create a song in a genre I know little about. This series has its work cut out...
First impressions are good, however. Al Swettenham has a clear voice, takes the time to explain what he's doing. He lets you listen to the result and, for the most part, paces things so you don't get bored, but are not lurching for the pause button every five seconds. Given that Al has done a number of videos for Groove 3 dealing with a number of VSTs (I reviewed Monark Explained a while back), you can safely deduce that Reason isn't the only DAW he uses.
That, and given the common assertion that 'Reason is a toy, unlike my DAW', my first concern was as to how well he actually knows or respects Reason. As you progress through the videos, the answer appears to be 'pretty damn well', which is encouraging. Very sensibly, he refrains from using third-party Rack Extensions for all the important stuff, so you don't need to fork out on them or download trial versions. Kong, Thor and NN-XT get a good workout to the extent that this series makes for a refresher/hints-and-tips course.
We start using Kong to lay down the drum track, which is sensible given that intricate drum patterns are key to trap (as I've learned). It's actually a nice little tutorial about building a Kong kit and I had a couple of 'ah..!' moments. Then sample-mangling using NN-XT and, again, 'ah..!'. Thor is used quite a bit for various growls and laser spikes - 'ah..!' again, then neighbours started banging on the walls, so I had to stop 'ah-ing'. Puritanical lot.
I would have liked a few general mixing tips after the final arranging chapter, but that's me wishing it could be just as much about mixing as it is about trap, so Al hasn't strayed from his remit. Actually there's a nice bit about New York compression at the end of the drum section, which is very useful. But we're making trap, not learning how to use Reason, and that's quite a task since the genre is relatively 'phresh' (?), experimental and hasn't had time to calcify into a series of obligatory sounds and fixed song structures. When it does, we can call it 'trapstep'.
Having said that, there are certain things you expect within the genre, Al is aware of them and he takes us through a selection as the tutorials progress. It provides a starting point for your own experiments which, given the fluid nature of the music, is as it should be and way more refreshing than the 'You have to have X bars at the start of every trance anthem for the dj to sync' mantra. This series' best point is that it gives you pointers on how to fly, rather than nailing you down.
So here comes my apology to the author and publisher. This series of tutorials contains a slew of techniques and advice that's relevant not just to trap, but to any other form of modern electronic music. It's the style of journey I most appreciate, by which techniques like how to beef up a Thor sound are revealed as and when they are needed - learning on the job, with 'ah..!' moments.
The focus on devices that come with Reason means that one gains new respect for trusty old devices, such as Scream, rather than lusting after yet more Rack Extensions. As for it being based on Reason 7, I seriously doubt Reason 8 will change how trap is made.
Unless the announced workflow improvements make following along with these tutorials impossible, this series is going to be every bit as relevant for Reason 8 as for its predecessor. As for trap... I'm writing this while listening to a compilation I bought from iTunes. How middle-aged is that?
This series made me try something of which I admit I was both ignorant and dismissive. And now I keep hearing things in the tracks that I can reference from the tutorials that Al has taken me through. So, a successful encounter, then. May the collaboration between Al Swettenham and Groove 3 long continue. He knows Reason, he knows how to make electronic music and he knows how to teach. Triple-plus good.
FellKlang collaborator Simon Foster, Drippy Cat Software Ltd
*Groove 3 Monark Explained is on offer at $30 ($35 reg) for the download version.