How long have you been into music?
Hi Morgan, thank you for taking the time to give us an insight into your workflow. How long have you been into music? When and how did you start
I've been making music for over 20 years now. I started very early when I was around 12 years old. Back then, I put together a basic computer setup - a Tandy computer with tracker software. As the computers got better and better, my setup grew. I started with an Akai MPC 2000 and an Emu e6400. I started with drum computers and manual sequencers, later the whole thing became more and more software-intensive.
How do you get inspired? How do you start a composition? Are you the type who knows exactly how a song should sound in the end, or do you compose and develop a song during production?
For me, the right way to get inspiration is to just start. Start with a single chord or a series of chords. Just to have a way to start the process and not think about how the tracks are structured, which template I'm using, etc. I just want to start and get the creative flow going very quickly. And when I'm working on a song, it keeps changing as I work on it. I have very casual templates that I work with when arranging. Just to structure how many bars there are for each section.
But I really have no idea what the final shape will be. Often times I leave it open enough for a remixer to make a more club-friendly version. Then maybe I'll do an acoustic mix. Most of the time I start with round about 128bpm and test until I find the right pace. It often takes a while to find the right tempo for a track. You have to pay attention to what the track needs.
Do you play one or more instruments yourself? Did you have lessons or did you teach yourself everything?
I think it's important to learn a few instruments. But also to try it out to overcome the "muscle memory" and the typical comfort points. I learned to play the piano. Took piano lessons for a couple of years. Not too many when I was a little kid. I just love being able to immerse myself in the music without the dry theory being a big part of it. At the moment I'm spending more time studying music theory to see why things work - a kind of reverse engineering.
At the moment I'm also doing a lot of guitars. When I just start playing, there are often really interesting melodies around. I just test different chord progressions, different ways of playing things on the fretboard. A whole world of possibilities opens up.
Are you trying to find new harmonies for a remix, or are you sticking to the original chords of the song?
When I do a remix, it's all about creating chord voicings that work well with the lead vocals if it's a track with vocals. I recently remixed Deadmau5 for Imaginary Friends. It was a remix of one of his own songs. I did an orchestral mix with no vocals, which was a challenge. I could only work with string samples. In the end it was a really cool restriction for the track, just editing and filtering the strings and using them as samples.
Typically, however, I want to make a new chord progression that surrounds the vocals and gives it support.
How is your setup Which software, instruments, plugins and apps do you use in the studio or for composing? Do you have any tips for other producers?
Right now my setup is all about Ableton Live. I also have a bit of analog equipment. For example, some Avalon devices such as a 737 and 1176 Clone from Purple Audio. I track everything through Universal Audio Apollo.
But over the years I have reduced my setup. Less stuff - better stuff. Just to keep it small. Less things that can cause errors.
On the synth side, I have a couple of Dave Smith machines, a Prophet, an OB-6, and a Moog Voyager. I have a real piano, an old Steinway that's about 70 years old. I use that mostly for writing, and then I have some cheap guitars and some bass to get the songwriting going.
In terms of software, I use a lot of Universal Audio Plugins, a lot of Waves, FabFilter. I love things like RC-20 for the mix. I really love all the Cableguys plugins for sidechaining which is such a big part of dance music. I use VolumeShaper inside ShaperBox 2. It's a great suite of plugins that go together just great.
In terms of soft synthetics, I love zebra. I love the "Dark Knight" Preset Pack (It's so good!). Diva is great. I use Wavetable within Ableton. A bit massive now and then, and of course I love Tonaly for the fact that it often gets my creative process going.
By the way: In addition to my usual "daily work", I also have a website with free tips for musicians. You should definitely check out mpquicktips.com!
How do you work with Tonaly? How do you integrate the app into your workflow?
I use Tonaly in a very simple way. Just to get the process going. I try different chords and different cadences to see what appeals to me, what makes the "creative juice" flow. There is so much the app can do! There is a lot of functionality built in under the hood. I only use the tip of the iceberg. But I think it's super useful to use the circle of fifths to "play around". And it helps to narrow down harmonic possibilities.
I can imagine that you mainly use the "songwriting" mode of the app, or do you also use the "scales" and "keys" mode of the app?
I use both, and ironically, I don't use the songwriting part that much. For me it is a tool to try things out quickly and to advance the development of a song. I use the app in a very "manual" way.
The Tonaly app is regularly improved and expanded. What are you missing in the app? What would you wish?
One big thing I really want is more integration with DAWs. So that I can drag and drop samples and then organize them around the circle of fifths. So things are limited to the chords within the key so that everything sounds good. That would be really cool to see. There is so much to experiment with and so many ways to use it.
Thank you Morgan! I'm planning a macOS version for Tonaly with stronger MIDI integration. Stay tuned!
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