Tools of the Trade

Periodically I will get asked what type of hardware and software Dorian Green uses to record and produce music. The answer of course depends on what track or album we are talking about. Some music is made using analog instruments and outboard gear while some is made “inside the box,” meaning purely on a computer. My earliest experience in recording was receiving Pro Tools software when I was 18 years old. Home recording was really starting to take off around this time and the previous decade to where for $1000-2000 you could record in your home something that before would have cost tens of thousands worth of studio time. This is an incredibly powerful tool for an 18 year old musician to have, and like most other opportunities I didn’t fully immerse myself in it until a few years later.  I used Pro Tools to record some college band demos, and eventually got fluid enough with it to record the A Symmetry demos. The final version of A Symmetry was recorded mostly in a studio, with some parts done in my home studio and the files moved back and forth on an external hard drive. Then there was editing. Hundreds of hours of editing. This is less than ideal and should be necessary for a typical album, though you can read earlier posts from the site to understand the challenges of that particular album. With all that said, I still use Pro Tools for the majority of rock-band oriented recording, i.e. anything played and recorded with real instruments. Pro Tools has some issues and the company has historically frustrated many people with their licensing policies, but haters gonna hate, and it is still the standard in most studios around the world as far as I know.

Somewhere during the A Symmetry demo process I got exposed to another digital-audio workstation (DAW) software called Ableton Live (with Ableton being the company, Live the name of the software). This opened up a whole new world of possibilities of new digital instruments, and the layout of the software is different, which allows you to approach creation from a different perspective, always a good thing. Ableton uses two different views, one of which matches the standard horizontal view in most other DAWs like Pro Tools, but another view more vertically oriented to where you can mix and match different sections, or keep one section playing on loop while changing around and improvising on another section. Ableton Live is now fairly ubiquitous and used by the majority of DJs, something that is easier than ever since the software is capable of matching tempos and transposing keys. The software is intuitive enough that a beginner can learn very quickly, but advanced enough that professionals with other options still use it to create. Ableton Live is unique in its ability to be used as a live performance tool.

Additionally, I use a software synthesizer by the company Propellerhead called Reason. Reason is recording software like the others, but its primary offering is being a giant instrument rack, ranging from drum sounds to string pads to wild piercing leads. I use Reason within Ableton Live, so have the primary song structure and controls set up in Live and pipe Reason instruments into that. One other neat thing about Reason is it contains a visual emulation of an actual “instrument rack.” It visually displays the instruments you are using, and also allows you to view the backside with virtual wires you can connect to a virtual mixer or other instruments. It’s pretty incredible and good for a confusing headache if you have a session with lots of instruments and effects. Or maybe I just need to be better organized.

None of this is to claim superiority of these softwares over others. Plenty of producers use Reaper, Logic, even GarageBand can be used effectively by people who know what they’re doing. In fact, over a decade’s worth of producing and software experience have taught me one important thing: There is no right way to produce music, just the outcome. If it sounds good, it is good. Sure there are more effective ways than others, but you could use just about any of the softwares I have mentioned here and several others to achieve many of the same things that would ultimately be indistinguishable. Find the one that works best for you. Get to know the tools you have before moving on to a new one. Most importantly, you can read all you want about different types of music production software, but your ears are the most powerful tool you will ever have.

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