Michael Oakley is a Scottish electronic musician whose retro sounding music is a love letter to 1980's synth-pop. Described as "melancholic postcards from the heart wrapped up in synthesisers and drum machines", his debut album California was released fall 2017 to critical acclaim from The Huffington Post and NewRetroWave.
We took some time off Michael's hands to talk a bit about how he works with his music in Reason.
What's your favorite thing in Reason 10?
Without a doubt my favourite new addition to Reason 10 is the Grain Sample Manipulator. It makes granular synthesis so easy and accessible. The possibilities are endless and I particularly like loading in vocal samples and creating lush pads or rhythmic textures. Using it makes me feel like what I imagine it must have felt like to use a Fairlight CMI for the first time all those years ago in terms of having endless possibilities for sample manipulation and new sound creation. It's so much fun to use.
"The possibilities are endless"
How do you get started with a new song? What sparks your creativity?
Prior to writing I spend time creating my own soundbank which is basically a folder on my desktop with all my favourite patches from various Reason Refills that I have or sounds I have created from scratch. I have them all categorised into subfolders like bass, pads, analog poly, leads. One of my favourite things about using Reason is that you can save sounds from different instruments into the same folder and browse through easily.
I usually find by browsing through all my hand picked favourite sounds that inspiration usually comes quickly. I like to create a mood and work with that. I then go to my piano and develop the chords/melody until I have a structure and go back to Reason to score things out more clearly.
What's the best music making tip you ever got?
Enjoy what you're doing and always make music for the love of doing it. People relate to that and can feel that energy when they listen to your music regardless of wether they like it or not. Sincerity is the best instrument you can put in your music for sure.
"Enjoy what you're doing and always make music for the love of doing it"
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
I like to group things together in Reason and then use the Scream 4 Tape setting to glue everything in each group. I use Scream 4 on everything nearly. It's my most used effects unit. It's so versatile.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
1. Scream 4: I'm surprised this isn't available as a VST because it's the best effects unit I've used in any program. I use it to tape compress things, I use it to make lead sounds pop with the overdrive setting, I use it to bit crush drums or bass sounds and make them sound crunchy. I couldn't live without this!
2. Thor: When this got added to Reason 4.0 I was super excited. I love the different oscillator options and programming capabilities. I would challenge anyone to name an analog or digital synthesizer sound that can't be created in Thor. It just sounds fantastic.
3. RV7000: I use at least three of these on the main mixer's auxiliary channels. It's great for simple room reverb just to soften and give a sense of space, but is also amazing for really long spacious effects on pad sounds. I also love the DRM 80s gated plate preset for my drum machine sounds.
What do you do when inspiration just isn't there?
In those moments it's usually either time to listen to some new music and discover something which moves me, or get a new Reason Refill and play through some new patches until I find a something I like. Sometimes it requires taking a break as I have been guilty in the past of spending too many hours staring at a computer screen.
What’s your all-time favorite album?
Endless Summer – The Midnight