A reader asked me if I knew about any websites with information about New Age music production. I told her about New Age Piano Lessons, The Elements Piano Book and the eHow.com article on the subject – and of course the forums at the New Age music Circle. But it really didn’t cover vital information about home studios and synths. So I decided to write an article about what I know about New Age music production. It is written for beginner level, but advanced users may find something of interest as well.
Reading the book New Age Musicians from 1989 one get the feeling that something is about to change in terms of music equipment. In the book artists like Tangerine Dream and Patrick o’Hearn tell that pro and semi-pro equipment is quickly getting cheaper and more powerful, and the whole recording process is less dependent on labels and studio time. Home computers could do more and more. Today artists can record broadcast quality music on mobile phones, USB sticks and just anything that contains a CPU.
There is another change here too; not long ago your musical expression was dependent on the instruments you could play live.Today you, the artist, have access to all sounds imaginable. If you can think it, you can compose it; it is already there, one click away. There is, in other words, extreme creative freedom here.
It is mostly a good thing to have access to such a massive amount of sounds. But it takes time to get an overlook, and you sit there thinking that you got to search more to find a better sound for your project. 20 years ago you had to adjust your project to the sounds available, not the other way around.
To DAW or not to DAW
In music production today, the cornerstone is the Digital Audio Workstation – better known as DAW. Even if you mainly play acoustic guitars, you will find yourself clicking away to find a drum beat, reverb filter or for recording segments for later reference. There are many artists, especially in our genre, that don’t leave the DAW (or should I say office chair) at all. Example of DAWs are Cubase, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Orion Studio and many others.
One philosophical question to ask before moving further is; what is the value of recorded music? Even though a well equipt DAW can cost many thousand dollars, there are so many fantastic free tools and instruments available. Millions of people use DAWs to publish music. The truth is that recorded music has little value these days. The only thing that has value is your talent. If you can compose great music and can find an audience for it, you are an artist. The term recording artist has little meaning today. Just because your music is recorded and made available for sale online, doesn’t give it relevance. When you create art, you always battle between your own ambitions, the quality of the finished product and the society’s receival. Believe it or not, but this is also the case in New Age music. Your talent, both in terms of creation and marketing, will decide if you become a successful artist.
With that out of the way, I will focus on perhaps the most interesting aspect of modern music production; the VST (Virtual Studio Technology). VST as a concept and software was released by the company Steinberg, who also produces the DAW Cubase. Think of the VST as an app that runs inside the DAW, giving the user access to a number of sounds. These sounds can also be modulated inside the VST, by other VSTs (usually filters) or the DAW itself.
Play it like a Piano
If you connect a midi keyboard, you can hit the notes and chords on it and you’ll get the corresponding sounds from the VST module. If you load a piano VST, you suddenly have a complete home piano. This is of course very basic, but finding the right DAW is important, even if you choose to use no or very few VST synths and other effects.
One last comment about the perhaps most important “instrument” (or layer) In New Age music; the synth pad. A pad is a sustained chord or note (see Wikipedia article here). It plays the same role here as strings does in classical music. The synth pad is like a canvas; its base color effects the whole piece. The pad gives atmosphere and depth to allmost all songs in our genre.
VSTs for New Age music
If you want to produce New Age music, almost any VST synth will do. A high number of synths are inspired by classic hardware synths, like Moog‘s and Roland‘s. So if you want to compose music that is inspired by Tangerine Dream or early computers, a retro sounding synth will cover your needs. All current DAWs have one or more retro synths installed.
It is actually a bit funny that producing and recording music have become so easy – while promoting and selling music today have become so hard.
But the most interesting question is; which VST is best for New Age music? I have spoken with many artists over the last few years, and Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere is the one software synth that is always mentioned. There are some excellent sound banks available for this synth, both included and for purchase separately. The pads are rich and deep, and give that ethereal New Age-y sound without the need of additional synth layers or loud bass. The high number of pads, keys and leads (and the possibility to mix them) makes Omnisphere into a corner stone in any synth set up.
Another synth worth mentioning here is Alchemy from Camelaudio (its predecessor was called Cameleon 5000). It has a high number of excellent pads, and it is easy to mix new and interesting soundscapes by combining ready-made pads.
There are few custom made VSTs and sound banks for New Age music. That is not a problem, since almost any electronic soundbank can be used to create music in our genre. But there is one soundbank that I have to mention; Art-Vera.com has both a VST called Golden Aset and a soundbank which is included in the Wusikstation pack. This is a collection of very rich pads, various synth instruments and sound effects. You could most likely spend a whole career creating album after album with the Art Vera sound banks, because the selection of instruments is so big. It is also a statement that even a single VST gives you great power in terms of creation. You don’t necessary need 20 synths for each song, or spend $ 399 on that new VST, because what you already have included in the DAW will take you a long way on your musical journey.
Recorded music has little value these days. The only thing that has value is your talent. If you can compose great music and can find an audience for it, you are an artist.
Lastly I will mention that there are millions of samples and sound effects to choose from available on the Internet – both free and paid (usually as .wav files). You can also record voices samples and other sounds to use in the DAW. Most if not all modern synth software allow the loading and playback of .wav files.
It is actually a bit funny that producing and recording music have become so easy – while promoting and selling music today have become so hard. But that is another story (see my article about music promotion here). Here I have focused on the enormous freedom that is in music production today. The negative aspect, from a commercial standpoint, is the extreme number of artists out there. But creating music is a great hobby. As long as you are your no. 1 fan you are OK.
Top Picture Copyright BigStockPhoto – Mishoo