Producing a Track with Reveal Sound Spire, Arturia V Collection | Reverb Software Pick with Adam Pickrell

A time-honored task for learning all the possibilities of an instrument and your own playing is to develop a kind of program of objective-based music creation with a set of guidelines and frameworks for each project, concept, or instrument—an étude.

This type of composition technique has been taught and practiced in Western music tradition for hundreds of years. An étude—the French word for study—is a musical form that addresses the teaching of a technique through performance or a compositional assignment based around voluntarily implemented restrictions.

The objective of these exercises is to train the participant to learn a muscle memory that may have a better result as a memorable part or composing a piece of music for the sole purpose of restricting endless possibility, forcing the composer to creatively invent something with very limited musical devices.

Some of these composers' "studies" went on to become iconic works of art, as well as standard repertoire of Western music, such as Claude Debussy's masterpiece take on the musical format, with his Études Books I & II.

As it's been said, necessity is the mother of invention...

A Reverb Music Software Étude

The guest artist contributors to the Software Pick series are tasked with similar feat for this Reverb Étude. The task is to create an entire composition based around one or two software instruments and/or processors. With no question as to what devices you have to work with, you can concentrate of being creative and not overwhelmed with the infinite amount of music software products, brands, and plugins to distract you from your potential. This is a practice I suggest everyone try with some regularity; it forces creative resourcefulness, in turn making you a better critical thinker.

This week's Software Pick guest artist comes from a friend and colleague, Mr. Adam Pickrell.

Adam Pickrell (Photo Credit: Brent Baxter)

No stranger to Reverb, Adam and Reverb produced an extensive vintage keyboard shootout last year at his Dallas studio, The Analog Ranch. Reverb also partnered with Adam to produce launch day video content for Arturia's announcement of their stunning V Collection 6 software instrument bundle.

Professionally, Mr. Pickrell is a sought-after studio musician and keyboardist. His work has been featured alongside artists such as John Congleton, Astronautalis, Ximena Sariñana, and he's played keyboards on St. Vincent's Grammy award-winning self-titled 2014 album. In 2015, Adam was brought in to be Nelly Furtado's touring music director after many keyboard recording sessions on her most recent full-length effort, The Ride.

Adam first chose a product he wasn't familiar with—a contemporary polyphonic synth from a company that only makes this one product—the Reveal Sound Spire. He then test drove the new Waves Abbey Road Chambers reverb plugin, employed the Arturia Stage-73 V Fender Rhodes emulation, and featured Antares' highly lauded Auto-Tune EFX 3.

Keep reading to hear straight from Adam Pickrell how he employed the software to create the Reverb Exclusive original demo track, "Absolution," with trumpeter and singer Daniel Hardaway.

Whenever I buy a new instrument or software, especially if I haven't played it before, I like to dig around in it for a while, before I start writing music. This allows me to feel it out, as every instrument is different and the many nuances of each are why we love them so much. I am always trying to find these unique aspects within an instrument.

Reveal Sound Spire Interface

Reveal Sound Spire is a multidimensional polyphonic synthesis tool. Arriving fully loaded with a large offering of sounds and textures, Spire comes with 800 stock presets to choose from. This allowed me to get creative with this synth very quickly, which was one of the main highlights of this product.

Featuring five oscillators, including four multimode poly-morphing oscillators, Spire's interface integration to edit and mix sounds is laid out very intuitively. They really nailed their objective of making this virtual instrument look, feel, sound, and navigate like a hardware unit.

Reveal Sound Spire Interface

The unison engine allows for up to nine voices per oscillator, enabling unprecedented polyphonic control over the entire synth. I was extraordinary impressed with the harmonic content of most of the brass, pads and bass tones, which I used quite a few of the pads from Spire for this track. Many of these dense aural tapestries are reminiscent of Oberheim's iconic sonic characteristics, in regards to the textures and emotive content.

The easily accessible and extremely utilitarian effects options on this synth are another benchmark for Spire's appeal and functional design layout. Both the on-board reverb and delay sound excellent, allowing you to actually do a lot of sound designing directly in-app. This is a highly efficient use of time as a producer, as you can save the settings you like for recall at any time. The interactive nature of the arpeggiator is another well thought out feature, again, with a very intuitive interface integration inside the plugin, allowing you to dial in your arp on-the-fly with ease.

After getting a solid feel for this synthesizer, I was now ready to dive into writing a song with it, highlighting some features and sounds that inspired me.

Reveal Sound Spire Interface

I used to make house music almost exclusively for many years, including leading a popular live house music ensemble, The White Lotus Society, and have always been apart of the house music culture in Dallas and beyond. Producing this track was a welcomed project for me to revisit making house music again, as it's been a little bit and is truly my roots.

I've been inspired by the house music sound coming out of South Africa for the last decade. Fundamentally centered around afro-futurist ethos, South Africa has been consuming house music for a long time. However, it's been in the last 5 to 10 years that they have codified a distinctly unique sound of record production that is uniquely their own. Incorporating elements of traditional afro-beat—pioneered by Fela Kuti and Africa '70—then collaging those traditional syncopated polyrhythms with modern electronic synth sounds, this South African musical aesthetic caught my ear right away.

Harnessing elements of the past, while running full speed into the future, this music culture has always paid homage to it's forefathers. A genre that shows respect to the sound and generation that gave birth it is a culture and not just a genre. Musical trends and artists come and go, but music cultures endure. This authentic cultural movement can be felt and heard through the records and sets of some of the sound's more well known artists, such as Black Coffee, DJ Oskido, Nozinja, DJ Cleo, Culoe De Song, alongside many others.

Arturia Stage-73 V

Spire's broad range of synth sounds allowed me to explore this musical ethos effortlessly. I wrote almost all the parts for this song with Spire, including the multiple synth pads, leads, bass, plucks, and effect transitions. I included four of those sound sets in the Reverb presets folder. Next, I employed my go-to Rhodes emulation, when I don't have access to a real one, the Arturia Stage-73 V. Which is really just amazing, the folks at Arturia are truly leaders in the state-of-the-art of virtual synthesis technology. I used three different Rhodes sounds for the three separate sections, those presets are also included in the Reverb presets folder. I made the drums in Native Instruments performance drum sampler plugin, Battery.

While producing my own records, as well as other artists that contract me, including working professionally as a top call keyboard session player for everyone from Kimbra, Astronautalis, Ximena Sariñana, St. Vincent, to Nelly Furtado, I meet quite a few freelancing musical professionals, much like myself.

For this song, I brought in one such exceptional and accomplished artist, the very talented Daniel Hardaway. Daniel is a vocalist, trumpet player, and songwriter whose trumpet work can be heard on Buttons by Mac Miller and Tyler The Creator's Cherry Bomb full-length effort. Once the beat, synths, bass, and melodic ideas were taking shape, it was time for Daniel to swing by.

Antares Auto-Tune EFX 3

Daniel is a total pro, just after we wrote the song together, he tracked his vocals and trumpet parts on the the same session and was out the door before dinner.

Now that I had all the parts in place, I just needed a once over arrangement proof and then I got to dive into post-prod mixing and corrective processing, including one of my essential processors I live by for vocals—and, in that case, horns as well—he Antares Auto-Tune EFX 3.

A useful tool for anybody in the business of tracking vocalists, the EFX 3 is a stripped down, and cheaper version of their flagship product, the Antares Auto-Tune Pro. You can get the trademark "auto-tune" effect out of this thing, as well as perform a myriad of corrective processing, including real time pitch correction via their Retune Speed and Humanize controls, offering up even more realistic corrective processing.

With a sticker price less than half of the full Auto-Tune 8 Suite, this is a deal of a deal if you just need the standard features from Antares. I used this creatively on the vocals and the trumpet, which I included these settings in the Reverb presets folder.

Waves Abbey Road Chambers

Lastly, I got to try out a new reverb plugin from the juggernauts of DSP over at Waves Audio. They just released the next plugin in their highly successful Abbey Road product line with the Abbey Road Chambers reverb plugin. Developed in partnership directly Abbey Road Studios, this reverb design tool models the exact echo chamber used by Abbey Road's pop engineers to create exciting reverbs, delays and other unique spatial effects on countless classic recordings by the Beatles and beyond.

As great of a story as that is, I really just care about if I can get great sounds out of it, which I did and quickly! Stocked up with a ton of presets for almost any type of room, plate, or chamber reverb tone you can think of, this visualized GUI design for modifying presets and designing your own takes what should be a lot more complicated process and streamlines it. I used this for spatial processing on almost all elements in this production as having lots of space around much of the musical content is a tenant of the South African style. Some sound settings I used form this session are including in the Reverb presets folder.

Check out the demo track Adam Pickrell made below, along with the individual instrument tracks. Grab the free "Absolution" Reverb exclusive presets, featuring a total of 14 presets for all the products profiled in this software pick. Pick up the demo track and all of the parts posted for free with any purchase of Reveal Sound Spire, Waves Abbey Road Chambers, Arturia Stage-73 V, or Antares Auto-Tune EFX 3.

For more information on Adam Pickrell, check out his website, here.

Reverb Exclusive Track
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