The way we used to do it (or what to use to make authentic sounding House Music – Part 2)

The Way We Used To Do It?

It was simple, using the hardware that was available at the time. You’ve got to realise that in the 90s we didn’t have software instruments like we have today. We relied on expensive, large and cumbersome electronic devices to make tracks. The typical studio used to look like this:

  • Sampler (for lifting sounds from vinyl or other sound sources)
  • Drum Machine (for creating beats)
  • Analog Synth (for basslines and leads)
  • FM Synth (see above)
  • Workstation/Rack (for ‘bread and butter’ sounds such as acoustic/electric piano, strings, vibes, pads etc)
  • Mixer (for blending the signal of multiple devices)
  • Multi FX Devices (for adding Reverb, Delay, Mod FX etc)
  • Outboard (for Compressing/Limiting/EQ etc)

Most hardware mixers had a maximum of 6 aux send and returns (used for feeding the signal to and from effects devices such as reverb) and this forced the simplistic approach. Almost every studio I worked in during the 90s had a rack of 6 effects devices to serve the desk. Often we would bring the return signal back onto the mixer for more creative control (ie feeding the delay signal back into itself) The low number of instruments and effects led to a stripped down, pure and potent piece of music. Often the typical track would include a small but nevertheless powerful collection of core ingredients:

  • Drums
  • Percussion
  • Bassline
  • Chords
  • Key Riff/Melody
  • Vocal
  • A Reverb or two
  • A Delay/Modulation Effect or two

So what would we expect to use for these? Basically there was a small choice available and this led to many producers having the same kit, thus forging the sonic template. Plenty of you today will consider this a negative fact as many strive for individuality (and that’s no bad thing) however, the whole point of this post is to look to the past and then offer contemporary solutions for recreating the vibe.

Drum Machines

  • Roland TR909
  • Alesis HR/SR16
  • Boss DR660
  • Yamaha RY30

Analog Synths

  • Roland Juno 106
  • Roland SH101

FM Synths

  • Yamaha DX7
  • Yamaha DX11 (also popular for Detroit Techno)
  • Yamaha DX100 (see above)

Workstation/Rack(these used short samples with envelopes and filters to create sound)

  • Korg M1 (the ultimate club cliche – organ bass, house piano etc)
  • Roland D50
  • Korg Wavestation (for evolving pads and atmospheric textures)
  • Yamaha TG500 (for a multitude of sounds)
  • Roland JV1080 (a late 90s addition but used a lot)

A small selection of the above will provide you with the staple ingredients of a good solid club track. You will recognise many of the sounds if you are familiar with the type of House Music i’m talking about. If you are building a hardware studio get this gear if you can, but most of you will be looking for the modern equivalent in software form and that’s what’s coming in part three.

For more research on the hardware i’ve discussed above please visit these sites: