Featured Artist Adam Schneider
SEQUENTIAL INTERVIEW – ADAM SCHNEIDER
Adam Schneider is a sound designer, composer, and producer based outside of Boston, Massachusetts. For the last decade he’s been creating sounds and music for video game and musical instrument companies, and has worked on brands that include XCOM, Skylanders, Marvel, Transformers, Akai, Alesis, and SONiVOX. Adam also creates energetic genre-bending industrial music in the electronic rock duo Big Time Kill. Recent works of Adam’s include being the lead composer on the synthesizer heavy XCOM Legacy Soundtrack for the game XCOM 2: War of the Chosen – Tactical Legacy Pack and releasing Big Time Kill’s debut album Shock and Awe.
We chatted with Adam on how he’s using the Tempest in his music
How did you first get started with music?
“When I was a kid in elementary school my mother had me take piano lessons for a year or two, but I wasn’t interested and didn’t stick with it. I didn’t take a real interest in music until high school when I finally discovered music that I was really passionate about. At that point I threw myself into every music program I could at school and started taking guitar and piano lessons. It was the first time I felt really interested in a subject and wanted to learn as much as I could.”
Some musicians have a “eureka” moment where they realize “This is what I need to be doing.” Do you recall anything like that for you?
“I remember being in high school and a friend showed me a video of Nine Inch Nails’ performance at Woodstock ‘94. Watching Trent literally attack and attempt to destroy his keyboards and hearing the sounds they were making was incredibly inspiring. I had never seen or heard musicians do anything like that before and it connected with me on a really profound level. I don’t know if there was any singular ‘eureka’ moment, but that was definitely one of the moments that pushed me to pursue music as more than a hobby.”
Tell us about your first synth!
“The first synth I purchased was a Korg MS-20. I had graduated college and was really eager to get an older monophonic analog synth that I could be really hands-on with. I found a guy in Japan who was restoring and selling a lot of the vintage Korgs from the 70’s and I ordered one as soon as I saved up enough money. I love the sound it has and all the different tricks you can do with the patch bay, and I still use it in my productions today.”
Do you usually design your own sounds? If so, do you have a process?
“When I first started creating electronic music I would always design my own sounds since I strongly believed that would give me my own unique sound. I still design a lot of my own sounds, but I also use other people’s presets and sounds that I modify for my needs. Working for music companies and having to design a lot of presets gave me a newfound appreciation for using other people’s sounds. There’s an art to good preset design, and they have a purpose and place in composing. Some producers view using other people’s presets as “cheating”, which I think is just silly and elitist.
The approach I use when I design a sound changes depending on what the sound is and what it will be used for. I almost always start with a blank preset or a blank session in my DAW (Reaper). I tend not to use templates, just because I feel like they can sometimes lead me down a more predictable path. If I’m designing one-shot drum sounds I usually use lots of layered elements and then remove things layer-by-layer, feeling out what works best and tweaking as I go. Synth preset design always starts with a blank preset, and how I design it depends on if it’s meant for a specific song or sound effect, if it’s intended for other people to use the preset, if I intend to perform with it, etc. It’s kind of a new adventure every time I do it.”
What kind of things get you excited about an instrument?
“I think the best electronic instruments, whether it’s hardware or software, are the ones that allow you to create and manipulate sounds in a fun and inspiring way. It’s a combination of the range of sounds the synthesizer can produce and the workflow involved, and when both are in sync it’s a beautiful and organic experience. It’s not about jamming as many features as possible into a synthesizer; it’s about including the right features to give you lots of room to play with, but not so much that the workflow becomes convoluted.”
When you get a musical idea how do you go about developing it?
“The initial idea can come from a lot of places. Sometimes it’s through playful experimentation with an instrument or other times I’m just walking around and a melody or rhythm pops into my head and I race to my laptop to record it. Developing the idea is typically a process of trial and error, and often times I’ll have multiple versions of a song saved where I experiment with different variations of the same initial idea. Ultimately one of the variations sticks out as my favorite and I develop it further, but when I get started I try to keep my ideas open and not limit myself. Sometimes the best ideas end up being something I initially thought was too pop-influenced or weird, but I’m glad I explored the idea and kept it instead of dismissing it earlier on.”
Do you have certain musical ideals? Certain things that you strive for?
“I’ve always greatly valued being unique and authentic. A lot of my favorite artists aren’t necessarily the most popular, but they’ve created a sound and identity that is distinctive to them. I’m always trying to think of how I can be evolving and creating something that sounds new, and that’s more important to me than fitting in with a genre or appealing to its fan base.”
Are you happier in the studio or on stage?
“I basically live in my studio and I’m very grateful to have a life that allows for that. I’m extremely comfortable in that environment and I love it, but there’s nothing like being on stage and performing. Performance is definitely why I became a musician and it’s a very transformative and powerful experience for me. I’m pretty reserved in my day-to-day life, but I can be outspoken and energetic on stage and I absolutely live for that feeling.”
What are you listening to these days?
“I like to try and rediscover bands that came out before I was born and I missed, so recently I’ve been going through the discography of the band Yello. There’s a lot of creative production in their music and a surreal sense of humor that I just love. In general, I’m always listening to a lot of art rock, post-punk, and industrial music from the 70’s and 80’s. There’s also a bunch of modern acts like HEALTH, Street Sects, and VOWWS that are putting new spins on the industrial/post-punk sound and I’ve been enjoying that a lot.”
What kinds of things inspire you — musically or otherwise. Has it changed over time?
“Listening to music or seeing a performance has always been very inspiring for me. Between my work and recreational listening to music I’m basically constantly actively listening to things all day, and somehow I never get sick of it. My wife and kids are both very inspirational in my life too. My wife’s a musician and she’s very athletic and just talented at so many things, and I try my best to emulate her work ethic. My kids are young and so many things are still new to them, so it’s very inspiring to see the world through their eyes.”
Do you have a musical bucket list?
“Mark Mothersbaugh and Trent Reznor are both big inspirations for me, and they’ve had varied careers working on different mediums which is something I’d like to imitate. More than having set goals of things I’d like to check off, I’m excited about new things and exploring new projects. In the end, as long as I keep creating and performing I’m very grateful.”
What made you choose the Tempest?
“I’ve wanted a Tempest since it was first released, but back then I couldn’t afford one. It was always one of those “bucket list” synths that I hoped to purchase at some point in my life. A few years back I was working with my friend Dan Sawyer (DS3K) on a record for indie rap artist B Dolan. Dan was doing engineering and production on the record, and he purchased a Tempest halfway through the album’s creation. The sounds he was getting out of it were so good that I finally had to go out and buy one for myself.”
How are you using it?
“The Tempest’s unique architecture makes it like a Swiss Army Knife in my studio, and I use it on almost everything I do. When creating music it’s obviously great at making drum sounds, but I frequently use it for lush pads, soaring leads, and evolving bass lines too. Its diversity makes it one of my go-to synths when working on Big Time Kill tracks since I like to keep things unpredictable with my writing process, and it’s easy to do that with so many different sounds at my fingertips. When I’m doing sound design for video games the Tempest is great for creating unique zaps, drones, and weird sci-fi noises. It’s also fantastic at making snappy and interesting UI sounds for games because of its fast envelopes and how easily you can sequence a wide variety of timbres. A lot of the sound effects work I did for the XCOM 2 expansions incorporates the Tempest for those reasons, and I also used it for a lot of pad and lead sounds on the XCOM Legacy Soundtrack.”
What’s one of your favorite things about it?
“In one word: flexibility. There are just so many different ways you can use it and it’s a dream for people that like to get really hands on with their sound design. The combination of different sources [analog oscillators/digital oscillators/samples] along with its flexible voice architecture gives you a really wide palette of sounds to create. It can be used as a drum machine, six voice polyphonic synth, or a combination of both. You could theoretically buy a Tempest with no intention of ever using it to create drum sounds, and I think that speaks volumes about its capabilities.”
What does it give you that other synths might not?
“There are a lot of unique things about the Tempest, but one of the things that stick out most to me is that it’s an instrument that’s meant to be played. Most analog drum machines are very step sequencer driven, but the Tempest’s workflow drives you to play in sequences instead of program them. It sounds trivial, but that difference changes how I approach creating music and the sounds I get out of the machine. Even when I’m using the Tempest to create sound effects I’m usually performing them with the pads, which allows me to change up the timing and tones I’m getting in a very reactive way.”
Any interesting tricks or techniques you’d like to share?
“When designing sounds on the Tempest, think about layering and using more than one pad to create a single sound. You use up more voices, but your sound design capabilities suddenly go much deeper. An extreme example of that is I’ve used all 6 voices to create a single snare or kick drum sound, which I end up sampling and using later. That’s not a technique you’d probably want to do as much when using the Tempest live, but in the studio it makes the Tempest a goldmine of finding interesting new sounds you can record.
I’ve also created some Tempest Tutorial Videos in my spare time that explain some sound design techniques and tricks that you can do on the Tempest:
MORE ABOUT THE TEMPEST
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