80’s Style Music Production With MIDI Synthesizers

This video, via Espen Kraft, details his 80’s style music production setup, covering his synths, samplers, drum machines & workflow.

Kraft says that he made the video ‘because I love working like this and secondly to show how it was done back in the day.’

Here’s what Kraft has to say about the video:

“In todays’ episode I show how everything in my studio is wired up. I focus mainly on the MIDI wiring to show how I get everything to speak to the Roland MC50 sequencer. The MC50 has two MIDI out ports. The first I use to hook up the drum machines and samplers holding the drums. I also hook up a Doepfer MSY2 MIDI-Sync box to this so that I can drive thr arpeggiator of the Roland Juno 6 in sync with the tempo of the sequencer. The Roland Juno 6 does not have MIDI so this is the only way I can sync up the arpeggiator. I could have used one of the outputs of a drum machine too. Fed the Rim shot into the clock input of the Juno would also have worked. I like this approach better as it has more flexibility.

The 8 ADAT channels off the Yamaha 01v that goes to the Audient goes through an optical TOSlink cable. Otherwise the Audient is “only” a two input soundcard. WIth the optical ADAT-connection it is a 10-input soundcard!

And yeah, I know, There was a couple more ways we could play a synth from another synth back in the day before MIDI. You had (and still have) CV in/out, but that was mainly before the appearance of MIDI and so it wasn’t an option once MIDI came. Roland had DCB, a MIDI-like connection to hook up some Roland synths to other Roland synths, but with MIDI that disappeared.

When I perform live I use the same setup, but I scale it down. I don’t take out all the synths. I usually bring one mixer, 5-6 synths and one sampler in addition to the MC50.

My tracks pay homage to all synth.pop acts of the 80’ies like Howard Jones, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears, Ultravox, OMD, Euryhmics, Duran Duran, Giorgio Moroder, Jean Michel Jarre, Jan Hammer, A-ha and many more.

A use mostly old gear on my tracks and among them Roland Juno 6, Alpha Juno 2, D550 and JX-8P. Korg DW-8000. Roland TR-626 drum machine. Yamaha DX7 and TX802 and drum machine RX11. I use the Novation Mininova as a vocoder on all my tracks. Effects are usually handled by Strymon and TC electronics. Sampling is done on my E-MU ESI-4000 and I mostly use that for drums.”

11 thoughts on “80’s Style Music Production With MIDI Synthesizers

  1. Now we’re talking.
    And all at 31.25Kbps (31,250 bits per second). People say that DIN MIDI has more tight timing than USB MIDI but DIN MIDI can suffer from timing issues in large multi-channel setups, known as latency or ‘jitter’. That’s when a MIDI thought-box or ‘hub’ is needed.

    Multi-timbral capable synths and sound modules can suffer from timing jitter internally as well, during a complex run of notes in a short time. Their internal processor gets overrun or flooded with the MIDI data which it cannot process to allocate to it’s voices in time.

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    1. I am led to believe that if you daisy chain 4 devices you will get about 10ms of latency so thru boxes will help considerably. The other advantage of a thru box of course is that you don’t need every synth in the room on 😉

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  2. Espen, that has to be the very best demo of the old-school process I’ve ever seen. Good work! I also grin a little and remember how maddening it was to wrestle with those cables. All of that was leading up to a DAW that banishes most of the hardware hassles I had, but I wouldn’t know how to make the best use of it without those growing pains. I encourage you to keep at it and show people what it means to walk that high-wire in real-time. Its one of several important approaches that define being a synthesist.

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  3. Thanks guys!
    The MIDI timing in this setup is really good actually and if you take a look at more of my videos in this series you wil see me playing several songs in real time and there isn’t any MIDI hubs hooked up here. At this point it just works like a charm.
    Of course, as someone points out, I’ll have to have all synths powered up to daisy-chian. Something I wouldn’t have to do with hubs.
    I love cables and all that goes with it and reminds me of how I used to work. There’s just something “not human” about doing it all ITB and it’s not for me anymore. Not all the time anyways.

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  4. Nice setup. I remember always struggling with my rack-mounted synths, but maybe it was because I was trying to drive them all with Opcode Vision through a 360 Systems MIDIPatcher. Always took at least a hal- hour to bring the studio online and get all the kinks out.

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  5. …Lol. I must be old!! Is 40 really that old? anyone else thinking “what’s the big deal here… this is exactly how I make music today?”

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    1. I still use analog and digital synths like juno’s, obx, JD-990, JV-1080, SNII, JP8000, An1x etc…together with Cubase 9. I prefer to VST’s and the newer digital synths. I use multiple MIDI patchbay son a daily basis (A-880’s and ME30P). I also use outboard for a lot of dynamics, reverb and effects (rev7, dp4, H3000, H9, ssl4000, warm audio compressors and eq’s….) together with a hybrid console (GSR24). I figured tons of people still do this, but I guess everyone is inside the box?

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  6. Nice demonstration video, My workflow is very much like this as well but as many have pointed out I prefer to use a midi patchbay such as the iConnectivity mio10. There are several workflow improvements when using a midi patchbay, one of the is being able to route anything to anything else. You can also do things such as play several synthesizers at the same time from any other synth, creating very fat leads and melodies. Imagine playing just one key in your master synth and hearing all the other synths at the same time, it can sound massive. And last but not least there are many synths that can use more than one midi channel, synths like the Access Virus line are multi timbral so you can assign a different patch to each channel if yiu want. Same thing happen with the elektron analog 4 and even the Quasimidi Sirius which uses midi channels 1-4 for drums and the rest for synth patches.
    All in all a midi patch bay is well worth the investment.

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  7. i dont miss giant MIDI birds nests like this setup in the slightest….i remember nothing but dropped notes and timing headaches

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