Dial-A-Reason

©2022 Michael Raven

I might be one of the few people who recall the They Might Be Giants “Dial-a-Song” shtick back in the dark ages of the 80s and 90s. The concept was simple: set up an answering machine that, when called, the outgoing message would be a song the boys had come up with since they last changed the cassette. Or, maybe it was their landlady who was supposed to change it.

Regardless, the idea was that every day (I believe) the two Johns would post a new song of varying quality and length. In reality, it was probably closer to two songs a week.

Anyways, today I upgraded my copy of Reason to version 12, as it was half-off for an upgrade. I generally skip versions, but I’ve been damned happy with Reason as a DAW. I can’t say the same about any of the others that I’ve tried (Ableton, Cakewalk Sonar, Garage Band, Reaper). It’snot to say the others are bad, so much as they aren’t as intuitive for me. Well, there are a few terrible DAWs out there that I tried before settling on Reason, but I’ll keep those to myself. Most of the changes since Ver. 10 are quality of life improvements, nothing to squeal about, but appreciated all the same.

I also had recently purchased a new USB-MIDI cable, as Windows 11 couldn’t find the driver for the one I had before, and it was always a PITA to get to connect my synth to the PC with the old interface anyway. So, I hooked the ol’ Roland Juno-alpha up to get a keyboard surface instead of using softkeys for a surface. I was glad my purchase was not a waste or a source of frustration, and it hooked up lickety-split and was recognized immediately by Reason (for once).

Finally, I broke down and added another rack extension for drums. If I ever had a complaint, it is that it is very hard to find authentic, non-808-sounding drums that come stock with the DAWs out there. I’m sure it is part of the plan, so they can sell you decent drums after the fact. With the sale on virtual instruments and tools that just ended, I decided I could handle dropping another $30 for some decent drums.

It’s amazing what having a real playing surface (with velocity and pressure-sensitive keys) with a full-length keyboard (88 keys), some drums and a few refurbished and new tools will do. I didn’t have anything in the end that was worth sharing, but the more tactile engagement and tweak in available sound got my creative juices flowing.

Between the unvarnished biography of a band I am reading, the new tools and the more visceral involvement with the music, I am tempted to adopt a “Dial-A-Song” approach towards some music. The one thing I think is useful with any creative endeavor is to just pound things out to see what happens — don’t give the internal editor a chance to get his filthy hooks in, but create, release into the wild and move on. If it sticks in your head, go back to it and refine it, but get the goddamn thing out before you overthink it. So I may toy with that now. The kiddos are going back to school and I can maybe throw in some vocals, even if I am a terrible singer.

One song a week? Two?

I’ll have to consider such silliness. If nothing else, I can make a concerted effort to understand some of the tools (from synth voice design to gates to compression techniques) better than I’ve bothered to learn up until now so I can explore some sounds I’ve been meaning to try out for a while (darkwave, for one).

Wish me luck.

3 thoughts on “Dial-A-Reason

  1. ‘Dial-a-song’ is a new one to me! What a concept!
    I think you’re right about creativity – do it and get it out and yeah, if it sticks around it might be worth revisiting, but otherwise let them go. Bit like children!

    Liked by 1 person

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