New Music

Esoteric break down how they write and produce their synth-pop bangers

For months, there’s been one question on your mind: how do Esoteric write their banging tunes? Don’t worry, Happy’s got the answers.

It’s no exaggeration when we say that we’ve had Esoteric’s new single on repeat all week! A fresh and funky blend of ’80s dance-pop, electronica, and house, Monochrome is a gateway onto the neon-tinted dancefloor of your dreams.

For all the songwriters out there, the Ballarat trio were kind enough to give us a deeper look into the making of one of their addictive tracks.

esoteric
Photo: AK Pix

Studio Setup

JACKSON: At the moment, we’ve got the complete DIY bedroom studio setup, complete with a foam mattress to help with acoustics.

JACKSON: I use my 2012 Fender Stratocaster for all the recordings and live shows with the band. I record through my VOX AC30 and use a MOOG Electric Lady Flanger while the delays are plugins.

SHANNEN: It might annoy some people to know I usually sit down and smash out a vocal melody for an entire song in about half an hour, lyrics and all. So, the process for me is very dependent on what kind of mood I’m in that day and if I’m feeling like being vulnerable. I think it’s really helped us to find our sound though. We can’t wait to share more music with the world!

JACKSON: Shannen’s vocals are recorded through our RODE NT2A, which we picked up for a bargain on eBay 12 months ago. The audio interface is a MOTU 4PRE, which was also picked up for a bargain on the local Ballarat music buy/swap/sell Facebook page. It allows us to record everything we need.

JACKSON: Most synth parts are done with MIDI Plugins, but all the synths on our first single, Touch, were recorded live from my Roland GAIA SH-01, which we use for live shows as well.

JACKSON: Our current setup allows us to be completely self-sufficient. We have everything to record, mix, and master all at home which helps keep our overheads down and the creative process moving.

SHANNEN: Jackson dropped out of a sound engineering degree and Trav has a film/media degree, and they are both happy to be putting those skills to use.

TRAV: For our live performances, I run an Ableton session with a MIDI keyboard and a Push 2. The session is also automated to change the input of the peripherals to certain MIDI tracks for each song. My go-to VST is Serum: running different patches that I’ve made for live performances works surprisingly well, allowing me to build up a rack of adjustable macros and effects to tweak during the performance for more interesting sounds on the fly. I can jump in and play different parts live depending on the song section, whether it’s chords on the keyboard or using the Push as a drum pad, with the bank of loops and tracks running simultaneously. I do my best to make the set as live and improvised as I can, given the amount of tracks and components of the performance I’m handling all at once.

 

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Songwriting process

JACKSON: A lot of the time, we will be working on individual songs, recording demos, figuring out structure, and then, once we’re happy with it, we will share it with the group.

JACKSON: We share the files using Splice and then get to work adding new parts to the song. If Trav has written it, Jackson will usually write guitar licks or chords. If Jackson has written it, Trav will give the production a very nice polishing, it’s one of his greatest strengths in the group.

SHANNEN: I had a brief history in Year 11 and 12 when I came back to it, but this was all acoustic guitar and girl singing. I wanted to break out of that and I couldn’t have strayed further. With the boys’ help on production, we have been working away at an EP which will feature some very diverse music, made up of a mixture of our own experiences and experiences of people we know.

The songwriting process for me during lockdown has been an interesting one. I dare say I’ve had more “creative juices flowing” over the past six months than possibly in the last six years. I was very into songwriting when I was young. I made my dad a CD of voice memo, full-length songs of about 12 or 13 songs when I was 11. He absolutely loved it.

TRAV: Jackson and I use a handy service called Splice to send project files back and forth to experiment with and polish off together, which has been particularly useful this year with lockdown in Victoria. We haven’t been able to get in the same room together much this year, but we’ve managed to adapt and find a songwriting process that’s been more productive than ever.

JACKSON: We don’t like to share any vocal melodies or lyrics we may have written for a piece before we share it with Shannen. Shannen will usually write the vocal melody and music after hearing the song within a week and it will always sound much better than anything we can come up with. She has an amazing ability to write melodies and curate lyrics.

Finishing touches

JACKSON: The writing of a song can come together as quickly as a few days or it can stretch out to weeks, with the bulk of the work done in those initial few days.

SHANNEN: Trav and Jackson will finish the mix once everyone is happy with it, which usually entails up to a dozen separate bounces with minor changes to each of them until we’re all happy.

JACKSON: I usually handle the mastering which, again, is subject to everyone’s judgement and has been a steep learning for curve me, but has been rewarding. Once we think we’ve finished the master, I’ll upload a copy to Google Drive and we all spend the next week or so testing it out on all our car speakers, headphone, or Bluetooth speakers to make sure happy before uploading it to our independent distributing site.

Now that you’re all caught up, make sure to give Monochrome a spin: