Shop Talk: The Sounds of the 80’s

Recently I was asked to participate in a compilation cd to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The theme is “Back In Time” and the musicians involved have been asked to record an 80’s sounding song, be it a power ballad, hair-metal track, or new wave dance-along.

Roland CR-78 Drum Machine

Since my sound has many new wave elements already, I thought that I would start there but go over the top by using some of the typical sound templates of the era. First off, I dug up samples of Roland’s first drum machine, the CR-78 (from 1978). 

Mind you, I don’t have the actual hardware version (which are going on eBay for around $2k right now), but I do have a software sampler called Kontakt which ships with the samples and patterns from the original CR-78 drum machine. You’ve heard this box at work before in the song “Heart of Glass” by Blondie and “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins (no, not the massive drum fill, but yes, the slow computer-sounding rhythm part that comes before it).

In addition to using the CR-78 sounds on my 80’s song, I’ve also gotten the samples from the Fairlight CMI: the popular sampler from 1982. (A sampler does not synthesize its own sounds, but records a snippet of sound and extends it across the keyboard.) The Fairlight was very popular in the 80’s and was a cornerstone of Peter Gabriel’s sound, as well as other musicians like Kate Bush, Thomas Dolby, Tears for Fears, Art of Noise, and Prince. At one point I made a Spotify playlist called “Fairlight CMI Playbook” which offers up 60 songs that used the Fairlight sampler prominently.

Fairlight CMI

So, I’ve got all the right sounds, now comes the fun part. I have to create a great song in the style of the decade.

For the project, we’re encouraged to come up with original (fake) band names. I’m tentatively choosing the band name “Halliday’s Dream” after one of the main characters in the book ‘Ready Player One’. The book is set in 2044, when the music and pop-culture of the 1980’s has come back into fashion. It’s a 2017 throwback to the 80’s using a reference from fiction set in 2044. Fun stuff.

The compilation ‘Back In Time’ will be available for purchase digitally in Spring of 2018, so no peeking at my track until then!