Once Upon A Synth: An Electronic Tale
‘Once Upon A Synth’ YouTuber, Nebs is currently working with a beautifully streamlined setup in his home studio, which at its core comprises the Audient iD22 audio interface, a Roland FP-10 MIDI controller and Ableton Live. He recently released an album using this and an array of different synthesisers from his collection, upping the ante on the lead-up to its release by filming the recording process track by track for his 60k YouTube channel subscribers.
“It’s the first time I’ve filmed myself recording an album. It was definitely a bit stressful at first because as soon as the camera is rolling it adds this extra pressure to not make mistakes,” he admits when asked about the 13-part Making The Album series. “I think I got more comfortable around the fourth or fifth song. On the bright side, it forces me to make decisions quicker and to actually finish my songs. Posting videos on YouTube creates a sort of social pressure which definitely motivates me to keep going.”
A musician and a programmer from Canada, Nebs goes under the moniker ‘Coatseller’ for his own music, alongside his huge YouTube presence as ‘Once Upon A Synth’. Keeping the synthesiser at its heart, he delivers his pieces to camera with a dry wit, with content ranging from anthropomorphised synth animations and ‘How to’ videos, to a number of indie song recordings, as well as the excellent Art 2 Music series, where he studies a painting and composes music to go with it – live!
“The #art2music series was born as an outlet for me to combine my different hobbies,” he says, citing drawing and photography as his non-audio pass-times. “Writing music for visuals (whether stills or motion) is a really fun exercise because it strips the music down to pure emotion and removes some of the analytical aspects. I’d recommend everyone try this out as an exercise. I’ve always been drawn to music as it relates to games, movies or any other visual art.”
As his primary interface, the Audient iD22 was integral to the recording of his latest album, Sun. “It’s truly a workhorse!” he says. “I used it to track synths/vocals/drums and to mix the music on headphones/monitors. I also used the iD22’s secondary outputs to feed my portable recorder which I use for the YouTube videos. This is a super convenient feature ” Nebs continues, “I liked it so much that I decided to get an iD14 for my second computer, which I use for editing videos and other tasks. I also use the iD14 when I need something more portable to record on location with my laptop.”
Incredibly, he came to synthesisers quite late in the game, having originally been taught to play the piano by his grandmother. “When I was younger I mostly played acoustic piano and more electronic keyboards. I dabbled in software synths but I never really ‘clicked’ with synthesisers. It’s only much later that I discovered the potential for making my own sounds, which led me down the synth rabbit hole. My first hardware synth was a Moog Little Phatty. I was inspired by a video of MGMT playing “Time to Pretend” live in which they used that synth.”
Driven by a love of learning about new instruments, technologies and genres, Nebs keeps adding to his collection. “I’ve bought and sold many synths over the years. I went from soft synths to modern analogue hardware to vintage analogue hardware to digital hardware then back to soft synths. And here we are full circle! Funny how that works. Every synth I’ve had has taught me something about synthesis, production or music making. So, in a way it’s as much an investment in education as it is in an instrument.”
Working in this very public way via his YouTube channel, means Nebs gets things done. Following the ‘Done is better than perfect’ principle certainly works for him. “It applies perfectly to most projects in my opinion. Essentially, it forces you to think about seeing projects to completion instead of constantly second guessing yourself or procrastinating. Finishing and releasing a ‘nearly-perfect’ album is better than never finishing a ‘perfect’ album. Finishing projects not only builds momentum for future projects, it also sets a bar for self-improvement with which we can measure ourselves.”