In preparation for our European tour, I was faced with the question of which controller setup I should bring… or if I should purchase or rent some sort of workstation.

Admittedly, I stumbled into being a Reason user. I had always hauled my electromechanical keyboards, Hammond Organs, and synths to gigs in the past. This is unrealistic in todays fast paced LA gig scene, and impractical for this Euro tour. Unless you are playing a large stage, the thought of brining a big keyboard rig to most rooms in Los Angeles will be met with a big “are you fucking kidding me.”

At least this is how it is with my hard rockin’ heavy psyche brothers, The Freeks. With 5 players, amps & cabs, stage space is always tight. It’s rock n roll man… plug in and go. I pondered purchasing something like a Nord Electro or a workstation, but the price point was way out of my budget. So when it came time to upgrade my rig, I revisited Reason. I had played with it way back when and quite enjoyed it. I am on Reason 8 currently and have yet to find myself in a situation where I cannot accomplish any sonic situation that I dream up.

Our awesome label, Heavy Psyche Sounds was able to provide a Nord Electro 2 for our tour and I decided to give the Nord a try. My strategy was to use the Nord as a MIDI controller since I am very happy with my set up in Reason. Unfortunately, the USB on the Nord was D.O.A.… so I decided to use the Nord outright and use a small Akai MIDI controller keyboard for a few synth sounds and just not play some of the other sounds that I rely on inside Reason.

Unfortunately, after our 2nd gig at Scumm, in Pescara Italy… the Nord started sustaining organ notes randomly.  So… the next morning, we were lucky enough to stumble across a high end music store in town. I purchased a cheap Nektar GX61 midi controller and I was back in business. I had all my sounds at my fingertips. After a quick pre gig mapping of few key items the system was ready to rock.

I am a member of the Clonewheel Organ group on Facebook and the conversation goes deep on tone and which clonewheel keyboard is “the best.” After playing the Nord, I am very happy with the organ and electromechanical tones that I have created within Reason. Having the flexibility of adding anything else into the mix is a huge advantage, and for me… the investment into Reason is a winner vs a dedicated clone or workstation. Its a no brainer, especially when you consider that most workstations or clones are $2k+ compared to Reasons $800 price point.

At home I run a custom controller that is made of two Arturia 61 Labs. The thin profile, ample control options, and cheap price on these controllers made them a perfect choice for my custom controller. For The Freeks, I lock the top board to an organ sound and it is a dedicated “Hammond” clone. The faders are drawbars, rotary knobs control dirt, keyclick, percussion level. I also have some of the knobs controlling global delay and verb options. I have plenty of extra knobs to map, so I tend to experiment with different effects as the mood changes. The bottom board is the master controller and is used for all of the other patches. Occasionally, Ill use a small Akai LPK25 or Keith McMillen QueNexus and map synth efx sounds to individual keys or dedicate a delayed out Rhodes to the Akai.

Custom MIDI Controller

Custom MIDI Controller

For the tour, bringing my custom beast was not an option… so I had to streamline my Reason file just a tad to optimize it for a simple controller. Here is a peak on my tour setup.

Freeks tour rig in Reason

Freeks tour rig in Reason

Along with my trusted Moog SubPhatty, electric pianos, combo organs, Hammond organ, some synths, Clavinet, and synth sound effects, are my main pallet within Reason. I love Reasons’ Combinator and it gets used quite bit to split my board, especially for songs that have a lot of different sounds going on. Here is the Combinator for our song Syliva which utilizes trumpet, Rhodes, and Clavinet sounds.

Sylvia combinator

Sylvia combinator

I used my Rhodes, Hammond C3/147 & Clavinet C when tracking Sylvia, and am pretty happy with the emulations inside Reason for live use… they are not exact, but they are “cool” and capture the vibe that is necessary.

So, it continues… the rig continually grows and morphs with each idea or song that is created, and with it, Reason delivers in spades.

The Freeks @ Cafe Tikolor. Erfurt, Germany

Cafe Tikolor. Erfurt, Germany