Chris Vrenna:
For the Love of Hardware

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Performance Over Programming
Vrenna tried to keep the record as live-recorded—not programmed sounding— as possible due to his feelings about the over-perfecting of music these days. “Everything’s been sounding and is so chopped and perfected and auto-tuned lately, and I have a hard time believing that every drummer that’s been released in the last two years actually plays that rigid.

So Vrenna and Walsh purposefully went for the performance when producing the new Tweaker album.

“I’d get a chorus I liked drum-wise and then I’d use that same drum performance for maybe three choruses or something like that,” he says. “But still, within that eight bars, I would try to do no chopping at all. And then any loops or programming around that, I would go chop the programming and slide the programming to match the snare hits, rather than the other way around. There’s a lot of slop on the new record, but you know, if you don’t pay attention to it, it just sounds real.

2 a.m. wakeup call

He adds, “I mean, how many commercials do you watch these days where it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s Patch number 1, that’s Reason Techno Groove Subtractor#6 and that’s the Virus plug-in 4...’ I mean, you know and you can name them, it’s ridiculous!”

No Time For Tweaking
However, he admits that while working on TV, film and game projects, you don’t always have time to do too much sound and effect tweaking. “I can understand that in movies and commercials and game scores, because of the three game scores I’m working on right now, and this TV theme for this WB kids’ cartoon I did,” he says.

“When you’re that swamped, you don’t have time to sit there for four hours going, ‘What if we turn the distortion on the filter? What if we throw on a pedal? Well...which pedal?’” says Vrenna. “But even if you’re doing things that way—just using the stock effects—there are ways to mix things and balance things.

Leaning Toward Hardware
“There are lots of patches in these keyboards where if I’m looking for something that’s got a vibe, then I’ll test out the different settings and go ‘Oooo wow...that’s nice.’ and I can then go move the filter up and down, but then I’ll think, ‘But,’s perfect!’ I mean, if it’s under 17 layers of other stuff, then I don’t feel too bad about it,” he says.

But that’s one reason why Vrenna still gravitates toward hardware. “With people stealing software and VST plug-ins and the way that you can just buy .rex files and things for fifty bucks, it results in everything sounding the same,” he says. “Not everybody will go and kick down three grand for the Andromeda or $2000 for a V-Synth. So, I tend to think that if I spend all my money on hardware, at least it won’t sound like everybody else.”

Gear Is No Substitute For Skill
However, Vrenna asserts that just having more plug-ins, hardware and a bigger system is no substitute for talent and experience. “I’ve got this friend who was going, ‘I’ve got a 100 tracks going with 19 reverbs.’ And I was like, ‘So what? If you need all that to doctor up your crappy song, then you’ve got a lot more problems than simply making fun of how I only have 64 tracks to work with,’” he says. “If the core sucks, then all the extra software synths and plug-ins isn’t gonna make it any better,” says Vrenna.


Next page: Scoring Games, Producing with Pro Tools

Chris Vrenna

1. Tweaker of Sound
2. For the Love of Hardware
3. Scoring Games, Producing with Pro Tools

Studio Tools
(Part 2 of 3)

Tweaker-friendly Plug-ins
Vrenna primarily uses plug-ins and apps from Native Instruments, Arturia, Antares and Spectrasonics. “I’ve really been getting into Stylus, Trilogy and Atmosphere. It’s really good, super efficient, really cool sounding and gives you tons of good, raw material to start with,” he says.

“I love the Native Instruments stuff, a lot. Like Battery, Spectral Delay, the B4 — the whole set,” says Vrenna. “And then I just got that Arturia Moog, that’s really smoking. And I am definitely going to get that CS80 one!”

Fun with the Antares Filter
Vrenna attests that his newest, most fun plug-in is the Antares Filter. “It’s really bizarre,” he says. “It’s got like four color-coded filters, so you can keep track of them all. The whole thing locks to beat clock going from the computer, so you can get it all synched up. There are really good step sequencers in there, and you can synch it to the master.

“You can also do little patterns on it with all the filters,” he adds. “It’s totally crazy. That’s just a dream, sound design-wise, because a lot of the game stuff I’ve been doing has been sound design-oriented music.” Continued on next page

Useful Links

Past Vrenna Interviews
Confessions of a Tweaker

Nine Inch Nails

Power Mac G4

Pro Tools
Antares Filter
Arturia Moog
Native Instruments
Trilogy Atmosphere

Roland V-Synth

Mesa Boogie Triaxis
Microwave XT
Line6 Amp Farm
Line6 Bass Pod

Audio Interfaces
Apogee Rosetta


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