Listen Here

25 Feb 2021

The Search

by Andy Stewart

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you wake up in the morning, walk into the studio and think: “I’ve seen all this gear before, I’ve heard it all before, but somehow I have to use it all again to find new musical inspiration? I really need another coffee.”

If that sounds like you at the start of the day more often than you might care to admit, take comfort in knowing that we all feel that way sometimes.

No-one I know flies through the studio door every morning like Rudolf Nureyev with an (impossibly high) spring in their step and a choreographed performance waiting to be busted out.


Mostly it’s about tripping over said step, fighting the gloom of an artificially lit environment and odd smelling vacuum cleaner fragrance, as you confront the mess from last night’s session.

When I’m faced with that squalid reality, I put on some music (that I’m not currently working on) and get to it. I hate starting work surrounded by the mess of the day before.

One last tip on cleaning: if the vacuum cleaner smells horrible, understand one thing; it’s never going to improve naturally! Replace the bag – don’t wait ’til it’s impossibly full or you’ll just pump musty, mouldy air into the room for you and your clients to breathe in all day.

Now, once that chore is out of the way – and if time permits – rather than searching for inspiration in the percolation of a new brew, flopping into the control room chair and staring at the computer screen, I like to fire up an instrument and start playing it (badly or otherwise) without any preconceptions of what I’m looking for or where any cool sound I discover might fit into the day’s work ahead.

This habit is partly why I find myself regularly buying new instruments, and possibly why The Mill currently feels as cramped as an Apollo Mission spacecraft. There are currently eight floor-standing keyboards, pianos and organs in the main production room alone – not to mention a Leslie and drum kit!. It’s getting quite ridiculous in here.

Solution? Buy More Stuff!
If, like me, you’re a bit bored with your current setup or circumstances, it might be time to start the search… again.

I’m not really one for promoting the idea of buying stuff all that often, but if you’ve recently found yourself wearing out a track to the studio door and staring blankly at the screen before you’re even fully conscious, it might be time to take a different approach to the new year ahead.

For me, last week was all about feeling precisely that way: pretty flat about the instruments around me and finally deciding it was time for a new sound, and possibly a new instrument.

And yes, before I go any further, I’m well aware that another part of me (and many CX readers out there) might say at this point: “Hey Andy, why not just get to know the instruments you already have a little better?”

That’s true, I should (and I will, I promise!). But this approach was never going to solve the malaise I was feeling about the all-too-familiar sounds around me.

2020 had exhausted me of my ability to find inspiration from within. I didn’t want to have to work hard to dredge a new sound out of an old instrument. Frankly, I didn’t even want to look at them! I really wanted a new sound to just stand in front of me and slap me across the face.

So last week I bought a new keyboard out of the blue: a Yamaha CS-60. Some of the synthesizer heads amongst this magazine’s readership might raise an eyebrow at this purchase, and possibly know the synth quite well.

It’s a pretty famous keyboard from the ’70s – kind of the equivalent of saying you bought a Neumann U67 for the studio’s mic collection. The CS-60 (little brother of the CS-80) is a bit nutty, quite outrageous sounding, and possibly my most extravagant purchase of the last few years.

Yamaha CS-60 – little brother of the CS-80

It came to me quite by accident; I certainly hadn’t been looking around for one. But they’re quite rare so when the opportunity arose, I figured it was now or never.

Will it inspire me for months or years to come? Who knows? It’s a bit hard to tell at this point. Early impressions, however, are that the synth is pretty enticing, mainly because it seems to be able to fit into soundscapes pretty easily with the simple fiddle of a few slider controls.

Oddly enough, it’s equally capable of sounding insanely off-the-wall and pure B-grade ‘70s sci-fi at the flip of an LFO. In short, it’s quite bonkers.

Put A Ring Modulator On It
And so today I walked into the studio, sat down at the CS-60 and started noodling with all the switches, sliders, oscillators and tone selectors.

I still felt pretty inflexible, so the purchase hadn’t made me any fitter, or younger, or more like Nureyev, but the synth most certainly put a spring in my step. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I was pretty excited by what I heard within the first minute of playing it.

It’s a very hands-on interactive synthesizer with an eccentric quality that’s quintessentially ’70s. It may turn out to be just what I need to get 2021 rolling (or is it 1977? I can’t tell).

From Me To You
New (or old) synths mightn’t inspire you at all, of course, but what does? Maybe a new guitar, or some outrageous new pedals perhaps? Wherever your inspiration lies, now might be the time to get yourself a new toy or two, and rediscover what landed you in the studio in the first place – the thrill of encountering new sounds. 2021: the reboot.

This year looks to be the year of the synth for me though. There’s a wide range of new models on the market, many of them reissues, upgrades or rip-offs of some of the most famous keyboards of recent decades. Which is fine by me.

Many of the originals that inspired this latest generation of synths were extremely expensive when they were new. But the prices some of these go for now is just ridiculous! Forty grand for a Jupiter 8? You must be joking! Rich bankers (did I say bankers?) with more money than talent are clearly ‘investing’ in these instruments for whatever reason, and this is driving the prices L.F-up and O-ver the top!

Many would argue that electronics of this calibre in the hands of rich tossers is a tragic waste of good synthesis, but it’s a blessing in disguise, in truth.

The new ones are cheaper, more reliable and more versatile than ever, making them far more effective studio tools than any dodgy, ludicrously priced ’80s synth with an unobtainium chipset. (This opinion coming from the same idiot who just bought an old synth from the ’70s for a small fortune!)

If you’re into old synthesis – or new synthesis for that matter – there are countless options out there now with a retail price tag that’s far less onerous than the originals once were. In some cases, with the same money that once scored you one keyboard, you can now buy 10. Pretty cool.

I’m interested in checking out things like Sequential’s Prophet 5, Korg’s very popular MiniLogue XD, and even the wide array of keyboards by Behringer: the Deepmind6, the Vocoder VC340 and the MonoPoly (to name a few), all of which are based on famous synths of yore… so closely in fact that you have to look quite hard to spot the new one.

Frankly, I don’t understand how that happens… Behringer even seems to be using the same font as the originals in most cases! I don’t get it.

Either way, I’m going easy on myself in 2021. I’m not going to work hard to get the most out of the stuff I already own. I’ve done that for decades and I’m moving on!

In 2021, I’m gonna buy some new stuff and let it slap me across the face with a planet-sized serving of fresh inspiration. I want new colours, new flavours, a sonic palette to die for and even new plastic! I can’t expect coffee to inspire me anymore, not that it ever did.

Frankly, I hate the stuff unless it’s laced with sugar.

Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill studio in Victoria; a world class production and mastering facility. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for recording, mixing or mastering help… contact him at: or visit

CX Magazine – February 2021   

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