Morgan Page is a DJ and producer, multiple GRAMMY-nominated, has done remixes for Ellie Goulding, Madonna, and Deadmau5. I've interviewed him about his production workflow and how he uses the Tonaly app within this process.
Hi Morgan, thanks for taking the time to give us a glimpse into your music production workflow. How long have you been busy with music? When and how did you start?
I've been making music for probably more than 20 years about now. Started really early, when I was about 12 years old. Piecing together a really basic computer setup – a Tandy computer using Tracker software. And then that led to buying some more gear once I was able to get more powerful computers. I started with an Akai MPC 2000, an Emu e6400, and just started with drum machines, manual sequencers, and then eventually got more to the software side of the things.
How do you get inspired? How do you start a composition? Are you more the type of person who knows exactly how a song should be at the end, or do you compose and develop a song during the production?
For me, the main way to get inspired is just to start. Starting with a single chord or a progression of chords. Just having a way to jump into the process and not be thinking about the plumbing and the way the tracks are set up and the template and all this left-brain stuff. I wanna jump in and get this creative flow going very quickly. And when I'm working on a song, it always is changing as it goes. I have very loose templates that I work with for arrangement for just structuring for how many bars for each section there are.
But I really have no idea what the final form is gonna be, and a lot of times, I leave it open enough that a remixer can make a more clubby version, and I maybe make an acoustic mix. But I'll start out with something like 128bpm and maybe bring it down, find that right tempo. It takes a while to find that after you've composed a track and just see what the song is telling you at once.
Do you play one or more instruments yourself? Did you have lessons, or did you teach yourself?
For me, I think it's really important to learn a few instruments but also jump around and get past that muscle memory and those typical comfort points. I learned to play the piano. Took a couple years of piano lessons, not too many, but that was when I was a young kid. I just love being able to dive into music without the dry theory being a big part of it, so now I'm spending more time learning that again, you know, learning back to the theory, and seeing why things work — sort of reverse engineering things.
I'm also doing a lot more with guitars. Fumbling my way through, I find out really interesting melodies. Using different shapes of chord progressions, different ways to play things on the fretboard opens up a whole world of possibilities.
Do you try to find new harmonies for a remix, or do you stick to the songs' original chords?
When I'm doing a remix, everything is about creating chord voicings that wrap around the lead vocal if it's a track with a vocal. I recently did a remix for Deadmau5 for "Imaginary Friends". It was a remix of one of his own songs. I was doing an orchestral mix with no vocals, which is challenging, so I had to work with these constraints of some string samples. That ended up being a really cool limitation for the track, just processing and filtering the strings and treading it as a sample.
Typically, I wanna do a new progression that wraps around the vocal and takes it to new heights.
How is your setup? What software, instruments, plugins, and apps do you use in the studio or for composing? Do you have any tips for other producers?
Right now, my setup is all about Ableton Live. I've got a little bit of analog stuff on the frontend. I've got some Avalon gear like a 737 and an 1176 Clone by Purple Audio. Tracking everything through Universal Audio Apollo.
But you know, over the years, I've been shrinking the setup and making it less stuff, better stuff. Just to keep it simple. Fewer things to troubleshoot.
On the synth side, I have some Dave Smith gear, a Prophet, an OB-6, and Moog Voyager. I have a real piano, an old Steinway that's about 70 years old. Use that mainly for writing, and then I got some cheap guitars and some basses just to get the writing process going.
Software-wise, I'm using a lot of Universal Audio Plugins, a lot of Waves, FabFilter. I'm loving stuff like RC-20 on the mix for just adding some grid to it. I really love all the Cableguys plugins for sidechaining, which is such a big part of Dance music. I'm using VolumeShaper within ShaperBox 2. That's a great little suite of plugins that sort of snap together.
Softsynth-wise I love Zebra. I love that "Dark Knight" preset pack (It's so good!). Diva is great. I'm using Wavetable within Ableton. A little bit of Massive every now and then, and of course, loving Tonaly for getting that creative process started.
On the side: Beyond my usual music works, I also run a site that's just free tips for musicians. You should definitely check out mpquicktips.com!
How do you work with Tonaly? How do you integrate the app into your workflow?
For me, I use Tonaly in a very basic way just to kickstart the process. Auditioning different chords, different degrees, different chord cadences to see what jumps out at me, what gets those creative juices flowing. There is so much that the program can do! There's a lot of functionality built under the hood. I don't use all of them – I use the tip of the iceberg. But I think being able to visually tap around that circle of fifths is so useful, and it's so helpful just to narrow some of the harmonic possibilities.
I can imagine that you mainly use the "Songwriting" mode of the app, or do you also use the "Modes" and "Scales" section?
I use both, and ironically, I don't use the "Songwriting" part as often. I use it as a quick way to audition things and get that progression going. You know, using it in a very manual way.
The Tonaly app gets regularly improved and extended. What do you miss in the app? What would you wish for?
One big thing I would love to see is more integration into DAWs. So that I can drag and drop samples, and things are organized around the circle of 5ths. So things are constrained to the key and degrees within the key so that everything sounds good. That would be really cool to see. There is so much to experiment with and so many ways to apply it.
Thanks, Morgan! I'm planning to get Tonaly on macOS, which will then be extended with a more powerful MIDI integration. Stay tuned!
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