Battle of the Bass Line Winner Sheds Light On Creativity and The Power of Music
For 303 Day, we asked Team Roland Cloud to stretch their bass muscles and crank out some club shaking dance grooves with the software version of the Roland TB-303. You answered our call with a deluge of elastic acid house-infused tracks that tickled our earbuds as they squelched through the stereo spectrum. Roland Cloud and our panel of celebrity judges raked through the entries and chose three bass masters who rose above the rest. We're pleased to share the first of our winners' stories. Meet Benjamin Soma: producer, musician, and app designer.
Tell us about yourself, where you are from, and a little about your musical story.
I was raised in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where I started violin lessons at four years old at a local Suzuki music school. My sense of pitch definitely owed to ear training at an early age. By middle school, I began teaching myself guitar and I fell in love. I spent hours learning cover songs from tablature in guitar magazines and teaching myself about recording gear from advertisements in catalogs.
I also spent tons of time improvising with a BOSS RC-20 Loop Station along with my growing collection of BOSS pedals. Using Cakewalk Guitar Studio on Windows 95, I recorded and produced my first original album with my punk rock band in seventh grade. Throughout middle and high school, I played and performed with a few bands mostly as a guitarist, sometimes on backing vocals. I was also an electric violinist in a progressive band.
After graduation, I went to college at Indiana University where I studied music theory and took voice lessons at the Jacobs School of Music. During this time, I continued to produce my own music as a solo guitarist and thus began to discover some of the early software sample-synths available. These really helped in creating semi-realistic drum and backing parts for my compositions.
I started learning about synthesis and sound design. Eventually, I discovered DAWs which I saw as an opportunity to combine my love of improvisation with computer instruments. After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my music. I interned at a studio in Hollywood and learned a lot from their head engineer. I began to build my own book of clients as an engineer and producer. Today I continue to work with artists, as well as on my own music, and I develop plugins.
How does Roland Cloud inform your workflow and what is your favorite instrument in the suite?
Roland has such a well-established place in music history that nearly every sound in the suite feels familiar. You can really hear the high quality, warmth, and nuance—they’re so alive! As a violinist at heart, they make me feel like I’m playing a Stradivarius. It makes me want to build a new computer just so I can crank the sample rate higher!
As many of my sounds are "in-the-box," I'm always striving for realism, and this suite is certainly realistic sounding. My favorite instrument has to be the 808. I have heard so many different 808 VST emulations and nothing compares to the Roland Cloud version. It’s hands down the most authentic. Sure, samples are great, but it’s much more fun to dial in the sounds yourself.
Tell us about your experience using the TB-303 and creating the track that won Battle of the Bass Line.
I have been waiting for a good TB-303 software synth for a long time, so I was very excited to see that Roland Cloud had released one! In my college years, I had so much fun jamming with 303, 808, and 909 emulations. I liked to program my MIDI controllers so I could adjust every single parameter by hand and actually improvise a performance. I programmed my keyboard to turn the 'Tuning' knob on the 303 so I could jam bass lines using piano keys.
Now with Roland Cloud's 808, 909 and now the 303, I was able to recreate my old setup using all new instruments. The piece for the BOTBL was created by trying out randomized 303 patterns. I chose one that inspired me to create a drum beat and low bass lines to match. All the rest is the performance of adjusting parameters. I call it, "ReBirth ReBorn."
Do you have a premeditated approach to composition or does each piece you create stem from circumstance or spontaneity? Are there any rituals that help facilitate your musical process?
I have different approaches that I draw from depending on who is involved with the project or my mood that day. I’ve had original melodies swirling around my head my whole life. I’ll sit down to capture them and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I like to create ways to improvise, like I would do on the guitar, but with my keyboard and sound library.
I've found that though it may seem great to have a bottomless library of sounds to use, having too much choice can make it difficult to decide. I like to create restraints for myself, like with my old setup, as it only has three different instruments: the 303, 808 and 909. With a smaller pallete of sounds, it forces a composer to go back to the basics and get creative in new ways.
With a smaller pallete of sounds, it forces a composer to go back to the basics and get creative in new ways.
Are you a perfectionist or do you consider errors opportunities?
Over the years I've learned to relax my inherent perfectionism to a degree. In the studio, nearly anything can be fixed or at least re-recorded, so errors only bother me if they slow down my flow. On the other hand, though I really could tweak my music to death, I've learned that it’s a better use of my energy to just call it a day and work on the next.
What is your recording setup like?
Everything revolves around my PC. I built it a few years ago to be a monster so I can pretty much use as many native plugins as I want without thinking twice. I have a basic interface which more than suits my purposes because I am usually only recording one track at a time. I use various controllers for their keyboard action, button feel, and to control all the knobs and sliders on my setup. For audio recording, I have a single channel mic preamp and a condenser mic which I use mainly for vocals and acoustic instruments.
I have two electrics and a Dreadnought acoustic—all three in dark mahogany which is a similar color to my violin. Years ago I sold my collection of BOSS single effects for the BOSS GT-100 so it was easier to gig with.
What are some of your main musical and artistic influences, and what is it about them that captivates you?
As a guitarist and a student of music, one of my all-time favorite bands is Dream Theater. Each one of the members is at the absolute top of their field. It’s really exciting to listen to something so heavy, emotional, and thought provoking that also appeals to music theory nerds like myself. Also, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has been a major influence on my electronic music. Trent is a master soundsmith and pianist. The way he sings and screams make my skin crawl. There is emotion in his voice, and I strive to bring that passion to my music.
Would you consider yourself a musician, producer, or both? Tell us why?
I started my music career as an instrumentalist and that will always be the biggest part of who I am. When I’m in the studio I’m either producing my music or engineering for clients, but I'm always listening from a musician's point of view.
Do you consider music a spiritual pursuit?
I'm not sure I would say music is spiritual, but it has always been cathartic and therapeutic for me. I have always used music to express myself and cope, especially through improvisation.
I have always used music to express myself and cope, especially through improvisation.
What’s next on the horizon for you and where is the best place to find your music?
I just released a chord player plugin. The eight by eight grid is really an instrument of its own with its own learning curve. I really didn't want to spend a ton of time learning new fingerings just to play chords when I could just create a plugin to make it easier.
Also, I recently posted an industrial metal track on SoundCloud called, "What You Get," which used a lot of Roland Cloud instruments. It’s a different direction from the dance music I’ve produced in the past, and it was cathartic to compose as it brought me back to my metalhead roots. I plan to make more music in this vein moving forward. You can listen to it here.