How It’s Made: “IX: Isolation” Tenebris

When you hear a song you like, sometimes you just wish you could be on the other side of the screen to see how it’s made first-hand. In our new blog series, we’ll delve into the creative process behind some of our favorite songs on Soundation.

Learn step-by-step on how each song came to be, and download a free studio project to follow along. That’s everything you need to get an inside perspective on how songs are made!

To kick off this series, we caught up with Tenebris as he deconstructs his project and breaks down the making of “IX: Isolation” — a track that won the third place on our “Sonic Retreat” Start from Scratch Challenge.


Here’s a rundown of his music-making process.

1. Set a Tone
On top of choosing a musical style, the first thing that can help get your creative juices flowing is determining a song’s emotional aspect to base as a theme.

“To start out, I always like to decide on a general emotion or idea I want to convey,” Tenebris says. “For this song, I want to convey a feeling of sadness through something lo-fi.”

2. Make a Melody
Some musicians like to get started with melodies. If you’re one of them, go ahead. Create an instrument channel, pick an instrument that goes with the style of music you’re into, and explore your song’s theme with melodies to your heart’s desire.

“Throughout the song,” Tenebris says, “I’ve got this sad melody playing in the background, which I make using the Rhodes EP setting in GM-2.”

GM-2 is a handy sample player on Soundation that lets you pick any instrument you want from dozens of choices or presets. For his melody, Tenebris picks a Rhodes Electric Piano — a piano from the 1970s that has been used a lot in R&B, funk, jazz and soul. Here’s the melody he comes up with:


3. Add Effects
Next up, stack one effect after another to enhance the melodies and transform those raw sounds into lo-fi tunes. Here’s the combination of effects Tenebris picks to darken and ‘retro-ize’ his melodies.

  • Reverb to create that delayed echoes effect.
  • Degrader to degrade the quality of the audio and makes everything sound retro.
  • Compressor to make everything sounds more balanced and full-bodied.

Take a listen to how his melody sounds like with all the effects:


4. Create a Contrast
Here’s a pro tip: Having not one, but two instruments playing the same melody is a good trick to add a sense of contrast to a song.

“I like to have two different instruments playing the melody to emphasize it and give it more flavors,” Tenebris says.” In this case, on top of the original Rhodes EP melodies, I make happier melodies on a new instrument channel using a synth lead’s sine wave preset in GM-2, which I like to use in the higher octaves. I also sprinkle some extra minor keys throughout.”

Here’s what the melodies from two different instruments sound like together:


5. Find the Beats
Here comes what is arguably the most important part of a track — drums. Drums give the song its groove and add more emphasis to each of the song’s instruments.

“Keep it simple,” Tenebris advises. “I make my drums using a basic 4/4 pattern with kicks, snares and some interesting hi hats in between each of them. I find that having a short build-up or change at the end of each measure can keep listeners engaged. As for effects, I go for reverb. Be careful not to put too much reverb on drums, otherwise a mix might get muddy.”


6. Build Up Chord Progressions
A chord progression is a series of notes that support the melody and set the tone of a song.

For “IX: Isolation”, Tenebris gets an inspiration from EDEN — an EDM/electronic pop producer from Ireland — who likes to play with static sounds right before a drop and an ending. So, Tenebris does exactly that.

“I have this really nice chord progression,” he says, “but I’m not able to fit it anywhere in the song so I decide to add it as an extra bit in the end to provide a sense of closure and finality to the song.”


7. Add Finishing Touches
Not lo-fi enough? Import audio to inject a dull, similar sense of nostalgic character to the track.


“I add in this clip of record static that plays throughout most of the song, just to give it that extra lo-fi feel, and add a degrader to the other instruments in my track to help them blend better,” Tenebris says.“If your instruments all sound like they belong to different genres, they will sound incohesive. So, make sure your instruments harmonize and complement each other. That’s another important step to making a quality song!”

And there you have it, “IX: Isolation” by Tenebris, deconstructed. Download his studio project here and open it (click “File” and “Load .sng file”) in the studio to see the inner workings of this song for yourself.

Feeling creative? Remix this track and share your work with us in the ongoing remix challenge for your chance to win one-month of Soundation Premium!