Composer
Random by Design

Composer
Random by Design

As his name suggests, Bryan ‘Composer’ Nelson is in the business of music making, and business is good. But for him, this isn’t work; playfulness, unpredictability, and creative freedom are crucial elements of his musical approach. We caught up with him in LA to talk about classic synths, starting with the sound design basics, and how KeyStep Pro was the missing piece of his puzzle...

Bragging rights

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Composer now lives and works in the midst of the cultural melding pot that is LA.

Working out of his own tailor-made studio, he’s collaborated with a string of A-listers, from Christina Aguilera to Akon. But despite being Grammy-nominated and having multiple platinum releases to his name, he likes to stay humble.

Like many modern producers and creators, his setup consists of a 50/50 split between hardware and software - but that’s where the familiarity ends. Composer prefers to keep each project fresh and unpredictable, and he does so by starting from scratch.

Designing a sound

No corner cutting, recycled loops, or DAW habits here.

For Nelson, it’s all about starting with the basics. Before anything else, he aims to set the musical scene by pinning down the core idea, motif, or character of the project.

I feel personally that a template immediately puts you in a box. Creativity is supposed to be free and open.

This could mean nailing the drum sound, the chord movement, or the topline melody - but sometimes he’ll strip the process down even further. Sometimes all he needs to kickstart his track is some quality ADSR time.

I’m a sound designer...I like to just design the sound...keep it simple, start with the ADSR, and you’ll be surprised at what you get just from that.

Finding synthesizers

Nelson’s love affair with the core elements of sound design truly blossomed when he began working with hardware synths - specifically vintage ones. The main offender? A Juno-106. This legendary name catalyzed his interest in building patches from scratch, a path that ultimately led him to the inevitable Eurorack obsession.

Now I’m down the rabbit hole and I can’t come back. It’s over!

Nelson notes that it’s not all about hardware though. To further whet his vintage synth appetite, V Collection proved a useful creative asset; an authentic sound design/synthesis experience without the auction trawling.

It all really ties into how I feel about Arturia because you guys allow us to sound design with those original keyboards. I love that.

Do not disturb

As we’re speaking to him, Nelson momentarily becomes hypnotized with a sequence on his Eurorack. His focus sharpens as he experiments with notes on the KeyStep Pro, adjusting as he goes, until he lands on something that’s ready to track.

This is creative freedom in motion. Nelson is determined to keep his workflow uninterrupted, and witnessing him seamlessly slip into his creative mode with KeyStep Pro is testament to his commitment - and perhaps a nod to this controller’s ability to coax it out of people.

I needed that. We all needed that.

Every step counts

At the heart of Composer’s hybrid setup lies KeyStep Pro. In the session we sat in on, he was making every step count. Triggering drum tracks in his DAW, lush OB-Xa V pads, Eurorack sequencing, fluttering arp melodies with fluctuating time divisions. For him, it’s KeyStep Pro’s ability to find beauty in the unexpected that plays a major part.

It makes it really easy to get things that I wouldn't normally play or think of. I’m usually surprised at what comes out of it, because it’s usually random. That sparks ideas immediately.

Nelson points out that incorporating KeyStep Pro into his creative process has been a different experience compared to other gear. Where other devices have felt separate and complex, KeyStep Pro unites and leads the way intuitively.

This is crucial to maintaining a fluid workflow.

...the ease of use and the integrated nature of all of it - it’s almost like I’m not working.