Owl City's Tools of the Trade

Owl City live 2013 P
Matt Vogel

Being a producer is a lot like Alice in Wonderland if the looking glass led to a studio lined with equipment. Owl City auteur Adam Young has disappeared into that rabbit hole more than a couple times. Indeed, it was insomnia that helped produce his first basement tracks which made him an internet sensation.

Now, almost six years later, the 26-year old for little Owatonna, MN is fresh off his August fourth album, The Midsummer Station. It features some of Young’s first co-writes (with Sam Hollander, aka S*A*M, Lady Gaga collaborator Brian Lee, Relient K frontman Matthew Thiessen) and a single, “Good Time,” with Carly Rae Jepsen.

Young also contributed the song “When Can I See You Again,” for Wreck-It Ralph, and worked with Alan Silvestri on the end credit sequence from forthcoming Dreamworks animated feature, The Croods, an experience he called a “blessing.” Young hopes to get more involved in film scoring calling it “my lofty goal.” He’s obviously off to a good start.

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An inveterate tinkerer, the synth-pop artist, who hits the road with Maroon 5 starting Feb. 13 for a two-month tour, shares some insight into his sonic bag of tricks.

Trap Set and Tweak. “Usually I create beats to something, some synthesizer line or vocal melody,” says Young. “Other times, I have a little drum set in my house and I’ll sit down on that and experiment. I’m not that great a drummer but it gives me a lot of ideas for the programming world which is how I prefer to do it. So I come up with some little drum line on real drums and take it upstairs, program it in and tweak it.”

Getting His Patch Fix. “I’m always on the lookout for the next new texture or sound source to tap into. I’ll really get into a certain plug-in that has a certain sound or patch on a keyboard and I’ll tweak variations and use that certain patch… [until] I’ll kind of exhaust that and move onto the next thing,” Young says. “A great all-inclusive standard synth plug-in that I use more than any other is called Omnisphere by Spectrasonic. Buy this plug-in and you have this whole world available to you.”

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Pedal To the Metal. “There’s a huge world by itself of once you have something recorded in your software, bring that out, pass it through some hardware box or amplifier, and maybe set up a mike on the other end of the room, capturing the room sound,” he says. Lately Young’s been fooling with guitar pedals. “My favorite recently is Fulltone Guitars’ OCD. It’s a white overdrive distortion pedal and just the way it saturates the signal and kind of grinds a bit when you run anything through it, something about that is magical. So I’ve been running all sorts of synth and different sounds, even drums through it.”

YouTube U. “I had never been to music school or college to study production or anything, so YouTube was my college. Just googling how to connect something to something, and you find loads videos of people telling what they’re doing and what they learned,” Young says. “To me that’s so much inspiration waiting to happen.”

Twitter: @THRMusic