You know those click-bait headlines on Facebook that end
with “You won’t believe what happens next”? In the case of classically
trained Nick Boundy, a.k.a. M4sonic (that’s “em-four-sonic”), the hype
is more than deserved. “Controllerism” isn’t entirely new—artists like
Moldover and Jeremy Ellis have been trailblazers for some time. But
M4sonic takes it to a new level, with every percussive and pitched note
of his sonic creations mapped to a different pad on his Novation
Launchpads. He plays songs through in real time, with no loops running,
triggering something different at seemingly every sixteenth-note. These
skills have gotten his YouTube videos over 30,000,000 views and netted
major deals with Sony and Ultra Music. Click below to watch two prime examples, then read on to see how he does it.
- "Virus" (original song performed on Novation Launchpad)
- "Weapon" (improvised mash-up on Novation Launchpad)
How does your classical piano training affect your approach to creating electronic dance music?
When I compose music, I begin by playing a melody on the
keys. The melody is crucial to my music and is sometimes lacking in
other genres of EDM.
When did you start piano lessons, and who was your most influential teacher?
I first began playing at age five with my mum on the
family piano, which had been left to us by a family friend who was a
travelling concert pianist. I would memorize a sequence of notes that I
could play while my mum played a piece of music. I then had to make up
the rest, and that’s my earliest memory of my first composition, which I
performed at school in grade 1.
What was your point of entry from playing piano into wanting to make electronic music?
It was a combination of driving my parents mad with the
constant practicing in the living room and their support for me wanting a
keyboard that had more features than just a piano sound. That
conveniently came with headphones so that I could play all night without
Given your keyboard training, why not just map your
slices, hits, and other sonic elements to keys? What advantages does a
grid controller like the Launchpad provide?
The Launchpad has no function until you map it. Therefore, unlike a piano where middle C will
only ever be that note, I can map my own musical language. Originally
that language didn’t have much logic to it, only an organically built
layout of sounds that my brain found easy to remember. It became such a
personal space where my music was designed for me only. Over time I’ve
adapted my loops and hits into a more methodic layout. Of the 64 LED
buttons on the Launchpad, I have four quadrants of samples with very
Do any aspects of traditional keyboard training translate well to the Launchpad for you?
My learning style is via repetition and visual cues. I was
never brilliant at sight-reading sheet music, so I quickly became
accustomed to relying on muscle memory. The Launchpad is like a
three-dimensional keyboard in that I can move vertically, not just
horizontally. My hand positions, strangely, are very similar to playing
chords on a piano. The dexterity from all those years of scales on the
piano has also really helped.
What more can you tell us about your general mapping scheme on the Launchpad?
The bottom right quadrant will have the majority of the
chord and synth stabs. The top right might have pretty much anything;
usually it acts as a linear extension of certain stab or chord sounds
from the 16-button quadrant below. The bottom left is for percussion and
FX, and above it in the top left quadrant I keep uplifters, vocals, and
chord stabs that might be in an intro but not in the main body of the
In that bottom left quadrant, it seems like you prefer to finger-drum grooves MPC-style rather than letting a loop just run?
Spot on. The samples are generally laid out so that my
thumb plays the kick, my index finger plays the snare, my pinky plays
the ride, and my fourth finger plays the crash. My left hand is always
responsible for the drum kit and other sounds like vocals, risers, and
so on. Working out sequences though, that’s a process of trial and
error. There’s no genius formula, just a lot of practicing.
For your drum sounds, are you mainly using a kit-type virtual instrument in Ableton, or REX-style slices of longer audio loops?
All my drum sounds are one-shot samples. Often my bass
kick is something that I’ve resampled from an existing project where
I’ve layered a top kick over my main kick, tuned to the key register
that my miscellaneous [pitched material] is in. The same goes for the
other percussive sounds from sample packs I’ve collected.
What are your favorite soft synths for stabs? Bass sounds? Leads?
I’m a huge fan of plucky synths. I often use Sylenth for
those sounds. My bass sounds are usually pretty basic sine waves layered
with a square wave straight out of Massive, but I like to process the
audio with some distortion and other effects before I have my bass
samples ready for use on the pads. Leads are much the same. Depending on
what VSTi I’m using, I find that resampling the single stab with
another, over and over, creates some really unique sounds that I can use
in other projects by again resampling, time-stretching, pitching, and
Your hands are fully occupied on your Launchpads in
live performance. Even so, are there any plans to incorporate, say, an
I actually just purchased an aluminum Minimoog Voyager
that I saw at NAMM, which sounds and looks amazing. Expect not just a
new sound in my production, but a new element of performance with this
synth in the future!
DJing has one important cultural aspect in common with
jazz: The idea of covering, quoting, and interpreting someone else’s
“standard.” Do you think that your method of dissecting the rhythmic and
pitched content into all these pad-mapped elements might encourage
“live remixing” between artists?
One hundred percent. Just recently I teamed with Novation
to give away my samples via a YouTube competition where people perform
on the Launchpad iPad app. It’s been really exciting to see how users
who’ve downloaded the sample pack are moving samples around and laying
things out in their own ways to make new remixes of my performance of
It’s also becoming increasingly common for artists to
share the stems from their tracks for remix competitions, and a growing
number of controllerists out there are starting to experiment with this.
Instead of putting a track together on a computer using a DAW, then
transferring it and playing it live on CDJ decks, I hope more producers
start to use the controllers and instruments that they made the
music with to perform it live. What makes the Launchpad such a great
tool is its versatility for studio and live performance.
Are there any non-EDM musical influences in your
background, other than the aforementioned classical training, that might
surprise your fans?
Yeah, I would listen to Korn. I was a huge fan of their
drummer Joey Jordison. I always wanted to play drums. I mucked around on
friends kits but never had lessons. On the complete opposite scale I
was listening to Vangelis and orchestral compositions. I appreciate
music for what it is, not the stereotype that accompanies it. I don’t
ever want to feel restricted to making music that’s only “EDM.”
Where do you think EDM is headed overall, and what can
be done to promote more real musicianship—and appreciation of that by
The biggest part of this is educating audiences about how
EDM is produced and performed. There is a growing dissatisfaction with
the “press play” mentality and acts like Disclosure and Robert DeLong
are growing large fan bases as a result of not only their music but
their live performance. Similarly, big-name superstars like Skrillex,
Zedd, and Above & Beyond are doing live instrumentals as a way of
showing their fans that they’re also musicians. Commonly, EDM fans think
of a producer and a DJ as the same thing. These two roles have been
meshed together and often a great electronic producer is not an amazing
DJ. Similarly there are some technically amazing DJs who can’t really
make music. I think that helping the community understand that these are
two unique skill sets will make them really appreciate the artists who
both produce their music and perform it in a unique way.