Song Exploder: Tycho

A designer-turned-musician breaks down the composition of a song


Song Exploder is a podcast about music. It’s also a podcast about design — how the components of a piece of music are selected, combined, and assembled into something whole.

In each episode of Song Exploder, a musician deconstructs one of their songs, piece by piece, and tells the story of how it was created. The format of the show is based around letting the audience hear the individual sounds and instruments, giving them an insight into how all those layers fit together; and, in the process, giving listeners a glimpse of the person behind the music.

In the most recent episode, guest Scott Hansen, a graphic designer-turned-musician who uses the moniker Tycho, revealed that he used to be intimidated by the idea of making music. “A couple of my friends had guitars, and it just seemed like you had to be the guy who had the guitar to play guitar,” he remembers.

Scott Hansen-designed artwork for “Awake.”

But as a designer, he understood technology, and that was his way in: he got himself a drum machine. He thought, “At least I can just approach this from a technical perspective, and just learn this machine. And there isn’t some attached meaning to it, like, oh, you have to think you’re an artist.”

Between clips of isolated synthesizer parts from the song “Awake,” Scott explained that his approach to music and his approach to design are congruous. “There’s a precision and a textural element to it that are common to each. My design always has a very analog, noisy, textured yellowed, aged layer to it, even though the things below it are very digital, very modern, and clean.” And with music, “even though it might be a modern synthesizer, I’ll spend a lot more time working on the filtering and the processing of it to make it feel like this memory, through a yellowed lens.”

Hear Scott’s full story of the process behind Awake below:

You can subscribe to Song Exploder and listen to past episodes with guests like The Postal Service, Spoon, and more via: iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, RSS, or at maximumfun.org.