OCULA’s signature sound is a tasteful blend of retro analog characteristics mixed with the clear and present punch of modern music production. U-He’s Diva is the softsynth that OCULA swears by to achieve such precise and masterful results.
Diva is an analog-emulation plugin whose complete functionality is buried within a user interface that can seem a bit overwhelming to producers first picking it up. But it’s incredibly user-friendly once you know where to start.
So to celebrate the release of his latest EP, out now on Monstercat Silk, we invited OCULA on to unpack the best and easiest ways to start using this synth to make beautiful melodic house music that gets supported by the likes of Lane 8, Le Youth, and more.
Stream OCULA’s Latest EP Below
Having followed OCULA for a few years, it’s fantastic to see the culmination of his dauntless work encapsulated in this masterfully-done 4-track EP.
Bridging the gap between club-friendly energy and delicate listenability, each track offers something new to fans and newcomers alike. Vocal tracks featuring Julia Church and Luke Coulson offer humanized connections that are begging to be put on repeat.
Tracks like ‘Try Me’ and ‘Waiting’ offer more driving momentum to the body of work, rounding out the four-track EP nicely and leaving you smilingly on a high note.
The lush and warm instrumentation obtained through Diva’s sonic identity can be heard throughout the four songs, which made me excited to see how OCULA works his magic. So let the music sink in for a few listens, then dive into the interview.
What makes Diva your favorite synth for producing melodic house music?
I think my favorite aspect of Diva, which drew me to the synth a few years ago, is its warmth and ‘vintage’ feel.
I’ve struggled to find any other VST synth that replicates the sound and feel of an analog synth as well as Diva, and I use that to my advantage as often as possible.
In contrast, I can’t buy multiple pieces of hardware and fill up my studio space. Another feature of Diva that makes it my go-to is the user interface – I’m not a fan of synthesizers having hundreds of features but all hidden within multiple layers of menus, as I find it kills the flow when trying to make a quick adjustment or experiment while playing.
Diva’s UI has the excellent design of an external synth but really nails the workflow, in my opinion, with only a few different ‘views’ to skip between, so nothing feels as if it’s buried within multiple sub-layers.
Which are the most interesting parameters to tweak when using Diva?
I think a key component of my ‘signature style’ is the more organic humanization of my songs, which is credited to Diva’s oscillators, envelopes, and filters.
In particular, a great technique I often use – typically when working with arpeggiators that can sound a little too repetitive when played at the same velocity – is to assign the envelope velocity to the filter frequency mod and then utilize Ableton’s random velocity MIDI effect to give each note a varying velocity amount that will adjust the filter cutoff.
Higher the velocity, the more the filter opens, and the lower the velocity, the more the filter closes.
I find this a great way to add some humanization to a melody that might be playing throughout the song, which helps keep it fresh and varying as the song develops.
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For example, in my latest song, “On The Run,” I introduce a plucky 1/8th melody at the 1:48 mark. To avoid that phrase sounding too robotic, I added a small amount of velocity to the filter, giving it a little random movement. Also, I used the ‘KeyFollow’ amount to slightly open up the filter more on the higher notes while keeping the lower, repetitive notes filtered down more.
What are the best plugins you use to process sounds from Diva?
My go-to for extraordinary delay and ambiance processing is Portal.
I love this plugin and often use it to turn a relatively basic sound into a charming lead or counter. The primary chords in “On The Run” feature Portal prominently throughout, giving a +1 octave pitched delay effect that helps to build this excellent, atmospheric sound that started with just a regular sawtooth oscillator from Diva.
I love the pairing of the vintage sounds from Diva with the incredibly powerful and, potentially, futuristic sound from Portal – it can take a patch replicating an old 80s analog synthesizer and bring it into the modern day, in my opinion.
Sticking with the theme of building atmosphere from Diva’s sounds, I often turn to the Lexicon reverb plugins or the Fabfilter Pro-R. The Lexicon plugins can give a lot of character to a sound straight out of the box. In contrast, the Pro-R has such an incredible amount of fine-tuning that I love – especially being able to adjust the post-EQ and the decay rate EQ separately.
I find I go to the Lexicon plugins if I want a Diva patch to lean into that warmth and vintage sound, whereas I’ll bring in the Pro-R more for imaging and final mixdown adjustment.
When do you most often reach for Diva for sound design compared to other synths in your arsenal?
Thinking about it now, I typically separate sounds into character and core sounds. If I need a lead sound to be unique and packed with detail, I’ll open up Diva to find that.
On the other hand, if I need a ‘core sound’ like 1/16th sawtooth pluck to give some rhythm to a bassline, I’d typically go to Serum. Likewise, if I needed a solid sub-bass, I’ll use Serum; but for a nice gritty bassline with some great mid-range detail, I’m going for Diva.
As I mentioned, the primary chords in “On The Run” are just regular sawtooth-wave oscillators from Diva. Still, I found they sounded so much better running through Diva because of the character it gives to such a prominent element of the song. Using Serum for a part like this would typically mean more automating and processing to achieve a desirable final sound. In contrast, Diva seems to naturally have it with some adjustments to the filter and the filter mods.
One way to describe it would be Serum is more beneficial to me, whereas Diva has more of an explorable feel. One area that I tend to switch between Diva and other synths, however, is topline melodies that need lots of high-frequency detail.
I’ve found that when I’m looking for something to cut through the high end, around 12khz and upwards, Diva struggles a little, and I’m not a big fan of just cranking up an EQ band by 6db.
I find it’s perfect for that mid-high frequency range where you want a lovely, dreamy melody to sit, as it has a significant amount of detail and thickness in that area.
Share your one golden rule when it comes to sound design using Diva.
I’d say avoid EQing too much.
I know I’ve said it a thousand times, but there’s so much character in this synth I think a lot of people will instantly think to cut a bunch of typical ranges like around 200-400hz, but you run the risk of just making it sound like any other digital synth out there.
When mixing, tidy it up here and there, and maybe boost some of the highs if you need them to cut through more, but just letting the synth do its thing is really important.
There’s been countless times where I’ve used Diva for a sound and added zero additional processing other than maybe cutting under 100hz, or just a shelf EQ to boost a wide range of frequencies to stand out better in the mix, so don’t worry about feeling like you need to process everything all the time – sometimes the perfect sound is the simplest.