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Most producers don't include instruments in their songs that are playing out of key. The reason being instruments playing out of key sound dissonant (or bad depending on your point of view) and can be unsettling to the listener. However when it comes to drums, many skilled producers load up a sample, put it in their song and process it with EQ, distortion, and compression without giving a second thought to pitch. This could be that many people assume drum sounds don't have a distinct pitch. These people are wrong.
Many producers don't fully understand the power of Clips in Ableton. Most see them only as containers for MIDI or Audio information. While this notion isn't wrong, clips can be used for so much more than production tupperware. If you learn to harness the power of clips you can add a whole new set of creative tools to your musical palate. Below are eight powerful techniques that take advantage of unique features of clips and will add interest, complexity and general gnarliness to your tunes:
Have you ever been working on your mix and a certain element just won't fit? Despite your best efforts, with gain staging, EQ, compression, phase-correction, or other effects, a certain sound falls out of the mix. What's the best course of action when all else fails? The answer is simple, change the element(s) that is/are causing the problem. One cleaver function in Ableton makes changing a given sound for another almost painless, "Hotswap."
What are some of the things that separate a truly skilled musician from a sequenced MIDI pattern? Many listeners would describe a programmed MIDI pattern as cold, sterile, robotic, or lacking emotion when compared to the performance of a human musician. The flourishes, the groove, emotion and feeling a skilled player imparts on their performance can be difficult to recreate on a computer even for skilled producers. A human player does not play perfectly in time or play notes with exactly the same velocity. The human player's performance changes in time as the music progresses and allows the player to impart emotion and movement to the piece. Thankfully, Ableton gives us a few tools that can add some spark and magic to our sequences MIDI patterns.
Flangers, phasers and choruses are from a family of effects called modulation effects. These effects work by creating a series of frequency notches that are slowly swept across the frequency spectrum (hence modulation). Because the notches result in frequency attenuation you don’t really ‘hear’ the notching but you hear the frequencies that are not affected by the notching.
When I make songs I almost use all the same insert effects on every track. The settings will be different depending on the nature of the sounds but I tend to use the same key effects. In order to save time while loading up the same effects I saved a default Channel Strip as an Effect Rack and mapped the macros of features I use regularly. My default Channel Strip consists of a Utility, an EQ Eight, a Glue Compressor and a Limiter.
Jamaica’s studio-spiked rhythm music called Dub changed modern recording and production more than most styles of music. Dub was the first style of music that made the producer a technical engineer, composer and artist. While the lead vocals or other melodic elements took centre stage in a typical reggae mix, Dub stripped everything back leaving the drums and bass as focal points in the tune. Bass heavy rhythm tracks were accentuated with modulated stabs of guitars, vocals and organs in a wash of spring reverb and tape echo.
The name of the game for most digital music producers is workflow. Working quickly, efficiently and in a methodical way allows you to finish tunes that sound spontaneous, full of life and not overworked, but there are other considerations. In today’s digital age the half-life of digital media is very brief. The never-ending deluge of content means often your creations are buried in new content before your audience even has the opportunity to listen. For better or worse, this means creating quality content on a regular basis is immensely important to artists today in order to keep on their audience’s radar. There are numerous methods producers can use to be efficient and fast in the studio. Organization, separating your sound design and writing session and using keyboard shortcuts are some examples.
Arpeggiator is one of the MIDI Effects found in Live. Arpeggiator works by taking MIDI input from either a held chord or held note and plays the notes or note back in a rhythmic pattern of your choosing. Often a player will trigger a chord on their MIDI device and when Arpeggiator is enabled the chord will be output as individual notes playing at a set frequency (an arpeggio) rather than being heard in unison (a chord).
Of all the devices I love in Ableton Live, Samplers is my absolute favorite. Sampler is well known as an exceptional multisampling instrument that allows the easy handling of multi-gigabyte instrument libraries but many experienced Ableton live users overlook many of Sampler's most unique functions. The focus of this article will be to introduce Sampler as an irreplaceable sound design tool built into Ableton Live. Hidden in Sampler’s tab windows is a dedicated modulation oscillator that can perform frequency or amplitude modulation (FM or AM). The oscillator allows the user to select 21 unique waveforms plus a loopable amplitude envelope for dynamic waveshaping.
Before we get into how the FM oscillator in Sampler can be used to rough up drums, destroy bass lines or make an electric piano from foley recordings let’s discuss what FM is and how it has been used. FM synthesis was the basis of the now classic DX7 synthesizer first brought to market by Yamaha in the mid 80s. Phil Colins famously used the Yamaha DX7 in the introduction of “One More Night” (1985) and the DX7 also provides the punchy bass line in Micheal Jackson’s “Another Part Of Me” (1987). More contemporary examples of FM synthesizers are the Live’s Operator and Native Instrument’s FM8. Skrillex used FM8 for the majority of his bass sounds on this 2012 release “Bangarang.”
FM is a form of synthesis where the timbre of basic waveform (sine, square, triangle etc) is altered by modulating its frequency with a modulator frequency that is in the audible range. The resulting waveform becomes increasing complex and audibly different from the initial waveform as the amplitude of the modulating signal is increased. The sonic result is harmonically rich and can often be described as metallic or distorted. FM synthesis opens up an array of sonic possibilities that are difficult to achieve with subtractive synthesis.
Start by loading up an initialized Sampler instrument and select a sound you would like to destroy. I would recommend resampling another bass you’ve made previously in another soft synth but you can just as easily use any sound source. Drag and drop your sound of choice into sampler. Make sure you press snap or ensure that your start marker is a point in the wave where the wave crosses the origin.
Next go to the Pitch/Osc tab in sampler. Click on the Osc button to activate the frequency modulation. For the time being make sure the FM option is selected and turn up the sustain volume on the Osc envelope. The Osc envelope controls the amplitude of the FM in time. Now begin increasing the Volume box found on the right side of sampler while triggering the synth. You will notice the timbre of the sound change. This is FM synthesis in action.
The type dropdown menu allows you to select the wave shape used for the frequency modulation. The coarse box allows you to control the octave of the wave used to modulate the frequency of the original sound. The fine control makes more subtle changes the pitch of the wave used for FM. The Vol<Vel control allows you to control the volume of the FM with the velocity input from your MIDI device and is a great way to add some variation to your track.
Try grouping your Sampler into an Instrument Rack. Next map the FM Wave Type dropdown menu to a macro on the Instrument Rack and the Volume to another macro. This will allow you to quickly assess some of the different sounds that you can make using this technique. As you adjust the wave type and the FM volume try playing the sound in different octaves. The results may surprise you (especially when the FM Volume is high).
Once you settled on a wave type and FM Volume try tweaking the Osc envelope to add more motion to your sound. Moving forward continue shaping your sound using the other envelopes, filters and LFOs built into sampler. Happy tweaking.