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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.
Ever listen to a track and been floored by the thick, rich tones of the synths? My guess is yes and if so you've probably stopped and wondered, how do they make these incredible sounds? You may already know the answer or at least part of it, layering sounds is a hallmark of electronic music. To make interesting dynamic synth sounds producers layer synths. In Ableton, the easiest way to layer synths is with Instrument Racks.
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:
What is feedback and how can it be used in sound design? Feedback as we know it, is a special kind of positive feedback loop where a sound loop is created between a sound input and a sound output. The classic example is the horrifying and ear piercing screech of a microphone getting too close to a loudspeaker. In this case, the signal received by the microphone is amplified and passed out of the loudspeaker. The sound from the loudspeaker can then be received by the microphone, amplified and passed out the loudspeaker again and again and again creating a feedback loop.
Nowadays the sampler is just another tool in the arsenals of the musicians, producers, and DJs. Although popular music created in part (or entirely) with samplers is a relatively new, the idea of using snippets of sound to create new music has been around for a very long time. Since the 1920s, composers have toyed with the idea of composing music just for being played on phonographs. At that time, audio recording technology had been around a few decades and some composers were starting to wonder what else could be done with the new technology.
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.
Last June Beat Drop played host to drum machine/synth wizard and Roland Senior Product Manager Lyle Crilly. He spent the afternoon giving us a run through of the history of Roland and an in depth look at how Roland's new AIRA line can be used in the studio and for performance. In case you missed if we filmed it and uploaded the workshop to our YouTube Channel.
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.
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.
By Brandon Smith
Judging by the number of modular synths, drum machines, effect units and other lovely knob and button-laden things at this year's NAMM show, it's clear that hardware music technology isn't going anywhere. Producing music entirely "in the box" (i.e. with a computer in a DAW environment) is now common and widely accepted. People 20 or 30 years ago would have been amazed that you can do all that stuff on a computer - let alone a personal computer. Yet there are now more modular synth manufacturers around today than there were in the 60s and 70s, when names like Moog, Arp and Buchla were at the cutting edge. So why would more manufacturers be making hardware when you can just do everything on a computer now? These may be contributing factors:
1) Hardware is cheaper and easier to manufacture than ever before which makes owning gear nowadays comparatively far more affordable than in the past (owning a modular synth in the late 60s was akin to buying a luxury car).
2) Some people prefer the tactile "feel" of an instrument. Even "in-the-box" productions require outboard MIDI controllers, speakers etc. to interface with the people making the productions. Computers can't read our minds. Yet......
3) While the software emulations of things like Minimoogs and other classic synths are getting quite good, there is a lot of variation in sound and feel with the real Minis out there. They were made for a decade. Therefore, a 1971 Mini won't behave exactly like on made in 1980. Individual instrument quirks can be important to musicians - analogous to a guitar player who really likes the feel of the neck or the tone on a particular guitar.
4) Inspiration. With everything conveniently at your fingertips it's all too easy to fire up Massive and start cruising through the list of presets until you find something that's close-ish to what you want. Then you mess around with parameters trying to make the sound more like what you hear in your head. It's not any easier making sounds from scratch on a hardware synth - in fact it's usually harder. But eventually one gets sick of all the presets and wants the inspiration that may come more naturally on and instrument with limitation - but has lots of character. It seems counter intuitive, but sometimes we can be the most creative by limiting our tools of expression.
5) Sound. Kind of stating the obvious here, but people wouldn't go through all this hassle if the sounds weren't worth it.
So how does one use a hardware instrument within DAWs like Ableton? It depends on what the instrument is, how old it is, and how you intend on fitting it into your productions. Of course the most obvious way to incorporate a hardware is to just record the audio into Ableton. Sometimes there's something to be said for a sloppy, un-quantized synth line played by hand and recorded direct. If it's an old synth that has no means of MIDI or CV control recording the audio output may be your only option. If it's a pre-MIDI drum machine there might not be any way to "clock" or control its tempo externally. If that's the case its probably best to sample a pattern and loop it. Ableton's "Slice To MIDI" feature makes it easy to break down cheesy preset drum machine patterns into their constituent parts and re-sequence them in the box. If it's a more modern machine with MIDI you can opt to tempo or "MIDI clock sync" it. That way you still get the "feel" of the drum machine's own sequencer, just running in sync with Ableton. MIDI-equipped machines usually have the ability to trigger the individual sounds using MIDI notes, so patterns can be sequenced directly from the computer that way as well. There are lots of possibilities. Below is an example of a setup where the computer is controlling a Roland TR-8 through USB. The MIDI out of the TR-8 is going into the MIDI in on the Oberheim DX, which is a much older machine from the 80s and only has MIDI. The DX is being "slaved" by the TR-8 (they could both be used that way without a computer). However in this instance, they are both slaved by the computer which controls the master tempo and start/stop via USB. Sync has to be enabled in Ableton's MIDI preferences for this to work properly.
It can be really frustrating to get your gear to work the way you think it should work. It doesn't help that MIDI has been around for over 30 years, and USB is only now starting to replace it. Very often outboard synths/drum machines won't sync properly or at all on your first try (make sure you are using the correct sync mode in your DAW’s preferences). Learn how to do a factory reset procedure on your gear (usually by holding a combination of buttons and powering the unit on and off) in case you get into a mode and can't get back out. Again, this is why reading the manual is a good idea. Luckily the latest hardware boom comes complete with devices designed to make our lives easier - marrying the old with the new. One such device is Roland's SBX-1 (see below). It can also hook up to a computer via USB and drive multiple drum machines/synths/grooveboxes through its 2 MIDI outs. For pre-MIDI machines it features "DIN Sync" which is an older proprietary system that Roland used back in the day for syncing and start/stop messages. The ubiquitous Roland 808 and Jupiter 8 both have it. The SBX-1 can also convert MIDI messages into CV and gate signals to drive old analog synths and modulars. Gotta love mixing the new with the old!
Find out more about the TR-8 and the rest of Roland's AIRA line-up on June 13th, 2015 at Beat Drop. The Roland AIRA Clinic runs from 1 - 3 PM, is hosted by Lyle Crilly and it's totally free.