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11 posts tagged

Sound design

Creating a weird psychedelic lead

How to emulate a typical psychedelic glitchy sound you hear in tracks from the artists like Imagine Mars, Tristan, Ajja, etc?


Zahaan, I don’t know for sure how these guys making their sounds, but I’ll share my thoughts on how to achieve something similar.

Formally speaking, this sound is very simple and it’s made of two key components: a bandpass filter and an LFO with a “Sample and Hold” waveform, all the rest is processing. Special thanks to my colleague Evgeniy Dolgih for hinting that specific LFO type, I probably wouldn’t figure it out myself.

Let’s try to recreate it from scratch. I going to use Sylenth1, but you can use any other synthesiser you have as long as it has an LFO.

Recommended synths

Initial preset. Single oscillator with Saw wave and one voice. Choose bandpass filter type and assign modulation envelopes to the filter cut off.

You should get something like this:

Initial preset with a few tweaks in the filter and envelopes sections

Now in the LFO section, assign it to the filter cut off and choose “Sample and Hold” waveform in the dropdown menu. Tweak rate and gain knobs up to your taste.

Here is what we’ve got:

Choosing LFO waveform in the dropdown menu

That’s pretty much it. You can play around with the LFO rate, add distortion, reverb, frequency shifter, or any other audio processing effects.

After spending a couple of minutes tweaking it, I’ve come up with this really weird sound:

And here’s how it sounds like in context:

Effects processing chain

Have fun tweaking yours!

P.S. I had a personal chat with Zahaan sharing these tips, and he eventually made the following sound using an extra phaser and distortion:

Well done!

 6 comments    132   2017   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Making a robotic texture sound in Spire

Could you explain how you got to producing that arp on Machinery (Preview) at 0:02 sec?

Mohammed Sharook

I’m glad you asked because I love that sound and quite satisfied with it :-)

In few words — it’s all about a comb filter. That particular filter type is what makes the sound so badass and “robotic”. But let’s try to recreate this sound entirely from scratch.

Comb filter

First things first, we need to use a synthesiser that has a comb filter. For instance, Sylenth1 which I know many Psytrance producers use a lot, won’t work in this case since it doesn’t have that filter. So, for this example, I’m gonna use Spire.

Recommended synths

Let’s create a new MIDI channel, put a new instance of Spire with initial preset, and draw a MIDI note. Keep in mind that actual note on a piano roll doesn’t matter because we gonna use noise as a waveform which obviously doesn’t have a tone.

Picture1. A new instance of Spire synthesiser with init preset

Now let’s do some tweaks. In the oscillator section, change Classic mode which is set by default to Noise. Right next to it, turn off oscillator key tracking and turn the Wide knob all way to the right.

By default, Envelope-3 in Spire is mapped to a filter cutoff. We don’t need it here, so set it to “Off”. Here is what we’ve got so far:

Picture 2. A simple noise with no envelopes

Nothing fancy so far, just a basic noise sound. Now, turn on the arpeggiator at 1/16 notes to add some rhythm. Map Envelope-1 section to the filter resonance and crank up its amount to a maximum position, and also slightly adjust the Release parameter for 15~20% of its total volume.

Now comes the most interesting part: in the filter section which is off by default, choose the combo (Mono+) filter type. You should notice a pretty dramatic change as soon as you have done it. What’s interesting about this filter is that its cutoff frequency determines the actual tone of the sound. For example, at cutoff about 235~240 (Spire’s value, not Herz), we get the sound at G# — that’s the root key of Machinery since you asked about that track:

Picture 3. Arpeggiator, comb filter, and filter envelopes

That’s pretty much the basics. Now you can add EQs, compression, delays, reverb, more filters, play around with arp gate parameter, and more. With this in mind, you should be able to make something like this:

Or add any twist to this sound, as you like. I hope it helps.

 6 comments    29   2017   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Making atmospheric effects

Hey Daniel, I’ve always wondered how does well-known psy-producers (such as yourself) create atmospheric SFX? This also includes complex zaps, squelches, just the overall SFX that you often hear in today’s psy-trance. How is it made? Do you make it from scratch? Or use samples? Thanks :)

Timothy Bourne

Timothy, I can’t speak how other producers do their atmospheric effects, I can only tell how I do this. It’s also hard to say how to make some sound without knowing exactly what kind of sound do you mean by ‘atmospheric effects’, so I’ll go over general idea.

In my opinion, two things are crucial for making effects: knowing how to use audio processing devices and creativity. If you know how to use reverb, delay, gate, compressor, phaser, vocoder etc, you can turn pretty much anything into an effect.

Here are a few examples of how I do atmospheric effects in my production.

Reversed ‘woosh’ with gate

A simple detuned chord stab:

Adjusting ADSR envelopes and adding a long reverb:

Then I reverse it and add some gate:

Making a reversed and gated “woosh” effect

Rolling texture

Now something different, with more texture. I’ll start with some simple saw wave stab with a bandpass filter:

Then I turn on the arpeggio to add some rolling pattern, and also add some long delay to keep this roll going longer:

This already sounds good to me, but we can make it more interesting by adding a high-pass filter and a pinch of metallic flavor:

Making a rolling texture with reverb, delay, panning, filtering, and ‘metallic’ flavour

Pitch-shifted gate pad

For this example I’ll take some ordinary string:

We can achieve some interesting pitch-shifted effect simply by modulation Pitch-bend wheel on top of some extra reverb:

Let’s make this effect more driving by adding gate:

Making an atmospheric pitch-shifted gate effect

Background atmo lead

Now let’s try to change some ordinary lead into a smooth background atmospheric effect:

Tweak the synth a bit, add reverb, filter automation, and auto pan as a ‘sidechain’ effect, and we’ll get this:

Just to put into perspective:

Making a background atmospheric lead

This is it, that’s how I usually do effects. This is not a ‘how-to’ guide, but rather just one of the way of making it, approach.

Some of these examples are taken from my forthcoming album

Zaps and squelches you’ve mentioned have a slightly different approach, it’s more about synthesis rather than processing and maybe I’ll go over it next time.

 7 comments    106   2016   Advice   Behind the scenes   Music production   Sound design

Website 4.5

A huge update for mobile users

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I’ve been in the music business for 5 years and know for certain that I will continue pursuing the passion for music production for the rest of my life. For me, this is a journey, not a destination.

People keep asking why I care about my website so much and spend hours tweaking and improving it. Well, it’s quite simple: I want to have a perfect place to log all of my career accomplishments while giving the visitors and the fans the best user experience. And the same as with my music, I’m doing my best in this field.

Website 4.5
Website 4.0
Website 3.0
Website 2.0

Today, I’m excited to introduce the new 4.5 version of the website with huge improvements for mobile users. It’s not just desktop and mobile templates, it so much bigger than that. The whole website adapts and changes its layout to help you focus on the content, whether you’re using a large desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or a smartphone. It almost as if the website is alive and it’s absolutely fantastic.

I would also like to highlight some important changes in the «Advice» section. Every week I answer the questions you send me on various topics, from music production to music industry insights — basically, that’s how the «Advice» works. I sincerely want you to find these blogs useful for years to come. The problem was, each time new posts came out, the older ones would go down, blocking new users from discovering useful articles.

From now on “Advice” section has spotlights — fixed places for the most important articles, grouped by topics: music production, DJ’ing, marketing, music industry, and the special «Getting started spotlight» for newcomers. But no worries, all other posts are still there and available as usual.

It should help you find relevant articles much easier, whether you are a first-time visitor or a follower. I think it’s a nice little feature. Do you?

There are more cool little updates across the whole website, but I’ll leave them for you to discover.

Welcome here:

 No comments    8   2016   My websites and blog   Sound design

Criteria of professional production. Part 2

Fills and transitions

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What are criteria of professionally-made tracks?


Previously we talked about the most crucial aspect of professionally-made tracks, sound design. In this second part, I’d like to highlight one of the most underrated ingredients of production, the things I call fills and transitions.

Part 1. Sound design
Part 2. Fills and transitions
Part 3. DJ-friendly arrangement

Let’s assume you’ve made an amazing sound design, each and every element sounds perfect. What’s next? You go out to the level above and start building up a track as a whole. You making some loop, then another loop, that’s how your track is getting progression.

The things I call “fills” is made to build a connection between those loops and parts of a track to ensure smooth transitions. I’m not good at writing, so let’s just compare these two:

It’s not about sweeps and “woosh” effects, but about those couple of extra sounds in the middle at 4~5 second. Have you noticed it? Or here:

You see, these are very tiny tweaks, but it makes a huge difference, never underestimate it. It’s a sort of finishing touch that turns your track from “work in progress” feel to the finished product. Here are some more examples:

Some longer transitions between major parts of the tracks:

As more nicely you work on and polish these parts, the stronger connection your tracks gets, it literally tightens things up together like glue.

There is no hidden secrets or shortcuts, behind every professionally-made track is hours and hours of hard work. just make sure to work on these transitions too — they really make a tremendous difference. Listen to how other producers do this job. Experiment and be creative.

 1 comment    10   2016   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Criteria of professional production. Part 1

Sound design

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What are criteria of professionally-made tracks?


Being a DJ and A&R guy, I receive a lot of promos and demos on a regular basis. Some tracks are great, some are... well, not really. Some producers ask for my opinion, and if I honestly tell «sorry, the quality of production is not good enough», it brings debates about professional vs. amateurish tracks which led to more questions than answers. I’d like to help all up-and-coming producers out there by defining the main components of professional tracks from the technical side of things.

After thinking about it, I came up with the three main criteria that stand out for: sound design, transitions/fills, and DJ-friendly arrangement. In this series, I’ll tell about each criterion in details, and today’s talk is about sound design.

Part 1. Sound design
Part 2. Fills and transitions
Part 3. DJ-friendly arrangement

In electronic dance music, it’s not that important what sounds, but how does it sound. Although personally I love musical content, there are plenty of professionally-made and successful tracks with literally just one or few notes, so bear with me.

Let’s take the very foundation of any track, kick and bass. Compare these two:

The second one sounds better to you, right? You see, formally speaking, in both cases are the same four-on-the-floor kick and three bass notes in between. The only difference is in sounds design. I’d like to clarify that there are no such things as “bad sounds” themselves, but due to genres sub-standards, we may perceive some sounds as “better or worse” compared to what we hear in this specific genre. I’ve written about it earlier.

Train your ears using a reference track

“Sound design” is a broad term, so let me define it to avoid confusion. By sound design I mean the timbre, the shape, the feel of each every sound in the track individually and their matching together, which in turn includes equalization, compression, effects, and other post-processing. At some point mixing and mastering also could be named “sound design”, but I prefer to put it separately as it’s a pretty distinctive field of work.

I believe, sound design is the main criteria of professionally-made tracks. Even if your track has some amazing ideas and musical content (which I’m not talking about in this article), but if sound design doesn’t match the sub-standard, it sounds poor. Keep in mind that vice versa isn’t necessarily true: a musically poor but professionally-made track can be a dancefloor hit.

Here is some advice:

  • Learn the basics. I’m talking about synthesis, sampling techniques, processing, modulation and other fundamental aspects of music production in general, which are essential for sound design as well.
  • When you think you’ve learned enough, learn more. Make sure to invest your time in learning new things, new technologies, new tricks. In fact, as a music producer and as a professional, you should never stop learning. Luckily, the internet opens huge possibilities for education — you can easily find courses, online schools, master-classes, communities, blogs, and millions of free tutorials.
  • Be creative. There is nothing wrong in using sample packs or presets, but use it wisely. Rather than use it as it is, do some processing: tweak, resample, reverse, chop, and more weird things. That’s where real creativity comes in!

In next instalment, we’ll talk about transitions between parts of the track.

On cover image: working on sound design at my home studio on the last weekend.

 1 comment    22   2016   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Creating a pitch rising effect in Ableton

Hi Daniel, can you advise how to make a pitch rise effect on a vocal? E.g. like in this video at 2:42, they call it the “dub delay”. I can’t find any good tutorial for this. Many thanks!


In Ableton Live, there are at least two easy ways to do that using built-in devices: Ping Pong Delay and Simpler. They give slightly different results, so choose whatever better suit your needs. Let’s go over both methods.

Method #1: Ping Pong Delay

First things off, we need to take an audio sample which we will use for the processing. I’ll grab just some random phrase from my library, a one-shot speech sample says “Dark”. It’s pretty raw and dirty, but okay for this example.

Put this sample to a new Audio Channel, and add Ping Pong Delay on top. By default, Ping Pong use an algorithm called “Fade”, we need to change it to “Repitch”. Click right mouse button on the device title and select it from the list:

From now on the modulation of the “Beat Swing” parameter will affect the sample’s pitch. Change it to the maximum value of 33.3%, and draw automation down to the end, at -33.3%. Here is what we’ve got so far:

The effect itself is fine, but as you can hear the sound fades out over time, and we don’t need it. To fix this, simply turn on the freeze function, a small square “F”. Now the delay effect will last infinitely as long as the freeze is turned on:

Method #2: Simpler

Now let’s take a look at the alternative method. It requires a few more steps, but I like it more. I’ll put the same source sample to a new MIDI Channel, Ableton automatically creates a Simpler device. By default, Simpler has some parameters that we don’t need, let’s change it in four clicks:

  • Turn on the “Loop” button. With this, we can use a single MIDI note in order to repeat the sound.
  • Turn off the “Snap”. Snap to grid a nice feature, but to make the effect smoother, we don’t it here.
  • Change Warp method to a “Tones”. Other algorithms can work too, but I found this one is better in this case.

I highlighted these changes on the screenshot:

Now create a new MIDI clip, and draw a single MIDI note up to the full length. Make sure to put it on C3 — this is a default note for most samplers where a sample is played with the original pitch. Since we turned on the “Loop” function, it will sound like this:

Now comes the most interesting part. Select the Simpler and press ⌘+G (or click with right mouse button on the title and select Group), it wraps the device into Instrument Rack. Then click on the top left button to open a Macro section, like this:

Then we have to make a MIDI mapping on the length and transpose parameters. To do that, do right click on the Length parameter → Map to Macro 1, and right-click on the Transpose → Map to S Length, as highlighted on the picture:

By default, it maps the maximum values of the parameters from left to right direction. It means that the maximum amount of the Macro knob (127) equal to 100% sample Length, and +48 semitones of Transpose. But we want quite the opposite, at 100% sample Length pitch should remain unchanged while reducing the Length should drop down the Pitch.

To do so, click on the “Map” button near to the Instrument Rack title, it opens the Macro Mapping window. Then right-click on the Transpose parameter and click “Invert Range”, set the maximum value at 0, and minimum up to your taste — I’ll set +36 semitones, which equally to 3 octaves.

That’s it. Now just draw an automation curve of the Macro 1 parameter, and enjoy the result:

Dear readers, if you know more viable methods how to achieve the same result, feel free to post it in the comments below.

 1 comment    163   2015   Ableton   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Creating an FM Psy lead

I would love to see some insights on creating FM psy leads, that typical aggressive full-on’ish sound. I’ve made some such sounds with FM engines in Spire and Dune2 synths, but they don’t sound as granly and vicious as they are in “big guys” music. What are the important synthesis parameters, what kind of processing is used after the synth’s output, which synths would you recommend?

E.g. Depth Of Emotion by Dark Soho, the lead playing between 1:18 and 3:28. This is an FM sound, isn’t it? I’ve also heard similar sounds in many other darkpsy/full-on tracks.

Recursion Loop

You are right, that lead sounds like an FM to me. Also, you’re right that Spire is probably not the best choice for this job (can’t say much about Dune), I think synthesizers like U-He Zebra or Xfer Serum would do this better.

Speaking the truth, I’m not as good in sound design as I would like to. So, to answer your question, I asked an expert to help — Tetarise. He is a music producer and sound designer, who dedicated his time and efforts to creating professional sound banks. 

Tetarise’s sound banks for Spire at Reveal Sound store

From there Tetarise tells:

This is quite simple, and all about Pitch modulation. In order to achieve that sound, try to emulate FM synthesis using LFO modulation. Set the LFO rate at high speed and offset the starting point to reduce the modulation range. This method gives a pitch shift effect, most noticeable at lower notes.

Wave shape and oscillator settings aren’t making a big difference in this case, it can adjust the character of the sound just a little bit.

You can possibly make something similar in Spire as well, but it won’t sound as good as in Serum:

 No comments    98   2015   Advice   Music production   Sound design

3 ways to make a kick drum

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I’m struggled to find proper kick drums for my productions. Should I make my own? If so, how?


Chris, there are two ways to get a kick drum: buy ready-to-use royalty free sample packs or make your own sounds. Here are some popular samples manufacturers if you’d go the first way: Freshly Squeezed, Function Loops, Loopmasters, Vengeance, Zenhiser.

And although there is nothing wrong with using such samples, I’d still recommend making your own sounds, at least for several reasons: it gives you an understanding of how things work, you can get unique sound tailored for your needs and each kick you’ve made boost your experience as a producer. Also, it’s cheaper, and so much fun after all.

Formally speaking, a kick drum is nothing but a Sine wave with Pitch modulation. There are three main ways to synthesize your own kick drum, and I’ll cover all of these.

Making a kick drum in an audio editor

This is kind of old-school method and I don’t think anyone still uses it. At the same time, it’s a very simple method hence gives a clear understanding of the process. By ‘audio editor’ I don’t mean a DAW, this type of programs are different: Sound Forge and Audacity for example. I gonna use Audacity in this case.

Audacity app
Free, cross-platform

As being mentioned above, basically, kick drum is a Sine wave. So in Audacity, go to Generate → Tone, then choose Sine waveform, and set Frequency at some low volume, I would say from 30 to 60 Hertz.

We’ve got a pure Sine tone. Select second half of the audio and go to Effect → Fade Out to shape the form a bit. Now select the first few milliseconds, go to Effect → Sliding Time Scale/Pitch Shift, and play around with these parameters. The initial pitch should be always higher than destination pitch, so it goes downwards.

Pretty much, that’s it — we’ve got a low kick drum. You can make more aggressive Attack, or Transient of the sound, it’s up to tastes and needs. I don’t want to stay longer on this as I’m sure you won’t use this method, so let’s move forward.

Making a kick drum in synthesizer

NI Massive is one of my favourite synths for making a kick drum because of its flexible modulation. But this method works just fine in many other synthesizers as well.

Read also:
Recommended synths

A little remark regarding Massive. Basically, Envelope number 4 is mapped to modulate Amplitude, but the problem is even with zero amount of Attack and Release parameters, envelope still has some ramp up and ramp down (highlighted on the picture below). It’s not an issue for most type of sounds, but with kick drums, these tiny milliseconds are very important. As a result, you’ll hear these unnecessary clicks rather than pure tone:

Here is the solution. First things off, Mute amplitude modulation by right-clicking at that number 4 in a square — it will disable envelopes effect on amplitude. Then go to oscillator settings (“OSC” tab in the modulations section), and turn on that tiny Restart via Gate thing. It restarts the phase via Midi gate and helps to get rid of the initial click.

To deal with the click in the end, here comes another trick. Go to LFO section and change its mode to Performer. Then draw a curve that goes from zero to maximum within a short amount of time, and map this to negatively modulate Oscillator envelope. So, basically, it will just turn off the volume of our sound source before that nasty click happens. Finally, we’ve got a clean Sine wave:

That’s all been a sort of preparation. Now comes the best part — Pitch modulation, to actually get a kick drum sound. First things off, increase initial oscillator pitch up to 64, as we need to go it downwards. Then map both Envelopes 1 and 2 to modulate pitch, and turn its amount to few octaves down. Then just play around with Envelopes, Decay in most, to get kick type that you want.

Here are some variations I’ve quickly made:

Making a kick in drum synthesizer plugins

There are several synthesizers, designed specifically for the kick drum synthesis: BazzISM and Kick to name a few. This is probably the easiest and most efficient way to achieve a very precise sound that fit your needs. Although, basic principles are all the same: it’s still a single Sine wave with modulation. This particular type of synthesizers is just focused on this and only one purpose.

Kick by Sonic Academy.
$40, VST/AU

These plugins are pretty straightforward, just move around a pitch, length, shape, and tweak other parameters, and here we go — a solid kick drum without the need of manual modulation mapping, like in Massive, for instance.

Kick plugin by Sonic Academy


These are the three ways of making kick drums, but keep in mind there are still quite a lot of things could be done for the usage in final productions: equalization, layering, compressing, and other sorts of polishing.

Good luck with your kicks!

 2 comments    399   2015   Advice   Kick and bass   Sound design
 No comments    5   2015   Music production   Sound design   Video
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