11 posts tagged

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 make 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 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.

May 3   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Time traveller’s archive — 13

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Eduardo Briceño talk at TEDx Manhattan Beach
  1. Eduardo Briceño: How to get better at the things you care about. I like how Eduardo separate activity between learning and performing, and funny enough, I’ve been using pretty much the same technique for quite some time. “Research shows that after the first couple of years working in a profession, performance usually plateaus. This has been shown to be true in teaching, general medicine, nursing and other fields, and it happens because once we think we have become good enough, adequate, then we stop spending time in the learning zone. We focus all our time on just doing our job, performing, which turns out not to be a great way to improve. But the people who continue to spend time in the learning zone do continue to always improve. The best salespeople at least once a week do activities with the goal of improvement. They read to extend their knowledge, consult with colleagues or domain experts, try out new strategies, solicit feedback and reflect. The best chess players spend a lot of time not playing games of chess, which would be their performance zone, but trying to predict the moves grand masters made and analyzing them. Each of us has probably spent many, many, many hours typing on a computer without getting faster, but if we spent 10 to 20 minutes each day fully concentrating on typing 10 to 20 percent faster than our current reliable speed, we would get faster, especially if we also identified what mistakes we’re making and practiced typing those words. That’s deliberate practice.”
  2. Research this music industry. Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. It’s posted in 2013 but its value hasn’t become any less since then: “Also look into the mechanics of how this industry works, many will have a track released and expect the label to get them bookings? The job of a label is to get your track (and name) marketed making sure it gets to the right DJ’s, into the right shops for sale, air play on radio shows and online and in magazines. Labels don’t have databases full of promoters and club owners, they have no need? The gig side of things falls to agents, its two completely different businesses that many think are one. A good label with assist an agent due to the marketing they provide, it makes the agent’s job easier to get gigs due to the exposure the label is giving the artist. ”
  3. Native Instruments: Making strummed acoustic 2. If you ever wondered how those guitar samples that you probably have in your library has been made of, this is gonna be interesting reading for you: “For the recording sessions, we teamed up with three different guitarists – each brought a fresh perspective and lots of great input. We focused on staying in the creative spirit as we wanted every recording to have the feel of a real take on a real track. So we would always warm up with a jam, and instead of recording to clicktrack, we used various drum tracks to help the guitarists perform each pattern with a distinct attitude. It makes sense that the more musicality goes into the recordings, the more comes out in the final product. Recording lasted around 6 months.”

Time traveller’s archive — 12

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

John 00 Fleming doing his first Facebook livestream
  1. John 00 Fleming Q&A talk. John gave a nice almost 1,5 hours-long Q&A session prior to his set at Avalon and people asked a lot about the Trance scene which was quite interesting to listen. I like his advice for bedroom producers: “Best advice is keep it as a hobby and stay in love of it because a lot of people think they gonna hit ‘X-factor’, like a quick romantic story. It’s like you get a track, three months later you gonna be touring around the world, and that’s how the magic happens. But it is much more than that. It only happens for certain people. You’ll get angry, you’ll get stressed if you think that. Sort your day-to-day life first, get your day-time job which pays your bills, and slowly invest some extra money in music. At some point you’ll notice that your hobby will become more serious. But it takes a long time”.
  2. Making of “The Prodigy – Voodoo People” in Ableton by Jim Pavloff. This is quite an old video but I just stumbled across it recently. Great job on sampling. I didn’t know Liam Howlett sampled so many songs back then. Watching this video makes realize how I love Ableton, working with audio channels and processing are so convenient in this DAW. Watch also the other two tracks recreated by Jim Pavloff, you can find it on this YouTube channel.
  3. The Berghain Backstory: Building Berlin’s Most Legendary Nightclub. Some nice behind the scenes of one of the most important nightclubs in the world of underground Techno music.
  4. Rewriting bad writing. Nice advice, as always from the Basecamp team. This time on writing: “While writing isn’t an easy skill, people make it way harder than it needs to be. They think choosing complex language shows skill and smarts. It doesn’t! Writing plainly and clearly does.”

Time traveller’s archive — 11

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Richie Hawtin explains his DJ setup with gestures
  1. How I play: Richie Hawtin Model-1 DJ Setup. Despite that this video has a solo marketing purpose for promoting the Model-1 mixer, it’s still nice to know what happening in the mind of such an experienced DJ as Richie Hawtin.
  2. Roland TB-303 vs. TT-303 vs. TB-3 vs. TB-03. Great audio and visual comparison of the legendary TB-303 with its modern reincarnations, made by ADSR. This might be useful especially for those who planning to buy one of these synthesizers.
  3. Everything you hear on film is a lie. Nice and entertaining insights at TED from sound effects designer Tasos Frantzolas on how our mind tricks us when we hearing sounds; most “authentic” sounds (to our ears and brain) are actually fake. Now every time I watch a rainy scene I hear crispy bacon.
  4. 7 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About Releasing Music. It’s good to read a confirmation of what I’ve written about myself. Particularly, this part: “There are lots of labels out there who may offer to release your music, but the reality is, unless they’re really putting in some serious promotion efforts, and have a strong, well established fanbase who are keen to follow the label, and not just the producers they have released, then you’ll probably not see much come from it.”.

    And this: “Let’s face it, you’re highly unlikely to make enough to live on just from selling music. Those making money from music are doing LOADS more than just releasing. We’re talking releasing music, remixing, DJing or performing live, doing sample packs or patches, tutoring, licensing, producing for other people, running events, and more. And even then, some will be doing other things to supplement income that are not related to music.”

Time traveller’s archive — 10

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

Millennium Falcon. I love this ship since I was a kid.
  1. Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive malfunction SFX. Nice and funny insights from sound designer Ben Burtt. It’s also a great example of the layering technique.
  2. The Truth About Popular Music. “The diversity of transitions between notes, chords, melodies, and other sounds has diminished over the last fifty years. [...] The study also found that producers are baking volume into songs at the production stage making them artificially louder. This over-compression has the effect of sucking all the dynamics out of a song. Everything is beginning to sound the same. [...] Now any stupid fucking bimbo or brain-dead twag can be dragged-off a reality show, chopped into a recording studio and have their shrill wobbling auto-tune for mass consumption.”
  3. The Biggest Home Studio Lie We Tell Ourselves. Good points from Graham Cochrane on being lazy: whether you’re composing, doing arrangement or mixing, never say “I’ll make it better later”. It’s like taking a bad picture on a smartphone hoping that Photoshop will fix it. You got to get it right in the first place.
  4. If you want to follow your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives. This is something I have problems with: I want to achieve so many goals, so sometimes I feel like I’m going nowhere. This article shows why you should focus on only one big dream in a funny visual way.

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 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’ flavor

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 slightly different approach, it’s more about synthesis rather than processing and maybe I’ll go over it next time.

2016   Advice   Behind the scenes   Music production   Sound design

Creating a chords stab sound

Hey, Daniel. Thanks for creating this Advice series. :) My question relates to a track from Leftfield called Original. There’a certain sound that comes in at around 1:28, 1:34 and 1:39, but I cannot for the life of me figure what it is. Is it a synth? A pad? I would like to ask if it has a name, and if so, could you show us how one could go about producing the same sound? Thank you. :)


Well, formally speaking, a pad sound usually has a big amount of Attack and Release parameters, i.e. it slowly fades in and fades out. But since that sound in Leftfield’s track has pretty short Attack, I would call it a “filtered-chords-stabs-with-delay” (a sort of) rather than the pad. Anyway, it’s not that hard to re-create such kind of sound, so let’s get straight into it.

First things off, I’ll create a new MIDI-channel and add some synthesizer on it. I gonna use Spire in this particular case, although you can use whichever you’re up to.

Recommended synths

Then I’ll create two MIDI-clips and draw those chords, although you can make an audio recordings using MIDI-keyboard if you have one. Here is how these chords sound like with no any sound manipulations, just using initial preset in Spire:

Okay, the melodic pattern matches the reference track now, let’s go to the sound design.

I’ll increase “Voices” parameter up to 4 voices and open up the “Wide” knob to give extra width and dimension. Then I turn on a Band-Pass filter with a solid amount of resonance; add a pinch of reverb, and delay on 3/8th.

Important note for Spire users: by default, Envelope 3 is assigned to the filters, and “Cutoff 1” is selected as the sound source for modulation. We don’t need this here. Choose “off” instead, or simply drag its amount to a neutral position at 12 o’clock.

This is the very foundation of our sound, and I would say we’re 90% done. Just a couple of tweaks left. What else we can do here? Well, we certainly can EQ it: cut some low frequencies off and gently boost mid-highs.

Also, seems default wave shape is not the best one for this type of sound. I found “Organ 2” matches pretty close.

And at last but not least, in the reference sound you can notice that each second chords hit sounds slightly “brighter”. You can either record Cutoff automation, or simply add a new modulation of Cutoff either on LFO, either on Velocity. Like this:

Sounds about right to me. Not 100% matches, but I hope you’ll get the idea. If some moves were unclear to you and you still have some questions about this sound, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

A specials thanks to the sound design guru Tetarise for the consultation. Check out his advice on creating an FM Psy lead, too.

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 the 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 an 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 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 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 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 Macro Mapping window. Then right click on the Transpose parameter and click “Invert Range”, set 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.

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 agressive full-onish 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 such 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 LFO rate at high speed and offset the starting point to reduce the modulation range. Such 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:

2015   Advice   Music production   Sound design

3 ways to make a kick drum

cover transparent black

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 audio editor

This is kind of old-school method and I don’t think anyone still use it. At the same time, it’s 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. 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 favorite 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 the 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 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 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 sort of polishing.

Good luck with your kicks!

2015   Advice   Music production   Sound design
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