This is the second in a series of music production tips. Sound design is the process of recording, acquiring, manipulating or generating audio elements. I’ll be using FL Studio 20.6, but everything I do in my Digital Audio Workstation you can do in any DAW. There are 2 main methods of Sound Design. In the first article, we talked about capturing and manipulating audio. Today we will discuss synthesis. For sound synthesis, we will be using VSTI’s. A “VSTI” is a “Virtual Studio Technology Instrument”. Some call them “Soft Synths”.
There are a host of modern Software and hardware synths that are used to create new sounds. We will use 3x Osc. This is a very basic, but powerful, subtractive synthesizer. It has a very old school 90’s sound that I really dig. Most every sound starts as a basic waveform. Artists manipulate these waves to create new sounds. The basic waves are sine, triangle, square, & saw. 3x Osc also offers a hybrid rounded saw, noise, and custom. Custom uses whatever sample is loaded in the channel.
I’m going to use only the first oscillator, but turn off the other 2. An oscillator is a repeating waveform with a fundamental frequency and peak amplitude. Aside from the frequency or pitch of the oscillator and its amplitude, one of the most important features is the shape of its waveform. I’m going to share below the various waveforms. This will give you an idea of the starting point of sound synthesis.
Let us begin our work by creating a bass. We will start with a sine wave, turning the pitch down. On 3x Osc, the pitch is labeled “course”. Afterwards, we will play out a basic bass line. I came up with this:
This again is very basic and dry bass. A sine wave is very basic. Very smooth, perfect for sub-bass. What happens if we use one of the other oscillators? What if we add-in another sound wave? Let us add a sawtooth to oscillator 2.
The saw wave will add more harmonics to this bass. Heres how the adjusted bass sounds:
There is now a lot more happening in our higher frequencies. Eq’ing this bass to get it to be where we want it is the next step. Again I will be using Parametric Eq2. I will cut out higher frequencies. Then I will record myself doing a “sweep” of the higher frequencies to bring out some harmonics. When recording knob tweaks in FL studio I use “record notes and automation”. This will record everything I do on my midi controller.
This makes our bass more alive. Listen now:
Back to “Buh”
In the first article, we learned to record and manipulate the sound we made. We are going to continue with this till we have completed a simple instrumental. One which we created from scratch. My hope is that by the end of these articles you can do the same in whatever DAW you choose.
So let us lace our bass into “Buh” and see how it sounds.
Again very basic, but becoming more alive. One of the issues in music production is clashing frequencies. My ears are picking up some mud in the low end. Our bass and faux kick we created are clashing. Competing for space at similar frequencies. The best fix for these instruments is sidechaining. My goal is to “duck” the bass when my kick hits, then when the kick passes the bass will rise. A sidechain compressor makes sure that a particular instrument is compressed relative to other instruments in a mix. For this effect, I’m going to use “Fruity Limiter” which has a built-in compressor.
Compression is the process of keeping an audio signal within a certain dynamic range. Sidechain compression is a bit different. It is a type of compression where the effect level on one instrument is controlled by the volume level of another instrument. This is very common with kick drum and bass. It is also the effect responsible for the “pumping” feel you get from electro music.
Sidechaining in FL Studio
As mentioned before you can apply these tips to any DAW. I’m working in FL as I write this. Therefore I will describe what I am doing in this particular DAW.
Make sure each sound has its own mixer track. FL has a great mixer. We want to link our kick to our bass. Now click on your kick (teal color in pic) in your mixer to highlight it. Then right-click on the little upwards arrow of the sound that you want to link the kick to, in this example the bass (red color in pic). Choose “Sidechain to this track”.
Add the Fruity Limiter to the track where you want to apply the sidechain to. In this example the bass track. Set the limiter to “Comp” and then the sidechain to kick.
Now set your Ratio knob almost entirely to the right. You can add the amount of sidechain with the Thres knob. When you play the two sounds together, you can see how much the kick is making the bass duck. Play around with the Threshold and Ratio settings to get an understanding of how it works and what amount works best for your track.
Heres what we have now:
So far so good. Our little “Buh” is growing up! Stay tuned for the next lesson. I believe we will take a look at sampling. Either way we will be adding on to “Buh”. At the end of this sound design series, I will be giving away all the loops and sounds.