Lack inspiration lately? Here’s a nice set of quick tips that should help you find inspiration in the studio.
1. Using reverb can push elements towards the back of the soundstage. If you want to add some reverb, but still keep the sound “up front”, try increasing the amount of pre-delay on the sound. This will detach the sound from its reverb, so your element remains more “up front” while you still have a nice reverb effect.
2. When using reverb/s, make use of busses with the reverb/s on them, and send your channels to the busses. This not only saves on CPU, but also makes the reverb much easier to control. Just moving a couple of faders on our busses can make the overall mix “wetter” or “dryer”.
3. As a general rule, leave all of your mix automation somewhere towards the end of the mixing process. Get your mix and arrangement sounding good, then go in and add your automation tweaks.
4. If you are just starting to train your ears consider including a spectrum analyzer on your master bus and a great track that you’d like to emulate as part of your autoload. As you go along making your track, try A/B-ing your track against the track you want to emulate and analyzing each with the spectrum analyzer. NOTE: simply copying what you see on the Pro track does not mean that your mix is going to be great – things like the key of the track make a difference. However, if you do this with different reference tracks, you’ll start to notice general similarities in the spectrum of highly produced tracks in your genre. Notice things like where the low end is rolled off, how the mids look in relation to the highs etc. Above all use your ears!
5. Don’t get caught up in the “I must have every new plugin” game. Find ones that you really like and focus on mastering them before you add more. Learn your craft.
6. If you like to gate things to your drums, create a dedicated sidechain trigger track – so you can keep those nice pumping effects even when your main drums are muted. This can be as simple as copying your drums to another channel with no output (or muted) and having things sidechained to that channel.
7. It’s often a good approach to lay down the musical elements of your track before writing any basslines – the musical elements will help give your bassline direction and ensure that they all fit together nicely.
8. Using vocal samples? Pay attention to the key and transpose them so that they match the key of your track – if you aren’t sure about this see our post on understanding key. Once you’ve found a nice fit, a good trick on energetic tracks is to then tune the sample up by 10-20 cents. The slightly sharper tone with give your vocals a bit more punch, as many vocalists tend to sing slightly flat.
9. Want to fatten up that synth sound? Tune one of the oscillators on your synth down an octave (12 semitones). Tuning an oscillator up 7 semitones also gives you a nice open-5th sound, which works great on big pads or leads.
10. Planning on taking your Ableton track somewhere else to work on it? Don’t forget to use the “Collect all and save” feature when saving it. This will make sure that all of your project files are collected from wherever they may be on your computer and packed nicely into a handy folder that you can throw on your drive. No more getting there and realizing that you’re missing a few of the key audio clips!
11. If you’re looking to fatten your synth sounds, don’t overlook the “unison” button (you’ll find this on the ES2 for example, as well as many other hardware and software synths) – try playing around with this to see how the additional voices thicken things up quickly.
12. Try using a delay send-effect to simulate loops playing at different tape speeds. The delay time should NOT be synced to tempo, but just increase linearly over the duration of the process (you can just draw this automation in). You’ll get some interesting results at various stages, which you can again bounce down – and this works nicely for things like vocals and pads as well.
13. Looking for some interesting twists on your drum loops? Try copying a percussive loop to two tracks. Shorten one of the loops by a 16th note, and then repeat both loops for 16 measures. The shorter note will fall behind a 16th each measure and then , at measure 16, be back in sync. Among these 16 bar segements, you’ll find some interesting variations, which you can then bounce down as a new loop. (You can also shorten one loop by a 16th note triplet and get some interesting syncopation and swing into the pattern).
14. If you are using Ableton in a studio setting, you may want to optimize it’s audio quality when bouncing your track down.
15. Have your drums channels mixed the way you like them? Then group them, so that you can adjust the overall drum level in the mix while keeping the relative drum channel levels the same. In Ableton, this is as simple as shift-clicking on all your drum tracks and then hitting Cmd-G or Ctrl-G.
16. If you are mixing in loops and rhythm elements from a lot of different sources, it helps to use a frequency analyzer when mixing them and keep an eye on the spectrum. You can use a little EQ to even out any frequencies that stand out – generally you are aiming for a fairly flat spectrum.
17. Most people just use the default settings for quantization in logic, or import templates – but the extended quantize parameters in logic are extremely versatile and useful. These include things like Q-Swing, Q-Strength, Q-Range and Q-Flam. The key command for bringing up these extra quantization parameters in Logic is “P” – or you can find these in the extended parameters window which by ‘Right Clicking’ or ‘Control Clicking’ on “Quantize” and selecting ‘Extended Parameters’.
18. If you are using Logic’s ES2 for Bass sounds, don’t overlook the “Sine Level” pot. Adding a bit of this can give your patch a touch more bass end as it is a sine-wave generator tuned at oscillator 1’s pitch and reinforces the original signal. Also, play around with putting the ES2 into Unison mode, set to mono, and adding more voices. Watch your ears and monitors!
19. Did you know that best practice is to bounce down to the format that is specific to your platform? If you are on a MAC it’s probably safest to bounce to AIFF and if you are on a PC bounce to WAV to get the best results.
20. In addition to the basic synthesizer waveforms, all of the ES2 oscillators provide 100 additional waveforms, called Digiwaves. These are very short samples of the attack transients of various sounds and instruments.To choose a Digiwave
-Set the Wave knob to Sine (6 o’clock position), then do one of the following:
-Control-click or right-click the Sine label, and choose a waveform from the pop-up menu.
-Click-hold the Sine label and drag the mouse vertically.
-Shift-click the menu, and type in a value, to select the Digiwave numerically.
21. After some interesting random percussive rhythms to apply on top of a beat in Logic? Try loading something like a single Tom sound mapped across your keyboard in the EXS24. Once you’ve done this, draw in an empty MIDI region and draw in a trigger on each 16th for your looping area. NOW go to Functions/Transform and select “Reverse Pitch”. On the “Flip” button select “+/-Random” and increase the amount to 24 (basically this will randomize each 16th by pitch randomly over two octaves). The select “Operate”. Try it!
22. Have a muddy mix? A high-pass filter applied to every channel can really help clean up a busy mix and give the kick and bass some room to move.
23. If you are looking for interesting effects, try adding sending an element to a bus with chorus on it, set to “pre” and then panning the effected sound to the rear and reducing the volume. If you do this while keeping the original signal in the front you can get some interesting effects.
24. Using Cubase and looking for that “disco re-edit” sound or a more live feel generally in your original track? Try looking beyond quantization swing and play around with the Tempo record function. Within the Tempo window (Alt/Cmd-T), just move the slider to your desired tempo while the track is playing back. Maybe leave the intro and outro nicely locked for mixing and add a little fluctuation in the middle to give the whole track some new swing?
25. When using Pro Tools, adjust the Hardware Buffer Size appropriately in the Playback Engine set up window. As a general rule, keep it low (up to 128 samples) for recording to avoid latency, unless you use the low – latency monitoring options, in which case, any processing on armed tracks will be bypassed. Use a high buffer size for mixing, to maximise processing.
26. Having Plug-in Buffer problems in Logic? Be aware that plug ins like the Adaptive Limiter will produce their own latency problems, so don’t use these until all recording is complete. The Multipressor will cause similar issues as will the use of too many ‘regular’ plug-ins. Bounce a file of your track if you need to record audio over a ‘busy’ backing track.
27. Did you know that if you drag a quick-time movie with audio into arrangement view in Live the video will pop open and you see the movie audio just like any other audio sample? You can then use the “Loop Brace” to create movie loops and use warp markers to radically speed up and slow down the movie.
28. Don’t overlook the time saving features of Key Command Macros in cubase. Want to quantize, trim note legnth, and fix velocity of your MIDI in one go? Create a new Macro in your key commands window and then add “MIDI – fixed lengths”, “MIDI – fixed velocity”, and “MIDI – Quantize”. Then select your MIDI part and apply the Macro (bottom of the edit window). Figure out which things you might frequently do and create useful macros for yourself.
29. Your computer will run better when it’s plugged into the mains. So, if you’re doing CPU intensive work, whenever possible make sure you are plugged up.
30. If you are using Reason and want that great reversed vocal or drum sound before the original, there’s a nice one-key way to do this. Open your sample in the audio editor and reverse it – then set the playback mode to “Forward + Backward” and you’ll hear the sound nicely swell into itself.
31. No matter what your DAW, the smallest buffer size possible should be used when recording to prevent latency – but when on playback you can increase this to avoid system overload messages.
32. You can get some great interesting results just playing around with the vectors fuction in the ES2. It’s all about playing around with it and just discovering something unique. Here’s a brief video that will get you started – thanks to SFLogicNinja
33. It is advisable not to compress your whole mix prior to mixdown but just to concentrate on getting a good mix. Leave worrying about power and loudness for when you pull the bounce into a new mastering session. This way, if your track is picked up, you’ll have a nice raw track so send to a proper mastering engineer.
34. If you are tired of waiting for Live to analyze your files when you drop them into your sets, just browse to the folder and control/right-click on the folder and choose “Analyse”. Now when you drop one of the files into your set, it’s ready instantly!
35. Want to know how to make a simple major chord from any key on your keyboard? Easy. Put your finger on any key, count up four keys (whites and blacks) and put your second finger there. Lastly, count up 3 more keys from your second finger. There you have it, a basic major chord.
36. Want to know how to make a simple minor chord from any key on your keyboard? Easy. Follow the instructions above for a major chord. Then drop your middle finger down one key. There you have it, a basic minor chord.
37. Want to quickly automate more than one element in Logic? Just group the faders, then any automation moves will be written en masse.
38. If you always want to use the high-quality setting for your EQ8 in Live, just right-click on the EQ8 and select high-quality as the default setting.
39. If you are limited in terms of your investment capital for your setup, at least get a quality set of monitors. Having a decent set of monitors to reference your music on will change the way you produce.
40. If you’re creating your own loops from chopped material, recorded material etc, make sure that you prep them before getting too far into producing with them. Make sure they don’t have unwanted silence on the front end, which might make them out of sync with the rest of your material. Also, be sure to check that the start and end points fade nicely at the zero crossing. This will ensure you don’t get left with nasty little pops and clicks.
41. If you’re running out of room on the default drive you loaded your Live library to, you may want to move it to an external drive to free up some room. Go into your preferences and choose Library>Location. You can then move your library to another location.
42. After some interesting rhythmical textures? Right/Cntrl-click any random audio in Live and select “Slice to New MIDI Track”. The try reordering the generated MIDI to work with your drums, or even integrate them into your drum rack by dragging the drum pads over.
43. You can get some interesting effects side-chaining the filter in Live. A nice little feature.
44. If you you have a complex MIDI part in Cubase and you want to separate its contents or delete some notes you can speedily do this by choosing MIDI>Dissolve part with the even selected. Each note can then be split off to a separate even or even split by channel.
45. If the machine you are using for music production is also connected to the web, it’s probably a good idea to turn off automatic updates for your machine. By doing so, you’ll make sure that any incompatibilities that updates might create with your DAW are avoided. You can always select to download updates but manually install them – giving you time to ensure that you have properly backed up your machine before installing updates.
46. Sorry, did you say that you don’t regularly back up your machine/sample library? Are you a glutton for punishment? Back up, back up, back up – or you’ll eventually regret it.
47. The EVOC (Logic’s vocoder) can be used for much more than the traditional vocoder effect – especially if you make use of side-chaining. Try setting it up in it’s synth mode and play in a chord/note that works with your track. Then side chain it to something like your drums to get an interesting rhythm that sits well with your drums. Try delaying this to get some interesting accompanyments that compliment your drums.
48. If you’re using pads to fill out your track, try using a band-pass filter on the sound and modulate it in some way to give your pads movment – this could be something like LFO’s, envelopes, or even just track automation of the filter itself. 49. Some limiters will let you push their output to 0db but some will let you push past that. It’s good practice to set the output level below zero (-0.1 or -0.2 for example) to avoid any potential clipping or errors.
50. Compression and limiting are nice but don’t squash the life out of your track. It results in no dynamics and a tiring feel…if your waveform basically looks like a solid block, you’re probably pushing way too hard.
51. If you’ve been picked up by a label and they are going to master your track, don’t send them the heavily limited file you may have sent for demo purposes. This leaves their mastering engineer with no head-room to work with to sweeten your track on all that fancy gear you don’t have. Here’s some advice from an engineer that has been doing dance music for a few decades:
“…files should be in WAV or AIFF format and should not have been converted to a lesser quality (ie resolution or sample rate) – please do not send us MP3 versions! Your files should be as raw as possible please send with with no effects, compression or maximisation. It helps to ensure no plug-ins used have over-levelled at any point and the file sent has had no channels touching the red, lastly a good 6db or so of headroom on the finished file is essential to allow us to do our thing and obtain the best possible audio result.
Please also don’t use any compression or other effects on the master out on your desk and ensure no clipping occurs as both of these things will negatively impact how much the mastering engineer will be able to improve your recordings.”
52. When you are layering kicks to get that perfect sound, pay attention to phase. If you are layering a couple of kicks, say one with a low end and one with a more punchy mid/top, try switching the phase on one of the channels. This can sometimes result in a more pleasing sound. Another option is to play with the track delay. Moving one of them slightly in relation to the other can often give you a nice result.
53. When trying to brighten a sound, it’s often as useful to remove some of the lower mids as it is to try and increase the higher frequencies with EQ. Just be careful not to remove too much as you will loose punch.
54. Try sending all of your drum elements, minus the kick and snare, to a bus and add a compressor to the bus. If you side-chain your kick and snare to the compressor on this bus and adjust the send levels of the kick and snare to the bus, you will be able to push up all the elements in your drums but still keep the main driving elements – kick and snare – prominent.
55. If you can’t seem to find that right percussive sound and you’ve gone through your library, don’t forget about adjusting the transients on what you have. This, and detuning, can seriously alter your drum library sounds and you’ll likely find what you are after. For a more percussive sound, use short attacks, low sustains and quick decays. For more smooth and extended sounds it’s the opposite.
56. After struggling to work this out at home, I came across this really informative video courtesy of makemorenoise that covers how to easily copy track automation in Logic Pro using very simple key commands.
57. Use the Flutter control to add pitch inconsistencies to the output of the Tape Delay plug-in. Interestingly, this can work particularly well with ‘fixed pitch’ sounds (like a Fender Rhodes piano, for example) as the pitch modulations add an extra touch of chorus-like warmth.
58. When applying delay, experimenting with feedback can create interesting effects. Features to use in conjunction with feedback are the Low Cut and High Cut controls. Delay always seems to work best when it has a different timbral colour from the original input, arguably helping the ear to make a distinction between the dry and wet signals as well as mimicking the tonal colouration of an ‘echo’ that might occur in the real world. Using these filtering controls (which are positioned as part of the feedback circuit) you can make the delay darker (using High Cut), thinner (using Low Cut) or narrower (using a combination of both filters).
59. You can give your drums a pulsing feel if you apply an LFO controlled low-pass filter to them. Add the filter to your drum track and lower the frequency until you start hearing it filter the hi-hats. Then, set the LFO amount nice and low and sync the rate to a 1-bar cycle. You can then offset the LFO to taste.
60. Off beat hi-hat patterns can make your patterns more interesting if you loop them for 3 beats rather than the usual four. This way, they cycle at a different rate to the main loop, but still stay in time. Give it a try and see how it sounds.
61. DAW’s will store your audio files, unless you deliberately delete them. Having masses of audio in your project file will clog up your hard drive un-necessarily when your project is finished. So, in Logic go to your Audio Bin and find the ‘delete un-used audio’ function.
62. If you’re having trouble with hard drive space, think about recording in MIDI instead of audio. This will allow you to record lots of alternate takes without having to worry too much about space. Perfect for laptop producers, who’s hard drives may not be as large.
63. Confused about when to use insert effects or send to a buss with an effect on it? As a general rule, you should use inserts on channels that you want to process independantly, but use busses if you want to process a group of channels collectively. For example, you might have a group of drum tracks – kick, snares, hats, shakers, that you want to EQ and compress. You might put an individual EQ on each of the channels, and compress each channel differently to get the desired sound. Then, you could send all of these channels to a buss with another compressor on it that compresses the collective tracks to “glue” them together.
64. Using Reverb and Delay as buss effects is often useful as it creates a common sense of space for all of your track parts. If you use different Reverb and Delay settings for each track as an insert, this can create a sense of non-conformity that your brain feels is strange – afterall, we are used to listening to music in one type of environment, which colours the whole sound.
65. Even though you remove a file from your session in Ableton, Ableton’s file management system still keeps any previously used files in the project folder. This can end up taking up a lot of unecessary space on your drive. You can use the “manage files” function.
-look under “file/manage files”
-then you can manage library, set or project (if you choose project then click on unused samples) Ableton shows all the unused samples for that project. **Note, if some of the samples are in use by other projects ableton has no way of showing this
-then click show in finder (make sure that the headphone sample preview is off. Select all and delete…Bam free hard drive space.
66. One way to grab vocals off a recording is to eq out the drums but this often has some undesireable effects on the vocal as well. If you happen to have the instrumental version, you can try another technique – phase cancellation. Here’s a nice little video on the process.
67. Looking for that “sampled from vinyl” effect to give your tracks a little more grit? Don’t overlook the bit-crusher. Just a slight bit of crushing on some select elements can give your digital tracks that more organic feel.
68. A good way to get some movement in your mix is to use autopanners on two instruments playing the same MIDI information. Oppose the starting points so that as they pan they cross eachother as they pan. Keep on eye on your wet/dry setting on the panners though or the mix may become unbalanced.
69. An important and often overlooked part of mastering is to check your mix for mono compatibility. Many club systems have mono systems and it your track isn’t mono compatible you will get phase cancellation – removing essential parts like your bassline. Get an analyzer that checks for mono compatibility – many mastering suites have them and there are also free tools you can find on the web.
70. Use busses and group similar sounds there applying effects like reverb and compression. By creating group busses for basses and drums for example, you’ll develope a more coherent “glued together” sound.
71. Many of Ableton’s plugins have different quality modes – such as the EQ for example. Setting them to the highest quality mode will result in a better quality processing of the audio, but this also results in higher CPU use. If you are struggling with CPU load, consider setting them to a lower setting when in your arranging/jamming mode and then having your mixing defaults set to the highest setting. At this point you should have already bounced down quite a few files and will have more processing power available.
72. Be careful when using your DAW’s freeze function or exporting stems for mixing – many DAWS will bypass any sidechaning you had in place when you do this. Instead, bounce any side-chained parts down using sidechain processing individually through the master bus (set to 0dB with all plugins bypassed). Be sure you have the output of the sidechain source channels muted with still sending their signal to the bus.
73. Always keep your monitoring level at a reasonable level whilst you are working in the studio and turn it up once in a while for a short period. SAVE YOUR EAR’s – the last thing you want is to damage your ears or get tinnitus which could end your music making career for good!
74. Always save your tracks with different version names as you are writing the track. This will enable you to experiment more with the track without worries about loosing your way – if you lose your way you can always pull up an earlier version.
75. This should go without saying but many people still don’t do it. BACK UP!!! My backup external hard drive recently broke and I did not replace it straight away. 3 weeks later my hard drive died and I lost everything. 3 years of music arrangements gone. Don’t think it won’t happen to you and get caught out!
76. Name your tracks either as you go or at the end of every session. This will make it much easier when you go back to your arrangement to alter tracks easily and know what’s what. 76. An equalizer and spectrum meter are essential when you are writing a song. Analyze your tracks EQ responses to find ranges of your mix that are lacking frequencies, and fill in the gaps. You can also then use EQ to help even out your mixes. It is also a good idea to analyze some of your favourite tracks in the same genre to get a sense of what the frequency range looks like.
77. If your gain reduction meter on your compressor doesn’t return to 0dB for a few bars, you are probably over-compressing. The fact that gain reduction never returns to 0dB indicates that compression is always taking place. A constantly compressed signal – especially if it’s relating to your whole track – can sound very flat and lifeless, as you are squashing all of the natural dynamics out of your sounds.
78. When you are dialing in settings on a compressor ask yourself these questions each time.
79. Don’t overlook the built in track delay for each of the tracks in your DAW. By altering these slightly (1-10ms or so) you can push things forward in time or pull them back, creating a relaxed or urgent feel. Clever playing around with these will also give your track it’s own unique sense of swing.
80. If you’re using a sampler to play in percussive sounds, variation of the velocities can make them sound more human. Go further and experiment with modulating the sample starts via an LFO or the velocity – or by altering the pitch of hits subtly. These will slightly change the place of the peak transient in your groove or mimic they way a drummer strikes differently each time.
81. The way you put your effects chains together can have a profound effect on the final sound. People are often confused about when to add EQ and compression. There’s no hard-and-fast rule to this, but thinking about it in a common-sense way will help you decide. Simply ask yourself the following question: ” Do I want to EQ my compressed signal, or compress my EQ’d signal?” The answer to that will tell you where to place each in your chain in that instance. If you still don’t know the answer, experiment with both and see what pleases you most.
82. Did you know you can re-size the meters both horizontally and diagonally in Ableton to get more information and greater resolution? Try dragging the line above the meter or sideways on the track header to reveal the dB meter numbers.
83. Have a play with the EQ3 in Ableton vs. the EQ8 and try cutting a certain frequencies – say the low end for example. You’ll soon notice that the EQ3 has a very different characteristic and can be useful for your more “broad range” cuts.
84. Experiment with stacking sounds in your sampler and then sculpting the stacked sounds to create your own unique elements. If you’re using Logic for example just open up an EXS24 instrument and go to the instrument editor. Highlight the folder in the left hand “Zone” column (this will select all the zones in your instrument). Now go to the edit menu and hit “copy”. Now open up a new exs24 instrument that you think might sound interesting stacked with your first one. Go to the instrument editor as before, and the select “paste”. Your zones from both instruments will now be stacked and triggering a key will trigger both samples assigned to that key at the same time.
85. Looking for a slightly different way to add some movement to your pads other than the usual side-chained compression option? Try using a high-pass filter with an envelope following option and adding it to a pad sound. Set the sidechain of the filter to listen to the kick so that it raises the filter cut-off when the kick drum plays.
86. If your kick is lacking clarity, one fix is to subtly layer it with on-beat hats – these bring it some clarity and bite. Just mix it to taste.
87. Old schol drum machines were created so that the kick and snares in particular kits are designed to work well with eachother right out of the box, so you can use these as a foundation for your beats and then layer up with your own samples for extra flavour.
88. Give your hats some nice movement by panning the closed hats hard left and right and creating a sequence that alternately triggers left and right hats. Put an open hat in the centre.
89. If you are using the EXS24 and want to emulate the classic “choking” effect where open and closed hats cannot play at the same time just route all your hats to a single “Group”. To do this, just go to the group pull-down menu and create a new group. Set the number of voices to 1. Now, only one sound can play at once, effectively “choking” the others.
90. If you want to easily see where triplets should fall using your grid, try programming using a 24/4 quantize grid.
91. Looking for that extra bit of energy in your fills? Try switching to triplets in the fill before reverting back to 16th or 8th quantize divisions for the regular groove.
92. Looking for a more chunky sound to your hats and snares? Try some modest bit-crushing and you’ll be surprised at how this can thicken up some sounds. This will reduce some of the high range frequency, so you’ll need to compensate with a bit of upper-end EQ.
93. Working all day with a loud kick drum can tire your ears, not to mention in some cases annoy the neighbors. Try putting a low cut filter on your master channel just to give your ears a bit of rest once you’ve got your kick levels sorted. You can always turn it off periodically to test your mix levels. Your ears and your neighbors will appreciate the break.
94. Have you written in all your automation and found out you need to do some track level tweaking? Save yourself the hassle of altering your automation and instead insert a utility plugin on the rogue channel. You can dial in a negative output level and bring the gain of your channel down without having to get into the automation.
95. If you place the microphone to close to a singer you will get that distorted clipping sound; and if you have it too far from the singer you pick up more background noise. By setting the microphone 6 to 12 inches from the the singer you’ll get a crisp clear voice. Also, make sure the microphone’s not right next to the computer so it doesn’t pick up the fan noise
96. Standard MIDI Files are a great source of useful grooves, licks and riffs for future use. Some sequencers such as Logic enable you to categorise and search for MIDI clips in their built-in loop browsers. Create your own database of MIDI clips that can be dropped into any project. From drum beats to arpeggiations etc. This will really help get your creative juices flowing
97. Fills are great for filling the space left when the vocalist or lead instrumentalist isn’t playing, and also signal changes in your arrangement. This will create tension and add interest to a track. Fills could be drum rolls, for example, or a reverse reverb from a vocal.
98. Did you know you can save clips containing just MIDI CC automation data for future use ? You could, for example, open up previous projects and save the filter sweeps, volume swells or velocity patterns. These can then easily be transferred over existing MIDI tracks on new tracks. Use something like Cubase’s Logical Editor or Logic’s Transform functions to reassign your clips to entirely new CCs. A great time saver.
99. If you ever feel like u don’t know where to go with your track, try using your DAW’s MIDI transpose function to shift entire passages up and down in pitch. Often, these transposition tools offer the option of keeping the notes relative to the key of the song. You may also want to try this without this option- you’ll be surprised at some of the interesting key change progressions you arrive at.
100. Don’t overlook MIDI control numbers for your synth. These will be listed somewhere in the manual and offer a way for you to draw in automation and assign it to a vast array of parameters on your synth. Try drawing in your own automation and assinging it to whatever MIDI parameter you want to modulate. You could assign it to the general MIDI CC 74 for the cutoff frequency or MIDI CC 7 for the volume for example. Experiment with different CC’s and see what cool effects you stumble across.
101. Looking to add some extra oomph to a chord? Try assigning a different sound to each note in the chord and play with the levels/ADSR of each to get a good fit. An easy way to do this is to play each key of your chord individually with a different synth patch for each and record the output. Then throw these sounds in a sampler and assign them to each of the appropriate keys. When you play them all together, you’ll get an interesting multi-layered chord. Very similar to the concept of stacking intstruments, but with an extra twist.
102. A lot of the space and size in my breakdowns comes from layering pads. I’ll have two or three layered and EQ them so they take care of different frequencies. So if there’s a pad that’s quite bottom-end orientated I’ll take the top out of it. Then, for another pad with really nice top end, I’ll EQ out the bottom end and so on. I also like to widen things up a little and logics sample delay is a fantastic way to get wideness to sounds. It lets you delay one of the channels by samples rather than milliseconds and is really good for widening pads.
A lot of people put too much into tracks when making trance and it can get too crowded. I always work from the peak of the track and then strip it back for the arrangement. For ambience, the Big Cave preset on logics Space Designer is great and I also use QuikQuak’s fusion field. Try raising the reverb level over time so it almost overpowers the dry signal for big build-ups.
103. Lately, I like to add a little randomness – and sometimes a lot of it – to some parameters of my instruments: pitch, pan, volume, cut-off, decay, fx levels and so on. When done subtly, it may not be too noticeable from the outside and the listener probably can’t guess what is going on. But it will start to make instruments sound a bit more lively, unique and interesting. For example, it can be done in NI Massive or any other vst through formula controller if, like me, you use FL Studio.
104. With the update of Maschine to 1.8 there are some quick new ways to select and modify notes. Hold erase+select+pad to erase notes or shift+select+pad to select them. Once you’ve selected the events on particular pad, you can modify their with the swing, timing, velocities etc.
105. We’ve probably said this before, but get used to using a spectrum analyzer on each channel to help you clean up your mixes and notch out conflicting frequencies on different tracks. You’d be surprised how much “mud” you’ll find on things you really didn’t think had any low end, and cleaning this unecessary stuff out from the start will help you get a much cleaner mix in the end.
106. The key to getting expressive unique sounds from your synth is various forms of modulation. Get to understand your Mod Matrix and the various ways you can alter the sounds over time with things like envelopes. You’ll be glad you spent the time and find yourself deviating from the standard presets in your own way.
107. It doesn’t ALWAYS have to cost a load to be good. In fact there are a ton of great free plugins on the web. Our free area at Plugin Boutique is a good place to start your hunt.
108. Looking to get a more interesting sequence from your arpeggiator? Try throwing one after another for some even stranger effects. Another great way to play with the original sequence is to alter the note velocities and lengths using your DAWs’ “Transform” or “Numerical Edit” function.
109. Modulating a synth’s filter cutoff frequency with an LFO is a great way to get a sound that evolves and works well with an apreggiator.
110. It’s a good idea to add and EQ and roll off the low end on your delay and reverb busses to keep things from getting muddy.
111. Use wide voicing and go easy on the sustain if you’re working with a Rhodes sound, to keep things from getting muddy.
112. Did you know that you can play any sample you drop into a clip in Ableton’s session view chromatically? Just drop a sample into an empty clip, click on MIDI learn, and while the clip is highlighted press the lowest and highest keys on your keyboard. Exit MIDI learn and you’ll now be able to play the sample pitched up and down on your keyboard. For good results, double click the audio file and turn of global quantization for the clip, so every time you hit a key the sample plays back immediately.
113. With the newest operating system update to Maschine, you’ve got a great way to browse your samples. Just turn on preview mode in the browser and select your sample folder. As you browse through using the hardware controller you’ll audition the sounds and if you come across something you love, you’ll be ready to load it into the sampler and start playing.
114. Did you know that if you are planning on dithering your bounced file after bouncing (during the final mastering stage) Ableton’s manual suggests you bounce at 32-bit (or above)?