Categories
Music Production

Transition Elements in Electronic Music

When arranging electronic music, we often get fixated on things like chords, melody, drums ect. Its easy to forget some of the other, more subtle elements that make a track flow. In this post I’ll focus on transition elements, and how I use them.

I primarily work in Ableton, but these techniques will work in any other DAW.

Remember there is always a transition in, and out of a section, so you may need an effect to automate into a changing of sections, and automate out of a new section after the switch.

Filter Sweeps

One of the most basic transitional elements is a simple filter sweep. This is where you choose a filter, and automate the cutoff over time. 2 basic types of sweeps are the basic high, and low pass. The effect is to slowly limit the range of frequencies for an instrument to create contrast between sections.

So the idea here is to choose a high pass, and automate the cutoff up, or do the reverse for the low pass. This will create space and make it so the next section appears to hit harder on the transition. Another option for more a more subtle transition is to automate a shelf.

In this case I would keep the frequency fixed, but automate the gain downward on the low frequencies so that the low end gets subtle smaller, then jumps back in the next section.

Risers and Noise Sweeps

Another common technique I use, is risers, or sweeps. I used to use pre made ones from sample packs a while ago, but now I make all of them myself. It is relatively simple to make one. One of my favorite simple sweeps involves just white noise.

In this case I chose to use Operator, but you can use any instrument that makes noise. I just set the oscillator to white noise, but you can play around with different noise types, and layer them. On Operator I like to set the spread to 100%, then all I have to do is automate the cutoff frequency. I often make midi clips of a single sweep up and down, and at varying lengths.

I might do 2 bar sweep up, 2 bar sweep down, 1 up, 1 down, ect. This way I can easily copy and paste them around the track to smooth out transitions.

Stereo Image

Another trick for transitions, is manipulating the stereo image. This can be done a variety of ways, with stereo image tools, or effects that support m/s mode. As a drop is approaching you can cut either the center or the sides of the stereo image, resulting in the image appearing to move around. An example is in the track “Main Frame” as one of the drops is approaching, I automate the width parameter on the stock Ableton plugin down to 0, before dropping it back to 100% on the pads. The effect is that the pads go mono right as the transition is coming up at about 1:42.

Another way to do this is with an eq in M/S mode and you can slowly filter off either the center or side channels. There are plenty of 3rd party utilities too. Waves Center can make it easy to automate the levels of center and side channels.

Creative Effect Transitions

Another type of transition involves subtly automating any effect as a transition is starting or ending. Common ones I like to use are chorus, flanges, reverbs, and bit crushers. One thing to keep in mind when adding one of these types of effects is that it can make that instrument stick out too much. Bit crusher is a great example of one that can make a track quickly sound too harsh. For these cases I like to use Abelton’s instrument rack which lets me automate multiple effects at once. So what I might do is automate the volume down a little, perhaps also add some eq so that as the bit crush effect becomes more prominent, the track stays at the same volume and blends better.

In “Heat of the Night” You can hear some bit crush come in on the transitions right before the vocals come in.

Looking closely, what happens is as I turn the bit crusher up, the high end will get a shelf and the gain gets turned down on the utility, so I can safely crank up the bit crush effect and have the synth still sit in the correct spot in the mix.

Cymbals

Cymbals are always an easy element to add. I like using acoustic cymbal samples because I like the way they blend in electronic music. Find a few good crash and splash samples and add them right as sections change. To get even more mileage out of cymbals, you can simply reverse them. You can add a rev cymbal into a change, and a regular crash coming out of one.

Conclusion

Transition elements are very important in electronic compositions and can make even simple songs sound more interesting by adding “momentum” between parts. There are a few methods I outlined above, but the possibilities are infinite even with these few methods. The only thing to keep in mind is to make sure that your transition elements don’t stick out of the mix and draw attention away from the other instruments. These should always be very subtle. If its distracting, it’s probably too much. Anyway, give some of these a try, and happy automating!

Categories
Music Production Synthwave

Making Cymbals and Percussion More Interesting

When adding cymbals and percussion in tracks, the obvious starting places to create more interesting sounds is to pan, eq, and pitch shift. For example, you can have 1 high hat sound, and you can pitch it 4 times up, creating 4 different hat sounds, and pan them left to right. This will add some interesting dimension to the percussive elements, but I like to take it a step further.

Creating pseudo random variation

In addition to some of this basic panning, I like to add some subtle extra effects that change over time. One of my favorite things to do is to add a Haas, or widening effect, and modulate it over time with an LFO. A great tool to do this is Khz Multipass that comes with the Slate bundle. I like it because it has some built in LFOs, and multi band effects. So one of my starting points is to put a Haas effect on the high channel of hats or shakers and set the delay to modulate.

What I also like to do is make the LFO rate be something that won’t sync to the BPM of the track. The reason I want to do this is because I want every single bar to be slightly different. I can set the LFO to repeat at something synced to the bpm such as 1/4 notes or even 1 bar. What will happen is that the effect will start at the same time every bar, and what I want to happen is that it never lines up at the beginning of the bar. This will result in completely random variations across the track. After adding some width, I also play around with some other effects at random like chorus, phasers ect.

Using Stock Plugins

It’s not necessary to use Multipass to accomplish this. I mainly use Ableton, and can also do it with the built in LFO, map it to 1 side of a delay, and play around with the rest of the knobs to taste. It’s also possible to just open up an automation lane and draw some random lines.

If you don’t have an LFO tool, you can also just draw out some random automation in an automation lane.

This works on all sorts of percussion instruments. I often put subtle delay, chorus, flanger, distortion on any percussive instruments like bongos, claps, and shakers. The only percussion element I typically would not modify with one of these effects would be kick and snare, since they are the most important elements to drive the rhythm.

What does it sound like?

Here is an example with Jetfire Prime on a synthwave track where the stereo modulation on the hi-hats is really apparent. If you listen closely to the high hats they get super wide at some points and then narrow. It gives it just another layer of variation that doesn’t repeat exactly on beat, so every measure, the width will be slightly different, but never repeating the same.

Categories
Music Theory

Learning Violin First Week

Violin

So I got my hands on a violin. I’ve been thinking about this for a while because I haven’t been satisfied with any orchestral samplers. In some instances they can sound really good, but what gets me the most is the articulations are just not quite right to my ear. So I’m just going to take the dive and learn how to play them myself. I got on Amazon and ordered beginner violin. This is my first week and these are my findings!

So step one was to map out the fingerboard. this isn’t too fancy, just using google docs, mapped out all 7 modes with 4 notes per string. The first thing I noticed is that there are way less combinations to memorize than learning guitar because all the intervals are always fifths from string to string. So if I choose Ionian, and bump it over 1 string higher, I only have to relearn the lowest string starting on note number 4 to learn lydian.

So I’ve almost got them all memorized, but still having a little bit of a hard time judging the distances between the notes. Even small distances off, translate to notes being out of tune. The other tricky part is getting good tone. It’s actually not terribly hard while staying on the same string and bowing, but moving string to string can be tricky. One second it sounds really good, and the next second it sounds like screaming cats.

All and all, for simple whole notes I think it already sounds way, way better than any of my Kontakt libraries. I think so far what I like the best is the articulations sound much much better. I still have a long way to go on improving the tone but I think within a few weeks I should be able to do some of my own basic violin lines. I’ll post some samples next week!

Categories
Lofi Music Production Vaporwave

Why I don’t use Samples

By samples I mean full samples from other tracks. A sample is basically a piece of audio recorded from an existing song. Lots of types of music are sample based. Essentially, a loop from an existing song is taken, modified, and new track is built around that. Lots of vaporwave, lofi, and future funk uses samples from old songs. There is a lot of room for creativity in manipulating the samples.

Remix vs Cover?

I do lots of video game covers, but they are technically not remixes. Sometimes the terms are confusing because they get interchanged, but technically, a remix is a type of song that also uses original audio. A cover rebuilds the sounds without using the original audio. If you were to take the midi from a song, run it through your own synths and create audio, then its a cover. If you record the actual song and put it in your song, then its a remix.

Remixes and other sample based songs come with a lot of legal difficulties because it’s hard to get the right permissions to use audio samples. Cover licensing is fairly easy to come get. A lot of distributors offer low cost licensing options for doing covers. They usually take care of sending the original songwriter a cut of the royalties. The reason that I don’t make sample based vaporwave isn’t rooted in the legal issues, but for me, its simply workflow.

But Why Tho?

I don’t have a DJ background so I don’t have experience stitching songs together. I do have lots of experience playing in bands and writing parts for multiple instruments. For my workflow in Ableton, It’s easier for me to write the parts out in midi, and create an arrangement around that. I like to move notes around in different midi lanes, and it’s not possible to modify individual instruments on rendered samples. In a sample, you can’t easily change things like the chords. I also don’t have a collection of songs that I would use for sampling, and wouldn’t even know where to start looking.

Samples or no Samples?

In conclusion, sample based music is definitely very cool, and some of the “sound” comes from modifying rendered audio. For my workflow, midi works best because I like having control of all the midi, and can write quickly like that. I do however occasionally sample myself. I’ll take rendered portions of my other songs and slice them up or slow them down for effects.