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Sound Design & Production -- For Music and Madness

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  • Try a tempo synced tremolo on your reverb return.


  • Humanize your shaker and percussion loops by automating a transient designer. Back off the attack in quieter sections and vice versa.


  • Present your hook in an almost subliminal way by loading a sample of it into an IR reverb and sending a rhythmic element to the reverb.


  • Stereo trick for mono tracks: duplicate the track, hard pan, use a compressor on one track and an expander on the other.


  • Strings: double the part a few semi tones up/down and tune it back to the target pitch. You’ll blend different samples = more real sounding.


  • Cut out the reverb for a few seconds to create an almost claustrophobic feeling! Check the verse on “A Sorta Fairytale” by Tori Amos.


  • Any melody line (or vocal instrumental) can be made richer by adding a harmony, sending it to a reverb, and muting the dry sound.


  • Make a pad or shaker track with verb 100% wet followed by a gate. A dry snare triggers the gate and gets a very interesting reverb tail!


  • On drum reverbs, use a transient designer and turn up the attack. It gets you a tighter reverb and punchier drums without spiky transients.


  • A track needs more presence? Try brighten up the reverb instead of the dry sound. How does it sound different? How does it work in the mix?


  • When using several rhythmic loops, try moving them slightly (in samples or ms) to mess with phase. Interesting tonal artifacts often appear.


  • Guitar parts played with a pick on single strings: Transient designers can make the player sound a lot more confident. Turn up the attack!


  • Automate tempo and go up a few BPM in the chorus. It adds excitement and life, just like when real musicians play together. Subtlety is key!


  • For dry sounds that sound a little detached from the other instruments, put a slap delay (80-100 ms), 0 FB, panned to the opposite side.


  • Use a filter in the low end to reduce the bass a bit in the verse, turn off the filter in the chorus. The chorus will have a greater impact!


  • ABBA used to speed up the pitch of the song (varispeed) and record vocals and then pitch it back to normal. Try this in your DAW.


  • Duplicate a track, pitch shift up 1 octave, insert reverb (100% wet) and mix in subtly with the original for a gentle kinda exciter effect!


  • You got two guitars or synths panned hard left and right? Put a subtle tremolo on each, one doing 16th notes, the other doing 8ths.


  • Try inserting a distortion/saturation plugin followed by a low pass filter on an aux before your delay to simulate a tape delay driven hard.


  • Try a de-esser before your reverb. Not just on vocals.


  • Put a compressor on mid-range heavy sounds like electric guitars and synths, letting the vocals trigger the sidechain, to make room for it.


  • Put a gate on a pad or vocal; let a 16th note rhythm trigger the sidechain, let the gate attenuate 6 dB or so.


  • Tape stop reverb: Record the reverb tail to a new track. Automate (or do in real time and print) a pitch shift down an octave or more.


  • When using a delay on a send, put a gate after it and let the dry signal trigger the sidechain. Either let it open the gate, or close it.


  • Put some street noise or the sound of a train at low volume behind your drum loop to give it depth and subtle variation.


  • Classic vocal trick: don't send the dry vocal track to a reverb, instead send it to a delay and send the delay to a reverb.


  • Try an EQ after your delay with a hi shelving cut, followed by a reverb 20-40% wet for some subtle depth and width added.


  • Try putting a subtle chorus on an aux before you reverb.


  • You can have a virtual 3D map in your mind when placing a sound. Front to back - reverb, delay, more (front) or less (back) high end. Left/right - panning, haas effect. Up/down - lots of high frequencis (up), emphasis on lower frequencies (down).


  • Automate the reverb time throughout the track; longer times for the chorus to create more depth and sustain - shorten the reverb to clean up when there’s a lot of things going on at the same time.


  • Basic sound design and a great way to learn about audio processing: move the plugins around in the chain, one by one and listen to what happens.


  • With an EQ in ms mode on the mixbus, use a shelving filter to cut some lows on the sides. It gives the mix some more space and lightness.


  • EQ'ing your delays attenuating at 2-5 kHz will tuck them in to the mix creating depth without being too obvious.


  • If you plan to high pass-filter a lot of tracks in your mix, try a 6dB/octave filter. You filter out a lot of low end without getting too much separation between tracks. It also messes with phase less to have less steep filters.


  • Are your virtual instruments locked to the grid? Tap in some subtle delays manually to get some human feel.


  • Transient designers are great for recordings made in a bad sounding room. Back off the sustain and get some of the room out of the way.


  • Near the end of a mix, note the level of the snare (this is to see if you tend to mix it too loud or too quiet), pull it all the way down. Push the level up slowly until it sounds right. Do the same with lead vocals and kick drum.


  • There’s an idea that you shouldn’t have any compression on the master bus if you’re gonna send the mix to mastering. If you’re compressing for movement/groove - absolutely keep it there. If you’re compressing/limiting for loudness - remove it.


  • Space for vocals: Attenuate vocal frequencies on other tracks (mixing). Move things out of the way, changing timing or pitch (arrangement)


  • Layer your vocals with a whisper track. It helps the lyrics cut through and can create a bit of an eerie feel if you turn it up loud.


  • Add weight to vocals: Duplicate vocal track, filter out highs and high mids. Distort. Blend in with original track.


  • Put a phaser in parallel on your hi hats or shakers loops for a subtle variation to make it sound less like a loop.


  • You probably have a lot of unfinished music on your harddrive. It can be a burden for sure. Try using the old sessions as sample libraries and create cool and unique samples. Suddenly that work was not in vain.


  • Vocal production: use breaths creatively, copy an intense sounding one and paste before a phrase or transition to add drama and intensity. Also works wonders for VO work when there's too much intensity on a single word; lower the volume slightly and add a big inhalation.


  • Widen mono track: duplicate track, pan the tracks hard left/right, boost with EQ on one track and cut at the same frequency on the other track.


  • Any processing you do to your audio tracks you can do to your reverbs. EQ, distortion, delay, another reverb, pitch ...


  • Two similar instruments playing the same chords, use different voicings or octaves and pan them L/R. It adds width, depth and detail.


  • A close miked source can sound even more in your face with a short delay on it. Gives your ear a point of reference.


  • Adding a tiny bit of attack with a transient designer on the master bus before the final limiter can give that extra bit of life and punch.


  • More difference between L and R means wider stereo. Think about this when it comes to microphone choice, EQ, compression and arrangement.


  • Boomy low end, mix gets thin when you try to fix w/ EQ? Shorten the sustain of the bass drum/bass. Edit manually or use transient designer.


  • For instant inspiration: load up a loop that's preferably kinda cheesy but with great groove and energy. Compose around it, then delete it.


  • Make virtual instruments like drums, pianos, etc, sound more natural by turning down the velocity and turning up the volume


  • Before EQ'ing your kick/snare, tune them to fit the track. If it doesn't sound quite right, tuning a sample up or down a semitone can do it.


  • Sweep with an EQ on the master bus, find the bad frequencies (if any). Then cut 0,5 dB or so from several tracks at that frequency instead of 5dB on the master bus.


  • When you’re asking ”How many?”, three is often a good number. Three layers (drums, lead melodies ...), three dubs, three harmony parts, three cups of coffee ...


  • Using delays in sync with the song (8th notes, quarter notes etc), offset them a few milliseconds to create a rushing or dragging feel for a section.


  • Steal the dynamics from a drum track by routing it (mute the output of the track) to the sidechain of a compressor that’s inserted on anything you want to move like the drum track.


Alistair S

I'm a big fan of Melodyne (and hyped that ARA is coming to Reaper).


It's so much more than a pitch tool. Here's a video on Sound design (it gets more interesting after the part on vocals - you could skip to 1:48 if you choose to).




A neat little trick with IR verbs is that you don't just have to use impulse responses for the effect. You can load anything up as the IR, and then play other instruments through it. I guess in a certain sense it's like a quirky vocoder. But anyway, it yields interesting effects that can come in handy. Here are examples. 


1) With the default piano loaded in LPX, I added the Space Designer reverb inline. Then, I took a 1 second sample of a train and loaded that as the IR and reversed it. (There's a little drop down arrow just to the right of the words "IR Sample" on the left side of the plugin.) Playing around very little with the settings revealed this: 

(Note: if you come up with a sound that is locked to a tempo you don't want, one option is to record it at the IR tempo (even in a different DAW instance, with an IR-matching tempo), then bring that back into your song, but warped/stretched to match your own tempo. How to do this will depend on your DAW.)


2) With the same piano loaded, but dry at 0%, here is acoustic guitar strumming as the IR:

Strange effect, yeah, but could come in handy. Imagine it with good EQ, some compression and delay. Maybe a little extra dirt. (It already has a sort of NIN sound to it.)


Now admittedly, what I was trying to do was to actually capture the sound of the guitar, just mangled a bit. I have done that before -- even feeding a minute's worth of percussion through as the IR to hear what comes out. It makes for interesting layering with the original sound. That did not happen this time, so that means I don't know Space Designer well enough. Last time I must have started with a different setting before switching the IR. I noticed that some of the knobs and selections were grayed out this round. Perhaps the difference lies there. 


Aside from better learning how to tweak the controls on Space Designer, I'll have to try this out on other IR verbs to see what they can do. 


Laissez les bons temps rouler~


EDIT: Ah, I think I was using Kontakt last time I did this little trick. If, btw, you are into sampling, Kontakt is without a doubt one of the best pieces of software you could learn. 

PS-- Does anyone know how to get these Soundcloud inserts to not be so dang big? 



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