Francis Preve

Sound designer. Producer. Professor. Journalist. Author.

Master Class: Synclavier

Arturia’s reboot of the NED Synclavier has given synthesists everywhere a reason to rejoice. For starters, the company reduced the price from its original jaw-dropping $500k (fully loaded) to a fraction of that. More importantly, it delivered one of the most powerful digital sound design engines to thousands of softsynth fans.

While many of its flagship features—like FM and additive synthesis—are now stock elements in studio arsenals, the Synclavier’s fusion of those two technologies remains astonishingly powerful, once you understand what’s going on under the hood. The secret to mastering the Synclavier isn’t just brushing up on its synthesis tools, but also discovering how they interact with NED’s other innovations, like Time Slicing and a wide assortment of hands-on macro parameters that make editing complex FM patches much more intuitive, once you get the hang of the system. So let’s get started.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/master-class-arturia-synclavier-v

Mixing Pads

Pads and chord stabs are essential components in all musical genres, whether they’re used subtly as reinforcement or as the main focus of a track. While some pads are heavily treated with lowpass filtering to help them blend into the background of a track, some mixes benefit from highlighting the pads. In the latter case, the pads’ note clusters, especially when using bright sawtooth waveforms, often result in a loss of valuable frequency space in a mix.

Here, we’ll look and listen to three different approaches for sculpting your pads so that they sit better in a mix (both in live performance and studio contexts), allowing the other tracks to breathe without losing the impact of clearly defined chordal elements.

LINK: https://www.keyboardmag.com/lessons/know-sound-design-mixing-pads

Don't Fret: Synthesizing Rock Guitars

While working on a project recently, I realized that I needed a metal guitar riff to round out the arrangement. As fate would have it, my go-to guitarist, Shreddward (from the Bright Light Social Hour), was on tour. Since the deadline couldn’t wait, I realized I had to whip up the parts by hand using synths and effects. Naturally, I could have turned to a sample library for this, but I’m always up for a sound design challenge. So rather than rely on loops or a multi-sampled guitar, I decided to start from nothing and see what was possible. Within a few hours, I had some remarkably convincing parts that worked perfectly in the project. Here is the technique.

LINK: https://www.keyboardmag.com/lessons/dont-fret-synthesizing-rock-guitars

iOS in the Studio

In the span of a decade, the audio and music possibilities for Apple’s iOS have evolved from a handy musical notepad to a fully functional production platform that’s every bit as legitimate as a desktop environment. Thanks to ongoing advancements in interoperability and innovative standards like Ableton Link and Audiobus, multiple apps can now work in concert to create professional productions. What’s more, Apple have steadily added features to their mobile operating system that optimize it for sophisticated creative tasks when recording and mixing all genres of music.

Since many of these improvements have been incremental—and new users arrive on the platform daily—it can be tough to keep track with all of the amenities in iOS. Add in several hundred genuinely affordable music production apps and it’s even trickier to know where to begin.

For example, in iOS 11, Apple quietly introduced MIDI enhancements to the AUv3 plugin standard that now allow apps to do tricks like arpeggiation and sequencing, in addition to simply processing audio. While a handful of ambitious developers implemented it, it’s still quite nascent, as even the current version of GarageBand doesn’t make full use of the innovation. That’s how deep some of these changes can go.

So here we’ve compiled the most powerful aspects of iOS (and some notable app-based tricks) into a single reference, so you can quickly discover the production possibilities within your device.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/how-to-integrate-ios-devices-into-your-studio-setup

Master Class: Pigments

With so many wavetable synths flooding the market in the wake of Xfer Serum, it’s easy to mistake Pigments for yet another clone of that insanely popular softsynth. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Pigments is very much its own synthesizer, cribbing elements from iconic analog synths, as well as a massive array of modulation resources that strongly evokes the capabilities of contemporary modular rigs.

Pigments’ sequencing, arpeggiation, and effects all tread familiar territory, so in this month’s masterclass, we’ll take a deep look at the core synthesis engine, which does tricks no other softsynth in its class can. Consisting of two distinct tone generation engines, a pair of powerful filters with a few unique vintage elements, and modulation tools that include multiple random generators and a pair of elaborate function combinators, the synthesis amenities are far more than meets the eye and ear. With so many vintage-inspired elements, Pigments is also a great way to explore the history of synthesis itself, so let’s get started.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/arturia-pigments-the-em-masterclass

Create Additive Synth Sweeps in Ableton

Ableton’s Operator is incredibly powerful when it comes to FM and basic additive/subtractive techniques, but like several other additive softsynths, there’s no way to animate the harmonics for morphing effects. Fortunately, there’s a workaround that lets users create their own smoothly morphing harmonic structures. It just requires a few extra steps, but the result is shimmering, animated textures that are well-suited for unique pads and leads.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/how-to-create-additive-synth-sweeps-in-ableton

Pro Tip: Soloing for DJs

 

One of the hottest trends for clubs and festivals is incorporating drum machines and synths into DJ sets. Tastefully approached, adding live elements to recorded tracks is a great way to stand apart from the pack.

That said, I’ve seen some sets that just didn’t work because the DJ hadn’t thought their live strategy through. For one thing, the tracks in a set are already complete productions, often without much room for added parts. Another pitfall lies in attempting to be rhythmic with these live elements. Dance music is so tightly sequenced that unless you have Prince’s keyboard chops or zero latency on your arpeggiator, the new parts just won’t align.

Based on my experiences performing with a Roland System-8 with DJ/guitarist Cloudchord, I’ve discovered two key approaches to seamlessly blend additional instruments with recorded tracks.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/sound-design-workshop-soloing-for-djs

Program a Supersaw in any Synth

Despite the fact that the Roland JP-8000 was released more than 20 years ago, its supersaw waveform is now a true staple in every synthesist’s arsenal. Electronic music historians may know that it first rose to prominence in the late 90s trance scene, but it became truly indispensible during the EDM era and can now can be found at the core of countless pop and future bass tracks. As a college professor, I’m always amazed that this is the first sound my students want to learn in their introduction to synthesizer programming.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/program-a-supersaw-in-any-synth-dec

Free Xfer Serum Pack (Winter 2018)

Since last year’s free Serum pack was so well-received, I asked the students in my Synthesis 2 course (at Austin Community College) if they’d be interested in contributing a few sounds for the 2018 pack. There are some truly gifted designers at the school and I really wanted to highlight their talents.

Fortunately, many of them agreed - providing presets for each of the following categories: Bass, Pad, Lead, and Pluck.

With their full permission, I'm sharing the results as a free download for Serum fans. The pack consists of 25 presets covering a wide variety of genres and design approaches. I also included a bonus holiday preset of my own design, “Super Snowman”.

As with the last pack, the student’s name is included in each preset — but I’d also like to post an alphabetical list of the designers, to highlight their contributions. For this, several students also opted-in to include links to their social media.

The pack is a free download that you can grab at the below link.

Download: Xfer Serum Preset Pack (Winter 2018)

Happy Holidays!

Xfer Serum Toolkit 3 Arrives

And now, a word from our sponsor… After over a year of development, Serum Toolkit 3 has finally arrived. For this pack, every patch includes original wavetables and samples, created from scratch using physical modeling and hi-res sampling. Many of the techniques used in this library are explained in my Serum Masterclass for Electronic musician.

In addition to the original wavetables, the pack also includes a huge number of sampled attacks, plucks, guitars, pianos, and percussion instruments. These elements add complexity to the wavetable oscillators and are a major departure from the usual “Serum sound”.

I also included updated Macros, including the new “XFORM” knob, that morphs between two completely different sounds. This basically doubles the number of presets to 200 - and lets you customize the results with a single knob.

Here’s a link to the pack, for Serum fans who are interested in checking out my design work - and as always, I’m happy to answer specific questions regarding these presets via my Contact link.

Serum Toolkit 3: https://xferrecords.com/preset_packs/serum-toolkit-3

With Serum Toolkit Vol. 3, iconic sound designer Francis Preve takes his Toolkit series to the next level. Featuring 100 custom wavetables based on physically modeled instruments and 70 sampled transients and decays - including recorded guitars and percussion - every core element in Toolkit Vol. 3 is original.