Francis Preve

Sound designer. Producer. Professor. Journalist. Author.

Filtering by Category: Tutorials

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

Design: Harmonic Sequencing

An ever-increasing number of mainstream synths are supporting microtonal tuning these days. On the hardware side, Korg’s Monologue includes a set of the most common tunings, as well as user-created scales. On the software side, synths ranging from Alchemy to Zebra provide access to custom scales.

While getting the hang of composing with microtonal tunings can be daunting, there’s a simple way to experiment with one of the more common flavors: Harmonic sequencing. Although the standard 12-tone equal temperament scale is essentially based on the harmonic series with caveats for each key, working directly on harmonic sequences offers a tonal purity that’s immediately enticing for some artists.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/sound-design-harmonic-sequencing

Recreating the 10CC Choir

In the pantheon of legendary productions, 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” ranks among the most respected tracks of all time. In fact, it reached a new generation of fans, thanks to its inclusion on the Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1 soundtrack.

Consisting of minimal instrumentation, a lead vocal recorded in one take, and a bass-plus-music-box middle section, its arrangement was incredibly risky for a radio hit, even by modern standards. The element that glues the track together — keeping it transcendentally beautiful even after over forty years — is the song’s centerpiece: A painstakingly multi-tracked set of vocal loops, consisting of 48 tracks of voices per note over the chromatic scale. These multi-tracked vocals were then repeatedly bounced and re-recorded as eight-second tape loops that were then played via the mixing console, as sampling hadn’t even been dreamed up at that time. [Diehard fans can pick up the original choirs as multi-sampled instruments at Sampletekk.com.]

Nowadays, the elaborate production technique for creating these vocals can be replicated much more easily using 21st century tools. All that’s required is a good microphone, a DAW, ample hard drive space, and an endless supply of patience. From there, it's quite straightforward.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/how-to-recreate-10ccs-choir-vocals

Design: LFOs as Envelopes

In last week’s post, we examined a few methods for turning envelopes into LFOs on synths that support envelope looping. This time, we will invert that process and cover the possibilities lurking within LFOs that can also operate in one-shot mode.

One-shot mode is a neat LFO trick that can be found on several hardware and software-based synthesizers. The first time I encountered it in hardware was in Korg’s monophonic Monotribe ribbon sequencer. As for software, the ubiquitous Xfer Serum included it from its first releases.

Depending on the synthesizer’s implementation, one-shot LFOs can be either basic or mind-bogglingly complex. Here are a few techniques you can use on synths that support it.

LINK: https://www.emusician.com/how-to/sound-design-workshop-lfos-as-envelope

Design: Envelopes as LFOs

Without modulation resources, a synthesizer is just a sophisticated organ. Modulation breathes life into a sound, adding motion to oscillators, filters, and amplifiers. Naturally, sound designers want as many options as possible for modulating synth parameters, but as is often the case with instrument design, pleasing every user equally is a daunting task: Some users want oodles of envelopes; others want LFOs galore.

What’s more, the feature set of a synth is a core component of its overall sound. While it’s fun to fantasize about softsynths and modular rigs having unlimited possibilities, the instruments that stand the test of time have a particular sound. And that sound is partially defined by the modulation tools that are available.

In this tutorial, we’ll look at a few ways to use envelopes as LFOs. Not every synth supports this level of versatility, but quite a few mainstream products—both software and hardware—do. Here are techniques for three of the most popular synths available now.

LINK: https://www.keyboardmag.com/lessons/how-to-envelopes-as-lfos