In the second part of Step 2 in this series, we looked at setting up instrumentation in advance.
Closely related to instrumentation (and equally important) are transitions and effects. You’ll hear transitions discussed a lot in EDM production, but they’re not limited to this genre alone.
I’ve used transitions in almost every track I’ve produced, be it rock, classical or even folk music. So there’s something here for you whatever your genre.
Transitions and effects are essential because they:
- Signpost to the listener that a change is coming
- Generate tension and release
- Create excitement and a greater sense of climax
- Help to maintain the interest of the listener
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Transition to freedom
In this post, I’m going to show you how I work with transitions and effects in my tracks, and how to integrate these within a template. Here I’ll be working with a House track, but you can apply these techniques in almost any genre. As above, I’d actually encourage you to do so!
Many producers use the same (or similar) handful of transitions in all of their tracks. After all, can you really hear much of a difference between different instances of white noise? If it’s difficult for you, it will be almost impossible for your audience.
Therefore, rather than pulling in fresh samples or generating your own transitions and effects each time, repeating the process over and over again, it’s much more efficient to build a set of sounds into your template that are ready to use from the off.
You can always tweak and adjust these later on, or even create something more customised, depending on what’s best for the current track.
I’ll show you what sounds I use, how to create them and how to integrate these within your template. What transitions you use in your own template depends upon the music you create and your own taste, but the examples below should help you to think about how you could optimise your own workflow.
There are essentially two ways of generating each sound, either by using a soft synth or an audio sample. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but I’ll illustrate both so that you can make your own choice when it comes to your project.
1) White Noise
There are a number of synths in Logic that are capable of generating white noise, so it really comes down to which interface you prefer and the subtle differences in the sound. As I’ve covered Retro Synth quite a bit in previous posts, I’ll use the ES2 as an example.
If you’re not a Logic user, fear not, as most stock synths will have an option to generate white noise. A quick Google search for your DAW and synth should bring up plenty of tutorials.
To generate white noise using the ES2:
Turn off Oscillators 1 and 2, and switch Oscillator 3 to the Noise waveform.
Bring the Oscillator node down so that it rests at 100% on Osc 3.
Turn the Cutoff to maximum to benefit from the full frequency range.
I’d recommend saving this as a preset, as white noise is pretty handy!
Once we have our noise, we’ll create a MIDI region to trigger it. You can go ahead and place these regions wherever you’d like noise in your track – in the image below you can see that I’ve hit the start of each major section i.e. all the transitions.
Filtering and automation
It’s highly likely that you’ll need to filter the noise with a low pass so that it can build, so let’s set this up ahead of time. You can do this using the filters within the ES2 itself, or by using a plugin such as Logic’s AutoFilter.
There are a lot of parameters in the ES2, but don’t be intimidated by this in the automation lane. The best filter parameter for our purposes is the MMF, which stands for ‘Multi Mode Filter’. In the automation lane, go to ES2 > Mix+Filter > MMF Cutoff.
Next, simply draw in the automation curve. For example, for a rise, automate from low to high frequencies.
I also use Logic’s AutoFilter for this task and, if you’re not using Logic, almost any filter will do!
Sampling the noise
The beauty of this is that once you’ve created your white noise, you can simply export it to audio and use it as a sample at any point in the future. You can even include your automation if you like! I would only really recommend this if you’re going to be working in the same tempo, though, otherwise there may be drifting.
The alternative approach would be to use audio samples from the get-go. You can simply grab any white noise samples that you like from your favourite sample packs and include these within your template.
I recommend creating a noise sampler, so that you can recall a range of sounds depending on what suits your latest track. For more information on creating your own sampler in Logic, check out my post here.
Impact sounds are pretty self explanatory – they create impact, help to generate a sense of drama and highlight key moments (aka transitions) throughout a track.
For example, a crash cymbal could be categorised as a type of impact. It has a bright sound and a fast attack that helps to accent the start of a musical section, particularly for choruses or any sequence where a high energy is desired.
However, ‘impact’ sounds have taken on their own distinct meaning in modern dance music production. A sample pack of impact effects will normally provide a whole range of attack-emphasised sounds throughout the frequency spectrum, perfect for highlighting crescendos and buildups.
There are a variety of options for generating these sounds within Logic using stock instruments and samples. Once again, if you’re not using Logic, you can add sounds to your favourite sampler or your DAW may have plenty of stock sounds built in. Always search through what you have before spending money!
Alchemy and Sculpture have some amazing presets and are a great place to start.
I normally begin by triggering sounds using a MIDI note within the key of my track, and then cycle through the presets until I come across some interesting sounds.
The Drums preset folder in Alchemy is great, particularly when combined with a long-tail reverb, and it’s worth playing around with any sounds in Sculpture that have a fast attack.
If any of the presets take your fancy, you’re then able to tweak these to taste and save them as your own. You can also export them as their own samples so that you have the audio to play with at a later date. This can save processing power, particularly if you’re dealing with complex sounds.
Once you’ve exported the sounds as samples, you can then create your own sampler to access these whenever needed, as discussed above using the EXS24.
Finally, it’s useful to draw/play in some MIDI notes to trigger these sounds at key moments within the structure. For example, a hit at the start of the buildup (this always sounds great when it’s followed by risers and white noise), or a more subtle impact leading into a verse.
Alternatively, if you prefer to work with audio, you can find all kinds of both free and paid samples online. I’d recommend sites such as Freesound for samples first, as there are more and more amazing sounds available for free these days.
If you’ve reached the limit of creativity with these, or if you fancy something new and refreshing, there are many online sample providers such as Loopmasters and Vengeance.
As above, I highly recommend building the structure of your template by dropping some of your favourite (and most versatile) impact samples in place within the arrangement. This is by no means set in stone – you can chop and change these later if needed.
This is very helpful when writing a new track, so that you can quickly hear how various sections will work when accompanied by FX and transitions. It really helps to feel the vibe of the track and the other parts in your arrangement while you’re composing.
3) Reverb Kicks
Reverb kicks have become a dance music staple in recent years. They create a lot of drama, draw the listener’s attention and generate anticipation for the next musical idea.
The good news is that they’re not complicated to create, either. Ultimately, it’s a kick drum with tons of reverb. However, if you do want to create your own, which I do recommend, there are a couple of subtleties to be aware of.
First, choose a kick drum with plenty of punch. It’s important that your kick has enough attack to trigger enough high frequencies in the reverb, so that the effect is audible in the mix. [You can increase the top end of a kick by mixing in subtle high-end instruments, such as hi-hats and click sounds. Sonic Academy’s Kick is a great tool for building your own custom kick drums.]
Second, use a reverb with a long decay time. This obviously depends upon the tempo of your track, but for the full effect you should ensure that there is a nice, spacious decay with plenty of room in the mix. Don’t try to add many other elements (if any) when the kick hits.
Third, be sure to EQ the reverb separately. The highs of your kick’s attack will trigger audible content within the reverb tail, and we’re not aiming for low-end rumble. We want a ‘boom’, not a rumble, as this will be a waste of energy. It will also affect the overall energy balance of the mix, and prevent a louder overall master. There’s not enough space to go into depth on this in this post, but it’s worth mentioning to keep in mind.
I recommend sending the kick to the reverb via an auxiliary bus so that you have more control over the overall sound. Simply click the Send tool on the channel and choose a spare bus.
Logic’s Space Designer has a built-in EQ that you could use directly on the kick channel if preferred, but in general I would get into the habit of bussing reverbs to save processing later on. You can then add an EQ to the bus and process it separately. This really helps to clean up the reverb and remove any unnecessary low-end.
Once again, I recommend creating a range of kick reverb sounds using your favourite kick samples. This will provide a lot of versatility when writing your tracks later on.
We can use the Bounce in Place tool to render the sound – simply right-click the region and choose Bounce and Join > Bounce in Place.
Be sure to tick the boxes entitled Include Audio Tail in File and Include Audio Tail in Region, and deselect Bypass Effect Plugins to ensure that all of the processing is included, as well as the reverb tail.
Once we’ve bounced our samples, we can again create a sampler instrument to use in our template.
If you’d rather not build the kick reverb samples yourself, you can always choose from the thousands of samples available online.
When I recorded and engineered a lot of rock and pop music, I grouped crashes together with the rest of the drums. I’m also a drummer first, so it made sense to have access to all of the percussive elements in one place.
However, particularly in electronic music production, I find it useful to treat crash cymbals as impact sounds, and as more of an effect. Ultimately, it’s totally down to personal preference, but I like to EQ and process all of my effects as one unit for more control in the mix (particularly for removing unnecessary low-end).
To create your own crashes in Logic, you can use Drum Kit Designer, Ultrabeat or any of the sample kits included (many of which are accessible via the EXS24). If you’re using a different DAW, check out your sample library for existing drum kits.
You can simply record or draw in MIDI notes to trigger the crash you prefer, and then bounce this to an audio file using the same techniques as above. I often like to use two crashes at once from one drum kit, as it creates a more well-rounded sound and a wider stereo image.
Once again, you can either create your own set of samples and import them by creating an EXS24 instrument (or any custom sampler), or by importing existing cymbal samples from online providers, CDs or from your own archive.
5) Reverse Effects
Reverse effects are also a staple of electronic music transitions but, once again, they’re useful in almost any genre. Plus, almost anything sounds great in reverse!
Building white noise has the effect of a reverse sound, but it’s not specific to what I’m referring to in this section. Sounds with a definitive attack and decay create the most sense of drama when reversed. I find it useful to group these sounds into unpitched and pitched categories.
By ‘unpitched’, I’m referring to sounds that don’t have a strict tonal pitch i.e. they’re not based on an exact note.
Crash cymbals are a great example of this. They have a definitive attack and decay and, although they contain many harmonics, they don’t have a precise, musical note. We normally refer to them as having either a ‘bright’ or a ‘dark’ timbre.
These kinds of unpitched sounds are perfect for almost any transition, as you don’t have to worry about sticking to a particular key. You can simply drag them in anywhere and you’re almost certain to create an effective transition and a sense of tension and release.
Conversely, by ‘pitched’, I’m referring to any sound that has a defined pitch or musical note.
Piano notes always sound amazing in reverse, they’re perfect for a dramatic introduction or leading into an exciting new section. I’ve used a doubled octave in the low range of a piano in reverse many, many times as it simply works a treat.
However, you can use any pitched instrument, just make sure there is plenty of contrast in the decay so that, in reverse, a lot of tension is created during the build. Synth chords are great, as well as vocals.
Reverb is perhaps the best ingredient in creating reversed effects. If you bounce a synth stab or short vocal with plenty of reverberation, reversing this file will sound quite epic!
I normally generate these on a track-by-track basis in order to fit within the specific key that I’m writing in. However, if you tend to work within the same range of keys consistently, then it would be a good idea to create a range of reverse sounds within these keys so that you can pull them in at speed when needed.
How to reverse a sound
In Logic, the Reverse function is destructive – in other words, it will overwrite the original file. Once you’ve chosen the sample that you’d like to reverse and imported it into Logic, I’d advise converting it to a new audio file if you’d like the ability to access the original, non-reversed sound at a later date.
Right-click the region, go to Convert and Convert to New Audio File(s).
Once you have your new sample, simply double-click the audio region to reveal the Sample Editor. You can also press E on your keyboard – just make sure that ‘File‘ is selected in the Editor, rather than ‘Track‘.
Now go to the Functions dropdown and select Reverse from the options.
To speed things up entirely, you can simply select theaudio file and click Ctrl + R to apply the whole function.
Listen back to the sound to hear the transformation! Feel free to experiment with different sounds and different spatial effects and check out the results!
As with all of the transitional elements above, we can also create a sampler instrument for reverse sounds, too. It’s worth noting that the EXS24 also has a built-in reverse function, accessible via its Instrument Editor. This will reverse any sampler where it’s enabled, and it is non-destructive.
However, you may prefer to work with the audio itself on this occasion, as it can be easier to have a visual reference. This is useful for positioning the sound accurately, based on the build sections and where the attack finishes. I often crop the attack and add a crossfade so that it’s inaudible within the track. More often that not it’s the decay that we need to generate the sense of tension.
Improve your workflow
I hope this post helped you to get to grips with using transitions and effects in your tracks!
In the next part, we’ll take a look at Stem Mixing and how to set up bussing in advance.
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