Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Acid Sounds Of The Roland TB-303, TS-404, Rebirth And A Fruity Loops Project File

The Roland TB-303 was a analog bass synthesizer made between 1982-1984 originally used to accompany guitarists and initially it was a commercial failure and only 10,000 were made. Roland has stated that it was made using inferior parts and some of them aren't made anymore (a few reasons why they wont remake it, even though there is a HUGE market for it). In the late 80s producers and Djs picked them up for next to nothing and they discovered with its distortion, filter+resonance and accent they could create a new unique sound. Acid house from the early 90s emerged from this and the 303 has been heard and is still loved over 20 years later. Also you will find them on Ebay for over $1500 and its sound has been emulated over and over again.

I'm a fan of classic monophonic bass lines and I think they should be enjoyed by everyone, its almost a spiritual experience to have a loop open and move the filter about. And a there are a few ways that this can be done.
Rebirth is about as close as you can get without going back in time, its an older program (that doesnt work on vista/windows7 without modification) that has been discontinued by Propellerheads (however freely available) but is now available on the iPhone, iTouch and iPad. It offers two 303's, an 808 and a 909 and they all sound insanely accurate. Its confusingly pattern based but its fun to jam with. Imagine yourself in front of this in a rack and a DAT recorder like they had to do back in the day.

I used to create these jamming sessions on my dads laptop in Fruity Loops 3 a long time ago. Its quite simple really. A single saw wave with a bit of an attack and a long release. Followed by a LP (lowpass) filter with the setting a little like what you see to the left. Using the distortion section is easy, just max out everything and there you have it!

Download project file here

Kick, hats and the TS-404 should be all there, here you can really play around with the 3 knobs in the filter section. It may sound familiar. The combination of the resonance and distortion makes the acid sound what it is, to add a bit more try to add some values to the LFO section.

Using these techniques can be applied to modern basses, the theory of it all hasn't changed much even though VSTi's have become far more advanced since then

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kick And Bass - Bass-Boost And Side-Chaining

The harmony of kicks and basses is important, its the driving factor and gets people moving in clubs. People like bass sounds more as apposed to high sounds, ever notice people stop and stare at you during a massive breakdown, wishing the kick and pumping bassline would just start again? Yep, its THAT important.

Getting a kick and bass tight and sitting well together can be a challenge notationally but with the acquired use using the technique ( not "special effect") of side-chaining you get everything rolling along quite well in those face down, driving parts.

The kick and bass have to share a common key (yes kick drums have keys as well), choose a kick you like, prepare it at -3db so you have a lot of play when you are happy with it. Add a Vsti and program your rough bassline or use a sample based one from one of the popular sample packs.
The image above is a kick and a midi clip with a simple arpeggiated baseline (2 saws -0 and -1 with filter), When its played right now we have frequency conflict, a problem when frequencies of the kick and bass clash making it muddy and bleh. A common mistake is to compress the track to make the bass more pronounced again but this makes it worse and it caused me to become frustrated. You must always remember that production is reduction and instead of boosting one sound, cut the others back. In time you will get it.
This is what my bass channel strip looks like, a small cut and boost in the top that will be changed later and a standard Ableton compressor at the end. Notice that everything is at a quiet volume, must not "pump up the jams" in the beginning.
To enable side-chaining theres a hidden triangle in the top left of the plugin. Click on that bad boy like I did in the image above. 
In the "audio from" section on the right of the menu that has appeared you need to select the audio channel that the kick is in. do that. In my case its "4-Audio".
Now the kick is being routed into into the compressor like magic. You wont hear much difference until you adjust the threshold to taste, turn up the monitors a bit, solo the bass. You now have the pumping sound present in almost every modern dance track. It saves you frequency conflict by ducking the sound so each kick and bass gets its own turn. Its a beautiful thing.
You can also automate the volume slider in the compressor as an alternative to setting up the side-chaining feature. I sometimes do this for a quick and more manual way to duck sounds, mainly out habit from when I did it this way in my FL Studio days. Keep in mind you can get latency issues doing this when using third party plugins. I do this on loops mostly or on effects when setting up the compressor takes too long or would take up too many resources. Ctrl + Alt + D to quickly paste automations along the strip FYI.
Here is where a lot of Trance and House guys get the meat into their tracks. Waves Renaissance Bass is a magic wand for bass sounds and is a more simpler to use than Maxxbass, don't ask me how it works. To use this effectively you have to play around to see what the original lacks in terms of the frequency and how much you are going to boost. Be careful, this can play tricks on you. Don't go for the MOST bass but boost and use your best judgment until you can say "Yep, this brings the bass and kick together juuuuust right" instead of "MOAR BASSEZ!!!" . Do not make this work too hard or you will get mud.
A bass booster plugin does not always apply or could be too extreme for a sound or sample you already have. If you are looking for a more subtle boost in your low end you can do it easily with the Ableton Auto Filter adding a bit of resonance to the lower frequencies. It works great because its a native plugin and boosts bass less intrusively, You can also do this with the regular EQ-8 but the filter is my preference as it has an LFO for a more advance approach if needed.

You should have a tight combination of a kick and bass that you are going for. Be prepared to change and adjust later but its excellent groundwork if you want a driving, face down Simon Patterson groove. Add some stabs, hats, claps, bleeps and bloops. What matters is that everything in the track has a place and gets along well. You can make everything loud and comparable to other tracks when you are mastering at the end.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Equalizing And Processing Kick Drums

Equalizing and processing kicks is very important because it sets the tone for the rest of your track, having it setup correctly makes the kick almost like a reference for all other instruments and percussion you add. Kicks are often over compressed and processed when desiring that "pumping" sound in turn eating up a lot of the headroom, clipping, sounding muddy and cursing the rest of the music making process. Production IS reduction and you will be cutting frequencies 90% of the time and boosting frequencies 10% of the time ever so slightly with an EQ and multi-band compression.

Choosing a kick drum is very straightforward, choose one you like. Depending on the kind of track you want to create you may want a punchy one or a kick thats very round with a long decay. Its up to you! Although I wouldn't really use hardstyle kick for a minimal house track unless its a fill or something but there are no rules in dance music.

Kick drums have 3 components; the sub bass that you feel in the clubs, the mid that punches you and the click that should be self explanatory. Browse your favorite kick library and you will hear these 3 components. pick a kick and plop in in your DAW, in this case I use Ableton.
In the case of Ableton live, I recommend right clicking on the clip in arrangement view and clicking on "show fades". This feature prevents inter sample clicks by fading a sample (bottom of picture above). You will want the click to be present in the sample so move the red line over so the whole kick is there in all its glory.
To buy yourself a lot of headroom, I make a fine cut around 150Hz like in the image above right away, this takes away a frequency that is not very relevant in clubs. This wont take away too much but will give you a but of play later when you add the bass, this EQ cut will not be absolute and I will generally move it it around and compromise with the tight bass and kick im looking for.

I always place is shallow curve like the image above to my kicks EQ. This is in place to add room for snares, claps, leads and bass fundamentals, think of it as a placeholder for something else, its not much of a obtrusive change in the sound. Remember, its not about how instruments sound together not how they sound by themselves, everything has to have its own place. Keep your tracks at a low volume or you ears will get tired and start to play tricks on you. Ever make something late at night that sounds great then you listen to it the next day and sounds way off? Yea our ears get bored and make up things like harmonics, perceived loudness  and the likes.

Once you have something you are happy with, check the levels. Since the track will be based around the kick in many ways you will want it around  -3.00db to -2.00db giving you ample head room to work with, never clip on the master buss. Keep things nice and clear with their own space with the kick all sounding great.
If you are missing a click in your fundamental kick you can add one by jacking a click from another kick like the image above. Mixing kicks together to create new ones is the way to do it. It Requires some EQing and level adjustments but the end result is boom. =]

If you have your kicks set up this way and build your track around it you will have an easier time mastering and making the track louder in the end. You NEVER want an effect working hard on a sound thats loud, make their job easy by keeping sounds low in the beginning and pumping them up afterwards.