Sound design is one of the most important yet misunderstood aspects of music production and can confuse professionals and novices alike. Often when people hear “Sound Design”, they instantly think of synthesisers and LFO’s. However, it is in fact the manipulation of audio with prior intent and purpose. Whether it be using a synthesiser to create the sound of birds in the sky, stretching audio using algorithms to add texture and alter the timbre, or using creative reverbs and effects to put an existing sound into a different stereo space, the possibilities are endless! In this piece, we will be demonstrating 5 usefull sound design techniques that you can apply in your own productions.
Check out our most recent pack Pop Anthems Vol. 1, where some of these techniques have been used to bring the sounds in the pack to life: Pop Anthems Vol. 1!
1. The Haas Effect
The Haas Effect, discovered in the late 1940’s, is used to widen the stereo image of a sound using a delay. It was found that if one sound came directly after the other, with a delay time of no more than 40ms and panned L/R respectively, the delay couldn’t be perceived by the human ear and therefore made the sound wider.
To Achieve this effect in Ableton, an audio rack can be created with one channel completely clean and the other with a delay of 10-20ms (see image above) and 100% wet. Pan them in opposite directions and there you have it, your own Haas Effect rack which can be saved and used on future projects.
The same effect can be achieved in other DAW’s by using the sample delay plugin in Logic Pro X, or using two channels with the same sound with the delay on one, with both panned respectively.
Caution: This technique may cause phasing problems, so always check the sound in mono to make sure there is no phase cancellation happening.
2. White Noise
With the advancement of technology, digital synthesis has never been more popular. Despite this, we still try to replicate certain qualities and nuances of vintage analog synthesisers. One of the best ways of doing this is using White Noise.
Is your lead sounding a bit empty? Try opening the white noise oscillator until it is prominent and then take it back slightly. Because white noise has every frequency in the spectrum, at equal amounts, it is perfect for adding depth and body to your sound. Certain soft synths such as Serum also have many different types of white noise to use.
Why stop there? To push further and replicate some of the nuances of analog synthesisers, why not add two separate LFO’s to the level and pitch/colour of the white noise oscillator to add randomisation and capture some of the beauty of the analog world, digitally (see imagine to the right).
3. Randomised Decay
Some of these tips may sound small and insignificant, but together they can turn what was once boring and repetitive into a chart hit. Sonic movement is the key.
By adding an LFO or similar (the performer in Massive works well for this) to the decay of the amp envelope, movement and variation are added to the sound and making the synth sound more interesting. Why not try the same technique but on the release or attack instead? Small changes can make a big difference.
4. Adding Texture to Sounds/Loops
So you’ve found a cool loop, but it sounds a little boring and stale? In this example we’ll be using Ableton’s audio algorithms, although the recording technique can be applied using any other effect rack or DAW.
When you click on a sound and look towards the piano roll, Ableton has many different algorithms to apply. Each add different textures and characteristics to the sound, from granulation to pitch. Why settle for just one? By creating another audio channel, you can re-record your loop, whilst playing around with these settings, and chop out your favourite parts afterwards. Similarly, why not do the same with a delay? Or Chorus? Midi map your controller to these settings (Dry/Wet, Feedback, polarity etc) to really be creative and get away from the lack of inspiration that can come from using a mouse. Simply create another channel, route your audio to it, record and play around. Happy accidents are a sound designers best friend!
5. Sampling the World
This is probably one of the most overlooked, yet vital techniques because it’s near impossible to synthesise the perfect drum sounds. Nature is the worlds synthesiser and often it does it much better than we do. I highly recommend buying a handheld recording device (Zoom and Tascam are both good options) and going and recording your own sounds. Whether it be drumming a water bottle, the train that passes your home, the dripping tap or the sound of the elevator buttons. Royalty free samples at your fingertips that you can collate into your own packs for future use. Try layering different percussive sounds and loading them into a sampler to create your own unique drum machine.