, ,

Ableton bass sound design tutorial [Bass MOVEMENT]

I hope you’re going to love this Ableton bass sound design tutorial on how to make your bass move! So you’ve created a huge, powerful bass sound in your soft synth, and spent hours applying effects to it to make it even more aggressive.

But something is still wrong with it when you start composing a drop for your new track. Because there’s a vital piece of the puzzle that’s missing: Your bass needs more movement to make it sound dynamic and get your (future) listeners hooked.

Fasten your seat belt and come with me for the ride, because this is going to be a pretty epic post and I’ve saved the best for last.

Whether you make dubstep, drum and bass, glitch hop, neuro hop, electro house or some other form of EDM, this article is going to show you a ton of ways to add movement to your bass.

If you think about different aspects of a sound that can change over time, we have a total of five domains that we can control:

 

  • Height (dynamic range)
  • Width (the stereo panorama)
  • Depth (how close or far from the listener the sound is)
  • Color (how the sound is distributed across the frequency spectrum)
  • Texture (distortion and saturation)

 

For each of these five domains, I will give you a range of actionable ideas that you can use to make your bass move.

Section 1: Height

Height refers to the level of the signal output. The difference in ‘height’ or ‘level’ of your bass sound can change over time, and the difference between the highest and lowest levels is known as the dynamic range. A static bass sound will often have little to no dynamic range, while a bass that is full of movement will often have a very large dynamic range.

Tools used for controlling dynamic range:

1. LFOs assigned to oscillator amplitude controls, the master output or gain stage controls in the signal chain

2. Envelopes assigned to oscillator amplitude controls, the master output or gain stage controls in the signal chain

3. Auto-pan plug-in (a neat trick I will explain in a minute)

4. Compressors

5. Limiters

6. Gates

7. Filters

While filters can have a big impact on the height, or level of your bass sound, they are more closely related to the color or frequency distribution of your sound, so I will talk about filters later on in this article, in section 4 on color.  

LFOs

Many soft synths these days feature Low Frequency Oscillators that can be assigned or mapped to any parameter within the synth.

The picture below shows an LFO in NI Massive that has been assigned to the amplitude of a sound-generating oscillator, with a sync rate of 1/8 bars. The sync rate can be automated to change in your DAW, or you could use an unsynced LFO rate and automate it to change over time with an automation line in your DAW, giving a less mechanical, more natural feel to your sound.

Bass Movement Image 1

Another great example of using LFOs to control amplitude is with Max for Live’s LFO plug-in, that is available with Ableton Live 9 Suite. You can map the LFO to any parameter of any other plugin in a track. In the picture below, you’ll see that we are able to oscillate the level of our sound by mapping the M4L LFO to the makeup of the glue compressor (just an example).

Bass Movement Image 2

Envelopes

Envelopes work in a similar way to LFOs and can be mapped to level controls just as they have been in the two images above, however most envelopes do not repeat themselves and loops like LFOs do, and the movement of an envelope is in one direction, rather than being bipolar (LFOs are bipolar). Here is an example of an envelope being used to control the level of oscillator 3 in our bass sound in NI Massive:

Bass Movement Image 3

Again, one of my personal favorite plug-ins in Live 9 Suite that comes in Max for Live is the Envelope plug-in. You can map it to any parameter of any other plugin in your signal chain, just as you can with the M4L LFO.

The picture below shows it mapped to the gain of the limiter. As a note plays, the midi input will trigger the envelope to move the limiter gain based on its attack, decay, sustain and release settings.

Bass Movement Image 4

Auto-Pan To Control Height

This is a great way to add movement to your basses and synths that is also very easy to set up. All you have to do is change the phase from 180 degrees to 0, as shown in the picture below:

Bass Movement Image 5

The overall level of the sound (both left and right output) will now oscillate. The great thing about using this effect, is that if you want to draw an automation line to make the rate of this wobble effect change over time, Ableton will show you the exact sync rate because Autopan is a native Ableton plug-in.

If you did this with a third part plugin, it will be more difficult and time consuming to draw in your automation lines, because Ableton will only show you an arbitrary value between 0 and 1, so you won’t know the exact rate of each part until you listen and play your sound. Frustrating!

Compressors

Compressors are generally used to reduce the dynamic range of a sound. Once the level of your sound reaches a certain threshold in the compressor, the compression will be activated to ‘compress’ the sound with an attack time and release time that you set, by a ratio that you set.

One way to use a compressor to add some movement or change in the dynamic range of your sound, is to set a relatively slow attack time, so that the compressor will kick in after a certain amount of time that the input signal has crossed over the threshold.

This can add some initial punch to your sound, before the compressor kicks in and reduces the overall level of the sound. A setting of about 30 ms to 50 ms might work well, depending on your taste and the tempo of your track.

Limiters

While limiters are one of the tools used to control dynamic range, they are not usually used to control dynamic range in a way that creates movement. Instead, they dramatically reduce the height or dynamic range of your sound, so we won’t discuss them in this article on creating movement.

Gates

A gate will let the signal pass through only when the input level is above a certain threshold, so gates are often used to create moments of silence. You can use a gate in this way to create some interesting effects with your bass.

Also, the gate plug-in that comes with Ableton Live allows you to side-chain it to the signal of another track, so that the other track’s signal will affect whether or not the gate opens up to let sound pass through, or closes up to stop sound passing through.

By side-chaining your bass to another synth, you can get some interesting effects and a cleaner overall mix, because only one of the two sounds will be playing at any one time.

Bass Movement Image 6

Section 2: Width

Width refers to the stereo image of a sound. You can control how wide or narrow a sound is, as well as its position in the stereo panorama from 100% left to 100% right.

Generally with bass, we want our bass to be positioned in the center of the stereo panorama. In addition to this, we generally want all frequencies below about 300 to 500 Hz to be completely mono, because speaker systems have a hard time accurately reproducing sounds below 300 Hz that are in stereo.

So how can we control width to add movement to our sounds?

If you have a tool that controls the stereo width of your sounds, you can draw an automation line to automate that width over time. You can also map LFOs and envelopes to it as well. In Ableton Live, we have a plug-in called Utility. Utility has a stereo width control and is a very simple plugin.

In the picture below, you can see that I’ve mapped a Max for Live envelope to the width in Utility. This will create movement in my sound.

Bass Movement Image 7

Again, this can be done inside many soft synths, such as in Native Instruments  Massive. In the voicing tab, you can activate the pan position control, and then assign an envelope, LFO or step sequencer to it, as shown in the picture below:

Bass Movement Image 8

For Smarty Pants Producers

If you’re a really clever boy or girl, you can build an audio effect rack that will control the width of your sound on a multiband level, by frequency splitting your sound, dropping a Utility plug-in onto the end of each Multiband dynamics unit, and mapping the width parameter to a macro control in the audio effect rack.

To split the frequencies of your bass, use three instances of Multiband Dynamics inside an audio effect rack, running in parallel, one should be set so that the low band is soloed, one will have the mid band soloed, and the other will have the high band soloed.

That is all you need to do to the multiband dynamics plug-ins to split the sound. Don’t touch any other controls in these plug-ins if you don’t understand how it works yet. In the chain list, you can rename these instances as low, mid and high, depending on which frequency band has been soloed in each instance of Multiband Dynamics.

Bass Movement Image 9

You can then set the minimum and maximum width amounts in the macro mappings settings as shown here:

Bass Movement Image 10

You’ll notice that the low band’s minimum and maximum is 100%, so that it will not move at all when macro 1 is moved. The mid band goes from 100% to 120%, while the high band opens up the most from 100% to 140%. These are just some example settings, but generally you will want the width open up a bit more in the higher frequencies.

 

Section 3: Depth

Depth is defined as being how close or far away a sound appears to be from the position of the listener. So how can we make a bass sound appear to move in terms of its depth? This is not something that is commonly done to be honest with you, but experimentation is the key when it comes to successful sound design, so I encourage you to try this out.

Tools used to control depth:

  • Reverbs
  • Delays

 

Reverbs

Within a reverb unit, there are two main controls that could be used to easily automate the perceived depth of your sound: decay time and dry / wet.

You could try automating these parameters, or assigning an LFO or envelope to them.

One more common way of using depth to create variation in your bassline is this: Let’s say you have a bassline made up of 2 or more sounds, and you are using a call and response composition technique.

You can use depth here to create variation, by having one sound appear to be closer to the listener’s position than the other sounds. This can be done with reverb settings such as decay time, pre-delay, room size, dry / wet, etc.

Delays

Delays can be used in just the same way as above, however synced delays are not commonly used on bass sounds in EDM.

To create movement in your bass sounds using delays, you could try this: You could use un-synced delays, with very short delay times (such as between 1 and 20 milliseconds) that vary, and have feedback and dry/wet amounts that also vary. You could make these values change over time by assigning LFOs or envelopes to them, or by just drawing an automation line in your DAW. In Ableton Live, this is quite easy to set up, using a simple delay unit and an audio effect rack.

  1. Drop a simple delay onto your track
  2. Press cmd G or ctrl G to put it into an audio effect rack
  3. Link the left and right delays together
  4. Change sync mode to time mode in the simple delay
  5. Map the time parameter to macro 1
  6. Set the minimum and maximum values to 1ms and 20 ms in the macro mappings
  7. Map the feedback to macro 2
  8. Map the dry/wet to macro 3

Now experiment with your bass loop as you change these settings and see if you want to use this effect to create movement of the depth of your sound. These very short delay times will also add a kind of metal sheen-like texture to your bass, which can be very pleasing to the ear if used well.

Bass Movement Image 11

Again, LFOs, envelopes and automation lines can be used to create interesting movements to your sound when mapped to macros 1, 2 or 3.

 

Section 4: Color

Color refers to the frequencies that a sound occupies. You’ve probably heard sounds being described as dull or bright, depending on how much low and high end information they have.

So what tools can we use for controlling the color of a sound with respect to time?

  • Parametric EQ plug-ins
  • Filters plug-ins

 

Did you know that a sound that is further away from you will have less color and less dynamic range than that same sound when it is closer to you?

If we know this, then we can make a sound appear to be moving towards us by changing its brightness or frequency distribution over time.

EQ plug-ins

There is a whole range of tricks you can produce with an EQ plug-in. A parametric EQ unit is pretty much the same thing as a filter, except that filters usually feature built-in LFO and envelope controls to automate the movement of a filter, whereas EQ units generally do not.

However, there are some pretty cool features of EQ units that are not as commonly found in filter plug-ins, that we can use to create some interesting movement, such as mid-side EQ and left-right EQ.

 

I will get to those in a minute, but first, let’s look at the basic ways to control color using an EQ unit

1. High pass pole setting

Also known as low-cut pole setting, this cuts off all frequencies below a certain set value.

You can automate this using LFOs, envelopes, or drawing automation lines in your DAW.

If you automate this high pass pole to sweep downward from a high frequency to a low frequency, it can create a very interesting effect for your bass, as though the bass is descending down to earth from the sky.

This technique is used a lot in neurofunk drum and bass and neurohop bass sound design.

Bass Movement Image 12

2. Low pass pole setting

Just as the high pass pole above can sound like your bass is coming down to your level from up above, the low pass filter can be automated to sound as though the bass sound is moving towards you, or rising up from beneath the ground.

Bass Movement Image 13

3. Notch pole

A notch creates a tear in your sound. You can automate a notch to create some wonderful and insane movement in your bass, and this effect is very common in drum and bass reese basses, heard in much bass music including dubstep, drum and bass and glitch hop.

Not only can you automate the frequency to move, but you can also automate the resonance to get some widening and narrowing of the gap in your frequency range.

Bass Movement Image 14

4. Bell pole

The bell pole can be used to create some crazy movements.

Not only can you automate the frequency and resonance, but also the gain of this pole. It can go both above and below 0 dB, making for some delicious movement in your bass – just be careful you don’t boost too high, or your bass will become unbalanced and make for a bad sounding mix.

Bass Movement Image 15

Ninja Tricks With EQ For Bass Movement

Now for the real fun stuff. This is where you can create some insane movement in your basses using a parametric EQ.

On the right of Ableton’s EQ8 plug-in, you’ll see a drop down menu that says mode: stereo.

Click on this and change it to left-right mode (labeled L/R). Below the mode box you’ll see it says edit: L – this means you are editing the left side EQ line currently.

Next, change a pole to a notch pole. Now, draw an automation line in your DAW to make the frequency of this notch sweep down from about 3 kHz to about 500 Hz.

Now, click on the L on the right of the plug-in, where it says Edit: L. The orange L will change to a yellow R.

You can now change a pole to a notch again, but this time, automate this pole to sweep up from 500 Hz to 3000 Hz on your midi track.

This is what the automation lines in your DAW will look like:

Bass Movement Image 16

And this is what your EQ plug-in will look like:

Bass Movement Image 17

These two notches sweeping in opposite directions at the same time will cause a certified eargasm in your listeners’ minds.

I was first told about this technique by the wonderful Evoke in podcast session 021.

Evoke is now one of the guys who runs Upscale Records by the way (along with Frequent and Corey – Head Honcho at Adapted Records).

 

Filters

Filters can be used to control color in the same ways that EQ units can, except they have built in LFOs, envelopes and can be automated more easily.

They tend to not have L/R or mid-side controls, but seeing as we have covered all the filter types above in the EQ section, I won’t cover it again.

However, there is one ninja trick I have for you to create movement in your bass using filters, and that is by using filters for parallel processing.

How does this work Luke?

Glad you asked. Let’s say you have a filter, sitting there all lonely by itself on a track that has your bass synth on it.

Perhaps it’s a low pass filter, cutting everything off below 712 Hz.

Bass Movement Image 18

Pretty simple so far, but doesn’t it look lonely? And doesn’t your bass deserve to have a fuller sound, with lots of color and movement than this?

Of course it does! So why don’t you slap that puppy in an audio effect rack, map its cutoff frequency to macro 1 and then drop another filter in the chain list, but this time, have the other filter set to a high pass filter, and map that guy’s cut off to macro 1 as well?

Bass Movement Image 19

Congratulations, you’ve effectively just created a notch filter. But hang in there with me.

If you set the macro mappings min and max values of these two filters to something like this:

High pass:

min freq: 1000 Hz

max freq: 3000 Hz

Low pass

Min freq: 500 Hz

Max freq 1500 Hz

Then no matter where you move macro 1 to, you’ll always have a gap in your bass.

You can then fill this gap with a third filter set to band pass, with min and max mapping values set to something like 1000 Hz and 2000 Hz, which will fill that gap nicely and create some interesting further movement to your sound:

Bass Movement Image 20

Now you’re looking at some interesting movement that will be getting you closer towards that neuro sound that we all know and love so much here at BassGorilla.

Section 5: Texture

Texture is used to describe the way a sound may feel if it were an object, and is commonly created using distortion and saturation (mild distortion).

There are many types of distortion such as tube, mech, etc. and many different plugins that can create it. How does it work? Great questions from you today! I’m impressed!

Distortion adds extra harmonics to a sound. Making it sound brighter and fuller than it was previously. Imagine you’re holding a football with smooth leather surfaces and it suddenly changes into a fuzzy, slightly prickly ball.That is one possible description of what distortion does to a sound.

So how can we use distortion to create movement in a sound?

I’m sure you can guess what I might say – just automate the distortion amount etc. but if you’re still reading this, you’re in luck because I’m going to let you in on secret ninja trick number 3: The Ordure/ Frequent distortion sweep technique…

Both Ordure (Dutch neurohop duo) and Frequent (American bass music prodigé) use this technique in their bass sound design.

Imagine you have the very parallel filter unit that I told you how to make in the picture above. Now let’s imagine that you drop a distortion plugin onto the band pass filter (and inside the audio effect rack, not on the outside of it), and turn up the drive/distortion amount.

Now, when you move macro 1, the distorted band is going to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum, making your bass sound like it’s popping out of the TV screen and coming straight towards you in a 3D-like way.

This is one of the raddest techniques I have discovered from the many people I’ve interviewed on the BassGorilla Podcast so far, and I love using it for neuro bass sound design.

So if you’ve read this far, you’ve almost definitely picked up some ninja moves and most likely are looking forward to trying some or all of them out. But the biggest ninja trick of all is to start combining these movement techniques in crazy ways that will make your bass sound like it is actually swallowing your listeners alive.

If you found this post useful, leave a comment in the box below and let me know what you think.

And if you loved this post, do me a favor and share the link on Facebook for your friends to check it out 😉
If you’re serious about taking your bass sound design skills to the next level, you might want to check out some of our premium courses on this topic:

neuro bass GIMP 600x338

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequent sound design course

9 replies

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Comments are closed.