Dance Pop Tutorial Day 4: Gated Pad, Pitch Bend Saw Synth & Bass Pad / Arp Synth [7 Day Song]

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Hi! I’m Dave from and welcome to day 4 of the 7 day song on Dance Pop, courtesy of Propellerhead Software’s Music Making Month.

Yesterday we sorted out some sweet lead synths to top our track that was so electrotastic it actually got Ke$ha coming around to my house and getting glitter EVERYWHERE which is a nightmare to vacuum up so I hope you’re happy. Today in day 4, I’ll finish off the synths for the track with a Gated Pad, a cool little pitch bend synth and one of my favourite sounds – a big bass pad, which we’ll also use as an arppeggiated synth, since we’re economical like that.

Okay! Let’s begin.

Combinator, name it, add a mixer, thor and init. I’ll add in some notes now.

3 Multi Oscillators are the order of the day, a 3 octave spread with more detune on the higher octave to make a really pronounced and thick effect. So run them through and we have a sweet supersaw synth.

Make the mixer so the middle and bass saw waves are a bit more prominent, or the high end octave will take all the focus. Full 3 on the mixer and ? balance should do it.

Full sustain on the amp envelope so it doesn’t lose volume over time and that’s the Thor instance done. Now, let’s add some gating!

Make a Matrix sequencer, then set it to curve mode. Hit tab to look at the back, then turn it to bipolar mode, since all pop synths, like pop stars, have seriously debilitating moments of depression. Also, this means it’ll completely cut out the sound when the gate is off, as opposed to just making it quieter. This is what gives the gating effect.

Now, route the Curve CV, remember it’s on curve mode, to the amp vel modulation input on the back of Thor – basically telling the matrix sequencer to pass along whatever patter that’s programmed in to the volume of the thor instance. Since we’re going to go with bars that are fully one way or the other in the matrix sequencer instance, this means it’ll either make the sound audible or completely off.

Now – program in a pattern! I’m going for 32 steps and 1/32 resolution, since I like the quicker rhythmic gating effect in a lot of pop music. I’ll just make a pattern now.

Take a listen – we have a pretty good sound there! But can you hear what’s not so good about it? It’s powerful and thick, but very muddy. We need to EQ it to bring up the high end goodness. You might think it’d make sense to just raise the volume of the high octave, but you get a very different tone from a high octave synth than you do from bringing up the high end of a lower octave one. Especially since we’ve detuned the high octave synth considerably more.

So – EQ and bring up the hi shelf around 5dB just to start, followed by a really nice boost at 4khz by 8dB and ¼ Q.

Now take a listen with and without. A big difference in brightness, right? EQing is vital in getting a more pro sound in pretty much every synth you make – it has to be able to fit in the mix though, make sure you don’t have every synth focused in the same area of the frequency spectrum or it will turn very messy very fast. Like trying to fit cats in a car engine. You could probably get away with one or maybe two, but many more than that and you’ll end up with a limbless feline and a very confused mechanic.

So there’s our tone shaped, let’s top it off with reverb on the mixer, RV7000 on the default is fine, ¼ aux will just bring it up enough to make it have a bit of ambience without turning it into a Dutch hardcore anthem.

Et voila! There’s our gated synth. Follow me into part 2 where we’ll look at a cool pitch bend saw synth!

This one’s pretty straightforward. Combinator, mixer and malstrom. Malstrom’s good for this effect because of it’s useful “1-Shot” option.

I’ll add in some notes now.

So first, both oscs on sawtooth 16, move the indexes along to different points so there’s a slight variation since we’re going to pan them across the stereo field with the “Spread” dial – this just pushes osc a to the left and osc b to the right of the stereo field.

bring it down an octave on both, then let’s have a play with the mod A section and that 1-shot option I mentioned. Turn it to sync and 1-shot, then bring pitch right down to -64 and rate to ¼. Turn the wave to curve 9, the exponential curve down to that mid point.

Now take a listen. What this is doing is that every time the note triggers, the pitch is going from really low down, since the pitch is in the minus it’s inverting the effect of the shape of this wave which would otherwise have it starting from really high, and following the wave shape until the pitch returns to normal.

Now it’s a bit weedy on its own, so duplicate it and bring the octaves down another octave. Layer it with the mixer so the higher one is ? – a bit quieter than the lower one, then Add some reverb as a nice touch, just below a half aux and we have a sweet sound!

You might want to EQ it – bringing up around 3.5khz 4dB and wide Q for a brighter top and if you aren’t a fan of that low end, just notch it with 400hz, – 9dB and 3Q to catch all of it. Hear the difference? Depending on whether you want a more full sound or not you might want to leave it in there.

And there we go! Lastly today we have the big bass pad for the bridge! So join me in part 3 for that.

Bass pads are brilliant for big, tense sections of songs – in Dance Pop this generally will be a bridge or a prechorus, I’ve gone for a bridge so if we make a combinator, mixer, thor and initialise it we can get to work as soon as I add in some notes.

I’ve started with these long notes, a nice and simple chord progression to give the basis for our section. Make two multi oscs to begin with, one on saw and one on square with both detuned a little bit more. Run them through and Listen – The combination of the two tones gives a huge, warm tone.

Bring them down an octave each and it’s even deeper and warmer, then remove the filter and add it to the filter 3 slot instead – the default global env values give a nice sharp start to the sound that I want to play off. You can remove it with the env value here if you don’t like it.

Bring freq to half and take a listen – pretty much there. We’re just going to really bring out that sharp start with a Noise osc into slot 3 on white noise mode – this is literally making noise and nothing else at the moment, but if we turn on state variable filter on high pass mode, ¾ freq then it removes the low rumbing noise so it’s not muddying up the low end, then run it into the filter to stop it being too piercing normally.

Using the thor mixer, bring it down until you’re happy with it.

This allows for a sweet percussive element to the synth.

Now – let’s add an EQ to bring up the top with 5khz and 10dB, brightening the percussive hit and slightly lifting the warm bassy pad too.

Lastly, add RV7000 reverb and put it on EKO Spaceecho 1. This is a really cool preset for a big, delayed sound. Aux half and you’re ready to go! I’ll just show you what it sounds like with the arp notes I’ll be putting in the song as well.

There – you might want to have two separate instances of the synth to adjust the levels and EQing of the arp and the bass pad more finely, but personally I think that sounds pretty good as is. I’ll talk more about the notes themselves in day 6, so that’s that for today!

We’ve made a Gated Pad that’s both bright and thick in a lovely example of cognitive dissonance – no wonder it was bipolar. We’ve also got a synth with a pitch more bent than the edge of a bench that a really fat, but talented singer would sit on and cry because they could never make it in the pop music industry due to her excessive weight, and a Bass Pad warmer than the lovely crackling fire in the expensive mansion of the record label executive that just told a fat chick with an awesome voice that she could never make it in the pop music industry due to her excessive weight.

Join me tomorrow for day 5, where I’ll be looking into the vital vocals, discussing autotuning methods, general vocal processing, harmonies and how to make some seriously catchy hooks.

See ya!


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Hi! I'm Dave from and welcome to the site!

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