Prog House Tutorial Day 4: Arps and Big Bass Pad [7 Day Song]
Hi, I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to day 4 of the 7 day song on Progressive House, sponsored by filtuh.com – the tag-based events search website.
Yesterday in day 3, we made some pads to fill out the breakouts in our track. Today in day 4, we’ll be making a plinky-plonky arpeggiated synth and our final pad, a big warm bassy one to hug the low end in it’s oscillatorial embrace.
Made up words aside, let’s get on with this arpeggiated synth! Though it doesn’t start out arpeggiated. Our little arpeggiator started out on a rural farm far from the city with nothing but a pig and a dream… which is extended metaphor for make a combinator, name it arp, make a mixer, a thor instance and initialise it. In fact, name this thor instance “Peggy” – that sounds like the name of a farm girl trying to make it in the big city; totally appropriate for this situation.
We’re just going to use a simple saw wave up an octave for our source sound, filter and envelope up to half to open up the high end but only for a moment, since we’ll be bringing the decay of the filter envelope down – and since the env value is reasonably high that will have quite a pronounced effect on the tone, making it sound plucked, like we did in the lead pad earlier in the 7 day song.
Add the chorus with ? D/W so it’s a bit thicker, we want a nice and wide arpeggio since it just feels weird having a synth this high pitched and fast living in the center of the mix entirely, and add the delay on tempo sync 4/16 as well so it feels a bit more epic and hands-in-da-air-ish. Low feedback and ¼ d/w.
Now I’ll add in some notes and take a listen… not too arpeggiatey. So let’s fix that with the puntastic RPG-8 Arpeggiator. I’m going to suggest a +1 octave shift so it’s even higher, then it’s just a case of picking a mode you like – after playing a bit I found that up + down, 1 octave, 4-2 with 1/16 rate and mid gate length resulted in some really nice results with the chords I was playing. Check it out!
Sweet, an arpeggiator takes all the notes put into it and plays them in a different order at the speed you define, allowing you to get some cool and unpredictable results. But you can hear that on each instance of the note being pressed, the notes are so impatient that they can’t wait for their turn and end up making an inconvenient chord every time.
To fix this little issue, open the programmer and select thor. Now, simply deselect the ticked box that says “receive notes” down the bottom and that will, brace yourself, stop thor from receiving the notes. Might seem like a silly thing to do, but in this instance we only want the arpeggiator to receive the notes, and as you’ll hear – those impatient notes at the start of each midi note are gone. You basically starved them of attention to the point where they became useful members of society again. See? The system can work!
So now we have our RPG-8 arpeggiator arpeggiating our Peggy (yeah, that’s why I called it Peggy), let’s add some effects and spruce it up a bit!
Firstly, reverb so it feels a bit bigger and sits in the mix better.. Add RV7000 after the mixer and dial it in half with the aux. Find a reverb preset you like – DRM drum hall had a nice early reflection kinda sound to it so I chose that, then just removed the gate so it was nice and consistent and put the decay down to a quarter.
There we are, now we want the mixer going into a stereo imager (actually for stereo imaging this time, imagine that!), followed by a maximizer. Take the stereo imager’s hi band to ? wide and 300hz x-over so it’s sitting comfortably either side of the mix, then bring up the maximizer’s input gain to ¼ and soft clip to full to beef up the level and saturate the sound a bit.
Et voila! Sounding cool. One of the coolest things about arps is that a small change in the thor instance can be magnified so much because the notes are playing so rapidly, so play around with all kinds – the resonance can be fun, the filter envelope and of course the source sounds to get something you like!
Lastly for the synth-making today, we’ll look at the bass pad.
This should be a relatively quick synth, since bass pads don’t generally have too much tonal intricacy so as to avoid muddying up the low frequencies.
So Combinator, name it “Big ol’ Bass” so it seems like it is the kind of synth you could trust if you lived in the wild west era, then make a mixer and a thor instance. Init and open.
Add a multi oscillator and an analog oscillator, the multi oscillator has to be in the middle because then it’s symmetrical, since my OCD has worsened in the past few videos. I’ll just add in some notes now.
Let’s start on oscillator 1, since we aren’t George Lucas. We just want a nice sine wave down a few octaves as the deep, sub-bass-y power to the sound.
Next, add in the multi osc on interval mode – take a listen to the difference between the modes, it really is a lot cleaner, which you need for deeper sounds or it ends up being very muddy.
Lastly, for osc 3 make it a square wave with the PW on center, otherwise it’s not a square wave, it’s a pulse wave. A Square wave means the pulse width is equal, a pulse wave is when the pulse width of the blip is offset – you can see that on the little diagrams around the PW knob if you squint.
The square wave is a really good tone for making really deep sounds a bit thicker, since it is nice and hollow sounding, avoiding the mess that comes with tones that are more thickly spread over the frequency spectrum like saw waves.
However, we’ve got our saw wave multi oscillator to give this a bit of grit and thickness, with the square just helping to get that deep growl that will make this bass have some presence in the track even with the big lead pad being obnoxious and taking up all the space.
Turn the filter env to 0 so it doesn’t effect the filter, sustain to full so it doesn’t lose volume over time, and then add an EQ – we’ve built up a lot of presence in the low mids which is really starting to take over the tone. This pad needs to be really deep.
So notch out fully the 275hz with 2.5Q so we’re left with this subtle, growling tone – to show you the difference, take a listen to it with the arp and the lead pad with and with the EQ applied. Hear the difference in clarity? You might want to adjust the filter frequency in thor as well to stop too much high end creeping through.
That said, I do like to have *some* high end just for a bit of width. But remember – widening lows is not a good idea. So let’s do some auxilliary trickery – turn the aux up to full then make a unison unit after the mixer, which makes a bunch of versions of the sound, 16 in this case, detunes them and widens them – but then add a stereo imager with the cross over frequency down to 250hz-ish, make the lo band mono and hi band fully wide. Hear how much that thickens up the tone without muddying the low end?
You can try with solo hi band on if you think it muddies the lows too much from the unison unit, but I kinda like it, it adds a subtle extra growl down there.
And there we have it! An arpeggiated synth more uplifting than Tony Robins in a hot air balloon, and a Bass Pad that growls like a Doberman whose owner though it’d be clever to call it “Skrillex”.
Join me tomorrow for day 5 where I’ll be looking into adding some FX, a sweet filter sweep and discussing the effects and stutters I’ll be using on the vocals for this song. See ya!