This is actually the third part of my Chill Out and Ambient sounds tutorial series. I will show you an example on how to build a soothing drum sequence followed by a matching bass sound and a beautiful piano melody which’ll be the basis of a calm and longing atmosphere, and on top of that, a filter delay effected synth sound.
Here’s an audio clip on what kind of material I’m talking about here:
Okay. First, set the tempo to 100bpm.
Let’s start the sequencing from the drums (note that all the drum samples I’m using in this tutorial are from Prime Loops Drum Sample Tasters 2012 free sample package which you can download here).
Pick a kick drum titled ‘Kik4.wav’. Its located in the folder ‘Prime Loops – Ultimate Dubstep Drummer\One-Shot Samples’. Its a “Dubstep kick” yeah, but it doesn’t matter as it works fine in this type of music as well (the thing is, when you use “genre oriented” sample packs, you are free to use them in ANY style and not just what they are aimed for – be open minded with samples and use your ears to decide what works in what and that will open a whole lot of possibilites).
Drop the Kik4.wav to an empty Sampler channel, assign it to a free Mixer track and leave the Mixer track volume level to 0.0dB (again, I’m using the mixing method “give most power to the kick and tweak the rest according to it“). Use the Channel EQ Band 1 (low shelf) to boost the low end by 3.0dB.
Next, the snare. Go to the ‘Prime Loops – Ultimate Dubstep Drummer\One-Shot Samples’ -folder again and pick a sample titled ‘Snare10.wav’, drop it to an empty Sampler channel, assign it to a free Mixer track and drop its volume level to -0.6dB.
Head back to the Playlist and add an empty pattern there (press F4). This pattern will be dedicated for the drum sequence. Open the Step Sequencer (press F6) and create a following very simple kick/snare sequence: kick to the step 1 and 15 and snare to step 9.
I don’t know about you, but to my taste the snare sounds a bit ‘uptight’ for a relaxed chill out beat so tuning it down (slowing down the sample playback speed) is required. You do that by opening the snare Sampler Channel Settings -panel, then set the Pitch Knob Range to 6 Semitones and drop the Channel Pitch to -312 Cents.
The snare has also a tad too much presence in the low-mid frequency range so open the Mixer, drop a Fruity Parametric EQ 2 to the snare effect slot and use a Peaking Filter to attenuate the 200Hz area by 4-5dB with a Bandwidth of 60%.
Next, the hihats: find a closed hihat sample labeled ‘Hh_RnB_At_Night_PL_1.wav’ from the folder ‘Prime Loops – XXL R&B Drums\XXL Drum Samples’, drop it to an empty Sampler channel, assign it to a free Mixer track and set the volume level to -2.7dB.
Sounds allright, but liven up the hihats a bit with a delay effect so open the Mixer again and add a Fruity Delay 2 to it’s effect slot and dial in settings like this:
Switching on the Ping Pong Feedback -mode and adjusting the Input Panning like shown in the pic above makes the hihat bounce slightly between left and right channel. Its an easy trick to widen the stereo image of a beat and thus a whole song. Use greater Input Panning settings for a more radical stereo effect. Smooth out the echoes via cutoff knob (CUT).
Next, locate a sample ‘Snr_RnB_Africa_PL.wav’ in the ‘Prime Loops – XXL R&B Drums\XXL Drum Samples’ -folder and drop it to a new Sampler Channel. Yes, its another snare sample, but we’ll use it like a percussion to fill in the drum groove a bit. Assign it to a free Mixer track and drop its volume level to -5.3dB.
Ok. Next we are going to do some signal routing for creating a special effect to the drum groove. The aim is to add a big reverb to both snares and hihat and use kick drum and sidechain compression to control their volume output (to ‘dip’ it).
So first, open the Mixer and route the first snare (Snare10.wav), closed hihat (Hh_RnB_At_Night_PL_1.wav) and the second snare (Snr_RnB_Africa_PL.wav) to a free Mixer insert track (NOTE: do not route the kick drum). Routing is done by first clicking on the track you wan’t to route the signal FROM, then right click on the Send Switch on the track you wan’t to route TO and choose ‘Route to this track only’ from the menu (and lets just call the track a ‘route track’ – you can rename it to like that if you wish… I did).
Long Decay time is the key for a big reverb as it increases the size of the virtual acoustic space. Turning off HighCut and HighDamping lets the high frequencies pass through freely for a brighter reverb which we’ll need for this effect.
Check the audio:
Now, sidechain the kick drum to the route track. Sidechaining is done like this: click on the kick drum’s Mixer track to make it active, right click on the Send Switch on the route track and choose ‘Sidechain to this track’ from the menu.
Everytime the kick hits, it’ll make the route track output level to dip. The long Release time in the compressor forces the signal level to re-cover SLOWLY from the dip and due to reverb, this adds a sort of ‘breathing’ -feel to the drum groove.
Check the audio:
Okay, the drums sound pretty good. Next, head to the Playlist and copy & paste the drum pattern all the way to bar 17 as this example sequence is going to be 16 bars long.
As soon as we get to the melodic parts of this example tutorial, there is going to be a little change in the melodics starting at bar 9 so add a little fill to the drum groove at bar 8: this works like a small build-up before transitioning to that section. First, right click the top left corner of the pattern clip and choose ‘Make unique’ to clone it.
Also, replace the last pattern of the sequence (at bar 16) with the Pattern 2 as there is going to be same style of build-up for moving back to the first part of the sequence.
Locate a sample ‘Bh_Hit_Crash_0003_PL.wav’ from the folder ‘Prime Loops – UK Funky Producer\Single Hits’ and drop it to the Playlist into an empty Clip track as Audio Clip. Place it to the first beat of a bar 1 and bar 9. Assign it to a free Mixer track and drop its volume level to -14.1dB to complement the drums (and not to compete with them).
Ok, the crash cymbal needs a slight character change: it sounds too tight to fit to the style of the beat (or “high pitched” if such thing can be said about pure crash cymbal as their pitch are usually indefinite – of course this depends on the sample as it may have some pitched elements mixed to it). It can be made sound more loose by down tuning it (slowing it down just like we did with the snare). So, double click the crash cymbal sample to open its Channel Settings, set the Pitch Knob Range to 6 Semitones and drop the Channel Pitch to -216 Cents.
Much better. Also, lets give the crash cymbal a bit more continuum by adding a delay effect to it. Delay (and reverb) is a nice way to make short crash cymbals sound longer and also to give more emphasis and drama to the part where it hits. So, go to the Mixer and drop Fruity Delay 2 to the crash cymbal effect slot and set it like this:
As you can hear the echo bounces from left to right due to PingPong Feedback mode and Input Panning settings. Dialing the Time to 4:00 makes the echo comp with the rhythm.
Next, let’s use the same crash cymbal sample for enhancing the little build-up section by reversing it (I have actually made a tutorial about this subject so go check it out if you’re interested). In the Playlist, copy and paste the Bh_Hit_Crash_0003_PL.wav to a same or a new Clip Track to bar 8, right click on the top left corner of the sample clip to open a menu and choose ‘Make unique’ or ‘Make unique as sample’ to clone it. Assign the cloned sample to a new free Mixer track and drop its volume to -15.4dB.
Open the Channel Settings -box of the duplicated crash sample and under the ‘Precomputed Effects’ enable Reverse. Tune down the sample by setting the Pitch Knob Range to 6 Semitones and drop the Channel Pitch to -420 Cents. What we are doing here is we use down tuning to create a bigger contrast between the reverse crash and original crash thus making the transition more effective/dramatic.
Allright, we are ready to move to the melodic parts of the sequence.
I’m usually using two different methods for creating melodies: I either compose a bassline first and compose chords and other melodies on top of that OR build a sequence of chords and/or melody using a basic instruments like piano or strings and after that, create a bassline that is based on the chords. Also, when I’m out of ideas, I sometimes use Band-In-A-Box for generating chord progression ideas and develope melodies based on them (the chord ideas used in this tutorial are created with Band-In-A-Box).
Ok. Let’s use piano sound for the chords. I’m using Piano One by Sound Magic. IMO it’s one of the best sounding free piano plugins out there (also available for Mac) and you can download it here. Installation is simple (there’s instructions included) or follow my guide on how to install VST plugins into FL Studio.
After the installation, load it to your project. We are going to use the Piano One’s built-in reverb to add some depth and ambience to it so choose ‘Large Hall’ as the reverb type and set the Reverb Amount to around 70-75%.
Assign the Piano One to a free Mixer track. Now, the output level in the Piano One itself is relatively low – at least compared to the drum mix. Of course, dropping the drum levels (and turning up speaker volume) would compensate this, but there’s also another way: add Fruity Limiter to Piano One’s effect slot to increase its gain. Note that we are NOT using Fruity Limiter as a limiter here (=controlling the peak volumes) – we just use it for increasing the overall gain of the Piano One and you do that by turning the Limiter Ceiling all the way to 12.0dB (this prevents the limiter engaging) and dialing the Gain to around 6dB.
Okay. Go to the Playlist and add a new pattern to the project (this pattern will be dedicated for the piano chords and melodies). Open the Piano Roll -view of the Piano One and start laying down the chords. Before you begin, remember that piano ‘romplers’ like Piano One are trying to simulate the sound of a real piano, therefore you can get the best out of it by thinking how a real human player would play a piano. For starters, you can make it sound more realistic by varying the timing and velocity values of your notes (this is called ‘humanizing’) – just like a real human piano player does naturally (plus, in Piano One, changing the note velocity also changes the tone of the note as it is using velocity layered samples which means using different velocity levels will trigger a different sample). Best way to do this is to use a MIDI keyboard to record the chords and melodies live. Or if you draw the notes to Piano Roll via mouse, edit the note timing and velocity values to add the realism.
Allright. Add following notes to the Piano Roll. NOTE that there seems to be some sort of bug (?) in Piano One: if you put two same notes in a row without a space, the second note wont play at all. You can cope with this by slightly shortening the end of the notes to add a little gap there (hold ALT and drag to shorten a note without snapping):
That’s a simple, 4 bar long chord progression.
Now start humanizing the chord sequence by moving couple of notes slightly off the sync (again, hold down ALT while you drag to bypass snapping). This will make the chord notation sound more ‘organic’ and not too machine -like if you know what I mean. You can also use the Strum -tool (press ALT + S in the Piano Roll) for achieving similar effect though keep in mind that strumming is a guitar playing technique and not usually used with piano.
More humanizing: add variation to the note velocity values. There’s several ways to do this: via Piano Roll Event Editor, through Note Properties -box (double click a note to open it), via mouse wheel and with the Randomizer tool (press ALT + R). I’ll just use the mouse wheel method: zoom in vertically so that the ‘velocity bar’ appears on the note, place the cursor on the note, hold down ALT and use the mouse scrollwheel to change the velocity:
Ok. The piano has a reverb already, but it could use a little bit of echo as well so open the Mixer and drop a Fruity Delay 2 to the Piano One mixer track and set it like this (usually, reverb is used AFTER the delay, but in this case it sounds allright either way):
Next, we sequence a simple melody on top of the piano chords. Head back to the Playlist and copy & paste the piano chord pattern few times and use the ‘Make unique’ -function to clone the pattern that is pasted to bar 9 (that’s where we plant the melody):
Start plotting notes to the grid. If you’re going to use your MIDI keyboard for recording the melodies live, remember to switch on the ‘Blend recording (overdub)’ -mode in the Transport Panel – otherwise recorded notes will overwrite the old ones (the chords).
Here’s the melody. I also added a little variation to the velocity values:
And with the beat:
Okay. Let’s move on to a next element: the bass. Its going to be a simple and soft, sub style bass and 3xOsc will be used for this so load a one to your project. Select triangle as the shape for Osc 1 and rounded saw for Osc 2 (we only need these two oscillators so disable the Osc 3 by dropping its volume level to 0%). Triangle has a slightly more sharper timbre than sine and mixed with the rounded saw it allows the bass poke through the mix better than pure sine while still preserving the smoothness of a sub bass. (I also tested the triangle with saw and square waves, but to my taste they sounded too sharp, therefore rounded saw seemed to be the best choice.)
As for the tuning, set both oscillators Coarse Tune to -24 Semitones (that’s two octaves down). Set the Osc 2 Mix Level to 11%. This will make the presence of the rounded saw to be only subtle.
Next, the bass sequence. Head back to Playlist, add a new pattern there, open the Piano Roll view of 3xOsc and draw a following sequence of notes. These are the root notes of the piano chords (root note is often – but not always – the deepest note of a chord).
Now, because the bass is operating partly on the same frequency area as the kick, the kick will loose a bit of its accent/emphasis so to bring it back to front, use sidechain compression to make the bass dip everytime the kick hits. So, open the Mixer, click on the kick drum mixer track, right click the Send Switch on the bass track and choose ‘Sidechain to this track’:
Head to the Playlist and copy/paste the bass pattern all the way to the end of the sequence (bar 17).
Next, the final element: synth sound with a filtered delay effect. 3xOsc will be used for this as well so add one to your project. Select square wave as the oscillator shape for Osc 1 and saw wave for Osc 2 and Osc 3. Set Osc 1 Fine tune to -8 cents, Osc 2 Coarse tune to 0 semitones and Fine tune to +18 cents and Osc 3 Coarse tune to 0 semitones. Also, adjust the Osc 1 Stereo detune to -8 cents for spreading the stereo image a bit.
Go back to Playlist, add a new pattern, open the Piano Roll -view of 3xOsc and add a following sequence of notes. This is the synthline and its using pretty much the same notes as the piano chords. Also, pay attention to the note velocity values:
Copy & paste the synth pattern all the way to bar 17:
Now, some automation to liven up the synth. Open the 3xOsc #2, open the INS -> CUT -tab and right click on the Attack time -knob under the Envelope section and choose ‘Create automation clip’ from the menu: ’3xOsc #2 filter cutoff envelope – attack time envelope’ -automation clip will be created to the Playlist:
As you hear, the automation kind of ‘opens’ and ‘closes’ the sound.
Next, the filtered delay effect. We are going to use Fruity Delay 2, Fruity Free Filter and Fruity PanOMatic for the effect: Fruity Delay 2 is for adding an repeating echo to the synth sound, Fruity Free Filter (plus automation) for filter sweeping the echo and Fruity PanOMatic to make it pan between left and right channel. In order to make this effect to work, we need to utilize a Send track. Why? If we add these three effect units straight to the 3xOsc #2 Mixer track (which is an insert track) the WHOLE synth signal gets processed, but the aim is to process ONLY the DELAY (echo) SIGNAL with the filter and PanOMatic while preserving the original synth sound ‘underneath’ it. Send track makes this possible: we can add effects to Send track and then route any Mixer insert track signal (or multiple tracks) into it. This signal will be then forwarded to Master track ALONGSIDE the original track signal. We can also control how much the Send track will receive a signal from the source track and this specifys the amount of effects heard in the end of the signal path (Master track). So basically it’s like parallel effect routing.
Allright. First, in order to hear the effects from the Send track, click on the synth mixer track (3xOsc #2, this is the source track) to make it active and on the Send track, turn the Send knob to 88% (this controls the signal level received from the source track):
Note that the Dry signal level is set to 0. This will make sure that the Fruity Delay is outputting ONLY the processed (wet) signal. This way you don’t end up sending duplicate ‘dry’ signal to the Master track.
Next, add a Fruity Free Filter to the Send track:
Now, in order to make the echoes sweep, we need to automate the filter frequency movements so right click on the Freq -knob and choose ‘Create automation clip’ from the menu, head to Playlist, shorten the automation clip to 8 bars and edit the envelope as follows:
And finally, drop the Fruity PanOMatic to the last of the Send effect chain, right click on the Pan -knob and choose ‘Create automation clip’:
Head to Playlist, double click the ‘PanOMatic (Send 1) – Panning envelope’ to open the Automation Channel Settings -panel, enable the LFO and set the SPD (LFO Speed) and LVL (LFO Level) values like this:
Here’s the full sequence (“mastered” with Waves L1 UltraMaximizer):
Allright. Now you can proceed on editing the arrangement… maybe something like this:
And that’s it!
Watch the video below: