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23 chillout and lounge tips

Take a deep breath, relax and ease your way to chillout nirvana

1. Germany's ultra-cool sextuplet Jazzanova take their rhythmic influences from a variety of world music. If you're looking for a bit of exotic inspiration, get yourself over to percussionist Alex Pertout's website and check out the lessons page for some great examples of interesting percussion patterns from all over the world.

2. Getting an organic feel is important for many types of down-tempo music, but achieving this can be tricky when composing with a computer. However, there are some nifty tricks you can use to add a more human feel to parts entered via your mouse. For example, adjusting the velocity levels of individual notes can help make a part sound more dynamic, and works especially well with percussion instruments.

3. Another technique that you might find helpful for keeping your track sounding 'natural' is to make your parts' timing less robotic. You can achieve this by adjusting the timing of each note slightly so that they're not always perfectly on the beat. Just a few milliseconds early or late will create a noticeable effect that will make the part sound that much more human.

4. If you're finding all these humanisation techniques a bit too much like hard work, check out Tobybear's wacky (and free!) Humanisator plug-in. This handy little device enables you to automatically adjust a MIDI part's velocity, pitch, timing and modulation amounts. It's part of Tobybear's MidiBag collection. This pack includes a variety of other tools that can be used to process MIDI information in various unusual ways.

5. Synth parts can be made to soundmore alive with the addition of filter, pitch or volume modulation. A classic synth programming technique is to tie pitch modulation to the mod

wheel. Additionally you may find that adding a touch of glide to your lead sounds gives them a more lifelike, organic feel.

6. Sounds can be made lighter with a bit of hi-pass filtering. For a less pronounced effect, a low-end EQ cut can be used instead.

7. If you'd like some beautiful Absynth-style pads and effects on your track but can't afford the moolah, try the fantastic free Cygnus plug-in. Even if you find the fully featured interface a bit intimidating, don't panic, as it comes packed with chillout friendly patches.

8. If you use a lot of sustained samples, such as pads or instrument phrases, you may find that standard looping won't cut it - all too often it's easy to hear where the sample loops. This can be avoided by using the crossfade-looping function available in sample editors such as Sound Forge.

9. If you haven't got access to a sample editor, you can achieve a similar effect to that discussed in tip 8 by doing it manually in an audio sequencer. Simply copy a section from the end of your sample, and place it on a separate track just before the original sample ends. Set up fade points so that as one sample fades out, the next fades in.

10. If you're using a lot of delays, panning them quite wide leaves the middle of the stereo field free for your main melody or hook.

11. Nature is a great source of sounds for those ambient moments, and unless you live in the middle of a big city, chances are you can find a quiet spot to capture some of Mother Nature's sonic bounty. Water and insect sounds are classics, but don't be afraid to think outside the box. Check out the Edirol R-1 or M-Audio MicroTrack II - both are portable hard disk recorders available for around £300.

Electric piano effect chain

12. If you'd like to add some realistic instrument sounds to your productions without forking out for expensive ROMplers, you can get some great virtual instruments for free via the internet. MrRay73 and mda ePiano are two excellent electric piano instruments you can download without paying a penny.

These instruments sound great straight, but for that authentic funk flavour you'll need to add a few effects. Here we're using Kjaerhus Audio's fabulous Classic collection to add some mysterious, jazzy atmospherics. Load up an instance of MrRay73 in your sequencer, and start by adding the Classic Auto-Filter as an insert effect. We've using a variation on the wah-wah preset to smooth out the sound.

That's nice, and certainly chilled, but let's get a bit more spaced out. Next in the effect chain, add the Classic Phaser. This variation on the Rhythm Guitar #2 preset adds a subtle Lonnie Liston Smith-esque swirl to the sound - notice how much more movement sustained notes have now.

So far so good, but it's more soulful than psychedelic, so let's add a Classic Delay unit after the phaser to send us into the stratosphere. Here we've used the Clean Digital preset to add a basic, clear delay effect to our swirling electric piano. The final touch is a Classic Reverb after the delay set to the Empty Hall preset. There you have it - more vibes than you can shake a stick at!

Processing

13. Processing is essential when attempting to create that chilled-out atmosphere. Reverb is particularly important - if the effect you're using makes everything you put through it sound like it's in a gigantic steel tank, you're in trouble. Try the Black Water Music reverb - available for Mac and PC. Its simple controls make it extremely easy to use.

14. Reverb can be used for more creative purposes than just putting your sound in a virtual space. By turning a reverb insert's dry level all the way down you can use it to create ambient washes that are useful for creating lead sounds, effects and general atmospherics. Try running a short synth blip through a 100% wet reverb with a long reverb time to

create a mellow, organic sound.

15. Other handy tools for taking the edge off sounds include EQ and compression. A tight notch EQ can rid your sounds of unwanted harsh frequencies, and a bit of subtle compression can help level out any excessively loud volume peaks. Be careful with these effects, however, as over-zealous use can take away the energy and dynamism of your track.

16. Downtempo tracks give you more leeway to play with the stereo field, and this can help give your tracks more depth and a bigger sense of space. Try playing a sound in one channel, with the delay or reverb panning over to the other.

17. Contrary to popular belief, making chilled music doesn't mean you have to keep everything dead minimal. Many great chilled tracks feature different lead sounds or instruments to create their melody or groove. Try applying delays with various delay times to lead parts in order to create interplay between different lead sounds.

18. If you find your drum sounds are too hard-hitting, change to a different kit - eg, a jazz brush kit. Alternatively, try turning down the kick and snare sounds to make it a bit easier on the ear.

More processing tricks

19. If your digitally produced tracks are sounding far too clean, try out one of the many vinyl emulation plug-ins. KlangLabs have a rather good one that goes by the superb name of Milli Vinylli.

20. The easiest way to get those lush, workstation-style pad sounds using virtual synths is to find nice pad presets and layer them up until the sound has enough depth. This enables individual elements of the sound to have a lot of movement (filter sweeps, for example) while maintaining a degree of solidity.

21. If you find your delay effect is making your track sound too busy, try turning up the delay time, or reducing the feedback level. If you're using a send channel, remember that you can add effects such as EQ or filters after the delay to shape the sound even more.

22. Just because you're making a more chilled track doesn't mean you have to totally avoid any kind of extreme processing. Check out Ulrich Schnauss' Passing By for a good example of hardcore distortion in a lounge environment.

23. One of our favourite free plug-ins, and one that's particularly useful for crafting a chilled vibe, is Coyote Wah. Running a pad or effect channel through this little beauty will add a mellifluous vibe to the proceedings.

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