Sound designers are always seeking fresh sounds, and love to get excited about new techniques and ways to craft original creations. Though using ready-rolled samples in their entirety is perfectly acceptable, of course, this’ll only take your creativity so far…
So if you’re looking to give your sound design muscles a good workout, why not use unrelated source material to form the basis of something completely new? By recruiting the myriad of audio-processing tools lying within your DAW and plugins folder, almost anything is possible – as you’re about to discover!
So for this Studio Strategies tutorial and its accompanying video, I’m going to use small parts of an existing vocal acapella sample to create a trio of instruments: a pad, lead and bass. After showing you how to choose and extract suitable sections from the source sample, I’ll walk you through my methods for shaping and processing, using a typical sampler instrument and plugin processors to twist and morph my way to melodic creativity.
As a bonus, you can download my EXS24 instruments. Alternatively, if you’re not a Logic Pro user, feel free to chuck the raw audio into your preferred sampler and treat the sounds with your own choice of effects.
Step 1: The first step is to pick a sample that varies in tone and timbre throughout. For this tutorial, I’ve chosen an unprocessed acapella from Loopmasters’ Liquid Motions sample pack – a vocal line comprising a mix of both short and sustained words.
Step 2: First, I duplicate the audio region to another channel, so we always have an untouched version to refer back to. Next, let’s load a creative reverb plugin (Eventide’s Blackhole) on the audio track, and audition through the vocal, listening out for a section that might work as a sustained pad.
Step 3: I pick a section that sparks interest, then chop out this chunk and duplicate it down to a new track. Experimenting with timestretching and different reverb treatments introduces artefacts that add texture and flavour.
Step 4: Bounce the new file with its effects in place. Next, here in Logic Pro, I create a new Sampler Instrument by choosing Zones From Regions starting from C2 – this spreads the sample across all keys, giving me a polyphonic patch. Sampler enveloping and filtering now shapes my new ‘synth’ patch.
Step 5: To make a vocal-based ‘lead’, I find a percussive part of the vocal – a section with minimal sustain and a distinct attack. As before, I duplicate the new audio region and load it into another sampler instrument, choosing Zones From Regions starting from C2.
Step 6: With the new EXS24 instrument created, I take advantage of the sampler’s filter and envelope to shape a more interesting source sound. By opening and closing an overdriven filter with the filter envelope, I end up with a unique ‘stab’ lead.
Step 7: Some modulation effects will give this lead some movement. Chorus and/or widening effects are great for adding additional space and texture – in this case, Soundtoys’ Little MicroShift provides the character I’m looking for.
Step 8: It’s time for some reverb and delay. I call up Eventide’s Blackhole reverb again, then Soundtoys’ EchoBoy Jr. for delay. If you dial in a particularly interesting chain of processors, be sure to save them as a channel strip or ‘rack’ in your DAW for future recall.
Step 9: Next up, I’m going to use a different vocal chunk to design a bass part. Taking the same idea from my pad, I find a sustained note of vocal; and to make its pitch more obvious, I use Logic’s Flex Pitch to flatten out the phrase’s inherent vibrato.
Step 10: After customising the vocal note with editing and timestretching, I use Logic’s Zones From Regions shortcut to create a Sampler Instrument, spreading the sample across all the keys once again. If you’re not a Logic user, don’t worry – this can be done in all decent soft-samplers.
Step 11: Now experiment with effects to enhance the source sound’s timbre. For movement, I call up a chorus effect. This has ‘stereoised’ my bass, so I use a mid/side EQ to eliminate low-end frequencies from the stereo signal.
Step 12: Spatial effects can give a bass sound some much-needed ambience, but I recommend you keep the low end clean by restricting the signal’s frequency content. Here, Soundtoys’ Little Plate reverb does the job – I use its Low Cut parameter to cut away all frequencies below 1kHz.