By Francis Preve
LAST MONTH, WE LOOKED AT A CLASSIC APPROACH TO MAKING MONSTER LEADS VIA LAYERING AND
blending multiple synths playing the same riff. For the second part of this tutorial, we’ll look at a more complex
way of whipping up memorable leads that morph and mutate via macros. We’ll be using Ableton Live and its
FM/subtractive synth, Operator, but you can get the same result in other DAWs, notably Propellerhead Reason’s
Combinator. Here’s how to do it.
Once you’ve crafted a catchy lead, add Operator (or another soft synth) and select a few parameters that make your sound go
from simple to massive. For this example, I started with a simple sine wave on oscillator 1, added FM from oscillator 2 at a 1:1
ratio, and then layered a third oscillator playing a square wave an octave higher. Once you have your basic synth patch and a
few cool parameters selected, it’s time to go big.
Next, add a few
effects that add
dimension to the
original synth. For
this example, I put
an overdrive immediately
following Operator. Then I added a tight stereo delay with left
and right times set at 33.7ms and 36ms, respectively. That runs into
a longer, dotted eighth-note delay, then a lowpass filter, bit-crusher,
and highpass filter. Note that I also placed a limiter at the end of the
chain, set to defaults. This is essential if you’re working with effects
like distortion and delays with lots of feedback, as they tend to jack
your levels way up.
Using Live’s macro assignments—or Reason’s Combinator
rotary knobs—select the synth and effect
parameters that create the biggest impact on your
sound. My assignments are: FM amount from oscillator
2, volume of the octave square, overdrive wet/
dry, short delay mix plus feedback, long delay mix
plus feedback, lowpass cutoff, highpass cutoff, and
The last step is the most fun: Record your riff and turn those knobs!
Always keep your DAW in record during this process, because magic
happens when you least expect it and it’s crucial to capture that.
Once you have a solid take, you can always go back and edit. The
end result will be a lead that twists, turns, grows, shrinks, and keeps
the dance floor engaged with your track.
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