Synth Sense Massive Pads

October 27, 2011

By David Baron

I often create massive pads by breaking up a standard pad part
and breaking it up into different voices so that each one gets its own tonal treatment. The goal is to create increased musical motion while eliminating boring, blocky textures. I also like to combine vintage analog instruments with modern plug-ins to make an even stronger impact. I also create multisamples of vintage keyboards using Redmatica Autosampler, so that I always have a library of custom sounds in Kontakt format at the ready. Here are some tips and tricks to help you create your own monster pads, with music notation next to partial shots of my Pro Tools arrange window so you can see how the pads are built up.

1. The Rhodes Not Taken

In Ex. 1, I build a hybrid Rhodes-style patch by splitting a five-note chord into individual components. The main ingredients are the top three notes of the chord, played on a sample from Kontakt 4. The bottom two notes of the chord are used on two different Rhodes-like patches from Spectrasonics Omnisphere (“Sweetness Rhodes”) and Camel Audio Alchemy (“NoldSkool EP”). I pan these two patches hard left and right. Using three separate patches playing different notes with hard panning creates a much larger Rhodes sound than is usually possible with just a single patch. The final icing is an ambient treatment of the top two chord notes using another patch (“Suitcase EP PS”) from the FabFilter Twin2 synth plug-in.


2. Rhythmic Breakup

I often break up chords to make them more animated using an analog rhythmic treatment. In Ex. 2, the first four bars are wide-spaced chords sustained on an Alchemy patch (“Foresty Commission”). Then I play each voice through a real ARP 2600, with an analog sequencer shifting its resonant filter so the parts have a changing harmonic pattern. [Software ARP emulations that can process external audio will also work. –Ed.] I double each voice with a slightly more sustained voice. This method creates rhythmic patterns that can replace a guitar for a section of a song. It also helps differentiate verse from chorus.


3. Lushtronica

A great deal of interest in vintage sounds comes from the lush sonics of 1970s bands like Pink Floyd. I emulate this style by using a variety of doubles on different instruments. In Ex. 3, I combine B-3 organ from Avid’s DB-33 plug-in, ARP Solina strings from Omnisphere, and [real] ARP Odyssey and Minimoog. Add copious amounts of plate reverb and tape delay emulation and voilà, Lushtronica!

4. Close Interval Held Chords

Ex. 4 demonstrates how I break close chords up into individual components. The top voice gets a big Moog-style lead, using three Moog Oscillators set to sawtooth, and routed through a lowpass filter that opens and closes via MIDI controller info. I track all three passes separately, with each pass filter-modulated differently. The multiple passes of moving filters makes the line feel organic and alive. The second line from the top gets a slightly slower attack and square-wave modulation, which acts like a tremolo for the filter. I track this twice with slightly different tuning, pan the tracks hard left and right, and assign the modulation rate to a knob so I can “play” it as I’m tracking. The lowest line has a slower attack still so that it enters slightly later than the rest, giving it an almost orchestral feel, like French horns coming in after the orchestra plays a chord. I track this line twice—once slightly detuned and once an octave lower.


Keyboardist, composer, and producer David Baron owns and runs Edison Music Corp. in Woodstock, New York. He has written jingles and TV theme songs, and appeared on records by Lenny Kravitz and Michael Jackson. Baron makes his own records on vintage analog gear and plays keyboards in the band Media. Find out more at and Jon Regen

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