Dance -- Adding Transients

April 29, 2011

Transients_PitchEnvelopeRegardless of your preferred subgenre of electronic dance music, no one likes mushy leads and percussion riffs. Sometimes, you’ll nail an interesting texture for the body of the sound, but the attack will be ho-hum. In EDM, rhythm is everything, so if the sound isn’t punchy, it won’t cut through a mix and do its intended job. Ouch.

Since this sonic situation is more common than you might imagine, we’ll examine two sure-fire methods for adding impact to the beginning of a sound without tampering with the overall timbre of the part.

Pitch Envelopes

A really nifty way to add a stronger transient to a sound is to use a very fast pitch envelope to create a “tick” at the beginning of the sound. The secret is to set the decay to an extremely short rate and then vary the amount of click via the overall amount of envelope modulation. In our audio example at, we start with the default sine wave patch in the Operator FM synth in Ableton Live. Then, we gradually increase the amount of modulation over the course of the eight-bar loop. Pictured here is the envelope for reference purposes.

DrumTransientDrum Transients

Another tried and true way to add a transient to a synth patch is to layer it with just the attack portion of a drum sample. By shortening the sample to just the first few milliseconds (as pictured) and then blending it with the original, you can add the impact of the drum to the body of the synth. Propellerhead Reason’s Combinator and Ableton Live’s Instrument Racks are both great tools for layering, but you can get the same effect by copying the synth’s MIDI info to two adjacent tracks, then placing the sample on one track and the synth on the other, then blending via your DAW’s mixer. In the corresponding audio example, a simple sawtooth is layered with a kick drum transient.

04-2011 Dance Production: Adding Transients by KeyboardMag
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