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Sound Design

Designing a Saw Trance Lead in FL Studio

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Hi everyone! Today we are going to be taking a look at how to design your very own trance lead sound inside FL Studio. In particular we are going to be looking at the stabbing brassy leads that you usually hear when the track kicks into high gear.

In addition to the step by step creation of the sound itself, we will also cover what each step does so that you can recreate this sound in other programs and synthesizers and help tweak it to your liking. So with that in mind let's make some leads!


Step 1: Loading Up

Start by adding the synthesizer you wish to use for your trance sound. I personally will be using FL Studio's Harmless. Next you need to set two oscillators to a saw wave and tune one of them up by just a few cents. For Harmless users, this is done for you simply by selecting Double Saw under the Timbre dropdown.


Step 2: Forget the Filters

It is usually common for synthesizers to have a filter already in place and Harmless is no exception. If the synthesizer you are using has a filter currently in use then shut it off. If in the case of Harmless you cannot shut the filter off, make sure it is set to lowpass and that it is completely open (not filtering anything).

The point here is that we want to hear all of those upper harmonics and do not want to try and effect them with a filter placed overtop of them.


Step 3: Making Unison

If you have ever listened to those jumping saw lead sounds you know they have a very dense texture. This comes from using a unison effect on our signal.

What the unison does is duplicate our two voices and ever so slightly changes the pitch, phase, and timing of the duplicated signal. The result is that we get a choir like effect where the whole "ensemble" is signing a single note but the pitch and timing are just ever so slightly off. This results in a nice thick slightly evolving texture.

So with that in mind add a unison effect with these settings...

  • 7th Order (7 voices)
  • 80% pitch thickness (variance in pitch)
  • 50% phase
  • 15% panning


Step 4: A Chorus of Unison

While this next part might seem redundant, it is paramount to the sound of the trance lead.

With the unison we effectively just doubled our original voices a lot but kept the sound tight and focused. The chorusing effect however will duplicate our unison effected signal and modulate the duplicate as opposed to adjusting pitch, phase, and timing directly. The result is an even thicker bigger sound.

In addition we are going to keep the panning wider for a larger sound. Unfortunately Harmless does not let us tweak the chorus parameters inside the synth. For Harmless users select the Thick preset under the chorus section and set the mix to about 35%.

For everyone else, listen for the differences in our sound and do your best to mimic the results. If you listen very carefully you will hear just a tiny phasing effect in addition to the widened stereo field. Just make sure you keep the pan wide, set the delay long enough so you just start to notice two attacks.


Step 5: Delay and Reverb

Now that we have created our core sound we are going to give it an even bigger sound quality. Start by adding a classic delay with about 50% feedback and 30% mix (how loud the delay is).

As for the actual timing of the delay itself, you will need to cater that to the tempo of your song. I personally am using around 1:24-1:30 seconds at a song at 150 bpm. Here is a short example so you can hear the delay I am using...

Moving onto reverb, I would recommend using a tight studio style ambience as opposed to a big large reverb. The reason being is we do not want to cloud up the mix with an overly ringing reverb. For Harmless users simply select the Small Studio preset and set the mix level to about 35%


Step 6: Compression and More Delay

With our sound coming near an end, we only have a few more things left to take care of. First and foremost is we need this saw lead to have a really in your face sound as it is usually the focus of a trance track in full swing.

For Harmless users, select the warming preset under Compression and set the mix value to approximately 60%; this of course gives us New York style compression.

For everyone else, you probably are going to want a quick attack followed by a slower release and a fare amount of compression that is mixed in to the original signal so that you do not directly hear the compression.

Finally we come to the addition of more delay. Why more delay? Because we are going to make it sound even bigger! (without clouding up the mix of course). To do this, add a delay effect (I will be using FL Studio's Delay 2) and set it to these specifications...

  • Input Volume 45%
  • Feedback Volume 45%
  • Time 2:00 seconds (for 150 bpm song)
  • Dry Volume 75%)


Step 7: Back to Filtering

While our sound is now complete there is one more step I would recommend and that is using either a filter or EQ to take just a tiny bit off the very top end as it probably will be very hissy. While earlier I said not to use the filter, this was only for while we were designing the sound; now that the sound is done we can use it again. I recommend taking the 16 kHz and up range down about 2 dBs to smooth everything out.


Final Thoughts

By now you should have a good understanding of what goes into a brassy trance saw lead. It involves a lot of duplication and slight variation in saw waveforms to get a lush evolving sound.

Using less duplication will render you a clearer more defined sound, particularly in the attack. While using a heavily duplicated sound will sound thicker and fuller but may have a slightly rounder attack from all the phase cancellations. Also try using different delay time combinations to change the spacey quality of the lead.

Another trick to try and play around with is the use of a low pass filter to really dull the lead sound and then open up the lead as you approach the climax.

I hope you have a better understanding of this trance lead sound and that you can start designing your own! Thanks for reading!

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