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Music

Creating an Energetic Instrumental Trance Song

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In this tutorial I will show you how to make an instrumental trance song. The melody was influenced by a lead synth of a remix competition of which artist was the techno maestro Glimpse, who has his own label called Glimpse Recordings and who had been also featured in modern music production magazines.

Basic Settings

I set the tempo to 130 BPM and used the C-minor scale. For this project the time signature is 4/4. The channel colours are: 

  • green for mid melodies
  • brown for bass
  • blue for drums
  • pink for the intro (urban field recordings)
Ableton Suite screenshot of the project
The project settings and view in Ableton Suite

Initial Idea

The first idea was a simple eighth notes driving melody using mainly the root note C-3 and occasionally D#3 and finally F.

Melody idea
Initial idea written in MIDI notes using the piano roll

Lead

I made a synth patch in Analog, with an effects chain containing amp simulation, chorus, ping pong delay and finally a reverb. I used a four voice usion per notes with a detune setting of 14 to make the sound bigger and fatter. 

For mixing purposes I made a ducking effect using the stock compressor plugin sidechained to the kick, then put a limiter to it to catch the peaks and lastly I cut the low end with EQ Eight. I made a low cut at 100 Hz and a broad bell dip at 144 Hz using a Q of 0.5. This helps the track to give more space to the bass.

Lead synth patch
Lead synth using Ableton's Analog plugin
  • Analog: OSC1 (octave 0) and OSC2 (octave -1) at 0 dB, both are saw waves, amp adsr 5 ms - 265 ms - 1 - 249 ms, volume 0 dB, 4 voice unison with 14 setting
  • Amp: dual lead type, gain 5, bass 2, middle 4.6, treble 4.6, presence 4.8, volume 9, dry wet 40%
  • Chorus: amount 1.9 ms, rate 1.01 Hz, dry wet 32%, HP 1 kHz
  • Ping Pong Delay: default settings with 47% feedback and 33% dry wet
  • Reverb: lo cut and hi cut (626 Hz to 5.8 kHz), size 100, medium decay, 41% dry wet
  • Compressor: sidechained to the kick, ratio 2:1, default attack, auto release, -10.9 dB threshold
  • Limiter: default settings
  • EQ Eight: 100 Hz lo cut and a 144 Hz bell dip, Q 0.5

Bass

Similarly to the lead, this channel is also programmed in MIDI. The notes of the bass are in an uplifting, ascending order using C#1, D#1, F1, then G#1, A#1 and C2. All of the notes are eighth notes. 

For sound design I used Operator with a digital saw waveform called SwD at 0 dB with an overall gain of -5.7 dB and finally the tone is set to 70% which is moderately high. I also applied the onboard filter set to Lowpass 12 dB mode with a cutoff frequency of 500 Hz. 

The mixing chain consists of an EQ Eight cutting at 63 Hz and a broad bell dip at 231 Hz to make it tighter and give space for other instruments.

Operator patch for the bassline
The bass patch using Operator
  • Operator: opA wave SwD level 0 dB, overall volume -5.7 dB, filter set to Low dB 500 Hz, reso 1.00
  • EQ Eight: 63 Hz 4x times low cut, 231 Hz broad bell cut
  • Compressor: sidechained to the kick, 2:1 ratio, default attack, auto release, -10.9 dB threshold
  • Limiter: default settings used

Piano

For the piano I used a freeware physical modeling VST instrument from Sound Magic called Piano One with default settings. I used Auto Pan to switch panning from note to note, then I seasoned with delay and reverb. 

The utility module is there to amplify the signal with 9 dB, because the chain caused a level drop. The limiter is there to catch the peaks and lastly a big cut with the EQ to get rid of low frequency content of the reverb and a healthy shelving boost at 3.17 kHz is applied to give more air to the instrument.

Piano one VSTi
Piano One is a free VST instrument used for the piano sounds
  • Piano One: default
  • Auto Filter: HPf at 330 Hz
  • Auto Pan: rate 1/2, phase 180°, shape 100%, sine, offset 90°
  • Ping Pong delay: 1.5 kHz, 3.36, feedback 40%, dry wet 31%
  • Reverb: lo cut and hi cut (626 Hz to 5.8 kHz), big size, medium decay, 44% dry wet
  • Utility: 9 dB amplify
  • Limiter: default settings
  • EQ Eight: low cut at 400 Hz and shelf boost at 3.17 kHz with Q of 0.1

Intro Section

For this part I used my own urban field recordings made with a Sony recorder using the built in cheap mic. As it had a lot of city noise I used EQ very bravely. To be concrete I made a low cut at 440 hz and a -8 dB shelving cut at 3.41 kHz with a Q of 0.71. This made the sound present only in the mid frequencies. 

After this comes a reverb with a five-second decay and a compressor sidechained to the kick to weaken the sound of this track opposed to the whole mix. I repeated a small section of the wave recording a couple of times and automated the gain levels to give a smoother transition across the sections.

Volume automation
An overview of the intro section using volume automation
  • Piano One: default settings
  • Simple Delay: type 4 and type 5 with 41% feedback and 38% dry wet
  • Reverb: lo cut and hi cut, size 100, decay 8.9s, dry wet 40%
  • Utility: this amplifies +5 dB gain
  • EQ Eight: lo cut at 300 Hz

Kick

I loaded a punchy kick sample into Simpler and used an easy four to the floor pattern. To supplement the bass in the low range I made a low cut at 45 Hz and a medium dip at 64 Hz with a very high Q setting with EQ Eight.

Kick EQ
EQ on the kick
  • Simpler: volume at -1 decibel
  • EQ Eight: 4x lo cut at 45 Hz and a dip at 64 Hz, high Q.

Snare Drum

I used Simpler with a big sounding snare sample. It has got plenty of low end content. The snare is on every second downbeat and I set the EQ to cut at 140 Hz to get rid of unnecessary low end content and a shelving cut at 10 kHz to remove some top that was a bit busy related to the whole mix


Snare EQ
Changes for the snare
  • Simpler: volume at -5 decibel
  • EQ Eight: 140 Hz low cut and shelving cut at 10 kHz

Drumloop

For filling in the mid and high range I pulled a techy sounding drum loop to the arrangement track view. I applied EQ to remove the low content and make some cuts to get more room to other important frequencies. Leaded by the kick, the compressor is ducking this track in every downbeat.


EQ on the drumloop
Drumloop EQ
  • EQ Eight: lo cut at 300 Hz, broad bell cut at 1.94 kHz and shelving cut at 10 kHz
  • Compressor: sidechain trigger is the kick, 2:1 ratio, medium attack, medium threshold, medium release

Ride

I loaded a classic sounding ride sample into Simpler at -5 decibels.Then I cut the low end content with a low cut at 951 Hz and made a Haas delay effect (short sample delay with different settings to the sides) to widen in the stereo field.


Ride EQ
High pass filtering on the ride
  • EQ Eight: lo cut at 951 Hz
  • Simple Delay: left time 4 ms, right time 16 ms, 0% fb and 100% dry wet

Master Channel

I used this chain on the master channel. I used Spectrum (spectrum analyzer) and s(M)exoscope (oscilloscope) to check things visually. I used a 46 Hz low cut to make the track tighter in the bass region. 

I cut below 200 Hz from the sides to ensure low end is mono. Limiter is only catching peaks and I did not use it to amplify the gain.

Effects chain
This is the master effects chain I used
  • EQ Eight: 48 dB slope low cut at 46 Hz from the mids in mid/side
  • Spectrum: default
  • EQ Eight: 200 Hz low cut from the sides in mid/side
  • Limiter: default settings
  • s(M)exoscope: default

Conclusion

In this tutorial I described how I created an instrumental trance song. I made the melodic instrument tracks like lead, bass, piano and then added the drum samples and loops. 

EQ is used extensively to remove unnecessary information, while reverb and delay gives the effects mainly for the mid frequencies.

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