Here's a basic introduction on how to make the famous growl basses made famous in genres like Dubstep, DnB and Electro. If you own FL Studio Producer Edition, you should have the tools readily available to make these sounds. If you don’t, you can purchase the separate VST plugins used in this article from Image-Line.
Step 1: Understand the Tools for the Job
Here's an overview of the process we'll use in this tutorial:
- First off, we’ll create a simple FM (Frequency Modulation) patch using FL Studio's FM Synthesizer, Sytrus.
- Next, we’ll feed this signal through a vocoder plugin. In this tutorial we'll use Vocodex because of how in-depth the engine can take the user. It gives access to many more parameters than your typical vocoder plugin.
- Finally, we'll render this out to a .WAV using Edison, and feed it through Harmor via a method of resynthesizing/resampling. This will allow us to further distort and shape the signal, as well as slice up the audio to create interesting patterns.
FM Synthesis in a Nutshell
Before we get started jumping into Sytrus, we must first learn the fundamentals of Frequency Modulation Synthesis. This is not to be confused with Ring Modulation.
Frequency Modulation is the process of using the oscillation of one particular waveform to modulate the frequency of another waveform. So in simple terms, we’re using one oscillator (say, a triangle wave) to change the frequency rate of another oscillator (such as a sine wave). This creates a harsh, grungy sound that we can emulate vowels with.
Now, Sytrus is a powerful FM Synthesizer capable of not only utilizing numerous oscillators, but it also has a separate engine that allows you to add or remove harmonics from the waveforms. It literally lets you draw your own oscillators – giving you unparalleled access to shape your sound how you want.
Finally - and I want to emphasize this point – copy this tutorial, then change a few things until you find a sound that you are happy with.
Step 2: Create a Synth Patch in Sytrus
The Sytrus Interface
Let’s open Sytrus. At first glance it looks extremely confusing, but I’ll explain the basic modules. I won’t cover everything Sytrus can do, but I’ll outline the module we’ll be using.
- OP 1-6: The operators act as our oscillators. These are the waveforms we will be manipulating to create our sound. If you click an operator, you will gain access to the panels assigned to it. We’ll be using MOD and OSC for this tutorial. MOD is how we will assign our modulation and automation. OSC is where we will draw in our harmonics for each oscillator.
- FM Matrix: The array of encoders in a 9x9 grid. This is how we tell where each oscillator is routed, and how much of the signal we want routed there.
- MAIN: The main page will only be used to create automation clips for our XY Pad. We can also adjust global settings such as Volume and Pitch.
Instead of using the effects in the Sytrus engine, instead I’ll be using ones in Harmor or in FL Studio’s Mixer. This will save us time and avoid making this tutorial too drawn-out.
The Basic FM Patch
Here’s what we’ll be making. It’s a harsh, growly type of synth, luckily it’s not too difficult or complicated to make. It requires only a few oscillators and a bit of FM magic. Before we begin, make sure the Default patch is loaded. On startup Sytrus likes to load a string/pad patch.
To start, click the grid slot 2x1 (that is, the second node across, on the first row), and drag it all the way counter-clockwise. This is telling Oscillator 1 to have its frequency modulated by Oscillator 2. Make sure that you’re in the FM Matrix, and not the RM Matrix. Now, let’s go into the Operator 2 module, and click the OSC tab. This brings up an image of the waveform, along with a series of vertical bars divided horizontally by a single line.
The bars above this line are the harmonics. Think of them as a series of faders that we can turn up or down to change the sound. There are also five darker bars (not including the first one). These are our fundamentals, and will have the most profound effect on the sound. Dragging bars too far from these can make it sound out-of-order or chaotic.
Dragging the bars can add harmonics on a more linear scale. For example, increase the amplitude of the fourth (second last) dark bar. You will notice the sound has extra frequencies in the higher register, adding sparkle or harshness to the sound.
The bars below the line are the phase indicators. Currently everything is in phase and working normally, but if we drag these faders down, we can adjust the phase value of any modified values above. This can also drastically affect the sound, so feel free to experiment!
At the top left section of Operator 2, we can find a series of small faders. These are a more generalized way to shape the waveform, and will remind seasoned synthesizer programmers of a typical wavetable selection. For example, dragging the first fader up will morph the sine wave into a triangle wave.
Now let’s bring in another oscillator. This one will modulate Oscillator 2 very slightly. Be wary when modulating oscillators—a little can go a long way, so use fine-tuning once you’ve added more than one. Click and drag the 3x2 node clockwise very slightly. If you can, do this while holding down a MIDI key or playing a loop so you can hear the changes live, allowing you to judge things better.
Finally, we need to map our modulation to the X/Y Pad. To do this, head over to the OP1 panel, and click the MOD tab. Find Mod X and drag the first point of the envelope all the way down, this will determine the amount of modulation applied to Operator 1 based on the value of X.
Repeat this process for Operator 2, only use Mod Y. Finally, while holding down a note, move the XY Pad around. You should hear a vowely type of sound. To use this in a clip, right click both the Xstrong> and Y encoders and hit Create Automation Clip. We can now precisely modulate these parameters over a period of time. If you get stuck, re-read the tutorial or download the sample patch.
Step 3: Process with Vocodex
The second ingredient to our recipe of bass is a vocoder plugin, in particular Image-Line’s own Vocodex. This magnificent plugin not only processes a single signal, but can feed multiple signals through the same processors and affect them synergistically.
So what does this mean? It means we can input, say, our bass patch and a random audio sample of literally anything, such as a vocal phrase or one shot, or even another bass patch and mash them together, creating an extremely filthy, wet-sounding end result. So let’s get started!
First, load up a Vocodex on a new mixer channel. Find any audio sample you like—in this case we’ll be using a “Yeah!” one-shot that came with this particular version of FL Studio 11. We can detune this using our Sampler settings, then link it to another mixer channel. Then we’ll route our Sytrus and Sample outputs to only go through our Vocodex channel by right clicking the channel routing button and hitting Route to This Track Only.
Next, we’ll open up our Vocodex plugin and set the inputs at the top to
1—experiment!). This tells us which audio signal is the carrier, and which is the modulator. In most cases, our bass patch will be the carrier.
Just so this tutorial doesn’t go for four years, I’ll explain the basics of Vocodex. The primary tools we’ll be using are the four encoders on the right of the interface, and the small green dots to the left of them.
The first determines the width of the bands. We’ll want a nice thick bandwidth to avoid making the sound thin and tinny, so increase the encoder (clockwise) until it’s about 1-3 o’clock. The pink encoder second-left will determine which input source will be most dominant. We can also use the four green dots left of the encoders to cycle through various input settings—what we will hear more of, the carrier or the modulator.
The last encoder is the Unison setting. It’s generally good practice for this type of sound to set very high, if not to maximun. We want a chorus-effect and as many voices as possible for as big a sound as possible.
Finally, uncheck the Draft toggle at the top. This will keep us at high quality for previewing. (The actual output will always be full-quality.)
Feel free to experiment with other settings, such as bandwidth allocation or band distribution. I won’t explain everything, nor do I claim to know all the ins and outs of this plugin.
Step 4: Render Using Edison and Harmor
Record into Edison
Now, we should have something wet, dirty and in-your-face. If it’s not, add some effects like EQ, compression, Waveshaper, chorus and reverb:
- For EQ, boost the lows and highs, cut the mids.
- Compression should be harsh and fast to remove any artifacts.
- Waveshaper, chorus and reverb add flavour. Waveshaper should be crunchy, chorus very wet (but with very small unison/panning), and reverb only subtle to make it sound more realistic.
Record the output of our Vocodex channel into an Edison:
- Load up an Edison, set On Play and Loop, loop the section of your track with the bass-out, and hit play.
- Once the song comes back to the start of the loop, Edison will set a marker. We can double-click this to select all the spillover and hit delete. This will leave us with a sample the perfect length of our pattern/loop.
Resample Using Harmor
The last step of this process is to resample the bass using Harmor. Drag the sample from Edison into the Image section of Harmor. This will resynthesize it, allowing us to add additional effects that we couldn’t normally do with our mixer.
First we need to set some parameters as Harmor initially reduces the quality of the input. Make sure our Image/Resynthesis is set to
High Precision, Denoise is set to
0 and Precision is set to
Perfect in our ADV tab.
Next, play around with the Scale and Form in the IMG tab, we can also increase the unison value again here, making sure to not increase the Stereo Image (Pan) too much. The Prism and Pitch modules can make interesting sounds, while the FX section is where we can add additional distortion or chorus.
You can repeat the resampling process again and again by adding another Edison to the output of your Harmor channel, recording the result and dragging it back into Harmor as an image. This can lead to some seriously filthy sounds.
Here’s our final result after playing around with a few settings:
So there we are! A very basic introduction to FM synthesis, vocoding and resampling using Image Line’s native tools. If you don’t have FL Studio, the end result is still possible, although the workflow will be significantly different.
I highly recommend buying these plugins (or buying FL Studio), especially if you’re going to be making EDM tracks that require huge bass. I also recommend checking out Seamless (AKA SeamlessR) on YouTube. He has a complete series of How-To-Bass and goes more in-depth with the inner workings of Harmor, Sytrus and Vocodex, along with other powerful tools.
This tutorial was inspired using collective knowledge from his techniques, along with other things I’ve picked up along the way, and was meant to introduce these elements to people who are new to FM synthesis, vocoder processing and resampling.