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How to Create Complex Layered Bass Using Reason's Combinator

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Reason’s virtual synthesizers have a really great sound, but to get the most out of them, you will often need to use more than one. For total integration and fast recall of multi-instrument set ups there's no better tool than the Combinator. Here’s one way you can use it when making a layered bass sound.

Note: this tutorial contains embedded audio that will not display in a feed reader. Click back to the site to read the tutorial with audio or download the Play Pack at the end of the tut.

Step 1

Start by adding a Combinator instrument to your Reason rack. At first glance it will look like another empty rack with only a few controls but the real power of this instrument will be realized once you start adding more instruments.

Midi can be routed to the Combinator like any other device in Reason and a new Combinator track will already have been automatically created in the sequencer/arrange window.

Step 2

Add your first synth of choice to the Combinator by right clicking inside the rack area of the instrument. This initial instrument will create the core sound of the bass part, so it helps to be familiar with the parameters and controls of the synth you choose. I have used Subtractor as it's easy to program and supplies a good virtual analog sound.

It's always a good idea to try and build your own patches and if you decide to take this route, make sure you initialize the synth you're using. This can be done by using Reason’s contextual menu or alternatively make your own 'init' patch. I have supplied one for Subtractor in the download that comes with this tutorial.

Initial bass

Step 3

Tweak the initial sound until your happy with it. I have built a bass patch with fast amplitude and frequency decay based envelopes. This gives the sound a snappy bright quality with an acidic edge.

I have also used features such as detuned oscillators, noise and glide for added interest. I have supplied this as a separate preset file. If you make a patch you like, make sure to save it, as you will then be able to easily use it in later sessions.

First bass patch

Step 4

For the second sound in your layered bass patch, try using a different instrument. Not only does this keep things interesting, but it'll give you a good contrast for the final sound. Whether you are using presets or programming your own sounds, different synths can produce very different results due to differing architectures and synthesis techniques.

I’ve opted for Reason 4’s new Thor synth here and dialed in a much more sustained sound. This adds a nice back backdrop to the snappy synth bass coming from the Subtractor.

Step 5

As you add more instruments to your Subtractor patch you may want to think about using a line mixer to keep things organised. This way you can feed just one stereo out from the Combinator, rather than several outputs to your main mixer.

With this method you can then get a nice internal balance between your layered instruments and the Combinator patch will play more like a single instrument.

Step 6

Once you have routed your line mixer you can go back to developing the separate sounds within your new patch.

My secondary synth bass is treated with tube distortion, courtesy of Scream 4 and a touch of unison, adding depth and width to the sound. Using these sorts of effects will work much better on a layered sound, because the primary sound remains dry and supplies presence and punch. You can even get away with small amounts of delay and reverb here.

Layer bass

Step 7

For the third and final sound in our layer I have used another instance of Subtractor loaded with a simple sine wave based Sub Bass sound. These are really easy to construct and once you make one you're happy with it’s well worth saving as you will find you use this sort of patch time and time again.

Make sure you route all these extra sounds to your Combinator’s internal line mixer so they can be mixed accordingly.

Sub bass

Step 8

As you have three sounds playing at once it can be a good idea to use some dynamics processing to keep things in check. A simple compressor strapped across the instruments will make sure you don’t experience any unwanted transients jumping out of your mix.

After you have created the compressor make sure it is inside he confines of the Combinator.

Step 9

With your compressor in place you can concentrate on the finishing touches. To simplify the output path of the Combinator route the output of your line mixer into the compressor and then straight into the master input on the Combinator’s rear panel. You can then take the Combinator’s output into your main mixer. This way everything is 100% self contained, organized and only using one stereo channel in your mix.

You can then take a look at the whole instrument working as one and see your handy work as a Combinator patch. To take things even further you can edit the soft knobs and switches to adjust parameters of the Combinator’s contained devices and even add internal send and return effects busses and side-chaining if needed. Remember, anything you keep contained in the Combinator will load directly into any future project without any extra work.

All bass parts

Download the Play Pack for this tutorial (3MB)

Contents

  • Reason Source Files
  • AIFF Example Audio
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