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Quick Tip: How to Create the Lead Sound from Ke$ha's "Tik Tok"

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This post is part of a series called Top Sound Design Tuts.
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Ever wondered how you can create the catchy lead sound from Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”? In this tutorial we will give you an in-depth explanation of how you can recreate this killer sound. This includes using several subtle effects which make it a top of the notch lead. We only use Ableton Live and it's built-in instruments and effects. We’ll explain all of these aspects in detail. But it all starts with...


Step 1: Creating a MIDI Track

First of all, set your tempo to 120 bpm. Then, create a MIDI track. Name this track “Lower Melody”. On this track you will create the lower voice of the lead. Insert Ableton’s built-in Operator and use the following settings:

You need to adjust Operator’s volume envelope. Set the decay to 3.08 ms and the release to 20 ms. Now, you need to select the right waveform, which is a square waveform. So select Square D from the Wave list. Switch the filter on. Keep the default setting, which is Low 12 dB. Set the cutoff frequency to 16.7 kHz, and turn the resonance (Res) all the way down to 0.30. Bring the volume knob down to -30 dB.


Step 2: The Lower Melody

Double click on an empty MIDI slot to create a new MIDI clip. Set the length of the MIDI clip to 4 bars. Then, right click in the piano roll area and choose 1/32 as Fixed Grid. Switch to Draw Mode by hitting CTRL(CMD)+B.

As you can see, we use three notes: A#1, C2 and D2. All longer notes are five 32ths in length, the shorter ones three 32ths.


Step 3: Vibrato

To create the vibrato effect in Live, use the built-in effect called Frequency Shifter. Drag it to the MIDI track you created in step one.

Turn phasing off by setting it to 0.00°. Click on the note icon to synchronize the vibrato rate to the project’s tempo. Set the rate to 1/8, and amount to 5.50Hz.


Step 4: Bit Reduction

Insert Live’s Redux effect to your MIDI track.

Turn Bit Reduction on and set it to eight. This is quite a subtle effect, but will make it sound more crunchy.


Step 5: Compression

Now it’s time to add some compression to the sound. This will give the sound some punch.

Use the following settings:

  • Attack: 6.00 ms
  • Ratio: 5.00
  • Release: 5.00 ms
  • Threshold: -36.0 dB

You can leave all other settings on their default value.


Step 6: The Upper Melody

The sound of the upper melody is almost the same as the lower melody. Therefore, you can duplicate your first MIDI track by selecting it and hitting CTRL(CMD)+D and change the name to “Upper Melody”. The only difference is the Rate setting on the Frequency Shifter. If you listen carefully to Ke$ha’s song, you can hear the vibrato is twice as fast on the upper melody. So change the rate to 1/16. Furthermore, the notes from the top track are different: D3, E3, F3 and A3.

As you can see, the rhythm is the exactly the same. So you can copy the MIDI clip you created in step two, and only change the pitch.


Step 7: Return Effects

The last two effects you are going to use, will be applied on both melodies. The easiest way to do this, is by creating a return effect channel. Insert two Return Channels by pressing CTRL(CMD)+Alt+T twice.


Step 8: Reverb

To add some liveliness to your sound, you need some reverb. Open the preset list from Live’s Reverb effect, and choose from the Room presets Ambience. Then drag it to your first return track.

Use the send knobs from your both MIDI tracks to add some reverb to the sound. Take a look at the screenshot to copy the value.


Step 9: Chorus

Insert Ableton’s Chorus effect to the second return channel and turn up the Dry/Wet knob to 100%.

Finally, select your two MIDI tracks and add some chorus on them by using the send knobs. Once again, take a look at the screenshot to copy the value.

Now play both clips at the same time and hear the original Ke$ha “Tik Tok” lead. Enjoy!

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