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  2. Sound Design

Quick Tip: Make a Bass Drop Sound Like Nelly Furtado's “One Trick Pony”


“One Trick Pony” is my favourite track by Nelly Furtado. If you listen to it you’ll hear a great bass sound that's thrown into the mix here and there in the track. You'll have heard this kind of “drop” sound quite often in dance music, and sometimes in other styles as well. This synthesis technique can also be applied to other sounds too.

This tutorial doesn't require any expert knowledge and it’s a good way to learn how to design your own sounds, as it’s based on envelopes, and they represent such a huge part of sound design in general.

I chose Sylenth 1 for this tutorial as it’s a well known tool, but you can shape the same sound with any kind of subtractive synth.

Here’s the sound that we're aiming for:

Step 1

When listening to the track, we can easily recognise that the sound is based on a sine waveform.

To begin load up Sylenth in your host software, load an empty preset and set oscillator one in sine wave. Now try to find the bass key, in this case it’s a F# held for 2 beats.

Here’s what we've got so far :

Step 2

Now we want to shape the pitch so that it bends by itself when we hit the key. To do that we have to route the modulation envelope 1 (MOD ENV 1) to “Pitch A”.

Because the pitch has to go down, we know the modulation amount has to be negative. In the same time we have to shape the envelope for the pitch to stay down, the best way to do it is with a long attack and a maximum amount of decay/sustain/release, respectively 5.34/10/10/10. Play with the modulation amount until you reach -2.38.

Here’s what we've got now :

Step 3

If you think there is still one thing missing to clone the original sound, you’re right. It is indeed the ADSR Amplitude Envelope which is not correct yet. Finding the perfect amount was a process of trial and error, which lead me to : 0.06/0.80/5.92/2.92.

Here’s the finished example of the sound:

This is very useful sound design exercise and you can push it further by changing the routing of the modulation envelope or the kind of waveform, with some experimentation you'll end up with tons of interesting sounds in no time!

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