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Sound Design: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

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In this tutorial I'll show you how to cover how to create Skrillex's famous synth sound from Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. With a working synth patch you will easily be able to remix, edit, or even create your own tracks based around this sound.

I'll be using FL Studio's Sytrus for this tutorial, but any synthesizer that has FM synthesis capabilities should be able to follow along.

Here is an example of the final synth patch:

1. Base Waveforms

Once the synthesizer is loaded, go ahead and have two oscillators. Note that some FM synths call them operators. Set the first oscillator to a sawtooth wave and set the second to a sine wave. The sawtooth wave will be the carrier and the sine wave will be the modulator.

It's important to ensure that the sine wave does not actually change frequency. The reason for this is that, by having a static modulator, the amount of dissonance will vary as the pitch of the sawtooth changes. 

This is what really makes the Scary Monsters sound so random and harsh.

In Sytrus I set the sine wave offset to 100.00Hz and bring the frequency ratio down to 0.000x. Other synths might use varying terminology but the end goal of a 100Hz is the same.

Setting the Modulator to 100 Hz
Setting the Modulator to 100Hz

For those using a synth that cannot specify a certain frequency, there is a potential work around. Since the modulator is just a sine wave, you can also try to use a LFO set to 100Hz in place of the oscillator. However, this trick requires that:

  1. The LFO can go as high as 100Hz
  2. You can route the LFO as if it were a FM modulator

You need a fairly flexible synth to pull off the above trick. More than likely if you synth can do that work around, it probably can set static frequencies. Reason's Thor, however, is a good example of needing this trick.

Step 2:  Setting up the Frequency Modulation

The beauty behind this sound is in its simplicity. Set the sine wave to modulate the sawtooth by about 5% and you should start to hear some nice dissonance. 

If the dissonance is too much for the synth, dial back the amount, if it is not enough, crank more in. Here's what it should sound like at the moment...

Step 3. Chorus and Unison

Like many EDM lead sounds, there's a healthy dose of chorus and unison effect going on and Scary Monsters is no exception. 

Begin with a second order unison effect that has the exact same pan, pitch and no variation essentially creating a duplicate signal. The only parameter you'll need with this unison effect is to offset the phase by about ten per-cent or so. 

This so that there is just enough difference between the original and the unison to act almost as lowpass comb filter and take away some of the very high end. Your mix ratio should be 100/75 original/unison respectively.

Adding Chorusing for Motion

Adding Chorusing for Motion

Add some chorusing to widen the sound, give it more motion, and make it less buzzy. For this, start with a fourth order chorus with a depth of about 50% and a stereo spread of 100%. 

Ensure that there is no delay in the chorus and that the speed is about 75%. If you start to hear phasey notes you may need to adjust the chorus's cross point as well. 

Mix that chorused version back in with both the original and the chorus at 100%.

Step 4: Portamento/Slide

While the sound is basically crafted, its still missing that nice short glide between the notes. The melody simply wouldn't be as catchy without it.

Activate the portamento/slide function in the synth and set the slide time to somewhere between four and six seconds. 

For Sytrus users, you'll need to exit the synth itself and go into the Channel Settings

In Channel Settings go to the MISC tab and under Polyphony you should see the Portamento activation and slide knob.

Turning off Polyphony and adding Slide
Turning off Polyphony and adding Slide

Conclusion

That about wraps up the Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites sound. All in all not too hard of a sound to create once you get the FM trick. 

Some may have noticed that the sound may be a bit brighter than the final mixed one in the track. This is because the track was mixed to have a very thick wall of sound with drums that punch through. 

In order to achieve this, everything but the drums was dulled a bit except the drums. Thankfully it is easy to play around with EQ's and Saturation plugins to get a similar effect when it comes time to mix.

I also recommend trying different waves other than the sawtooth. I find that using a Square or some derivative sounds very pleasing. It is real easy to make this sound your own.

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