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27 essential ambient production tips

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  • 27 essential ambient production tips

    Hi there, I found some useful tips at "musicradar.com" and I'd like to share them with you.Hope you enjoy

    Inspired by the likes of Philip Glass and Brian Eno, ambient music is as much about creating mood as it is creating melody.

    Fortunately, computer users can now call upon an arsenal of ambient-friendly production tools – MusicRadar is here to explain what they are and how to use them.
    1. If all the soft sounds and smooth vibes get a little too much, try some juxtaposition. Ambient heroes The Orb are fond of this technique, and whether it's a squealing guitar, devastating synth hit or ridiculous vocal sample, they're not afraid to toss something a little unusual into the mix.

    2. Getting off-the-wall sounds doesn't have to involve spending hundreds on sample downloads and libraries – there are plenty of interesting sounds happening all around us all the time. If you've got a mic and a laptop – or any portable recorder – take a field trip and record some of nature's bounty. Running water's always good for a laugh, but remember: your equipment should stay dry, even if you don't…

    3. Second-hand record shops are great places to find sounds. You may even find that your local charity shop has an untapped collection of oddities just waiting to be snapped up by the enterprising samplist. From records featuring nothing but steam engine noises to children's story albums, there's an abundance of weirdness out there for the taking.

    4. Samples are a constant source of inspiration, but it's easy to discount one because it doesn't fit the feel of your track when you first try it. If you're short on fresh ideas, try running short bursts of a sample through a delay effect. Using this method, it's possible to come up with some great abstract noises that sound nothing like the original source material.

    5. If your tracks are jam-packed full of synthetic-sounding virtual instrument patches and everything's starting to sound too 'computery', consider bringing in some natural sounds or using a few real instrument parts. Even if they're from ROMplers, it should help take some of the unnatural edge off.

    6. Recordings of natural sounds such as rainfall, waves, wind and fire are great for filling out a mix because they're basically noise, and as such, they have a wide range of frequencies. They shouldn't be too loud or they'll overpower the mix, but use them with care and they can be extremely useful.

    7. Noise is a useful synthesis tool – if your synth features a noise oscillator, you can use it with a fast-attack amplitude envelope to create your own percussion sounds. This sounds artificial, but in a lo-fi way, and works especially well when teamed with a high-quality reverb.

    8. If you're using long, sustained sounds, such as pads, your mix can lack movement if these elements are too static. By subtly altering tuning, pulse width or filter cutoff over time, you can create more organic sounds that will enhance the mix rather than make it sound lifeless.


    9. If you've got a sample that you want to play for longer than its duration, you have two basic options: you could timestretch it, which will most likely introduce unwanted audio artifacts, or loop it. Crossfade looping is the best way to get seamless loops, but if this isn't possible, you can recreate the effect yourself by fading between two audio tracks in your mixer.

    10. To make a pad sound particularly evocative, try modulating the filter cutoff with a shallow LFO as well as a big, sweeping envelope. This will give the sound a great deal of movement and works superbly when combined with a delay effect.

    11. When working with vocals, you can have a lot of fun with pitchshifting. When pitching vocals around, it helps to use a plug-in with a formant control – this helps vocals retain their characteristics or, conversely, can be used to alter them radically. Check out Smoky Joe, a lo-fi formant processor.

    12. With modern audio sequencers, it's easier than ever to cut up vocals and other rhythmic sounds in order to fit them in with the groove of your track. When cutting sounds up in your sequencer, remember to zoom in to make sure you're cutting the file at a point where the amplitude is zero – otherwise known as a 'zero crossing'.

    13. When deploying your newly-sliced rhythmic samples, it's not always best to have your sequencer's snap control active. You might find that pulling samples forwards along the track a little makes them fit in better with the rest of the groove, and having the snap control turned off also makes programming human-sounding rhythms easier.

    14. Silky bass guitar tones are a common sound in ambient dub, but if you don't have a real bass guitar to hand, you'll have some trouble getting the same smooth sound. Bass ROMplers such as Spectrasonics Trilogy and Bornemark's Broomstick Bass are your best bets for recreating this kind of thing.

    15. Whether you're composing in stereo or surround, it's important to use the available panoramic space properly if you want to create a sense of size. If your track has drums, you'll probably want to pan these around the centre, but with synths and effects you can afford to use the space more creatively, so try panning them around.

    16. Most DAWs have simple pan controls that only enable you to pick one position in the stereo panorama. If you're looking for slightly more control, a stereo imaging plug-in such as mda Image or BetaBugs Moneo can be used to control the position and filter setting of each channel or tweak them as a mid/side pair, respectively.

    17. To add a natural stereo panorama to mono samples, you could do a lot worse than give Voxengo Stereo Touch a try. This effect uses a delay algorithm to create a convincing stereo effect that's guaranteed to revitalise any dodgy old mono sounds you might have lying around.
    Reverb

    18. Reverb is one of the most important tools you have for creating a sense of space, so if you're making ambient music, it pays to take the time to get it as sweet as you can. A good start is to use a high quality reverb – Ambience isn't just free, it's one of the best reverb plug-ins out there.

    19. It can be tempting to just stick reverb on a few tracks and leave it at that, but that wouldn't be using this powerful effect to its full potential. Using high damping values, large room sizes and long reverb times will create a big sound that, when combined with judicious EQ, can create a 'far away' kind of effect.

    20. When using reverbs, if you want to create a softer, more ethereal effect, use less of the dry signal in the output. You can do this by turning the wet/dry ratio up, or, if you're using a send effect, by setting it to pre-fader and turning the source channel's main volume level down.

    21. If you'd rather have a brighter, closer effect, then make the reverb's damping less severe, reduce the room size and turn down the delay time. This works especially well in conjunction with stereo enhancer effects such as the Voxengo Stereo Touch plug-in.

    22. Many interesting effects can be created by rendering out reverb and delay tails minus the original dry sound, then applying creative processing to the tail. Filters work particularly well for this kind of thing and, once processed, the new sound can be played back alongside the original version, or replace it altogether.

    23. Finally, when programming synth patches, don't discount the creative potential of your instrument's reverb section. With a long, lush reverb, even the smallest synth squelches or blips can be turned into pleasingly tonal atmospheric effects. Of course, if your synth effects truly suck, you can always use a separate reverb or delay plug-in instead to create the same effects.
    Delay

    24. Delay is a pretty common effect in atmospheric music like ambient, but for ambient dub, a full-on feedback delay, such as Ohm Force's excellent OhmBoyz effect, is just the thing.

    25. Dynamic use of feedback delay is useful for creating long, evolving rhythmic effects. By automating the feedback control on a delay plug-in, you can build to a crescendo or create weird rhythmic effects.

    26. Getting that distinctive morphing dub delay effect can be done by adding either a filter or distortion component to the feedback loop – easily done in OhmBoyz, as it has both. If you're using a delay effect in Reaktor or another modular environment, you can add these elements yourself, though it's advisable to put a level limiter after them to ensure the feedback doesn't get out of control.

    27. Delay effects work well before a reverb, though too much of either will swamp the mix. However, it's possible to tame these effects with automation – set the reverb's wet level to 0%, automating it so that it comes up as the end of the delay tail is playing. This way, you'll be able to use both the delay and the reverb, without having too much of either going on at once. As an advanced alternative, you could use sidechain compression to duck the start of the reverb (using the source signal as the key input), and setting the release time appropriately, thus achieving the same effect automatically.

  • #2
    Excellent stuff.
    I LOVE reading tips like this, it's fun and really insightful.

    I especially appreciate the tip about going to shops (or generally elsewhere in the world) to find stuff to sample. I do not do that enough, yet when I do I generally get good stuff. And I think we, and certainly I specifically, underestimate the benefit of getting AWAY from the computer, going out into the fresh air, and using the real world as my source. It is so refreshing on many levels :D

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    • #3
      Originally posted by RikkiSho View Post
      Excellent stuff.
      I LOVE reading tips like this, it's fun and really insightful.

      I especially appreciate the tip about going to shops (or generally elsewhere in the world) to find stuff to sample. I do not do that enough, yet when I do I generally get good stuff. And I think we, and certainly I specifically, underestimate the benefit of getting AWAY from the computer, going out into the fresh air, and using the real world as my source. It is so refreshing on many levels :D
      Getting away from the computer....fresh air.....

      What are these strange things you speak of? :D

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      • #4
        Haha.
        These abstract things. I think they originated in the stone age.

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        • #5
          The only problem with buying CDs from shops to sample is the matter of copyright? ???

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          • #6
            Originally posted by RikkiSho View Post
            The only problem with buying CDs from shops to sample is the matter of copyright? ???
            This can be a problem, though usually vastly overrated as a practical issue.

            There are of course public domain archives online, such as archive.org, where you can access as much odd free content as you can possibly stand.

            The problem is not finding raw material.

            The problem is sorting through it to find something useful. It's about like mining gold from seawater, only tougher on the ears and soul.

            The problem for the mature artist is mainly assembling young, energetic, process-oriented people to do (and enjoy) the coarse filtering and scutwork needed to collect the bones of his art, and man the greasier machinery of its production.
            pY7w6xZ07vWbl^z:1H&`hacLL7Iahmu/=VmFFkrHGyKvmJ&E\-+1H^)51-LbM_M

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Golodkin View Post
              Originally posted by RikkiSho View Post
              The only problem with buying CDs from shops to sample is the matter of copyright? ???
              The problem for the mature artist is mainly assembling young, energetic, process-oriented people to do (and enjoy) the coarse filtering and scutwork needed to collect the bones of his art, and man the greasier machinery of its production.
              Surely part of the art is in the selection process, this "mining for gold"? If you can't be bothered to do this yourself then don't be surprised if one of these young, energetic people decides to collect the bones and make his/her own art...
              My new album is available now, here: https://thoughtexperiment.bandcamp.c.../supersymmetry
              Check out my (hopelessly out-of-date) SoundCloud page: https://soundcloud.com/thought_experiment

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Thought Experiment View Post
                Surely part of the art is in the selection process, this "mining for gold"?
                Sure, but the but the object is to make an intelligent selection from a hundred plausible options, not from fifty thousand implausible ones. Anyone who can take direction can sort out much of the obvious chaff -- and learn from doing it.

                If you can't be bothered to do this yourself then don't be surprised if one of these young, energetic people decides to collect the bones and make his/her own art...
                Of course, that's more or less what's supposed to happen, eventually, though it rarely does. It's how the artistic system has worked for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

                The fundamental necessity of the mature (in multiple senses of the word) artist to to minimize his involvement in routine process and maximize his executive control of effective outcome, and this has always been done by delegating time-consuming secondary tasks to assistants.

                The division of labor works. There's nothing wrong with it.
                Last edited by Golodkin; 05-12-2014, 03:00 AM.
                pY7w6xZ07vWbl^z:1H&`hacLL7Iahmu/=VmFFkrHGyKvmJ&E\-+1H^)51-LbM_M

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                • #9
                  I don't have a problem with the division of labour - I have a problem with 'subcontracting out' aspects of the creative process. I know there's nothing new about this, I know even Michelangelo let his students 'fill in' the backgrounds etc. It just doesn't seem right to me. But I hardly ever use samples in my work, maybe I'd feel differently if they were a significant part of it
                  My new album is available now, here: https://thoughtexperiment.bandcamp.c.../supersymmetry
                  Check out my (hopelessly out-of-date) SoundCloud page: https://soundcloud.com/thought_experiment

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Thought Experiment View Post
                    I don't have a problem with the division of labour - I have a problem with 'subcontracting out' aspects of the creative process. I know there's nothing new about this, I know even Michelangelo let his students 'fill in' the backgrounds etc. It just doesn't seem right to me. But I hardly ever use samples in my work, maybe I'd feel differently if they were a significant part of it

                    What do you think about generative methods, then? Using generative tools as "subcontractors/assistants" can relieve artist from unnecessary mechanical work. And selecting "boundary conditions" by artists in his generative tools is probably enough significant.
                    SoundCloud // FreeSound // Twitter
                    Get exposure for your electronic music through WEATNU.COM independent promotion network.
                    "Shortwave" - collaboration album with Ager Sonus

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MetaDronos View Post
                      Originally posted by Thought Experiment View Post
                      I don't have a problem with the division of labour - I have a problem with 'subcontracting out' aspects of the creative process. I know there's nothing new about this, I know even Michelangelo let his students 'fill in' the backgrounds etc. It just doesn't seem right to me. But I hardly ever use samples in my work, maybe I'd feel differently if they were a significant part of it

                      What do you think about generative methods, then? Using generative tools as "subcontractors/assistants" can relieve artist from unnecessary mechanical work. And selecting "boundary conditions" by artists in his generative tools is probably enough significant.
                      Interesting point of view. I don't have a problem with generative tools, in fact I use them (in my case, Nodal and Noatikl) quite often. But I don't see them as labour-saving devices - I think of them as a means of 'thinking outside the box', giving me alternatives to my own decision-making processes, taking my music in directions which might not have occurred to me. So in my case I end up with more choices, not less
                      My new album is available now, here: https://thoughtexperiment.bandcamp.c.../supersymmetry
                      Check out my (hopelessly out-of-date) SoundCloud page: https://soundcloud.com/thought_experiment

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MetaDronos View Post
                        Originally posted by Thought Experiment View Post
                        I don't have a problem with the division of labour - I have a problem with 'subcontracting out' aspects of the creative process. I know there's nothing new about this, I know even Michelangelo let his students 'fill in' the backgrounds etc. It just doesn't seem right to me. But I hardly ever use samples in my work, maybe I'd feel differently if they were a significant part of it
                        What do you think about generative methods, then? Using generative tools as "subcontractors/assistants" can relieve artist from unnecessary mechanical work. And selecting "boundary conditions" by artists in his generative tools is probably enough significant.
                        I don't want to rag on TE here because I think he's simply one of the millions of people who have fallen for what is probably THE great cultural myth, namely that "real" art is an individual effort.

                        It never has been true. It never will be true.

                        The abiding musical myth of the 21st century is that the advent of cheap digital recording has made it possible for some asocial neurotic to produce a #1 hit in the virtual vacuum of his basement. It's incredibly seductive, but it's not true. It never will be true. The delusion sells a lot of gear, though. ;)

                        Even classic "lone nut" artists like Kafka or Van Gogh were in fact intensely networked guys, and their networks kept producing for them even after their suicides, never mind that they were actively and liberally inspired by the work of (and criticism by) others -- and every other random influence.

                        No matter what you're doing, you can't do it without being artistically influenced by others and you'll do it better with some help with the heavy lifting. What is the material difference between telling an assistant, "I want four or five samples of elderly Slavic women talking by tomorrow" and stopping all productive work in order to dig it up yourself? None. As the adage goes, "Doing things the hard way doesn't mean you're smart; doing things the hard way means you're stupid."

                        Any tool that facilitates achieving your artistic vision is legitimate.

                        This was the earliest lesson I learned as an artist's assistant when I was seventeen. Unfortunately, I forgot it for many years.

                        Get help whenever and wherever you can, even if (and maybe especially if) it's for mundane work. Listen to everyone. You never know.
                        pY7w6xZ07vWbl^z:1H&`hacLL7Iahmu/=VmFFkrHGyKvmJ&E\-+1H^)51-LbM_M

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Golodkin View Post
                          "real" art is an individual effort.

                          It never has been true. It never will be true.

                          The abiding musical myth of the 21st century is that the advent of cheap digital recording has made it possible for some asocial neurotic to produce a #1 hit in the virtual vacuum of his basement. It's incredibly seductive, but it's not true. It never will be true.
                          Careful with absolutes like never.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by aoVI View Post
                            Careful with absolutes like never.
                            Shhh. Listen.......NEVER.

                            It's a sucker bet. Stake the entire universe, you can't possibly lose. There are too many self-defining impossibilities in the premise, almost all of which would be obvious to anyone but a musician.

                            As a former national new-music playlister and broadcast format developer, I will tell you it can take a couple of hundred people (or more) to get a really great new act to chart, nearly any single one of whom can carelessly screw up and sink the entire thing as mysteriously and irrevocably as Flight 370. I'm neither joking nor exaggerating.

                            Of course, nobody doing Ambient is even remotely hoping to chart, but whatever his idea of an objective is, even doing twenty-seven seconds of soundtrack in some crappy student video on public-access cable, it's going to take more hustle than the asocial neurotic in his basement has. That's OK, a lot of artists are asocial neurotics in basements (and the only thing that seriously separates me from that demographic is that I don't have a basement), but they absolutely need people on their side who believe in them and will pitch in on their behalf. It doesn't matter if it's someone who tells you that an arpeggio would work better if it started on the 5th, or a talented graphics artist or an aspiring publicist or someone with a strong back and two more hands when you need them.

                            It's all part of your creative process as long as you're doing the steering. You're not going anywhere alone. Seek and accept help whenever it presents itself.

                            I submit this as Rule #28. ;)
                            Last edited by Golodkin; 05-13-2014, 08:19 PM.
                            pY7w6xZ07vWbl^z:1H&`hacLL7Iahmu/=VmFFkrHGyKvmJ&E\-+1H^)51-LbM_M

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Golodkin View Post
                              Originally posted by MetaDronos View Post
                              Originally posted by Thought Experiment View Post
                              I don't have a problem with the division of labour - I have a problem with 'subcontracting out' aspects of the creative process. I know there's nothing new about this, I know even Michelangelo let his students 'fill in' the backgrounds etc. It just doesn't seem right to me. But I hardly ever use samples in my work, maybe I'd feel differently if they were a significant part of it
                              What do you think about generative methods, then? Using generative tools as "subcontractors/assistants" can relieve artist from unnecessary mechanical work. And selecting "boundary conditions" by artists in his generative tools is probably enough significant.
                              I don't want to rag on TE here because I think he's simply one of the millions of people who have fallen for what is probably THE great cultural myth, namely that "real" art is an individual effort.

                              It never has been true. It never will be true.

                              The abiding musical myth of the 21st century is that the advent of cheap digital recording has made it possible for some asocial neurotic to produce a #1 hit in the virtual vacuum of his basement. It's incredibly seductive, but it's not true. It never will be true. The delusion sells a lot of gear, though. ;)

                              Even classic "lone nut" artists like Kafka or Van Gogh were in fact intensely networked guys, and their networks kept producing for them even after their suicides, never mind that they were actively and liberally inspired by the work of (and criticism by) others -- and every other random influence.

                              No matter what you're doing, you can't do it without being artistically influenced by others and you'll do it better with some help with the heavy lifting. What is the material difference between telling an assistant, "I want four or five samples of elderly Slavic women talking by tomorrow" and stopping all productive work in order to dig it up yourself? None. As the adage goes, "Doing things the hard way doesn't mean you're smart; doing things the hard way means you're stupid."

                              Any tool that facilitates achieving your artistic vision is legitimate.

                              This was the earliest lesson I learned as an artist's assistant when I was seventeen. Unfortunately, I forgot it for many years.

                              Get help whenever and wherever you can, even if (and maybe especially if) it's for mundane work. Listen to everyone. You never know.
                              I want to thank you for opening my eyes to this universal truth of which I have been blissfully unaware for all of my 56 years on this planet. Where have you been all my life? I don't feel too bad though, if I'm one of millions of dupes. But if we're all asocial neurotics, how does that help? I'm so confused, please enlighten me some more.

                              But hang on, are we talking about being artistically influenced by others, or having a team of flunkies to do the "heavy lifting". I don't have a problem with the former, but unlike Van Gogh (yeah, guess what - I heard of him. Who knew he was "intensely networked"? And Kafka too? Crikey...) I don't have a well-to do family prepared to indulge (i.e. financially support) my whim to live the life of an artist, so how am I going to pay these flunkies? Besides, like I said, my methods don't involve the use of loads of samples - the heaviest lifting involved in my studio is picking up a guitar from it's wall-hanger. But of course you didn't hear what I said, your equipment is stuck on TRANSMIT which is probably why you come across as insultingly PATRONISING

                              You're entitled to your own opinions, you may even be right, I'm not qualified to judge. But I've been around the block a few times, and I have the wit and experience to make up my own mind about what works for me, though I wouldn't presume to think I know, or ever will know, everything. Anyway, must go now, nanny has made breakfast and my butler is waiting to dress me...
                              My new album is available now, here: https://thoughtexperiment.bandcamp.c.../supersymmetry
                              Check out my (hopelessly out-of-date) SoundCloud page: https://soundcloud.com/thought_experiment

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