Synth Secrets is a series of programming tutorials in which we show how to make a range of classic and new synth sounds using plugins such as Massive, Sylenth and Predator.
In our latest Synth Secrets we’re making use of Massive’s Modulation Oscillator to create the kind of FM-style bass sound that became synonymous with UK garage and crossed over into its bass-heavy house offshoots.
Here’s an example of the sound we’ll making:
And here’s the MIDI pattern we’ve used:
Create a new sound in Massive and assign the Sin-Squ wavetable to Osc1. Tune it down to -24.00 semitones (two octaves) for a subby sound, then turn Wt-position all the way to the left so only the sine wave sounds.
Next, in the large middle panel, click on the Voicing tab then check the box alongside Monophon to make the sound monophonic. We’ll only be able to play one note at a time, which suits our needs perfectly for a bass sound.
Garage bass sounds often make heavy use of oscillator modulation. Go to the Modulation Osc panel, found underneath the three oscillators, and turn it on by clicking the circle next to the text (the circle will turn blue).
Modulation Osc allows you to apply a range of modulation types to the oscillator, including ring mod, phase modulation and wavetable modulation. Click on Phase mode then right-click on the ‘1’ box. Phase Modulation is now being applied to Oscillator 1. You don’t hear the effect until you turn up the Phase Mode control – for now, position it just short of the midway point.
The audio example below shows the kinds of effects you can get when tweaking the Phase button in real time – you can automate this parameter for a similar effect.
With the general FM bass sound set up, it’s time to strengthen its low-end credentials. First up, shift the Modulation Osc down an octave by reducing its Pitch to -12.00. (Note the same Phase automation from Step 2 is still in place for the below audio clip.)
Many garage and UK bass sounds have a percussive quality to them, which leaves lots of space in the mix for drums, synths and vocals.
To get the sound we’re looking for here, set up an envelope generator to control the Phase parameter by clicking the blue crosshair of 1Env and dragging it into the first modulation box below the Phase control (a blue 1 will appear in the box). Now click and drag up on the 1 in the modulation box to apply envelope modulation to the Phase control (we’ve added around 60%).
Tweak the 1Env envelope settings to give it a fast attack, medium to fast decay, no sustain, and a short release (if you’re working against a beat, edit the timings with the beat playing to ensure a fitting rhythmic interplay between kick and bass).
If there’s a click on the tail of the sound, increase the release of the amplitude envelope (4Env) to around 33%, as shown in the image below.
To further shape the sound, select Daft from the drop down menu next to Filter 1. Set the cutoff frequency to around 25% with no resonance then click and drag the blue 1Env crosshair onto the first slot beneath Cutoff so that 1Env is not only modulating the Modulation Osc but also Filter 1’s cutoff frequency. Again, click and drag on the modulation box – this time all the way to the top – to apply maximum envelope modulation to the cutoff frequency.
Now push the filter mix slider, labelled Mix1-Mix2, all the way to the top so you only hear the output of Filter 1, and make sure the volume of the filter (the slider to the right of the knobs) is turned all the way up.
You can fatten up the patch further by adding a second oscillator and some effects. Switch on Osc2, select the Sin-Squ wavetable and shift Wt-position all the way to the left like with Osc1. Now set Pitch to -12.00 and the Amp to around 2 o’clock.
It’s worth noting that this kind of sound works well with clean, less complex waveforms – in this walkthrough we’re using two sine waves – but experiment with triangle, square and even saw waves to put your own stamp on the sound.
Move to the Osc panel and ensure that the Rate setting in the Glide panel is checked and that the Time dial is set at around 10-15%. This ensures a swift transition between notes of different pitches. Next, check the box to the right of Restart via Gate to ensure the phase re-triggers with each new key press. While you’re making these settings, experiment with longer Time settings: higher values deliver a lazier, woozy kind of bass sound. A nice production tip is to automate the Time parameter during fills or breakdowns.
To bulk up the sound, apply some Classic Tube distortion in the FX1 slot, with the Dry/Wet and Drive controls set to around 10 o’clock. Next, add Dimension Expander to the FX2 slot, keeping Size at 0 and increasing Dry/Wet to 10 o’clock. The combined effects add warmth and weight to the bass sound. If the addition of the effects has pushed Massive’s output into the red, reduce the master volume a little.
To further customise the sound, experiment with the attack and decay values of 1Env as well as the level and pitch of the Modulation Osc.
To get a more wonkily detuned classic garage sound, lower the pitch of the Modulation Oscillator to -12.30 and increase the Phase control level.
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