It's great being able to instantly load up your favorite synths and lay down MIDI notes, and in a matter of seconds being able to tweak the controllers to your heart's desire. Software synthesizers really allow us to move fast through our productions. But much fun and interest can be had when you bounce down that synth to audio and start manipulating and processing the audio for extra results. What I find really cool is being able to create manual gated effects with synth audio files. This allows you to create gated effects that aren't always possible with the synthesizer software interface. I will show you how to create interesting, rhythmic gated effects in Logic using a simple synth audio file. These techniques can also be applied in any other DAW.
Step 1 – Create the Synth Sound
First lets create our synth sound. I have used Logic's ES2. I've applied the Big Trance Now preset and then tweaked it a bit to get the sound I am after. I have then written a very simple 4-note MIDI melody. As you can see from the picture below the audio file it is nothing spectacular. But just wait…
Step 2 – Bounce It Down & Cut It Up
Let's bounce this synth sound down and then start to edit it. After bouncing, I pulled the audio file back onto an audio track in Logic:
Now let's cut this file into equal 16th note segments: Find the first 16th note on the grid, hold down the Option key as you cut (esc + 5 will bring up the scissors tool). This will apply equal 16th note cuts throughout the audio file.
Step 3 – Apply Some Manual Gating
To get the gating sound I am after I have chosen specific 16th note segments of the audio and then trimmed them back, to narrow the size of the segment. To trim the segment back, hold your pointer over the bottom right corner of the audio region. This will turn the pointer into a trim tool allowing you to trim back bits of the audio. If you hold down the Control key you can trim back at finer increments.
Take a listen through your synth sound and see which segments you would like to trim back to create a rhythmic gated effect. The amount you pull back will depend on your song. You want it to create a catchy, rhythmic gated effect. If you pull the audio back too much it may sound too glitchy, and if you don't pull it back enough you may not even notice the effect. So test out different amounts and see what works for you.
Here is what my Gated Synth now sounds like:
Step 4 – Fade Those Gates
You can add fades to the ends of your segments to smooth out the gated effect. Sometimes these manually-cut gated segments can sound a bit harsh and unnatural. By adding fades to the segments it will make the gates sound more natural and easy to the ear between the synth sound and the silence gaps. Press esc + 0 to get the Logic Fade Tool, then add the fade amount you wish on each segment.
Step 5 – Gate With A Beat
Here is what my gated synth sounds like with a beat so that you can get an idea of the sound in the context of a song. I have added a breakbeat-style pattern to the gated synth sound. Rhythmic Gated Synths can create some nice interest in your synth sounds and textures. Also it is quick and easy to do.
To create the same sound in your software instrument could take a lot longer getting all the right tweaks to sound similar. But by editing the audio file you have more control over the gated sounds in relation to the timeline in your DAW. You can visually see where each gated sound is, which makes it really beneficial in getting the sound to gel or mix with the rest of the elements in your track.
Try some gated audio techniques in your future productions and see if they can spice up your track. This technique really work wonders for most electronic styles such as House, Techno and Trance. But you could also apply the same techniques with Guitars, Drums and Bass to create interesting productions.