Wub wub wub. Everyone recognizes that deep, low, rumbling sub-sound that we all love and feel in our chest when we blast music through speakers.
Artists like Pretty Lights, Skream, and Skrillex have all mastered the technique of bass wobbling to create movement in their tracks, and contrary to popular belief, it is actual a very easy thing to do.
This can be done effectively in Simpler, one of Ableton’s sampling instruments. Open up Live and load Simpler onto an empty MIDI track. The default settings should look like the ones below.
Next, find a bass sample that you’d like to use. I have a nice bass sound that has a lot of grit and sub. Currently, it has no processing on it, so what you’ll hear below is the raw sample.
Turn on the two filters, one in the bottom left corner and one between Volume and Pitch. You’ll know that they are turned on when they are highlighted in yellow, verses greyed out when they are off. You’ll also need to turn on the LFO. Your settings should look similar to the ones below.
First thing we’re going to do is raise the LFO to 24. LFO stands for low-frequency oscillation, and its a very effective way to modulate synthesizers and samples to create pulses and sweeps. We’ll also be altering the envelope (abbreviated “ENV”), which is the change in intensity of a sound over time, setting it to -72. This is what the bass sounds like after processing thus far.
You should be able to notice a slight delay in the opening of the sound, which is caused by the envelop that we just adjusted. Next, we’re going to change the LFO rate from Hz to Beats by clicking the little music note. Underneath Beats you’ll see that the LFO default is programmed for 1/16. This is what your Simpler should look like so far.
Next, I’m going to turn the Resonance (abbreviated “Res”) all the way down to 0, change the Beats to 1/8, and turn the frequency down 2.50 kHz. This is the result.
As you can hear, we have a nice wobble sound! The filter is currently set to a low-pass filter (LP) but you can easily change the filter to a high-pass (HP) or band-pass (BP) filter, based on what frequencies you would like to remove. You can also play around with the frequency in each filter setting to achieve a desired result. Increasing or decreasing the LFO rate will change how fast or how slow your sound wobbles. Logically, 1/64 will be very fast, and alternatively, 1/4 will be much slower. Genres like Trap and Dubstep, which are usually composed in half-time, usually utilize lower oscillation rates, such as 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16, but these are by no means limitations and concrete rules. The modulation rate is contingent upon the goals of the producer and the nature of the track, so it is important to not restrict yourself and always abide by these guidelines.
Additionally, you can tweak the envelope and type of sound wave to your taste. Right now the sample is set to a sine wave, which gives it a nice, flowing wobble sound, but its worth playing around and experimenting with other waves types as well, such a square, triangle, and saw waves.
Square waves will give the sound a bit more chop and triangle waves (the /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ in Mmmmmaven!) will sound similar to sine waves except a bit more aggressive. Finally, saw waves will give the sound a more raw, metallic texture. You can listen to each one below, and for further understanding, check out this great article that explains each wave’s properties in more detail.
In order to demonstrate how the wobble can be changed over time to achieve a nice groove for a track, I created a simple dubstep drum pattern and automated the LFO of the bassline to change over the duration of the loop. This can easily be done in Live’s arrangement view by clicking on the down arrow, selecting the instrument you desire (in this case Simpler, which I have renamed “BASS”), and then selecting “LFO Synced Rate” and automating it to your taste. The bass is set to a sine wave and the tempo is set to 145 bpm. I also threw on a simple compressor to sidechain the bassline so that it doesn’t conflict with the kick, while simultaneously giving it a nice sucking sound. You can see the settings for the loop and also have a listen below.
Don’t be afraid to play around with the different types of waves, filters, frequencies, and LFO rates. You can also further customize your basslines through other ways like adding distortion or automating filters to fit the sounds you have in your head. Get creative!
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