It is too easy to get lost in the sauce regarding sound design. Producers go cross-eyed, scrolling through presets, our brains turn to mush as we endlessly tweak parameters, and we go out of a studio session having never really made any meaningful progress toward creating an awesome synth patch.
But it would seem that KHIVA has found the recipe for success in staying focused and progressing sound design to achieve the best possible result. So ahead of the release of her latest self-released EP, ‘Misplaced Apathy,’ we invited her on to break down how she approaches sound design into four stages and sounds fantastic doing so.
“It may sound cliche, but when it comes to processing a sound to find it’s rightful sound in my productions, I find distortion tools invaluable in their ability to offer endless possibilities in how you can shape a sound to fit the track and your style.
My go-to over the past couple of years has been the Waves Manny Marroquin Distortion Plugin. As someone who takes quite a ‘tactile’ approach to music production, this one has been a favorite for its simple yet effective layout and options. Here are 4 interchangeable stages of utilizing distortion in a project to achieve my desired result, but these points could also be applied to various tools!” – KHIVA
Stream ‘Phantom Forces’ Below
Hailing from Nova Scotia, TRUTH championed her unique sound by releasing her debut EP on their label Deep, Dark, and Dangerous in 2017. Back then, her sound fit uniquely and predictable into the world of 140bpm Dubstep that was taking the world by storm.
But as the times have changed, so has her sound, which has evolved into a nuanced and groove-centric masterclass of bass. And while the subsonic energy thunders throughout the track’s foundation, the ethereal vocals croon and chime atop to maintain interest and captivate an audience.
The six-track EP pulls inspiration from across genres and worlds, sometimes packed with cinematic sentimentality. In contrast, at other times become racked with an anxious grit and attitude.
Stage One: Find The Source
Many of the sounds and samples I use to give a ‘cinematic’ or more raw feel to my productions are either recorded through a microphone or resampled records, bits of film, etc.
There are several presets with this plugin that is fun to scroll through, but ultimately, the fun is finding what ‘combos’ work to get to where you want to go. When you’re using recordings and live stuff as opposed to a ‘cleaner’ sample, you can end up with many unique results, pleasant or not, that may react differently to the settings you choose, depending on what frequencies might be ‘hidden’!
So when tweaking a sample from the start to create a new usable sound, you can set the amount it affects the bass, mid or high, but I’d usually eq at this stage as well.
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Stage Two: Finishing Touches
Producers come up with some pretty interesting describing words for the sounds they’re going for, myself included. A few I use often are crunchy, warm, dense, fizzy, sparkly; you get the idea.
When I think, ‘this needs that touch, it’s usually right at the end, or close to it, when the final form has been developed, but it’s just missing that ‘something’. Developing my presets for this VST has been great because quite often, especially with mid basses and vocals, I’m already ‘hearing’ a similar sonic goal to other tracks, which is all part of finding your sound.
When you have those presets you built for yourself and know what frequencies you’re working with, it is easier to add them to your effects chain and make any necessary adjustments without starting from scratch.
Stage Three: Automate Everything
One of my favorite parts of my production process is automated, helping give the song its ‘movement’ and flow. I am a big fan of contrast, between each track, between sounds, and between different parts of a song, so this is a way I like to add emphasis to certain sections and allow for a dynamic song structure.
For example, I’ll often keep the overall distortion level lower on a verse vs. a chorus, or maybe I’ll ramp it up on the mid-bass after the first drop and lead up to a switch-up before pulling it back to focus on another sound.
‘Roulette’ is an excellent example of an instance where I went pretty heavy on a particular ‘texture’ in the intro before stripping it back at the drop when the main verse starts to sort of ‘snap out of it or into it, whatever mood you’re going for at that point. It all comes down to personal preference, of course.
Playing around with what levels you’re automating within the plugin, ie specifically the low pass or only the attack, etc, offers a whole other range of possibilities other than the overall level of your previously decided-upon setting and can make a big difference if you have different frequencies coming in certain parts that need the space, or space you’re trying to fill with that element.
Stage Four: Resampling and Layering
Like I mentioned above, a lot of the time, I’m going for a more ‘raw’ feel in a final product, and while the above speak more to the overall song from start to finish, sometimes it’s only particular sounds you want to affect in the mix, or are looking for a way to build an atmosphere without necessarily incorporating new elements.
Particularly with drum loops and vocal layers, but this can also be readily applied to mid/synth tracks; I sometimes like to bounce a whole way, bring that one in on top of the original, and give it its treatment, which could mean several things, eq, reverb, delays, panning, etc., and of course distortion, if desired, and play around with how this interacts with the original track without having to ‘mess’ with it.
Bouncing a tight drum loop and layering it with some reverb and a slight delay can add to a more ‘real’ feel or ‘depth’ without taking away from the punch. Beware of phasing, but this can be an excellent way to develop the atmosphere.