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Mastering Transitions In Your Music 

Recently I had the opportunity to answer a question about how to make transitions between the various sections of your songs flow smoothly.

It takes some trial and error as well as song musical sense that can only be developed by failing a whole bunch of times. But here's how I go about it:

  1. Have a climb or build e,g a riser, hi-hat build or snare roll from the previous section that is resolved on the first beat of the new section by a cymbal or some white noise.
  2. You can stop the music for 1 bar or half of a bar as a way to build anticipation right before the next section and the resolve it on the first beat of the next section with a cymbal or something similar.
  3. Precede the section by a pitch that builds in volume (for example: a pad that comes in a bar or half of bar early that resolves on the same note as the new section)
  4. Repeat the very last part of a section a couple of times to build anticipation

That's all the ways I can think of. What about you? Have you got any advice for mastering transitions in music?

Making The Soundtrack To Kaz Ball - Part 1 

Intro 

We’re writing the soundtrack for Kaz Ball, a 5v5 ball game that takes place in space. What kind of audio production do you imagine when you hear that description? Cause I hear SCI-FI, PULSE POUNDING ACTION, ROARING ENGINES. And on top of that we got the request from the lead developer to include rebellious blues rock inspired guitars. 

All of this adds up to an intense soundtrack that fuses aggressive edm with rock. 

For the battle themes I wanted to capture 5 moments that’ll happen in the game: 

  • Ships Launch 
  • Somebody Grabs The Ball 
  • Being Ahead Or Behind In The Game 
  • Someone Ninjaing Your Ship 
  • Battle Cruiser Hull Integrity Is Critical 

Battle Theme 1 

Ships Launch 

Here’s where I included the distorted guitars. I wanted to create, in the lead developer’s own words, “the feeling that action is coming and ACTION IS HERE”. This theme is going to be something that players hear at the beginning of every match so it had to get your blood pumping right off the bat. 

Somebody Grabs The Ball 

I created a driving beat using drum samples and midi clips from the Build and Drop pack in Ableton 10. There are also chopped up samples of a bass. I had a lot of fun using the ‘Slice’ feature in Simpler for the main harmonic layer that kicks in when somebody grabs the ball. 

Being Ahead Or Behind In The Game 

There needed to be 1 motif each for being behind behind by 25% or being ahead by 25%. The motif for losing is very spacey and I put delay on the lead synth to emphasize the feeling of dragging behind. The motif for winning by contrast uses the guitar riffs established in the beginning to reaffirm that you’re bringing the action, you’re on the right course. 

Someone Ninjaing Your Ship 

When someone fires at your ship’s hull for a prolonged period of time there’s a stinger that plays informing you about it. It needed to be something attention grabbing but mysterious sounding at the same time. It’s also technically something contributes to your team losing so it needed to use an electronic element. We ended up settling on a synth melody with some pentatonic in there for added rebelliousness. 

Battle Cruiser Hull Integrity Is Critical 

Things get intense when your battle cruiser drops below 25% integrity. I ramped it up by switching to a dubstep beat with syncopated ostinato in the bass and synth. I wanted it to become especially driving once your ship goes below 5% health so I added a guitar that plays the same rhythm as everything else. I also arranged another guitar that adds to the chaos by playing double bends. 

Battle Theme 2 

Ships Launch 

I wanted it to sound like an engine starting so I chopped up a snare sample and pitched it while increasing the frequency of hits until it sounded like what I was hearing in my head. 

Somebody Grabs The Ball 

I created a driving beat using drum samples and midi clips from the Build and Drop pack in Ableton 10. There are also chopped up samples of a bass. I had a lot of fun using the ‘Slice’ feature in Simpler for the main harmonic layer that kicks in when somebody grabs the ball. 

Being Ahead Or Behind In The Game 

Both motifs had to sound exciting but convey opposite feelings. The Being Ahead motif had to activate your brain’s pleasure centres and give you a sense of accomplishment.The Behind In The Game motif still had to motivate you to move forward and fight, though. It was a bit of trial and error to write something bad-ass, sad, yet gratifying all at the same time. 

Someone Ninjaing Your Ship 

This time for the sound of someone shooting your ship’s hull I wanted it to sound like an alarm being raised. So I made an air horn type sound in Serum and pitch bent the note for maximum obnoxiousness. Somehow this turned out to be one of the most badass moments in the soundtrack. Hearing it gets you hyped and ready to gun down the enemy. 

Battle Cruiser Hull Integrity Is Critical 

Originally the bulk of Battle Theme 2 had a drum and bass beat. Things left nowhere to go though once your battle cruiser drops below 25% integrity. It needs to ramped it up in intensity. We decided to change the beat in the beginning to be a half-step beat and that solved the problem.

3 Tips to Improve Your Workflow in Ableton 

Introduction: 

I do most of my music production in Ableton Live, which I’ve been using for 6 years now. Throughout the course of learning how to use Ableton properly, I have discovered several things that have helped me to significantly improve my workflow. 

When we’re working on anything creative, efficiency is crucial. Alongside our imagination and our inventive thoughts, there is the job of putting our ideas into a concrete form. This task is typically repetitive, takes up a lot of our time, and can be fairly taxing on our stamina. Having a strong ethic will only get us so far. 

Today I will be sharing 3 tips to improve your workflow in Ableton. All of these tips can probably be applied to any other Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) so there is value in reading this article even if you’re using another software. 

Without further adieu let’s jump into it!

1: Stay organized by renaming everything! 

Renaming is as easy as selecting something to rename, pressing Ctrl+R (Cmd+R on a Mac) and typing in a new name for it. Pretty much anything in Ableton can be renamed. Tracks, instruments, clips, samples, audio effects, and the list goes on! 

Giving everything a name is a very simple and effective way of staying organized and avoiding future headaches. I find it most useful as a way to differentiate between different audio tracks, especially when I have 20+ tracks in one project. I also find it handy to give names to specific clips that are very important, such as those with a melody line or chord progression that need to be easy to spot. 

It’s CRUCIAL to change the names of instruments that we’ve modified or created, so that when we save them, they are easy to find. (You can change the names of instruments you’ve already saved by finding their directory in Ableton.) 

Get into the habit of assigning a name to everything in your project and you won’t regret it! 

2: Learn to make use of groups! 

Instrument tracks and effects can be grouped together. This can be accomplished by highlighting more than one track or effect and using the shortcut “Ctrl+G” on a PC or “Cmd+G” on a Mac. You can even group separate groups into multi-groups inception style.

Benefits of grouping instruments: 

  • Groups can be expanded and collapsed to decrease clutter. 
  • The relative volume levels of all instruments within a group can be the same while lowering the group’s overall volume. 
  • We can apply an audio effect (This beats the ordeal of adding or removing the effect from each individual instrument one by one.) 
  • The same can be said of panning an entire group left or right. 
  • Groups can be soloed or muted all at once with the click of a button. 

Benefits of grouping audio effects: 

  • Just like groups of instruments, effect racks can be expanded and collapsed. 
  • You can turn on and off entire racks instead of the tedium of turning each effect one at a time. 

3: Use your sends! 

Sends are used to route multiple audio tracks an audio effect. This saves us effort by sparing us the hassle of having to add the audio effect to each instrument individually. We can place multiple audio effects into one return track. and if we wanted to alter the effects on multiple instruments, we can just go to the return track and alter them there. This is a HUGE time saver. 

With the Intro version of Ableton Live you're allowed to create up to 2 return tracks for sending. Ableton Standard or Suite gives us the option to create up to 12 return tracks. 

Make sure that any audio effects you put into a return track are set to 100% wetness. This is because will be controlling the dryness/wetness of the effect by adjusting the sends on each instrument. This way we can make an audio effect (such as reverb, delay, saturation...etc) in a single return track give numerous outcomes for each track that it is altering. We can even dial in a send on an entire group track! 

If we were to right-click on the [Send A Dial] and choose “Enable all sends”, we would enable the ability to send return tracks to each other (or themselves). With this option on, we can create some pretty messed up effects like: reverbed delays, saturated flangers, chorused phasers...whatever your mind can think of! Careful not to feed returns back into each other or you could give yourself a headache or blow your speakers.

Because sends allow us to process all of our frequently used effects in one place, they drastically cut down on CPU and RAM consumption. This allows us to have a larger amount of highly specialized effects on individual instruments. 

Keep in mind that return tracks cannot be put into groups. But any time we have a bunch of instruments or effects that serve a similar purpose, we should definitely get into the habit of grouping them together! 

Sends are truly amazing. They save time, they save effort, and they can even optimize Ableton’s demand on a computer! 

Bonus Tip: Learn your short-cuts! 

This tip is not just specific to Ableton. But it stands to reason that if we want to be as productive as possible, we make the effort to learn most (if not all) of the short cuts in Ableton. A complete list can be found on the Ableton website.