DAW Sequencing Tips

DAW Sequencing Tips

This article attempts to explain a few sequencing techniques that are popular in modern music. While there are many ways to achieve these sounds we cant list them all so this is a condensed list of methods and instructions that should get you on the right track.

This article explains techniques in Logic but the principle could be applied to pretty much any DAW.

Creating & Using Arpeggiated / Gated Riffs:

Arpeggiated and Gated synthesizer riffs have been with us for decades and have become very popular in modern day music. It’s very important to understand how to create this effect and implement it in to your own music productions. In this section we will discuss different ways to create and use arpeggiated / gated riffs.

Have a listen to this plain old synth chord sequence we have created using the EXS24 Sampler / Synth Module. So far it’s fairly boring, so lets spice it up a little.

To get a simple gating effect we are going to program one of the LFO’s within the EXS24 sampler to change the resonance of the sound at a rate of 1/4. Take a look at the image below to see how we have done this. Notice LFO 2 is set at a rate of 1/4 using the selected wave, a straight cut off to effect the resonance.

Gated Synth Effect

Now listen to what effect this has created.

So, we now want to add a phasing filtering effect. Most DAW’s will have a plug-in for phasing and filtering, if not then we suggest investing in something with multiple functions for a lot more freedom. To create a phasing sweeping effect you need to play around with the LFO’s and phasing amount. We have set LFO 1 at a rate of 0.10Hz and LFO 2 at a rate of 0.50Hz, with a phase value of +150. The output mix is at +50% with feedback set to a high 79% for a more audible effect.

Gated Synth Technique in Logic
Gated Synth Technique in Logic

For a more trancey, atmospheric, dragging sound you will need to use a delay effect with different groove percentages and notation. To create this lazy reverberated effect we have set our delay output mix to a very high, 60% on both the left and right output. The right delay has a groove of 50% which = a delay time of 142 m/s, with the tempo we are using, and the left delay has a 75% swing groove which = a delay time of 425 m/s. We have also used another phasing effect within the delay plug in, on the left feedback.

Synth Gating Effect
Synth Gating Effect in Logic

Notice, we have the low cut set to 490 Hz and the high cut at 5000 Hz. This is to stop any unwanted low end rumble / ear piercing treble on the delayed sound. Finally we’ve added some compression to give the sound a more pumped feel.

Are there any other ways to create the same type of effect?

Of course, there are many different ways to do this, in fact most decent synthesizers and softsynth plug ins come with arpeggiators and gating presets which you can quickly load up and edit to your liking. To hear a good example of how we used a hardware synth with built in arpeggiator have a listen to Virtual Analog Synthesizer – Anthemic Riffs v1 Synth Loops.

Although sometimes you may want a simple synth pad to be turned in to a more complicated, original sounding instrument. We’re going to look at a more in depth, complex way to edit sounds to give the same effect.

Lets start by taking a simple chord sequence using an instrument within Logics ES2 Synth.

Firstly we need to use the piano roll to edit the note position slightly. We want to move everything a 1/4 bar apart, to create a quick arpeggiated type of pattern.

Arpeggiated Riffs
Arpeggiated Riffs

Take a listen to what we have so far.

This still sounds a bit flat and boring so the next step is to use a function within our synth, to have the cut off filter changing the sound every 1/2 bar. Again we will need to link our LFO to the cutoff filter.

LFO Settings
LFO Settings

To create a more linked groove, we need to add a basic reverb and delay. Reverb is completely down to preference and how you want your arpeggiated pattern to sound. The delay requires a bit more thought to give the sound a more linked, professional timbre. We have set our output mix to 48% on both sides, a left delay groove of 283 m/s and a right delay groove of 566 m/s, again with some phasing on the left feedback for a more interesting sound.

Now you can play around with the notes and octave settings within the synth for a more interesting, developing sound. Here’s an example.

Side Chain Compression Ducking Effects:

Side chain ducking is a cool effect which can be useful in many different ways. Here we’re simply going to show you how to create a basic ducking effect, using a side chain compressor.

Compression Pumping Effects

The first thing you need to do, is to create 2 tracks within your DAW. Audio / Software Instruments. On the 1st track we have recorded a kick drum on every quarter note. On track 2, we have inserted an audio, sustained vocal sample.

Next we need to insert bus 1 in to the sends channel within logic studio, and turn the gain of the bus up to 0.

Doing this will automatically create an aux channel strip within logic studios mixer, this is not needed for the ducking effect so you can just change the input of this aux channel to ‘no input’.

Take a look at below to see how our project file is looking so far.

Audio Ducking Effect
Audio Ducking Effect

Now we need to add a compressor plug-in to the vocal samples channel strip. In the side chain field of the compressor, select ‘bus 1’. For this particular effect, we don’t want the kick drum to be audible, so we turn it down as far as possible, just before it’s muted. Then we set the compressor settings up to how we want the vocal sample to be affected. Mainly use the compressor threshold settings and ratio settings. For a more dramatic effect, turn the compressor threshold level right down to around -50 dB and the ratio settings up to 25:0:

Compressor Settings for audio ducking
Compressor Settings for audio ducking

Take a listen to the ducking effect.

You can also edit the kick pattern for a more creative sounding effect on the vocals.

This should help to give you some idea of what you might be able to achieve with sidechain compression, it works great on pads, strings, vocals and other sounds that sometimes sit in the background of your mix. It helps to to create energy and interest in a sound that might be boring otherwise.