Designing a Plucky Sound From a Simple Hi-Hat in Ableton Live

Turning a hi-hat into a plucky synth

There are a few highlights in this video, including combining a Phaser device with a Haas effect Simple Delay device that is in “time” mode rather than “sync” mode so that it can be tuned in terms of milliseconds. I also make some use of pre-delay on the Reverb device to add an interesting tail to the sound. Also, pay close attention to how much timbral variation gets added to the sound by simply changing the crossfade settings on a short loop of a sample.

Anyway, I’ll let the video explain the rest. Enjoy!

So, what is this series all about?

I love my “sound design time.” I’m talking about that time I set aside at least a couple times a week just to work on new sounds completely separated from the context of a particular song or track. In the environment of infinite choice, that embarrassment of riches that is particular to the contemporary music producer, it’s tempting to mess around with sounds when you should be working on arranging a track. For that reason, it’s best to separate the task of inventing new instruments from that of actually writing music. That’s why I have to explicitly mark out time for each task so that I don’t get too far off task.

Over the years, I’ve gotten numerous requests to record my sound design time. Now that I’ve freed up time to work on Nick’s Tutorials again, I plan to do just that. This post represents the first of many where I’ll sit down and record an entirely unplanned, unscripted video showing how I develop sounds from the ground up. You’ll see techniques old and new coupled with my commentary, warts and all. Sometimes my lines of inquiry won’t work out and I’ll reverse course back to an earlier version of a sound. Regardless of whether I’m successful or not, I hope these videos will give you some inspiration and spur some conversation.

Designing a Plucky Sound From a Simple Hi-Hat in Ableton Live by

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4 Responses to “Designing a Plucky Sound From a Simple Hi-Hat in Ableton Live”

  1. RobinDecember 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Dear Nick
    thanks for this I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to upgrading to live 9 very soon 🙂 the max for live looks very good in action.
    Kind regards

    • Nick MaxwellDecember 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      Robin, I think you’ll love the Live 9 upgrade. Highlights for me included the Glue Compressor, better sounding EQ8, M4L integration including the wonderful pre-built tools they included and much more. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. GuntherDecember 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Love your “Sound Design Time” series Nick! Thanks for sharing.
    I can imagine that if you set aside time for this, every other day, you can end up with a huge collection of custom sounds. How do you organize these over time? How do you keep an overview? Perhaps this would be cool to cover in a future video? Thanks again and keep up the good work! Gunther.

    • Nick MaxwellDecember 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Thanks, Gunther, very kind of you to say 🙂 I’d be happy to do a video on how I organize things, although I use a very simple method. Basically, I save everything as a Live Clip, which is a combination of a MIDI or Audio clip along with any associated instruments and automation. I especially like to use this method when I’ve written a short piece of music that sounds great but doesn’t necessarily fit the current song. As this directory of musical ideas grows, I always have ready-made inspiration just sitting there in case I run into writer’s block.

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