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Creating an Ambient Pad from a Vocal Sample in Ableton Live 9

Mic imageIn the last session of Sound Design Space we looked at how to sidechain effects to a synth in Ableton allowing us to add atmosphere. But today we’re doing something completely different!

Most people think of sound design as purely synthesis, and while that does play a huge part in it – sample manipulation counts too! So that’s what we’re going to do, manipulate a sample.

As with anything, there’s always going to be multiple ways to do something, so when reading or watching this tutorial, keep in mind that I’m not trying to prove that this is the ‘right’ way – it’s just a  simple way.

Anyway, we’re going to turn this sound:

 

Into this:

 

It’s going to be a lot easier if you use a tone vocal sample, like the one above. That’s not to say that you can’t use any other vocal sample, but for the purpose of this tutorial I’ve used a tone sample from Veela’s Siren pack which you can pick up from Loopmasters.

If you just want the single tone that I used, you can download it here.

Alright, let’s get to it. Here’s a video explanation of the sound, but if you prefer to read and look at images then you can do so below.

A Quick Note on Sample Selection

There are techniques in which you can make pads with any kind of audio sample (i.e., recording yourself going toilet) but that’s venturing into granular synthesis and the likes which we won’t be focusing on in this article. Instead, I recommend finding a nice smooth tone or long vocal note.

To make things easy for you I’ve included the download link to the vocal sample I used, above.

If you want a challenge, then pick a different vocal sample – but don’t be surprised if it sounds a little different!

Pattern Creation and Instrument

We’re going to be using Ableton’s sampler, due to its ease of use and versatility. If you have a preferred sampler that you know how to use well then feel free to use that.

First, drag your vocal sample onto the sampler in an empty MIDI track.

sampler and root noteBy default, the RootKey of the sample will be set at C3. Change this to whatever note your tone is.

In my case, I changed it to A# (Bb) to match my tone. Though not essential, it helps when creating our pattern so we know that the notes we’re choosing actually correspond to the pitch of the sample.

Creating a Simple Pattern

To start off, we’ll just make a simple monophonic pattern.

Pattern 1

If you’re using a different sample to me, you might want to play around with the pattern a little to make sure it sounds okay. Some samples may not sound great at different notes.

So we’ve got an 8-bar pattern, a sample selected in our sampler, but it sounds nothing like a pad! What’s next?

Sample Loop Section

With a straight tone, this doesn’t matter too much – but it’s good practice so I’ve included it anyway.

We’re going to loop a part of our sample so it repeats constantly but still sounds like one note.

Find a part somewhere in the middle where the sound is consistent.

To loop, simply drag each of the markers on both ends until you’re where you want to be.

Loop section

 

Now if you’re a lucky person – you’ll have little or no audible click each time it loops. If you’re normal like me, then you’ll probably have an annoying click on the repetition.

Ironing out the Creases

The first thing we’re going to do to clean up our loop is finding the middle point and adjusting the loop.

1. Zoom in on any edge of the loop.

2. Move the Sample and Loop start to where the wave meets the middle point vertically (it doesn’t have to be perfect, but doing this helps)

Loop adjustment

3. Repeat for the next end.

After doing this, you should have less of a click (or no click) if it’s worse, then undo it! Ctrl + Z is the most important keyboard short-cut in music production.

Crossfading

To clean it up even further, we’ll add some Crossfade to the loop. This is something you should do by ear.

You might hear some volume ducking when doing this, just adjust the crossfade up or down until it goes away.

Now that we’ve smoothed out our loop, it’s time to add some effects. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect loop because we’ll cloak this with reverb shortly.

Envelope Adjustments

At the moment we’ve just got a straight tone that starts at full volume, and ends at full volume. More often than not, pads have a slow attack and some amount of release which cause them to sound less harsh.

As you can see in the image below, I’ve added some attack and release with the global envelope in Ableton’s Sampler.

Global envelope

This will also smooth out our sound a little.

Designing the Sound… With Effects

Like I said at the start, sound design doesn’t mean only synthesis. It can mean many things including sample recording, manipulation, and also effects.

So that’s the main part of this tutorial, effects. It’s how we’re going to achieve the beautiful, ambient sound of a vocal pad.

Reverb

We’re going to add this first because it’s the most important factor in the whole sound. A pad without reverb is like a long distance relationship, it just doesn’t work.

Reverb

It’s quite a wet reverb, and notice the size and decay. This significantly changes the sound:

Before reverb

After Reverb

Chorus

We’re already pretty close to the final sound. Adding some chorus will thicken up the sound a little, adjust according to taste.

Chorus

Building a Chord and Adding Depth

So we’ve got our ‘sound’ sorted, but it’s pretty mellow. If we want more frequency content then we’ll have to have some more notes.

As you can see here, I’ve pasted the same notes an octave lower and also up a little from that.

Final Progression

So now we’ve got our final sound!

Feel free to add random effects such as phasers and flangers to see if they work or not, experiment, run different samples through the same chain, etc.

Conclusion

Using vocals in an abstract way can be fun, and challenging.

We’ve learnt how to smooth out a loop in Sampler, add ambient effects, and beef up the sound by adding more notes and using Ableton’s Chorus.

Again, the easiest way to make vocal pads is with tones. If you want to pick up Veela’s Siren pack, you can do so here.

Feel free to post a link to your unique vocal pad in the comments section below.