Layering Snares using a Synthesizer and a Noise Gate

A sound design tutorial on layering snares using tone generators, noise gates and advanced routing techniques.

Drum Design


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I love sound design! In fact, I started, 40 years ago, as a synth programmer for some of the electronic bands of the 80s and only took up producing a mere 25 years ago! Yep, ancient I be, old I look not!

All jokes aside I wish more and more producers would dip their toe into sound design. Not only is is really rewarding when you create your own custom sounds but it helps you to stand out above your peers when you have your own signature sounds. Production is exactly the same. What distinguishes one producer from another is the ‘signature’ colour of their productions. You can instantly tell if a track has been produced by Timbaland or Just Blaze.

I find that when it comes to sound design, and in particular with today’s beat driven genres, drums feature high on the list of sounds to create and manipulate. As you wade through these tutorials you will see that I have spent a great deal of time creating sound design tutorials that are relevant to modern day productions. Drums are featured almost exclusively.

In this advanced tutorial I am going to show you how to add spice to snare sounds by layering them with noise generated from a synthesizer. I use a noise gate to shape the noise and use the snare sound to trigger the gate via its side-chain.

But before we start let us have a look at the various colours of noise. This is important because the different colours of noise have different uses.

Noise

In essence, noise is a randomly changing, chaotic signal, containing an endless number of sine waves of all possible frequencies with different amplitudes. However randomness will always have specific statistical properties. These will give the noise its specific character or timbre.

If the sine waves’ amplitude is uniform, which means every frequency has the same volume, the noise sounds very bright. This type of noise is called white noise.

White noise is a signal with the property of having constant energy per Hz bandwidth (an amplitude-frequency distribution of 1) and so has a flat frequency response and because of these properties white noise is well suited to test audio equipment. The human hearing system’s frequency response is not linear but logarithmic. In other words, we judge pitch increases by octaves, not by equal increments of frequency; each successive octave spans twice as many Hertz as the previous one down the scale. And this means that when we listen to white noise, it appears to us to increase in level by 3dB per octave.

If the amplitude of the sine waves decreases with a curve of about -6 dB per octave when their frequencies rise, the noise sounds much warmer. This is called pink noise.

Pink noise contains equal energy per octave (or per 1/3 octave). The amplitude follows the function 1/f, which corresponds to the level falling by 3dB per octave. These attributes lend themselves perfectly for use in acoustic measurements.

If it decreases with a curve of about -12 dB per octave we call it brown noise.

Brown noise, whose name is actually derived from Brownian motion, is similar to pink noise except that the frequency function is 1/(f squared). This produces a 6dB-per-octave attenuation.

Blue noise is essentially the inverse of pink noise, with its amplitude increasing by 3dB per octave (the amplitude is proportional to f).

Violet noise is the inverse of brown noise, with a rising response of 6dB per octave (amplitude is proportional to f squared).

So we have all these funky names for noise, even though you need to understand their characteristics, but what are they used for?

White noise is used in the synthesizing of hi-hats, crashes, cymbals etc, and is even used to test certain generators.

Pink noise is great for synthesizing ocean waves and the warmer type of ethereal pads. I often use pink noise for layering kick drums.

Brown noise is cool for synthesizing thunderous sounds and deep and bursting claps. My favourite noise for creating deep thundering kick drums.

In the video I show you how to use FXpansion Strobe synthesizer  to create a noise waveform which we will use for layering the snare sound. I show you how to use a noise gate to shape the generated noise waveform. I explain, in detail, how to set up the noise gates side-chain to be used externally. I explain how to route the snare sound to the gate’s side-chain and explain how to use the side-chain’s filter to further shape the trigger’s response. I end by showing you what settings to use on both the noise gate and the synthesizer to achieve various textures for layering with the snare sound.

Plugins used in this video:

FabFilter Pro G

FXpansion Strobe

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Setting up the Signal Path
  • Gates and S/C Triggering
  • Concepts and Practices of Layering
  • Frequency Layering
  • Filtering Frequencies for S/C the Body
  • Tone Generators
  • Using Noise
  • Changing Order of Processing