How to Make an Atmospheric Downtempo Lead Synth with FM8

Making an atmospheric downtempo lead synth with FM8 is a simple process, and one that can often surprise you with just how many amazing stoping points there are along the way. This tutorial will show you how to do it!

To begin with, it is usually best to have a vague idea of the sound you are going to make, so you have a direction that is easy to pick when it comes to the many decisions that go into a sound like this one. Designing an atmospheric downtempo lead synth with FM8 is rather intuitive once you’ve done it a few times, but that doesn’t mean that the experimentation and fun should stop. Having more than a vague idea of the sound before starting is helpful, but can also hinder the creative flow if you focus too much on trying to achieve a specific sound at every turn. So keeping an open mind is one of the big keys to this genre of music, in my opinion.

Let’s begin with looking at the FM Matrix window. You can see that the routing is a bit complex, so I’ll try to explain the thoughts behind it rather than going through every setting, in hopes that it will make more sense and be less confusing. Operators A, B and C are highlight elements, each giving their own bit of flavor and character to the sound. While Operators D, E and F are all creating the atmospheric portion of the sound, with some help from the Noise and Saturation oscillators in Operator X and the Filters in Operator Z. As you can see, there is plenty of feedback and modulation used to enhance the pitch differences between the Operators D, E and F.

Atmospheric Downtempo Lead Synth With FM8 Tutorial by OhmLab 1

The next step is to set up the Master window. The number of unison voices is increased to a total of eight. The Detune, Pan, Analog and Digital sliders are all turned up.

Atmospheric Downtempo Lead Synth With FM8 Tutorial by OhmLab 2

Now the Easy/Morph window is set up. Just a few small tweaks to the two envelopes, as well as the Timbre and Output parameters and the core sound is basically complete.

Atmospheric Downtempo Lead Synth With FM8 Tutorial by OhmLab 3

Finally, it’s time to add the effects that really bring this synth to life. One the Effects window, I have added a total of six effects. The overdrive adds a small edge and begins to introduce more of the atmospheric fee we need. The Shelving EQ and Peak EQ both help to shape and accentuate the frequencies most desirable in this sound. The Tremolo adds the motion in the sound that helps to develop the layered characteristic that fits so well with the downtempo genre. The Reverb adds more space for the sounds to develop. And the Chorus/Delay adds width and the ast of the movement we need for this synth to work.

Atmospheric Downtempo Lead Synth With FM8 Tutorial by OhmLab 4

Atmospheric Downtempo Lead Synth With FM8 Tutorial by OhmLab 5

As you can hear in the audio sample below, it really is a simple task to make an atmospheric downtempo lead synth with FM8. No processing has taken place outside of FM8 and what was shown here. It is used alongside some simple drums so you can get a better idea of how it may be used in a mix.

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Category: FM8 Tutorials
  • Erik Sjodin

    Normally I always like your tutorials, but this one, a bit disappointing. As you state, the routing is a bit complex, but I really would disagree that not going into detail on that one is making things less confusing.
    On the contrary, if there ever have been any tutorial you should have gone into every little detail and aspect all the way through, this is the one. :)
    Shame really, cause the sound you have made sounds super good and I would have loved to learn how to make it.

  • Erik Sjodin

    Ah, silly me, just realised it was possible to actually click on the pictures for resizing so I can follow the full patch. Sorry, my bad!

    • OhmLab

      Hey Erik,

      Glad you got it figured out! A picture really is worth a thousand words sometimes. And when I can let people just copy down the settings of a complex routing matrix, rather than potentially confuse everyone with too many words, commas and parenthesis, I will. I think FM Synthesis is a tough one to write instructions for. And as much as many people really like having the written walkthroughs like this one, I may begin adding more videos soon as we move into more in-depth and advanced material. After all, we are still just getting started here and want to make sure people are getting the basics down before moving into the really good stuff!!

      Good luck with the sound!