Guest Post: Making Professional Dubstep Bass Synths with NI Massive
We are happy to welcome BassGorilla this week, as he shares how to design and use professional dubstep bass synths made in NI Massive!
How To Make Dubstep Bass With Massive Tutorial
Hey, this is Luke from BassGorilla.com.
I want to give you some tips on how to make dubstep bass using Native Instruments Massive. In this tutorial I will walk you through my process step by step, so that you can easily follow along and create your own bass sound as you read this tutorial.
To begin creating a new sound in Massive, click ‘init patch’ under the global tab to initialize all settings.
When using your midi keyboard, play notes in the bass register, around C1 to C2.
Setting The Tone With Oscillators
Massive has 4 oscillators. 3 are audible and the fourth can manipulate certain aspects of the other 3.
To create some low end, set osc 1 to sine-triangle. To start, set it to pure sine wave. The wavetable position dial will transform from a pure sine wave on the left to a pure triangle on the right.
We will be creating a separate sub bass later in this tutorial, but for this main bass patch we will also use a sine wave on oscillator 1 to create that low end energy for our sound. So let’s start with a pure sine wave, that will have minimal overtones.
If you hear a clicking sound when you play a note, look at amp ADSR settings. Standing for attack, decay, sustain and release.
By default, the amplitude of the synth is modulated by osc 4. As the amp is placed after the insert effects and filters, this lets you control the overall volume of your sound over time.
If you increase the attack time, this will reduce the clicking sound at the start of the sound.
If you increase the release time, this will reduce any clicking at the end of the note.
For a punchy start to your bass, change the decay time to about 30% of the way up, and change the sustain level to about 75%, making the sustain level slightly lower than the peak level at the end of the attack slope. Now the punch element is fractionally louder than the sustain level.
The other way to guarantee less clicks is to click the ‘restart via gate option’ under the osc tab, which will sync the start of each oscillators shape with each note played.
Turn up the amp control on osc 2, then cycle through different wavetables to find one that goes well with the existing sine wave we have on oscillator 1. You’ll want to find a sound that has a clear musical note to it like the first, but with more harmonics to make it sound noisy and cut through other elements in your song.
Next, experiment with different octaves for osc 2 to find and octave that works well for a bass sound.
With a noisier wavetable, you can create a dramatic change using the WT-position control. In spectrum mode, the intensity dial allows you to dull these rich settings, so leave this at 100% for now.
Oscillator 3 can be very similar to oscillator 2, or extremely different to create more variation. If you’re like me, you might want to choose a really dirty sounding wavetable for oscillator 3, that will sit on top of an already solid sound.
One thing that I like to do with oscillator 3 at this stage is to change the intensity mode to one of the bend options (bend +/-, bend + or bend -). You’ll hear that the sound will now have a range of new tones that can be adjusted using the intensity amount.
This alters the playback speed of the oscillator’s wavetable., so it gains a richer, more harmonic sound.
Another thing you can do is change the intensity mode to formant, which will add that talking human element to your sound.
As you adjust the intensity dial of oscillator 3, try to remember some of the positions and ranges that sound interesting, because you’ll be able to use these later on.
Having one noisy oscillator in a low bass sound can make your bass more gritty. Detuning oscillators by a small amount will make them out of tune with each other. The more you detune, the uglier the tones will be.
Readjust the amp level of each of the three oscillators from time to time to get the best mix and overall tone. Here is an example of some settings I came up with:
Oscillator 4 – The Modulation Oscillator
The modulation oscillator has a few different ways to modulate the first three oscillators. The most sound-shaping and relevant is phase modulation. It can be applied to osc 1, 2, or 3 with a varied amount.
Increase the level of phase modulation to about half way to begin with and then toggle between oscillators 1, 2, or 3 to select which oscillator the phase is being applied to.
You can also change the mod oscillator by octaves, to get more extreme changes, deciding which octave sounds best before dialing in the amount of phase modulation to apply.
You can also use a slight amount of detuning on the mod oscillator to get a new and interesting sound.
You’ll find that the following parameters will be of most benefit when designing you’re setting your tone with the fourgg oscillators:
- Wavetable position
- Intensity control
- Oscillator octave
- Oscillator detuning
- Phase modulation amount
- Phase modulation octave
Voicing And Pitch Options
The voicing tab lets you choose how Massive will react when more than one note is played. For this example, we will choose ‘monorotate’ because it creates a small volume smooth fade to the last note, as the next one begins.
Under the trigger tab, choose ‘legato triller’ so you can create different trill effects by holding one note continuously, while momentarily pressing others. Trill allows smooth movement between two notes as the ADSR envelopes only retrigger after a gap is left between the current note and the next one.
The time it takes to move from one note to the next by any trigger note is controlled by glide. Glide can be found under the OSC tab. Also known as portamento, this will be set to zero for a piano sound.
The glide time has two modes:
- Rate – a relative time to glide between notes depending on the number of notes between the current note and the next one played
- Equal – fixed with a set time between notes, regardless of distance.
You might find that rate mode makes it easier to create a nice effect for your basslines, gliding at different speeds depending on the distance between the two notes being played.
Another technique to use is the detune effect from the voicing tab. It is important that you use this effect in very slight amounts, so that you don’t blur the tone of your bass too much.
This will create multiple versions of the oscillators as a whole, and detune them an equal distance from each other. To make one duplicate, set the max and unisono numbers to 2 and 2.
Next, turn the pitch cutoff on and use the horizontal slider to adjust the amount of detuning. When you detune, you spread the pitch and tone out, but going too far stops them sounding as one tone. This fatness of tone will sound larger but can also lose definition when listening to your bass in your song. So listen to it as you adjust the detuning both before and after to decide whether or not to use it, and by how much.
Wavetable position can be spread out across the multiple oscillator copies too. Enabling and moving the slider will make each extra voice start from a different wavetable position, creating even more harmonics and thickness.
Controlling Pitch In Your Sound
Set your pitch bend up and down amounts to +12 and -12 semitones in the OSC tab. Large pitch bends are very popular in dubstep for creating huge sounding bass parts.
Another pitch related effect you can use is the vibrato effect, which is also in the OSC tab. To set this, first increase your depth setting to a large amount (about 50%) and then adjust the rate. Setting the depth to this high level initially lets you clearly hear the rate of vibrato as you set it. After you are happy with the rate, back off the depth until it is at a level that you like. It will most likely be no higher than about 20% of the way up. Here are some OSC tab settings you might use:
Another very nice thing you can do with pitch to create more punch at the start of your bass notes, is to use a pitch envelope to create an initial drop from a higher octave to an octave in the bass register. As the pitch can be started at a higher note, it will prevent your bass from clashing with your kick drums, which tend to occupy the lower frequencies between 50 and 120 Hz (depending on the kick you use).
Drag envelope 1 to the mod slot in each oscillator. Set the range to full (64) on each of the 3 oscillators.
The envelope shape will have attack, sustain and release at 0, with the decay time set to a short time, so that the pitch change is fast like a drum. Then lower the attack level to control the start pitch you are dropping from.
Playing with different insert effects will add a new dimension to your bass. In the routing tab, you can see and configure the signal patch, starting with the oscillators and noise generator, through to the master output.
Each oscillator can be routed in parallel to filter 1 and 2 simultaneously, or in series to just filter 1, which then outputs to filter 2.
Keep the oscillator’s routing faders to neutral, to send their signals into filters 1 and 2. Next, set the filter’s routing fader to parallel (all the way down to the bottom of the fader). By working in parallel, you can use separate effects and filters to create two distinctly different tones, then fade between them using the mix filter. Filter 1 will be the main bass sound, leaving the 2nd to be an alternative tone.
After setting the mix fader to filter 1, choosing a low pass type will allow you to filter out higher frequencies, while keeping the lower frequencies in place. For a very aggressive sound, choose the scream filter. Experiment with the cutoff, scream amount and resonance to hear the distorted filter in use.
Insert effects 1 and 2 can be inserted to various points in the signal path. It’s possible to pronounce the movement of a filter even more by adding distortion before it, creating more frequencies to cut off.
Under the routing tab, click the INS 1 box before filter 1 and the INS 2 box before filter 2. The last three insert effect types are different types of distortion, that can be experimented with to see how they sound.
Work with the effect at the dry/wet at 100% wet and then turn up the drive until you hear the effect without it being overbearing on your sound. Then, bring the dry wet to zero, and slowly increase it until you get it to a level that sounds good.
Move the cut off frequency of filter 1 to see how effective the distortion is working to aid its pronunciation when adjusted.
You may want to add some noise to your sound at this point to thicken it up and add some extra harmonics and grit. To do this, use the noise oscillator in the bottom left hand corner of Massive. Bring up the amp and color, and toggle through the different types of noise to find a setting that you like, before re-adjusting the amp and color amounts until you are happy with the balance of noise in your sound.
The feedback control redirects the signal from a chosen point after filter 1 back to the filter inputs, to create a feedback effect. Clicking the FB box at the end of the amp section, will help pronounce the attack and decay of the amp envelope, with an analog style low end boost, creating a heavier tone if you need it.
To work on your 2nd tone, set the filter mix to filter 2 and choose another type of filter. Experiment with different cutoffs and resonance values to see how this secondary filter can shape your sound.
You should now have a very distinct tone on each filter with the ability to fade between them for different effects on your bass sound using the mix control. Here are the filter settings I’m using:
FX 1, FX 2 and Master EQ
There are two master effects just before the master volume control in the signal path. They run in series from Fx 1 to Fx2 followed by the master EQ.
When adjusting anything here, make sure you reduce your master volume to avoid peaking into the red, so you don’t get any unwanted clipping in the signal.
You can add distortion, reverbs, delays and frequency modulation effects like flanger, phaser and chorus to take your sound in a new direction.
Be careful not to add too much distortion here. More distortion will help your sound to stick out in the front of your mix even more, but can also risk making the signal too flat with not enough dynamic range if you push it too far.
The frequency modulation effects like flanger, phaser and chorus can give a sound tonal movement. Add stereo spread and also help it sit in the mix by pushing it back in the sound stage when used in moderation. Reverb and delay do a similar job but without the tonal movement.
A very popular effect used for bass is the dimension expander, which can make your sound wider without losing the sharpness and focus that you get when using frequency modulation effects. It can make your instrument sound strong on its own without the tonal change caused by detuning oscillators too. The choice of master effects can help create a unique sonic signature to each bass if you plan to use more than one instance.
Envelope and LFO modulation – Envelopes
We’ve already used some envelopes in this tutorial for the pitch of the oscillators. We can assign envelopes and LFOs to any other parameter inside Massive. Another common envelope use is for filter cutoff.
Drag envelope 2 onto the modulation slot for filter 1’s cutoff. Next, drag the cut off value to its lowest. Next drag the modulation range to full. Now envelope 2 will adjust the filters cutoff value in accordance to its shape. You can adjust the attack, decay, sustain and release values of envelope 2 to sculpt your sound.
A classic growl bass might have a medium attack, lower decay (around 30%) and sustain at zero. Tweak the attack and decay until you have a nice growl sound. You can also switch from logarithmic to linear mode inside the envelope tab. See how your growl changes when you do this.
You can also make this more expressive by making the envelope amount on the filter’s cutoff sensitive to velocity. The envelope amount will affect the filter cutoff the most when the note is played at its highest velocity, and at lower velocities, the amount that the envelope will affect the filter cutoff will be less extreme. When you adjust the velocities of different notes in your bassline, this will create a wider range of dynamics and movement in different notes played.
The trigger zero reset button can be activated to make each note start from the very start of the envelope shape, where the attack is initially zero. Your envelope two settings might look something like this, mapped to a low pass filter cutoff on filter 1:
Envelope and LFO modulation – LFOs
A signature sound in the dubstep genre is the wobble bass. This can easily be achieved by assigning an LFO to the cutoff of a low pass or band pass filter. You can assign LFO 5 to the cutoff of your scream filter on filter one, which is a low pass filter.
You can adjust the rate of the LFO using the ration numbers. You can also experiment with different curves, but the sine wave is most commonly used for the wobble bass.
You can also experiment with adjusting the start and end point of the LFO by dragging it left and right in the LFO tab.
When you have set the LFO for filter 1, change the filter mix to MIX 2 and assign LFO 5 to the cutoff of filter 2. Experiment with the cutoff value on the filter and the range of modulation created by the LFO.
You can assign LFOs and envelopes to other parameters in your 4 oscillators to create a more animated sound. This will create a more dynamic sound that has more movement in it than having no movement in your oscillators. Some parameters to modulate include:
- Wavetable position
- Oscillator amp
- Phase oscillation
This is a step sequence based modulation source that can create complex rhythms based on its use of various waveform shapes. You can select the existing performer tab, or change any existing LFO via the mode pop-up menu to performer mode. Next, drag its modulation handle to the cutoff of filter 1 in place of LFO 5 (also make sure the filter mix is set to MIX 1).
When setting its modulation range, you’ll notice that unlike an LFO which is bipolar, the performer is positive like an envelope.
Rather than one shape on a cycle, the performer allows a different shape on each step. The rate of each step is determined by the same sync values for an LFO. Each step is a step forward on the step sequencer, rather than a cycle (as is the case with an LFO).
Open the load curve menu and then click once on a new curve and next click on the step you want to change to add the new shape. The height of each curve can be adjusted for each step.
Modulating Other Modulators
You can modulate LFOs, envelopes and the performer using other modulators. For example, if you assign LFO 5 to the cutoff of filter 1, you can then assign envelope 3 to the rate of LFO 5. This will cause the rate of modulation of the cutoff of filter 1 to change over time, creating a more dynamic movement in your bass.
There are endless other possibilities when it comes to modulating other modulators and the key is to experiment and see what happens.
In your DAW, you can draw automation lines to adjust any parameter inside Massive over time. This can help you to make a bassline that evolves over time. This may happen gradually over 16 bars, or intermittently, once every 4 bars or 8 bars.
Depending on what DAW you are using, you may be able to draw in automation curves and not just straight lines, which can create a more dynamic automation.
To automate values, simply click on the parameter inside Massive that you want to automate and the automation line should appear in your DAW. You can then start changing this line up and down, listening to your bassline as you go. To check that the values in your automation lines are to your liking.
Once you have designed your bass sound, it is very important that you add a sub bass to really fill a track up. You might want to add this sub to a new channel or track in your DAW to give you more control over your sub and main bass independently.
While a single sine wave is the most powerful type of sub bass you can get, it doesn’t always come through clearly on all speaker systems. In a club a single sine wave can be heard very clearly, but on smaller speaker systems like those found on most home hi-fi systems, it might be necessary to thicken up your since wave with another oscillator.
Here are the steps to do it:
- On oscillator 1, use a sine-square or sine-triangle wavetable, with the wavetable position set all the way over to the left (so it is a pure sine wave).
- On oscillator 2, use a sine-square wavetable, and set the pitch to be one octave up from your first oscillator (+12 semitones). Blend the amplitude of oscillator 2 in slowly for a small amount of higher note information.
- Next, on oscillator two, set the wavetable position all the way to the left, then slowly adjust it up toward the square wavetable position, to add a little amount of square wave in with the sine wave
- Add a low-pass filter to trim off any excessive higher frequencies.You may want to increase the resonance on this filter a bit as well.
- You can also add some slight distortion using insert 1 set to pre-filter. The hard clipper might be a good option to go with.
- A slight amount of distortion on FX 1 might also help to thicken up your sub.
- On envelope 4 (the master amplitude envelope), you may want to increase the sustain level to full for a constant tone, or you may want to set it to zero for a pluck-like sound.
- Vibrato on your pitch of amp can add more power to your sub to make the dance floor tremble. You can do this by assigning an LFO to the AMP box, in the 2nd AMP MOD slot below the box where envelope 4 is assigned. This is called the sidechain slot. Adding this LFO to the sidechain slot will affect the amount of envelope 4 (the amplitude envelope). You can then adjust the amp amount on LFO 5 to adjust the amount of vibrato.
- Voicing is best set to mono rotate and legato triller to allow nice trill patterns.
- You may want to add glide to your sub as well.
- Lastly, make sure that the pitch bend up and down amounts on your sub are the same as what you set them to be in your main bass.
Now that your sub is built, you need to add an EQ to your main bass, so that you can roll off all of the low end to make room for your sub to sit in those low frequencies. I typically roll off my main bass with a low cut filter at somewhere between 80 and 120 Hz.
Processing Your Bass After The Synth Patch
Compression, limiting, EQ, sidechain compression are used to mix your bass in your song. You may want to add slight compression to thicken up your bass sound. You may want to use EQ to filter out some of the unwanted tones in your bass, and to accentuate some of the parts that you want. You may want to sidechain both your main bass and your sub bass to your kick and possibly to your snare as well.
This bass mixing stage is a very broad topic, and so I will write another tutorial covering how to mix bass in the near future.
BassGorilla is managed by Luke Ward, AKA Xenflex. Luke has been producing music for 16 years, ranging from hip hop, to drum and bass, dubstep, electro, glitch hop and neurohop. He has had releases with Adapted Records and Maxxed Music to date and his releases have hit the top 20 in their genres in Beatport.