make music now Trance tutorial

Trance masterclass Part 1
Enter the hypnotic world of trance as we show you how to create truly tripped-out tunes…
It is of course fair to say that trance does suffer from more than it’s fair share of over-used clichés. But drawing the line between common practice within a genre and cliché isn’t necessarily an easy task, and is perhaps more down to personal opinion than anything else. In this three-part masterclass, we’re going to show you how to put together a trance track using Propellerhead

On the DVD
TUTORIAL FILES Take a trip to the Tutorial files folder, where you'll find all the necessaries for creating your own trance opus, plus our attempt. And if you don’t already own Reason, the demo is in the Demo software folder too.

D

espite an alleged crisis in the trance scene a couple of years ago, this hardiest of genres remains one of the most popular forms of dance music today. And the popularity of internet radio stations such as Digitally Imported (www.digitallyimported.com) prove that for many people, trance is much more than merely an accessory to a good night out.

Reason. This month we’ll be looking at the primary underpinnings of a good trance tune: drums, bass and acid riffs – it makes sense to get these essential elements sorted before moving on to look at anything else. Next month, we’ll look at the more melodic elements of our track, before concentrating in the following issue on track structure; putting it all together and creating a good mix. cm

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Trance tutorial make music now

STEP BY STEP To the beat of the drum

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Since it’s never a good idea to write or mix with mastering tools switched on, turn off Reason’s MClass Mastering Suite (assuming it’s on) using the Bypass switch on the left hand side. Set the global tempo to 134bpm, which is a moderate tempo for a trance track. Hold down Shift (to disable auto-routing), add a second Mixer to > the rack and label it Drums. >

Flip around to the back of the rack and route the newly added mixer’s outputs to the main mixer’s first input channel – this will act as a submixer just for drum sounds. Hold down Shift, add an instance of ReDrum to the > rack and label it 909 Drums. >

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Return to the front of the rack and load the 909 bass drum sample provided on the cover DVD into the first channel of ReDrum. In order to prevent the bass drum taking over the low end of the mix and lowering the pace of the track, we’ll shorten its decay; reduce the Length parameter to 68. Now program a stock four-to-the-floor > pattern in the pattern sequencer, as shown. >

Return to the back of the rack and wire in a new instance of the MClass compressor between ReDrum’s first output and the drum submixer (you only need to connect the left channels). Rename it Bass drum and set the parameters up as follows: Input Gain: 8.2dB, Threshold: 22.4dB, Ratio: 2.23:1, Attack: 52ms, Release: 266ms, > Output gain: -3.8dB. >

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Load the snare drum sample into the second channel of ReDrum. Again, reduce the sample’s decay time by lowering the Length parameter to 52. Reduce the Tone > setting to -18, and Level to 83. >

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To enhance the ‘snap’ of the snare drum (and thus help it cut through the mix) we’ll also compress it individually. Wire another instance of the MClass compressor between ReDrum’s second output and the drum submixer. Label the compressor Snare drum and set it up as follows: Input Gain: 3.4dB, Threshold: -36.4dB, Ratio: 40.3:1, Attack: > 89ms, Release: 93ms, Output gain: -3.8dB. >

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Load the clap sample into ReDrum’s third channel, set the Length parameter to 64 and place hits on beats 2 and 4 as shown. Wire in another MClass compressor, labelled Clap, with the following configuration: Input Gain: 11.8dB, Threshold: -24.1dB, Ratio: 2.46:1, Attack: 7ms, > Release: 320ms, Output Gain: 2.6dB. >

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Select the compressor added in the previous step, rightclick on it and Create an instance of the RV7000 reverb unit – we’ll use this to thicken the tail for that trademark trance clap sound. Set the Wet/Dry balance to 38, > open the Programmer and set the algorithm to Plate. >

To stop the clap tail from cluttering up the mid frequencies in the mix, let’s gate it. This will also add to the rhythmic drive of the piece. Click the Edit mode button at the bottom left of the RV7000 Programmer twice to switch to gate editing mode. Set the Level/Threshold slider to > -3.7dB and enable the gate on the main RV7000 panel. >

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STEP BY STEP To the beat of the drum (continued)

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Load the crash and reverse-crash samples on the DVD into ReDrum’s channels 6 and 7 respectively. We need a longer, lower reverse crash, so reduce the Pitch value of channel 7 to -26. Wire the outputs of > channels 6 and 7 into the drums submixer as before. >

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Load the closed hi-hat sample into channel 8, before routing the output direct to the drums submixer. Set the Pitch parameter to 8, the Level to 35, and the Length to 71, and program in the sequence > shown above. >

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Finally, load the open hi-hat sample into ReDrum channel 9. Again, route the channel output to the drums submixer before programming the open hat sequence shown. Decrease the channel level to 80 before turning activating Channel 8&9 Exclusive button.

STEP BY STEP Bass to rock the place

Select the main mixer and add a Subtractor synth – this will generate our bass sound, triggered by the Matrix Pattern sequencer. Call up the AcBass MW Mute patch, which we’ll transform into a trance bass. Set Osc on both > oscillators to 2 and the amp envelope Release to 36. >

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Select Subtractor and Create an MClass compressor (auto-routing should wire it between the Subtractor and the main mixer). Label it Bass. Set the compressor up thusly: Input Gain: 2.6dB, Threshold: -29.2dB, Soft Knee: On, > Ratio: 1.95:1, Attack: 68ms, Release: 93ms. >

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Select the bass synth and add a Matrix to the rack – again, auto-routing should correctly route Gate and CV connections for you. Name the unit Bass Ctrl, right-click and select Clear pattern before programming the bassline shown above.

Drum processing: a balancing act
You might be thinking that all the main drum hits need to sound huge in order for a trance track to work on the dancefloor. In reality, though, this isn’t the case – not only would such an arrangement be extremely difficult to mix (from a technical point of view), but the end result would sound slow and heavy, regardless of the tempo. On the other hand, featherweight drums are clearly not a recipe for a banging track either. So the secret lies in finding a good balance between weight, impact and agility. For example, a weighty bass drum sample can often be brought under control by taming its decay – enough to prevent excessive bass boom without
7 The drum sounds we’re using here come from Roland’s timeless TR-909 drum machine

robbing it of body and impact. A compressor can then be used to emphasise the initial click and help it cut right through the mix. A touch of distortion can also be used to take the clean edge off drum sounds, and Reason’s Scream 4 Device is great for this sort of thing, although we’ve opted not to go with it for the purposes of this tutorial. If your computer struggles under the load of processing each drum sound individually, you could consider preprocessing each sample in a sample editor, prior to loading. The downside to this approach, though, is that it reduces flexibility later on in the production process.
5 Novation DrumStation sounds are standard issue in the trance genre

Info
Choice samples Although we're using Roland TR-909 drum samples in our track, as they’re so typical of the genre, you certainly shouldn’t feel constrained to this particular kit. Many conventional synths can be programmed to produce great trance kick and snare drums.

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Trance tutorial make music now Q&A focus

Working together
One of the most technically demanding aspects of putting a trance track together is getting all of the parts to work together and sit well in the mix. The drum and bass parts can be particularly problematic in this respect, so it pays to spend extra time and attention on them at an early stage. The bass should be underpinning and driving the pulse of the whole track, yet should also be kept fairly simple, both in terms of rhythm and melody, in order to avoid detracting from more important elements (eg, the melody in the case of melodic trance). So why is it so difficult to get these two parts working together? The fundamental problem here is that the bass and bass drum parts are very likely to be occupying a similar area of the frequency spectrum, with much of the energy falling below 200Hz. One popular approach involves keeping the two parts separate in time – ie, alternating between the bass drum on the beat and bass notes off the beat. We’ve gone with a variation on this theme for the purposes of this tutorial, but many trance tracks put certain bass notes on the beat. So how do they avoid clashing? It can be done by choosing the right bass sound – one with a less bassy sound perhaps – but often more advanced techniques are required. One possible approach involves compressing the bass and bass drum tracks together, so that the bass drum pumps the bass part.
7Virus PowerCore: the quintessential trance synth in software

Info
Soft and simple Keep it simple and effective; generally trance drum loops are not particularly complex. Most of the groove is derived from the interaction between bass drum and bassline.

STEP BY STEP Programming an acid riff

1

Select the main mixer and Create a Subtractor, which we’ll use to recreate the sound of the classic Roland TB-303 synth. Set the first oscillator’s octave (Oct) setting to 3, reduce the first filter’s cutoff frequency (Freq) to > 50 and increase the resonance (Res) to 83. >

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Next we're going to change how Subtractor responds to incoming note velocity values. First, increase the Velocity Amp setting to 25, decrease the F. Env (filter envelope) to 14 and the F. Dec (filter decay) to -16. Now set Polyphony to 1, Mode to Legato and raise the Portamento > setting to 50 (for 303-style glides between notes). >

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We need to work on the filter and amplitude envelopes, which control how the sound changes over time. Set the filter envelope Decay to 88, Release to 72 and Amt (amount) to 26. Finally, reduce the amp envelope > Decay to 82. >

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In order to get a regular filter sweep going through the riff, turn on Sync for LFO1. Set the Rate to minimum (16/4) and Amount to 28, before routing the LFO’s > destination to the filter frequency (F. Freq). >

Make sure the TB-303 Subtractor is selected and Create a Matrix Pattern Sequencer, which we’ll use to create our acid riff. Make sure pattern A1 is selected and program the pattern shown. (Hold down Shift when > changing velocity values to create tied notes.) >

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Press the Matrix’s play button to hear your riff. You should be able to hear the filter opening and closing. Stop the pattern playing, right-click on the Matrix and select Copy pattern – we’re going to create a second version > of the riff and alternate between them. >

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STEP BY STEP Programming an acid riff (continued)

Select pattern A2, right-click and Paste to create a copy of the pattern we just created. Use the octave selector to switch the matrix display to the fourth octave and move the last note before the fourth beat to E, as shown (leave the rest of the riff unchanged for now). Hit play to hear > the result. >

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As DIY 303 emulations go, it sounds fairly convincing, but we need some effects to get that authentic trance 303 sound. Select the TB-303 Subtractor and Create a D-11 Foldback Distortion unit. Set the Amount parameter to > 26 and Foldback to 72. >

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To tame the distortion and prevent it taking over the top end of the mix, select the D-11 and add an ECF-42 Envelope Controlled Filter. Set the Frequency to 98 and > the Resonance to 0. >

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Next we’ll add an echo to the 303 part, to stop it sounding so dry. Select the ECF-42 and Create a RV7000 reverb unit. Set the Dry/Wet balance to > 23 and open the Remote Programmer panel. >

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Set the Algorithm to Echo and turn on Tempo sync. Set Diffusion to 25 and Spread to 127, but leave Echo time set to 3/16. Now we can go back and program the Matrix to alternate between the two patterns > we programmed earlier. >

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Make sure the Matrix is selected and that A2 is set to play first. Check the song is at the start, then hit record, followed by play. Half way through bar 3, switch to A1 for bar 4, then back to A2 for bars 5-7, then A1 for bar 8 (creating a riff with an AAABAAAB pattern).

TB303 programming
Although ReBirth (the original TB-303/TR-808/TR-909 emulation from Propellerhead) is no longer being maintained – it never moved across to Mac OS X, for example – it is possible to get a decent 303 sound going in Reason using Subtractor. The original TB-303 could generate both sawtooth and square waves, so you’ll need to choose the right one for the sound you're after. If you want to reproduce the more hollow sound from the 303’s vocabulary, use a square wave, otherwise you're best off sticking with the sawtooth. To accurately emulate the sound of the TB-303’s filter, you want to use an LP12 filter (a low-pass filter with a 12dB per octave roll-off). You can use any resonance setting you like here, really, but medium to high values are generally favoured for trance production. Since the TB-303 was monophonic, you should always use a Polyphony value of 1 (so that only one note at a time can be played). Use a moderate Portamento setting to create those characteristic slides between notes. Finally, when it comes to the notes themselves, start with a 16thnote grid and create tied notes where you want slides – we’ve demonstrated this technique using the Matrix Pattern Sequencer in the walkthrough.

Info
1 The 303 still stands its ground as one of the greatest synths of all time. Oh yes it does…

NEXT MONTH Join us for Part 2 next month, when we’ll be adding melody and a hook to our trance track

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