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I have heard a lot of songs that sound a lot like this one:

, and I am wondering how the ambient / vibrating effect is done. I think it might have something to do with reverbs but I can't be sure. Oh, and one little thing: I already have Ableton, so other software is not going to cut it.

  • My answer doesn't specifically talk about exactly what to do in Live to make sounds like this. That's because this site is for everyone interested in music and not just for Live users. Different editions of Live do come with different built in synthesizers and you should be able to find a synth to make this sound based on my answer. Consult the Live manual for more details on what synths are included and how to program them. They are very powerful. You can also look at buying a Live pack that includes more sounds after checking to make sure your edition doesn't already have a sound like this. – Todd Wilcox Jan 23 '16 at 18:15
  • Am I right in thinking that you mean the parts of the melody where it momentarily drops into the background and the pitch is wobbling / bending? – topo morto Jan 23 '16 at 18:24
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    ambient / vibrating effect ... could you point out a specific time moment that this takes place? – sova Jan 23 '16 at 20:21
  • I mean the effect at the start to 1:25 that he has on a piano-style instrument, though not the actual background piano. – Judson Hudson Jan 24 '16 at 23:41
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I think you are looking for these 2 effects processors:

  • a dynamics compressor with a sidechain input, which creates the pumping sound on the whole mix when you feed the kick drum into the sidechain input

  • filters, which create the sweeping sound

In Live 9, the Compressor effect has a sidechain input which is hidden by default, so after you insert the Compressor, tap the little triangle at the top left of the Compressor and it will get wider and reveal the sidechain.

For filter effects, look at Live 9’s Auto Filter and Filter Delay. There are also filters in many of Live’s other effects. You can engage the global automation record and move these filters while the song plays to get the sweeping sound.

Check out Ableton Live tutorials on YouTube while searching for “sidechain” and “filters.”

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I think what's making it sound "tropical" is that the main sound is a lot like a steel drum, which is a popular instrument in Caribbean music.

You can look for a steel drum sample or preset, or you can synthesize a similar sound.

For background reading, see here.

The most straightforward way to build a steel drum sound is with an additive synth. Build up some not quite related partials, get the right amplitude and filter envelopes and tweak until you're happy.

If you don't have that, then FM synthesis should also work pretty well. This guide to making an FM electric piano sound should get you started. Basically, you'll start with a sine or triangle wave. Then have another sine or triangle frequency modulate the main wave. Set an envelope on the modulating wave's amplitude so it has a fast attack and fairly fast decay to zero to create an initial bell-like "ping" sound that decays quickly to the basic sine/triangle. Then set the amp envelope to fast attack, zero sustain, and perhaps half a second to a second of decay. Set release longer than decay since you want the sound to keep ringing even after you come off the key like a real drum would.

If all you have is a subtractive synth, then hopefully the filter resonance control can make the filter oscillate and make a sine wave. Then hopefully the filter can track the keyboard (both of those are very common). Finally, hopefully you can modulate the filter cutoff with an oscillator (not as common as the first two but fairly common these days). If you set all three of those, then you've got an FM synth out of a subtractive. You want to set the output levels of the main oscillators to zero so all you're hearing is the filter sine wave. Then the filter wave is the carrier and the oscillator modulating the cutoff frequency is the modulator (obviously). Proceed as in the FM instructions above.

Finally, if you have no ability to do FM and only a subtractive synth, you can probably fake it with a few ingredients. You need at least two oscillators. You probably want to avoid saw wave shapes. Play around mainly with triangle/sine or square waves. Get one oscillator going only to start and probably set your envelopes first before bringing in the other oscillator. Filter envelope should have very fast attack and very fast decay. You basically want to let through some inharmonic sounds at first and then filter them out very quickly. Set the amp envelope as above with fast attack, long decay, no sustain, long release. The amp envelope should last much longer than the filter envelope. You don't want to filter envelope to close all the way, but it should take it down. I'm pretty sure you want the filter cutoff to 100% keyboard track.

Now you're going to bring in the other oscillator to try to make it ring like a bell. Start with triangle and set it to a frequency above the first oscillator but not an octave above. Perhaps start with a fifth or an octave and a fifth and start playing around. Look for that steel drum sound. Adjust the filter cutoff, resonance, and envelope settings and just keep searching. Also experiment with the fine tune on the second oscillator to get inharmonic ringing, and see what happens if you switch the second oscillator to a square wave.

On any synth, it might be best to go through the presets looking for anything like a bell, piano, marimba, etc. and use that as a starting point. If you find something like that on a subtractive synth, you might only have to play with the filter resonance and the envelopes to get it to sound more like a steel drum.

You might be able to sell the tropical/caribbean feel best if you look at how steel drums are tuned and play/program phrases that are typically found in steel drum playing. Actually, the notes you play/program are much more important in setting the tone of a piece than the sounds themselves. Playing steel drum notes and rhythms on a piano would make people think "caribbean" much more than playing Bach on the steel drums would. Well Ok, Bach on steel drums would probably sound like Bach on vacation.

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