The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track
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Old 29-01-2017, 04:47 PM   #1
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The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

Sat in front of my rig still stuck with the settings for my last track. I want to rework it, so I can't change the settings and also feel sort of stuck. Wasn't in the mood to redo the percussion. Just wasn't happening. I'm sort of waiting for the MPC to drop in and get some mental distance.

Then I developed the urge to make an Ambient track. I started playing around with Audiobulb's Ambient, Exhale, Heaviocity Vocalize, and some synth settings I really loved from prior work (especially an electric organ sound in Diva). I think I've got all the ingredients, but I always feel weird about Ambient, as it seems just too easy to put together. Gotta listen to A.M.'s tracks a but. I'm sure I'm missing something.

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Old 29-01-2017, 05:06 PM   #2
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

it is easy to put together, but it is hard to make good ambient..... there defiantly has to be lulls and swells....biits of complete silence as well.... My fav ambient tune (electronic) is Rhubarb by the man himself that is pretty much a 4/8 bar loop that fades to silence and then returns with a counterpoint/seventh over the riff, with a sustaining, held chord in the background..... dead dead dead simple..... i think the key is loopy simplicity, some added noise (like tape hiss or rain, fire etc) and lots of subtle modulation (amp/filter/fx).... slap a shit load of reverb on long attack and decay synth loops - easy sounding but soooo hard to pull off without it sounding boring.....

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Old 30-01-2017, 04:47 AM   #3
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

The simplicity of making ambient music has always kind of been refreshing for me. Once you get used to working your ass off on a track that will probably never see the light of day, it can be important to give yourself a treat like ambient/chill out. Like fairyland says though, you can take it as far as you want. The great tragedy with super chill music like that is the fact that a lot of details go unnoticed, even with other producers as listeners. That's a little disheartening at times, realizing that ambient masterpieces can take effort to distinguish from a quick atmospheric exercise. Either way, dipping into that world is a real part of my personal process.
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Old 30-01-2017, 05:45 AM   #4
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

Without getting into a longwinded thing, I'll just say that you might approach Ambient from less of a spaced out trippy Yanni thing and more of actual ambiance. Ambiance can be walking by a construction site or riding a subway just as much as a day at the beach or sounds of the forest.

If you shut everything off and just listen very carefully to everything around you (especially the very distant, quiet or inconsistent), the world is a magically tonal and sometimes very musical and rhythmic place. Draw some inspiration from the ambiance around you and translate that into musical terms. At the very least you're guaranteed to pick up some unique sounds and rhythms. If you take it too far you'll be able to identify makes and models of individual power tools by sound alone. I can pick out a Dewalt 18V at 30 paces

Another fun/interesting thing to do is to take elements of Ambient that are normally subdued and accentuate them or bring them to the forefront, sometimes even making them slightly aggressive. Stuff like ocean waves with a high pass and resonance filter can make for some interesting lead lines.

I think the problem with most ambient music is that people go out of their way to make ambient music that sounds like Ambient Music. Do your own thing with it - pick out the stuff that appeals to you and make something personal with it.
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Old 30-01-2017, 06:15 AM   #5
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

The guys are giving some sound general advice here that should help you get up and running on an ambient project in no time.

I'd just like to add a couple of related "tips" that might sound a little strange to some at first..but trust me, the following will help you even more if you try it and keep practicing.

Tip #1: Try to fit as much sounds into your mix, while keeping it as silent as possible. Pick your "focus sound"..that one sound in the track that is going to dominate all the others and then nothing should sound louder than that in the mix.

Tip #2: Ambient music is all about playing the silence between the notes..not playing the notes themselves. While the notes give your track it's individual sound and identity..the silence between those notes is what builds the atmosphere of the track. Don't be afraid to use extended pauses between notes..this helps give the piece a more human feel and stops it from becoming "too automated" sounding.

Tip #3: Reverb..Reverb..Reverb- Not all reverb units sound the same, so find a couple that you like and play around with them. The trick to using reverb is to use it in conjunction with panning and the width of your stereo field. If you use it on something and pan it out wide to both sides and turn it down, it helps give your track a real sense of space in the mix. you would usually do this on your "track bed", which for me is usually a bass drone that runs throughout the track.

Doing this from the start gives you a benchmark of your stereo field, so you can quickly gauge where each following element should sit in the mix..with your focus sound being the one that is up front and center.

Tip #4: Feeling- You REALLY need to "feel" something when you're producing ambient music. If you don't then you're going to end up with a track that is flat and uninspiring. That's not a promise that every track you make will be a masterpiece..they won't..but if you feel passion when you're producing it, the some of that passion / feeling translates into the final mix.

Here's a couple of my tracks by way of example, where I've applied what I've said above..they're not perfect by any means and the styles vary slightly, but..like all ambient music..it all comes down to a matter of personal taste.







If i can help or you want to go into deeper details, then just send me a P.M and I'll get back to you.

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Old 30-01-2017, 06:52 AM   #6
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

Regarding Tip #3 on Reverb..I forgot to add you also need to EQ that track bed, cutting the low end off. In short, you're looking for a background sound that is as clear and crisp as possible, without it taking from your overall style or sound in general.

If you don't EQ it, you're running the risk of everything turning to mud real fast as the track progresses. In short, if you're going to use reverb, then make sure you have your EQ software handy.

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Old 30-01-2017, 07:00 AM   #7
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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Originally Posted by A.M View Post
Regarding Tip #3 on Reverb..I forgot to add you also need to EQ that track bed, cutting the low end off. In short, you're looking for a background sound that is as clear and crisp as possible, without it taking from your overall style or sound in general.

If you don't EQ it, you're running the risk of everything turning to mud real fast as the track progresses. In short, if you're going to use reverb, then make sure you have your EQ software handy.
Do you ever compress your reverb? Not sidechain. But I've tried some very light compression, just to catch peaks, on reverb and it seems to help control things. Works well if you have quite a dynamic range of sounds sent to a reverb bus.
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Old 30-01-2017, 07:24 AM   #8
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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Do you ever compress your reverb? Not sidechain. But I've tried some very light compression, just to catch peaks, on reverb and it seems to help control things. Works well if you have quite a dynamic range of sounds sent to a reverb bus.
Yeah, I do use compression..but usually only on the master bus..I rarely use it on individual tracks in a mix. I find my workflow usually negates the need to compress until the very end of the project.

That said, there are times when I'll reach for a compressor, but no that often. I find the right balance between the gain staging, EQ and Reverb are normally enough to get the sound I'm looking for..but I'm a funny git and the way I do things isn't to everyone liking. Maybe I'll start messing around with the compressors I have a little more and see where it takes me.

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Old 30-01-2017, 07:31 AM   #9
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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Yeah, I do use compression..but usually only on the master bus..I rarely use it on individual tracks in a mix. I find my workflow usually negates the need to compress until the very end of the project.

That said, there are times when I'll reach for a compressor, but no that often. I find the right balance between the gain staging, EQ and Reverb are normally enough to get the sound I'm looking for..but I'm a funny git and the way I do things isn't to everyone liking. Maybe I'll start messing around with the compressors I have a little more and see where it takes me.
I understand. I go back and forth on compression. Like I was recently reading some thoughts from some dub techno producers (ala Basic Channel) where they talk about the fact that you can shape sounds to your heart's desire with envelopes et al in software...so why do we even need compression, just design the sound properly from the ground up.

I go back and forth on compression. Feeling like I understand it. And then feeling I don't. Feeling it is making my tunes better. Then feeling it isn't. But on the 2bus, for sure lets you squeeze things a little in some nice ways.

I highly recommend giving it a shot on your reverb buses--that is one place where it lets you shape the amplitude of the sound in a way a the controls of a reverb plug in really don't. Like I said, I don't go crazy, but catching some peakson the reverb bus seems to have helped me clean up my mixes.

My ears might be daft...I fully accept that.
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Old 30-01-2017, 07:37 AM   #10
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

I made an ambient track on accident once. This was originally all elctro-dancey, but then I was messing around with one of the synths that became the centerpiece of this song, I found that I could get so many timbres out of the instrument with just a little modulation that I knew it was deserving of a solo. I posted the result in the LB and AM convinced me to make it into it's own track (ambient know-it-all he is ). There's a bass with oodles of reverb following the chords from the main instrument, a noise source with a delay for some feedback, and then one instance of Harmor abusing the hell out of the phaser.



For me, ambient is all about the texture/timbre that you get to experiment with, and the space you get to construct to put that stuff in, which is a unique experience to produce. Definitely give it a shot, because even if this never got off my hard drive, what I learned doing it has gone into everything else I have done since and made it better.

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Old 30-01-2017, 08:24 AM   #11
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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I highly recommend giving it a shot on your reverb buses--that is one place where it lets you shape the amplitude of the sound in a way a the controls of a reverb plug in really don't. Like I said, I don't go crazy, but catching some peakson the reverb bus seems to have helped me clean up my mixes.

My ears might be daft...I fully accept that.
Don't worry man, if your ears are daft then so are mine. I know you weren't talking to me, but in my opinion reverb almost always works great with compression. I even use a ton of compression at times to get that uplifting effect at the end of a reverb tail where it seems to whoosh right at your face. In ambient music (or for that matter any music with some degree of "dimension") reverb is enormously important. And the best way that I have found to create a rich reverb layer is to define its place in the mix using compression and saturation. Sometimes I even like putting my reverb feed through an amp sim to differentiate it even further from the dry signal. Of course, here you are talking about a more gentle signal control through minor compression (as opposed to the almost tasteful lack of control you get through heavy reverb compression). That is much more reasonable than what I am talking about, but even still it factors into the contrast between dry and wet. Some ambient tunes benefit from the distinction of elements with reverb and elements without, or else everything just becomes a blanket of mush in the background.
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Old 30-01-2017, 01:27 PM   #12
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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Originally Posted by A.M View Post
Regarding Tip #3 on Reverb..I forgot to add you also need to EQ that track bed, cutting the low end off. In short, you're looking for a background sound that is as clear and crisp as possible, without it taking from your overall style or sound in general.

If you don't EQ it, you're running the risk of everything turning to mud real fast as the track progresses. In short, if you're going to use reverb, then make sure you have your EQ software handy.
Thanks AM, great tips here, much appreciated. Thanks to all the great tips from everyone, in fact!

Regarding EQ on Reverb, yeah, that always seemed rather intuitive (well, say some time into producing). Rule of thumb for me is to apply a 12 dB LPF rolling off around 300 Hz and EQ post reverb. Fab Filter has a new Reverb plug that has built in EQ that you can apply to different parts of the Reverb. Quite nifty. Sounds great, too.

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Old 30-01-2017, 05:12 PM   #13
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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Don't worry man, if your ears are daft then so are mine. I know you weren't talking to me, but in my opinion reverb almost always works great with compression. I even use a ton of compression at times to get that uplifting effect at the end of a reverb tail where it seems to whoosh right at your face. In ambient music (or for that matter any music with some degree of "dimension") reverb is enormously important. And the best way that I have found to create a rich reverb layer is to define its place in the mix using compression and saturation. Sometimes I even like putting my reverb feed through an amp sim to differentiate it even further from the dry signal. Of course, here you are talking about a more gentle signal control through minor compression (as opposed to the almost tasteful lack of control you get through heavy reverb compression). That is much more reasonable than what I am talking about, but even still it factors into the contrast between dry and wet. Some ambient tunes benefit from the distinction of elements with reverb and elements without, or else everything just becomes a blanket of mush in the background.
I've been experimenting more with using distortion, bitcrushing etc on reverb myself. I'm going to have to try to get that wooshing tail effect. Sounds interesting. How do you pull that off? Long release time I imagine...medium attack? I can twiddle knobs and figure it out myself, but if you are wiling to share I'm all ears : )
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Old 30-01-2017, 07:00 PM   #14
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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I've been experimenting more with using distortion, bitcrushing etc on reverb myself. I'm going to have to try to get that wooshing tail effect. Sounds interesting. How do you pull that off? Long release time I imagine...medium attack? I can twiddle knobs and figure it out myself, but if you are wiling to share I'm all ears : )
Something interesting you can do in FL studio is use two reverbs, one with a short decay and one long, and mix between them in insert slots using the output from a peak controller on a dry signal. I set it up so that when the the peak controller receives signal, the short reverb is active, then when there isn't a signal (ie no note, gate closed, etc) it turns the short reverb down and the long reverb up. If you do that with all linear functions, you get this sucked out middle ground as the two reverbs change mix before that long reverb comes in. Then that long reverb is super lush because in my case, I did this all on one buss, so that longer reverb was taking input from the shorter one, but you could have them on separate busses too.

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Old 30-01-2017, 08:18 PM   #15
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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Something interesting you can do in FL studio is use two reverbs, one with a short decay and one long, and mix between them in insert slots using the output from a peak controller on a dry signal. I set it up so that when the the peak controller receives signal, the short reverb is active, then when there isn't a signal (ie no note, gate closed, etc) it turns the short reverb down and the long reverb up. If you do that with all linear functions, you get this sucked out middle ground as the two reverbs change mix before that long reverb comes in. Then that long reverb is super lush because in my case, I did this all on one buss, so that longer reverb was taking input from the shorter one, but you could have them on separate busses too.
God damn I love FL Studio. Totally going to play with this! thanks!
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Old 30-01-2017, 09:32 PM   #16
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

there are people who think that putting reverb on anything is instant ambient music, which is wrong. Making lame ambient is easy, however, making a good ambient is much harder and I still feel that I suck at it. Ambient just seems an easy case but it's not reverb driven at all and you must not rely on it too much. Reverb is good/bad and isn't necessary at all. There are reasons to don't over-use it, firstly, getting a dry mix is important, otherwise your textures will be washed and will sound crap. I suggest trying convolution reverbs for shaping sounds (convolution filtering) while algorithmic reverbs should be avoided or used in final stage of mixing. Great idea is using original IRs and re-create cabinets that can bring up nice features to a texture. Playing with dry/wet of each effect also works and brings nice changes to sound. Just don't slam 100% wet reverb and call it ambient.

My personal preference is not using reverbs at all and rather use delay plugins. Granular synthesis is a key, a plugin that does great granular synthesis is a must (Granulator II, Alchemy, Omnisphere, IRCAM products). The rest of process is to makes an already good texture better or worse.

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Old 30-01-2017, 10:42 PM   #17
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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there are people who think that putting reverb on anything is instant ambient music, which is wrong. Making lame ambient is easy, however, making a good ambient is much harder and I still feel that I suck at it. Ambient just seems an easy case but it's not reverb driven at all and you must not rely on it too much. Reverb is good/bad and isn't necessary at all. There are reasons to don't over-use it, firstly, getting a dry mix is important, otherwise your textures will be washed and will sound crap. I suggest trying convolution reverbs for shaping sounds (convolution filtering) while algorithmic reverbs should be avoided or used in final stage of mixing. Great idea is using original IRs and re-create cabinets that can bring up nice features to a texture. Playing with dry/wet of each effect also works and brings nice changes to sound. Just don't slam 100% wet reverb and call it ambient.

My personal preference is not using reverbs at all and rather use delay plugins. Granular synthesis is a key, a plugin that does great granular synthesis is a must (Granulator II, Alchemy, Omnisphere, IRCAM products). The rest of process is to makes an already good texture better or worse.
ms_, just wanted to say what you said about reverb is spot on and I should have stressed it the same as you actually..that reverb is not even necessary, though I let my own personal workflow get in the way, I guess.

But yeah. the last thing you should do is go slapping reverb on everything. Reverb, just like any other tool you use in music production, needs to be treated with respect and you need to know what you're doing with it to begin with.

Regarding the use of granular synthesis, I just want to recommend a really cheap little gem of a stand-a-lone program (costs just only 10) that works really well..it's called strangely enough "Ambient" and if you're interested and haven't already seen it, here's a short review I posted up on here some time ago.

One other thing I just wanted to touch on..PaulStretch..that really handy and useful time-stretching tool that comes per-bundled with Audacity. For the record, it really pisses me off that folks still shout out online that running something through this will give you an instant classic ambient track.

It's a FX tool..not a synth or music composition software! It merely changes the time of a piece, which is a pretty cool effect, granted..but what you end up with should only be used as part of an ambient track. Face it, saying YOU made an ambient track with PaulStretch is just letting people know you're a dumb twat who just pushed a button and what you're presenting it merely what the software spat out the other end..you didn't do anything..and if I or anybody else had pressed the button, we would have gotten the exact same result using the same sample you imputed at the start..so no originality there at all..no person inspiration or creation on you part.

By all means, use it to edit samples of a track..it's a really good tool to have when it comes to producing not just ambient, but all genres of music. But, just like reverb, use it wisely.

Rant over..

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Old 30-01-2017, 11:05 PM   #18
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

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I've been experimenting more with using distortion, bitcrushing etc on reverb myself. I'm going to have to try to get that wooshing tail effect. Sounds interesting. How do you pull that off? Long release time I imagine...medium attack? I can twiddle knobs and figure it out myself, but if you are wiling to share I'm all ears : )
Yes usually a long release time is a big part, both of the reverb and compressor. Generally I might put a reverb plugin on a send and actually automate the feed of my dry signal through that. You can also set up another compressor on your reverb send to essentially sidechain the wet signal to the input of the dry. That gives the opposite of a gated reverb, but still kind of plays into what white noise is doing in FL. Having the reverb duck down when the dry signal is active contributes to the whooshing effect because it only fills spaces between notes and sounds without muddying up the original source audio. Again, that works even better when you can automate in that reverb bus throughout the track to help build it. Once the ear gets accustomed to a dry signal or just a simple dry/wet mix of clean and reverb, it becomes really pleasing to hear a dynamic shift between the reverb and whatever sound source is driving it.
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Old 31-01-2017, 02:32 AM   #19
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

I need to figure out how to send signal from my DAW via the 828 to the BigSky pedal. Haven't figured out how to do that. It's embarrassing.

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Old 31-01-2017, 02:41 AM   #20
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Re: The impasse - or the sudden urge to make an ambient track

Quote:
Originally Posted by liquid_air View Post
I need to figure out how to send signal from my DAW via the 828 to the BigSky pedal. Haven't figured out how to do that. It's embarrassing.
No need to be embarrassed, mate..that's what this place is for in part and somebody on here knows the answer.

Have you tried posting over in the hardware thread? I'm sure Auto or one of the guys there will be able to help..that is if Relic or somebody else doesn't sort you out here in this thread.

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