Track Deconstruction: “In Between”

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Rafaël Frost

Producer / DJ / Label Owner at Frost Recordings
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Welcome to a new series of articles called “Track Deconstruction”. Every now and then we will pick a track that has been released and open up the project file so you can have an exclusive inside look of how such a project is built up. It would be a long read if we would cover all elements, so we decided to pick out the most interesting parts for you. However, we encourage you to use the comments section below if you would like to have certain techniques featured in a following “Track Deconstruction” article or if you have any questions that are not covered in the article.

So without no further ado, let’s go ahead and dive right in. For the first “Track Deconstruction” we’ve chosen Rafaël Frost‘s latest single “In Between” released on Frost Recordings (links below) and who better to tell you about this song than the man himself.
If you haven’t heard the track already, give it a spin by clicking on the link:

🔈Listen to “In Between”

"In Between" project overview

Drums

frost025_youtube_thumbmusicvideo
[Video] “Drift” a more rhythmic-oriented track.

For “In Between” I’ve kept the drums and percussion quite basic. This track is really more about the melodic elements as opposed to a track like “Drift” where the rhythmic elements play a more centric role in the whole song. Aside from that I didn’t want to take too much focus away from the melody by having too much percussion going on.

For the basic kick, snare, etc. I’ve used Ableton’s Drum Rack and loaded up my samples / synths in there. On this track I used a sampled kick followed by Ableton’s Limiter. I’ve pushed the gain on the limiter just until it hits the threshold and starts to limit. The limiter is chopping off a tiny bit of the peak. Pushing it just a tad too far and your kick will start to sound boomy. Not a good thing. So handle with care. You might be asking, why put a limiter on the kick in the first place? Well, I’ll explain you later on in the “Master” section.

Limiting the kick very slightly.
Limiting the kick very slightly.

Furthermore, as you can see on the image, the red dot reveals there is automation going on the Transp (transpose) knob. What I did here is pitch the kick up by 2 octaves in the intro part, which then sounds like it’s hi-passed. Then I gradually lowered the pitch until all the action starts – all helping to build-up the energy right from the start.

For the breakbeat snare that is used in the intro and the 🔈second break, I used a Compressor which brings out the attack, giving it a punchy sound. Instead of going for the traditional limiter to tame the peaks from using the compressor, I instead used the Saturator effect.

Compressing the snare
Compressing the snare

Did you know that if you turn on the “Soft Clip” mode on the Saturator effect it actually functions as a clip limiter. I will explain more in another article about clip limiting, but in short; the upside of clip limiting is that it will retain peaks better, keeping your sound punchy.

If you turn on the “Soft Clip” mode on the Saturator effect it actually functions as a clip limiter.

The downside: peaks will slightly distort, which is not an effect you would maybe want on your synths for example. So, in this case I used the clip limiter option, as I just wanted to have the snare cut through as much as possible without generating too many peaks. Using the traditional limiter would have made the attacks of the snare sound mushy, undoing the purpose of the compressor. The minimal distortion the clip limiter introduces actually sound quite good on the snare, making it sound less clean and more alive.

Bass

Eq-ing the sub bass heavily.
EQ-ing the sub bass heavily.

The bass consists of 3 layers, one is the sub bass using Ableton’s Operator synth, EQ-ed heavily to eliminate unwanted frequencies (see image right). The other one is a Razor synth by Native Instruments Reaktor, used only in the intro and outtro part and has a more punchy sound, just giving some stabs here and there. The third and last one is a sampled synth bass sound, used only in the drop. This bass however, plays an important role as it contains a lot more mid-low energy with a lot of distortion it, which effectively glues the leads and the low-end together and gives the track more of a raw edge.

The drop bass-line

Overall low-end

I always put my drums inside a drum group and I do the same with the basses. I then route those two groups to the same send named “Drm & Bass”. This way I can control the most important aspect, the low-end. To glue the basses and drums together I’ve used the Ableton’s Glue Compressor on the “Drm & Bass” group. I’ve used quite an aggressive setting and then set the Dry/Wet knob to 33%, preventing over-compression.

Mastering the drums & bass
Mastering the drums & bass

What this means is that only 33% is going through the compressor leaving the other 67% unaffected. This technique is also called “parallel compression”. As the compressor is compromising the bass a bit, I’ve put in an EQ right after it to bring back some of the bass that was lost.

Chords & Leads

Here we are at probably the most important section of this track, here is where most of the melodic action happens. For this track I’ve put all layered synths that play the main chords in a group called “Chords”. For the main chords I used two instances of Sylenth1 to create a bright sawtooth pad sound. For the envelopes I’ve used a fast attack and release, so that each chord change comes through strong without overlapping notes.

Chord notes
The drop chords

I then placed the Volume Rack on the group to automate the start & stop volume cuts, 🔈which give the arpeggiated notes and fx full focus. I’ve used another simple mono lead sound from Sylenth1 that follows and accents the melody from the chords using single notes. This lead also has some reverb automation going on, controlling the dry/wet parameter from Ableton’s reverb, especially in parts🔈just before the drop. The retro 1980 style leads in the🔈second part of the drop and the second break come from the Spire synth.

 

Automating the group volume using a Volume Rack
Automating the group volume using a Volume Rack

In the second break everything goes goes into a deeper territory, with a sampled piano and a nice fingered bass riff. In the🔈second part of that break you can hear an extra bass layer coming in. I felt that the bass parts in this section should get more focus and added an electric bass using the Ableton Tension instrument. I then cut off the low frequencies and widened up the sound using the haas effect. It’s a simple technique where you delay the right or left channel by a couple of milliseconds. The brain then interprets this in a way so it seems that the sound has widened. Crazy stuff right? Use with caution though, using this on sounds with low frequencies can create phasing issues.

The Ableton Tension instrument

Master

My master channel actually looks pretty boring. Not much going on here apart from a bit of compression and EQ and a master limiter. The reason for this is that I do a lot limiting and eqing on the track or group itself.

When I talked about limiting the kick and snare earlier on in this article, I actually apply this treatment for all other parts that contain sharp peaks. This way the master limiter doesn’t have to work as hard as everything already sounds quite controlled before it’s reaching the master channel. Therefore the track can get louder and still maintain it’s punch.

Master channel for "In Between"
Master channel for “In Between”

As you can tell from the screenshots, I mainly use Ableton’s stock effects and try to stay away from using too many external plugins. Whenever I demo a 3rd party plugin, I’ll try to recreate this using racks, funny enough the end results are mostly really close and sometimes even better. So my advice; start exploring! By doing this you’ll learn how to get the most of the effects you already own and get inspiration to create your own effects, which makes your sound more unique in the end. The world of racks, or use of chains in Bitwig for that matter, is really endless and I am sometimes surprised how few people really make good use of this or even know it.

So that’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed the read. If you have any questions, suggestions or requests for the next article, please let us know and leave your comment below!

Rafael Frost - In Between

“In Between”
Buy on Beatport: here
Watch on YouTube
More info here

8 Comments

  1. Man this was really insightful! Kind of like getting a template but with explanation!

    For the next deconstruction, can you maybe detail your layering process? Would love to see how you get your chords so ‘thick’. Also, maybe how you utilize your bass construction. You mentioned you use a bass sample. I’ve tried myself to figure this technique out but have been unsuccessful so far haha.

    Thanks again for doing these! It was super informative and I’m definitely looking forward to future posts!!

  2. Thanks for sharing. Im going to be honest and feel a bit embarrassed but what the heck lol.. I dont use compression in my tracks at all (probably why they dont sound the way I want). I dont know what I need to compress different sounds for, what the end result should sound like. Like you said you bus the drum n bass groups for the purpose of compressing the two sounds. What made you think of doing that? My request would be a little insight on compression for specific sounds, why and when to compress. Maybe if you can post a tutorial with clips that are not compressed and what it sounds like after compression. Ive gone through tutorials but get lost trying to understand how i would use it in context to my tracks.

    • Nothing to be embarrassed about! Good question. Bass is one of the most important aspects in electronic music. So for me it has always been a key component to get right. By compressing the drums and basses, which often share same frequencies, they just play more nicely together using a compressor. If you do this right, it’s just a subtle difference, but just enough to make those two come alive and feel there is a more of a groove. For example, right after the kick comes in, the compressor gradually brings volume back just before the bass sound comes in, over and over again. Now, if you have the right attack and release setting (do this by ear), the compressor reacts on sync with the rhythm and just gives that groove, it just makes that difference where you want to start moving or when you turn it off, sit still.

  3. Thanks a lot, this is really interesting! I have a couple follow up questions if you don’t mind… In the intro/outro, there are lots of incidental noise/reverb effects which blend really well with the bassline and emphasize the groove. Did you use reverb automation for those, or are they just separate noise samples? Also, what distortion plugins do you use for sound design, especially for those gritty and crunchy bass sounds that can be heard in all your tracks? And last, do you use multiband compressors, and if yes, how? Thanks for those insights, they are really helpful, especially when coming from one of the best producers in the genre! Keep it up!

    • Hi Dmitry, thanks!

      Spot on. Yes, I’ve only used reverb automation, something I use a lot to make things a bit more interesting.

      For distortion, I don’t use any external plugins. I sometimes use Ableton’s Overdrive effect. But I actually created some distortion effects myself using Ableton Audio Effect Racks. One I use a lot is made of a combination of Ableton’s Phaser, Overdrive, Cabinet and Saturator effect. When working in Bitwig, I created a rack with the same sort of plugins. Play around with those and you can get some pretty awesome distorted bass sounds with them.

      Regarding multiband compressors, I use them sparingly. Sometimes on a group channel, with extreme settings and bring it back the dry/wet control, as described above.
      If you use ableton, load up the Multiband Compressor on your master with the “OTT” factory preset. Bring back the dry/wet to like 30%. If find this setting quite nice for a start.

      • Awesome, thanks! I’m really amazed that you use mostly stock Ableton plugins but your productions sound better than almost everything else being released where producers use tons of external stuff… I’ve recently switched to Ableton (from Logic), so this is very encouraging! Loving it so far! I also forgot to ask you, do you use only Ableton reverb, or do you use external reverb plugins? If yes, which ones are your favorite? Those jumping reverb noises on the “In Between” intro sound very crunchy and crispy, I bet there’s lots of processing on that reverb? Thanks again for sharing this info!