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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!