When I’m producing I use a lot of Ableton Live’s built-in FX. I do this because a) I like them and b) they adhere to the same workflow in everything else in Live so I spend more time making music. Of course sometimes I also want to use a third-party effect for variety or to take advantage of a cool feature. The down-side is that they all have unique workflow and you may find yourself scratching your head a bit rather than making music.
One way to have your cake and eat it to is to make more use of the effects within your favorite virtual synth as stand-alone processors. For example, in my rig, Absyhth, Rob Papen Predator, Slayer 2, Zebra 2 (Zebrify) all have FX only versions of their plug-ins allowing you to route signal through the FX processor sections of these synths.
The advantage of this is your synth chops can now be applied to your FX work and you can get more unique sounds in less time.
The Soul of a Synth in the Effects Processor
In many synths, it’s hard to separate the effects processor from the soul of the synth. Absynth for example has some very unique effects such as the wonderful Aetherizer which is used heavily in many factory patches. By using it as a processor on another synth or audio source you can combine the unique sonic character of the input with this wonderful granular effect.
More on External Input
Want to use your audio input as a modulation source? Both Absynth FX and Zebrifiy have envelope followers. Zebrify also has a pitch follower so you can map the pitch of an incoming signal back to synth parameters.
Below is an example of my Theremin routed through an audio track in Ableton live with Zebrify in the device chain. As I slowly pitch up on the Theremin, Zebrify processes this signal with two comb filters and modifies the pitch of these filters with a step LFO.
Another advantage of using FX from your virtual synths as processor is that most modern virtual instruments are structured to make heavy use of modulation and a modulation matrix. This offers a lot of possibilities for automation and real-time control that often aren’t possible with many stand-alone FX processor plug-ins or even FX in your host.
I also sometimes apply effects from a single synth FX plugin to all tracks (or a group of tracks) in a mix to help unify the palette of the piece. For example, in my recent track Ambient Drone track “Orbiting Miranda”, I used one instance of Absynth and three of Tone2 Saurus and then used Rob Papen’s Predator FX to do multi-effects with automation on every single track. One of the effects I used is a comb filter which nudged and shifted the timbral character of these synths more towards a center of color I wanted for the piece.
Presets to Get you Started
When you load the FX only version of these synths, you’ll see factory presets dedicated to just the FX parameters. Jump in, route audio through, and poke around. I was personally blown away at what is possible.
Maximizing Your Investment
I’ll close this by saying you’ve already invested money and time into learning these instruments. If you’ve not explored the use of the stand-alone FX capable plugs in your rig , your really missing out.
Happy producing – and workflow FTW!
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Composer, Synthesist, Electronic Musician & Multimedia Artist | Sr. Systems Analyst | Founder of the Rocky Mountain Synthesizer Meetup