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How to make gated vocals using a synth as a trigger

There are many ways to make a gated vocal effect, in this article I’ll show you how to do it using a synth as a trigger, rather than using a separate muted trigger channel.

I start by finding a suitable vocal sample. The sample I’ve used is from part of a free sample pack by Music Radar, you can download the full 1,338 samples here.

I’m not going to use the full sample, instead I find a section which doesn’t have a lot of variation in terms of pitch and phrasing. I trim the sample and then reverse it, making sure to enable the high quality setting and also changing the warp setting to complex, this will result in a better quality sound when used on high dynamic range samples. You could turn off warp if you wanted to.

A sample in Ableton Live

I’ll use this sample snippet as an intro and also to form the gate effect.

I now add a long reverb and also the excellent free pitch correction effect GSnap (you can download it here). I then set the scale to G# minor in Gsnap which is the same scale as the track. With this set the sample will now be in the same key as the track.

I then duplicate the audio track and then freeze and flatten it so that the sample is rendered with the reverb and pitch correction applied as a single sample.

I now need to find a part of the rendered sample which can be looped to create an instrument that the gate effect can be applied to. The loop points can always be changed later.

Looping part of a sample in Ableton Live

With this done, I now need to load a gate effect onto the sample channel and activate the side chain and link it to the synth channel which I’ll be using as the gate trigger. I have a simple lead already made which is playing a 303 type sound from Sylenth1, I’ll be using this as the gate trigger.

A 303 type synth sound in Ableton Live's piano roll, the synth used is Sylenth1

The sample needs some compression to make it sound bigger so that it doesn’t get lost in the mix, I also add a saturator effect to add some distortion. I then add a EQ to remove the low end and also some of the harshness from the top end.

It sounds okay at this point. I experiment with changing the loop points on the sample and also add a phaser effect. That sounds good, with the synth trigger channel also playing at the same time as the gated vocal it creates a harmony.

Here is a sample of the gated vocal playing solo, and then the synth, making a harmony.

Different samples will produce a different sound, and different effects will change the sound further. There’s no rules when it comes to being creative when making a track, just try different things.

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Jeremy Latham

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