Many times, you have great chord progressions and great sounding pad sounds. But for some reason, they don’t sound interesting. They’re just there, sounding the same all through your track. How can you change that?
This article will show you four ways to make your synth pad sound way more interesting. And don’t worry, the tips are super easy to apply, even if you’re a beginner.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
1. Automate Your Filter
The first tip on how to make your synth pads more interesting is automating your filters. Now, this approach can take on many forms. You can automate your filter, so it opens up for specific parts of your song, like your main chorus. Or you can go more experimental – enhancing rhythm and groove with LFO-like filter automation patterns.
Try drawing different patterns on the frequency modulation in your automation envelope. When you find a pattern you like, you can go into Automation Mode, select your envelope, and duplicate it along with your pad.
To make your pad more interesting throughout your track, change things up once in a while. You can also select an entire section of your automation envelope and drag it up or down. For example, if you want the filter to be more closed during a break.
2. Experimental Sidechain
An experimental sidechain is a great way to introduce groove and rhythm into your pad sounds. But what on earth is an experimental sidechain? Let me explain. Normally in electronic dance music, you sidechain various sounds to your kick drum, so your sound ducks every time your kick hits.
But for an experimental sidechain, you can do things differently. First, create a new MIDI channel and add a short and snappy drum sound, like a kick or a snare. Then, mute that channel and sidechain your pad sound with your ghost kick.
Now, you can play around with sidechain rhythms and introduce new kick variations that the listener won’t expect. For example, if you make a techno track and your original kick is in a normal 4/4 beat, you can put your ghost kick notes in between – making your pad duck in some exciting ways.
3. Fill Your Chords
A great way to make your synth pad sounds more interesting is by using more notes to enhance your chords. For example, if your chord is a basic C major with the notes C, E, and G, you can add a Major Sixth, A, or Major Seventh, B to that chord.
You can also layer your chord further by adding notes in different octaves. If you want a fuller pad, try adding a lower octave. In a C major chord created in C3, try adding a C in C2 for a deeper sound. Or, for a brighter feel, add a note one or several octaves above.
Filling your chords is a great way to make synth pad sounds more interesting. And your changes don’t have to be static. Try alternating between different notes and octaves to highlight different parts of your track.
4. LFO Effects
By using LFO, low-frequency oscillators, effects on your pad sounds, you can introduce complex and interesting variations that keep your listeners on their toes for new changes. If you’re an Ableton user, you get access to the neat Audio Effect LFO, where you can automate virtually anything in your plugin.
You can also use the LFOs within your synth plugins, like Serum. From there, you can let the LFO change your filters oscillator pitches or modulate your wavetable positions. When using multiple LFOs at different speeds and on different settings, your pads can become very interesting indeed.
Try experimenting with different LFO settings and waveforms. You can also automate rates and other LFO parameters to change your sound further. And sometimes, minor changes are all it takes to make a boring pad sound like a million bucks.
Together with your bassline, pad sounds play the critical role of bringing your sounds together in your track. You don’t want them to be static and boring. Change things up and make them come alive – and remember that small changes can do big things.
Using the four tips you learned in this article, you can take your synth pad sounds from boring to incredible. Your only limit is your creativity and imagination.
Now create some awesome synths!
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.