The synth “water droplet” sound has been popular recently in trap and hip hop. This droplet or bubble-like sound is fairly easy to create, and also provides a great opportunity to examine the attack and decay functions of an envelope in music synthesis.
In this tutorial we will be using Native Instruments’ Massive to demonstrate how to make a synth “water droplet” sound from scratch; however the techniques conveyed here are generally applicable to many other software and hardware synths.
To start with, let’s listen to a few recent tracks that have used this sound so you can hear what we’re talking about.
Listen For The Drop(let)
One track that prominently features the water droplet sound throughout is Eprom’s “Regis Chillbin,” a dancefloor hit last summer as we saw the re-emergence of trap as an EDM subgenre:
Eprom – Regis Chillbin
Machinedrum then picked up this groove and created a strange hip hop mutation of the original (featuring re-pitched cat meows and other creative uses of sampling technology) in a remix that was subsequently re-used as the basis for the track “Aquababe” by rapper and seapunk ambassador Azealia Banks on her Fantasea mixtape. The water droplets are not as prominent this time around but listen for example at around 0:36:
Azealia Banks – Aquababe (Regis Chillbin Remix by Machinedrum)
Creating Your Own Droplets
Now let’s look at how to create this sound in Massive.
First start with a new (empty) sound in Massive. Turn on OSC 1 only to start with; turn off all other oscillators, filters, noise and feedback. Select the Sin/Squ (sine wave/square wave) wavetable in the drop-down menu to the right of the OSC 1 label. Set the Wt-position (wavetable position) control all the way to the left, to get a pure sine wave tone.
Now turn on Filter 1, and set it as Lowpass 2. Set its cutoff and resonance each to about one o’clock. Click on 1 Env in Massive’s modulation section (beneath the filters). Set the attack knob to zero, and its level knob to 100%. Set the decay at around 1030ms, and its level to zero. Set the morph and release levels to zero as well, we only need to manipulate attack and decay to create this sound.
Now we will assign this single envelope to control a few key functions of the oscillator and filter we’ve enabled.
To assign the modulators (the envelopes and LFOs) in Massive, click on what Native Instruments calls the “modulation handle,” the cross-shaped icon to the right of each modulator name, and while holding down the mouse button, drag the handle to one of the many “modulation slots” beneath many of the knobs, sliders and other synth parameters on the Massive interface; these modulation slots appear as small empty boxes. For this example, click and drag on the handle for the envelope 1 Env, and drop it in the first modulation slot directly beneath the Pitch parameter in OSC 1. Repeat this step twice more, dragging the handle to the left-hand modulation slot under OSC 1′s Amp parameter as well as the left-hand modulation slot under the Cutoff parameter of Filter 1.
At this point, the tone should be a slightly filtered sine wave. Now, by manipulating the values of the modulators we have assigned, we can morph this sine wave into the water drop sound. The OSC 1 Pitch modulation slot should currently show a blue 1, with a number value to its right which should currently read 0.00. Now click this number and drag it up to around 27-28. This will give the sound a sudden and sharp pitch up and down; however since the attack on 1 Env is set to 0, the sound will only pitch down, following the decay settings.
Now turn the OSC 1 Amp knob down to zero, and click the assigned modulation slot (the blue 1 in the box beneath the Amp knob) and drag it all the way upwards, until the blue indicator line around the knob reaches 100%. This assigns the envelope to control the output volume of the sine wave. Finally, click and drag the modulation slot beneath Filter 1′s Cutoff downward, until the blue indicator line reaches zero. This will cause the filter cutoff to follow the envelope, cutting all frequencies from high to low. Now that the decay settings for the envelope 1 Env are controlling all three of these settings, the sound should take on the expected water droplet effect.
With just a bit of exploration and tweaking, the attack and decay functions of the envelope can be used to create a variety of other sounds based on this same simple configuration. Double-clicking on the modulation slot will remove the assigned envelope control. Double-click the Filter 1 cutoff modulation slot, and the blue indicator line should disappear. Do the same to the OSC 1 Amp, then turn the knob to 100%.
Now by making miniscule changes in the existing settings, this patch can take on new forms. For example, try turning the attack and decay knobs on the envelope and notice how each of these affects the tone.
By turning up the attack to about 8 or 9 o’clock and slowly turning the decay knob up further, a laser-like tone starts to take shape.
Or try dropping the attack back down to zero and set the decay for 12-1 o’clock, revealing a classic “disco bell” sound found in classic disco hits like Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.”
Or, pitch this disco bell sound down into the bass range and it becomes a fat sine wave bass drop.
By reversing certain settings or assignments, or making small tweaks on other parameters, this simple single oscillator/filter/envelope patch can be extremely useful and diverse.
What other sounds can be derived from this simple envelope setup? Post your variations with your own tweaks in the comments below…
Here’s are a couple more examples of this sound in use, in a track from Pimp C and a live set from LA’s Gaslamp Killer in the Boiler Room:
Pimp C – Pourin’ Up
Gaslamp Killer live in the Boiler Room–check out the section right at 17m to hear a good example of water droplets in action!
Dubspot contributor Computo is a half-human/half-machine electronic music producer and DJ focusing on bass music of all varieties. He currently works for Native Instruments in Los Angeles as West Coast product specialist and artist coach for Maschine and Komplete, recently contributing programming to the Maschine expansion pack Raw Voltage. His YouTube tutorial on creating wobble bass with Massive has been viewed over 850,000 times, and his moombahton remix of Yael Meyer’s “Fire” was recently featured in the Eli Roth film Aftershock.