A lead synth can take a song a very long way. Beats are always welcome, bass is always necessary, but leads tend to provide a hook... And, it's the hook that we always remember, right?
Many of the lead synths and basses that I've been hearing lately are becoming increasingly complex due to clever editing and also a fair amount of processing. If you've ever found yourself sitting back and scratching your head when some wobble bass, or lead synth goes through 5 different effects in a sequence when listening to some of the newer glitch-hop and dubstep tracks, you're not alone. The complexity is really ramping up out there... But, it's not as hard as you might think.
Enter Stutter Edit! It's simple to program, easy to use and makes everything sound modern. It's amazing on main mixes, beats, and more. It's also the biggest time suck I've come across since World of Warcraft. Seriously, you can spend hours glitching, gapping and filtering song after song. You have to focus to get anything done! This exercise is intended to actually help you make your leads more memorable, similar to the styles listed above, allow you to continue to have fun... And, finalize a lead synth.
Hey, I can't do everything for you, right? Try coming up with a nice, simple lead synth part with your favorite soft synth. While you're at it, listen to the one I came up with. Nice, eh?
You'll notice that I'm doing this in Ableton Live, and to elaborate more, I'm using the Razor as my synth of choice.
Once you've recorded a lead line that you really like, add Stutter Edit as an effect on your lead synth. I'll do the same. And, while I'm at it, I'll add a MIDI track to my Ableton session with the MIDI To going to the Razor track. This is, of course, my MIDI track that allows me to control Stutter Edit.
Roll the lead now with your favorite beat, and stutter till your heart's content. But while you're doing this, let me give you a nice trick that makes things fun for later. Set up an additional audio track that has the lead synth (going through Stutter Edit) so that you can record your stutters as an audio file while the lead plays. You're basically recording your stutters and lead as audio. To do this: Set the Audio From on your new audio track to be your soft synth track. In my case, the Razor.
You'll need to record arm your MIDI track and your Resample/Audio track. Hold down the Control button while clicking each record arm button to make this happen.
When you're ready, start recording while you carelessly stutter your lead with Stutter Edit. But, make sure you also record one pass where the lead is not being stuttered at all.
Notice that I went a little crazy... This is ok!
Now for my favorite part. I'll copy the resampled audio clip of my lead both dry and stuttered to the arrangement view of Ableton Live. I'll also open up the clip so that I can see the waveform in the track lane.
From here, I'll start taking particular stutters that I like and drop them into the clean iteration of my lead recording...
I don't throw in nearly as many stutters as I actually recorded because I want to preserve the melody of my lead line, which is ultimately what people remember. Also, with each part I drop in, I set up pan automation for each stutter introduced. This will make things much more interesting.
Now, take a listen! It's not as glitched out, but it is very dynamic, fluid and retains some of the added coolness. Sprinkle in more, or decrease to taste.
This is a very calculated way to add some interesting spice to your melodies, leads, beats, whatever you come up with. It doesn't have to be a lead, this is just my way. Try this same technique on your own stuff, see how it works!