Synth Tutorial: Ellie Goulding’s “Lights”


In this synth tutorial, Joe Hanley, maker of Syntorial, will re-create Ellie Goulding’s “Lights”, in Ableton Live. Don’t forget, you can download the midi files, synth presets, audio files, session files, and everything else you’ll need to follow along at home. Plugins used:


Welcome. Today we’re gonna be remaking the beat from. Ellie Goulding’s “lights”. I’m using free plugins when it comes to the synths and it’s effects, so regardless of the software that you use, you can follow along exactly.

To download the presets, MIDI files and audio files, just click the link at the top of this video. It will take you to the Syntorial Kickstarter page and scroll down to the bottom. tutorial section, each video will have a download link.

When you download, you will get bounce of the audio, a file with links to all the free plugins, everything you need to remake each track including the MIDI files and AU or VST presets and if
you use Ableton or Reason, the full sessions. For Ableton, all you’ll need is those free plugins and everything will be ready to go once you open it.

While you’re at that page, check out Syntorial.It’s the ultimate synthesizer tutorial – a fully interactive training software that will turn you into a synth programming guru. Let’s get started.

Alright, starting with the drums. Now these drums were originally made in Reason and then the audio is bounced and brought into Ableton, so you got your kick audio snare audio, hi-hat audio, etcetera. Included in the downloads are all these audio files as well as the original MIDI from reason so you can either just bring these audio files in the way I did here or you can bring the MIDI file in, get a closer look at the way the rhythms are and then rebuild the drums using your own samples, it’s up to you.

Breaking down the drums we got: a kick, snare, snare, hi-hat, shaker, floor tom, and then a mid tom fill coming up here at the end. And then, two cymbals. It’s the same crash sample, just on different sides, so it starts on the left coming up about halfway in here you hear it again on the right. That’s the drums!

So now we have the bouncy synth, the thing that you hear at the very beginning of the song. The MIDI’s already recorded and you can of course download that, to see what notes are
being played and what rhythm. I like to have the MIDI recorded and playing as I program, otherwise you have to play the keyboard with one hand, program with the other and this is much easier. So we’re gonna solo this.

Synth we’re using is TAL Noize m4k3r, nice free synth VS/AU, Mac/PC. So this is the default sound, which is nowhere near what we need. First we need multiple notes, poly. No sub-oscillator.
And the shape, it’s like a mallet, a short note so we’re gonna bring the sustain all the way down cause that’s where we want the sound to go as we play, we want to fade to zero and we want that to happen pretty quickly. So we bring the decay to about… here.

That gives us a short note and then when you want a mallet-like sound, you want it to react the same no matter whether you hold the key down or release it, so you make the release and the decay equal and now it responds the same no matter how you play.
Um, also the actual sound on the track is a little kinda softer on the attack of it so we raise the attack – a little bit, just to soften it.

Alright, now back up here to the tone. The note’s way too low, so bring it up to here. Waveform is not a saw, it’s a pulse and right now it’s full square but we actually need somewhere kinda in-between. Filter type is 24 dB low-pass. After experimenting with the sound, I found that this other 24 dB low-pass sounded more accurate.

Cutoff we can turn pretty far down to get that nice round tone.
And the resonance! The resonance is the key to this sound, this is where we get that very mallet-like percussive sound
by cranking the resonance. Just like that. Now it’s starting to sound much more like it.

Key tracking. For those of you who don’t know, key tracking essentially adjusts the cutoff. It raises it as you get higher on your keyboard, lowers it as you go lower. The whole point is that without it, higher sounds will sound duller than lower sounds that will sound brighter, so if you’re playing a part like this where you got high notes and low notes, you want to have key tracking on them to keep a nice, even, rounded sound
across the whole part.

That’s your basic sound, we’re gonna turn it down a little bit.
That’s your basic synth sound. Now we just need a nice delay. This is the default delay in TAL-DUB, it’s kinda close but not quite right. The timing’s right, you got eight note on the left, quarter note on the right. Damping, let’s see… a little damper. Very common to dampen the delayed sound so that the source sound is kinda bright in front and the delay is a little rounder behind it.

We don’t want any of this resonance, a nice smooth sound. The feedback, which is how many times the delay is….it’s a little long. we’re gonna cut it to about here and we could use a little bit more of that delayed sound. That’s your delay. Let’s bring the drums back in. The last thing is: for this track we’re gonna have a reverb on a synth so that we can just send any tracks we want to it.

This is a Church preset in Ableton but you can use whatever big hall reverb you have in your software. And we’re gonna send a pretty hefty amount to…. you know, cause it will add space and ambiance. And that’s the bouncy synth!

Next up is the bass, we’re gonna be using. TAL Noisemaker again.
I’m gonna turn it down a little bit before we start because it’s really loud. Also gonna turn down this sub for now. We are gonna use that but just not yet. First thing is I’m gonna bring up the second oscillator to match the first. So… Turn it down a little bit…and bring the pitch down for the second to match the first.

So now we have two identical waveforms at the same pitch with the same waveform and the same volume. So now, all you gotta do is detune the second one slightly. That gives us that swirling sound, kind of a chorusy effect. That’s kind of the main tone here.

Then we bring the sub oscillator back in to give the low end.
There is your bass. Sub oscillator in this synth is a square wave. It’s set that way permanently because that is the most typical sub oscillator waveform. It’s just a sturdy waveform a nice, solid low end. I almost always use square and have to with this synth.

So this is a bright version of the bass. The bass starts bright but then it goes down to a round, it’s like a round sound at the end So, we set the cutoff to where we want it to go. That’s gonna be the darkest point it reaches at the end of each note.
Let me bring the contour, which is the filter envelope amount back up to where we want the sound to start.

Yeah so we want them to go from that bright toward that cutoff.
We bring the sustain level all the way down to zero, which is the cutoff. And then we raise the decay until…about there. So it starts a little brighter and gets darker. Apparently the key step is resonance. Kinda gives it a wah-ish effect. Whenever you have a filter envelope in use, you can increase the resonance to really show what the envelope does and essentially give it a kinda wah effect.

Now, volume-wise…bring it back up. And that’s your bass sound.
Now the only difference is, this is very narrow in the center. In the actual track it’s kind of a wider sound. So, we’re gonna use a delay to widen it.

Now we don’t actually wanna hear all these little delays so I’ll show you how to just make it wide without hearing delay. First, make it wet 100%, we don’t want to hear the dry sound, then we’re gonna ignore these synced values, we’re gonna set the left delay to nothing and we’re gonna bring this one down to about here.

If you bring it too low, you get weird sounds. If you bring it too high, you hear separate notes. So, just right. No damping, no resonance. Feedback: too little and the sound starts to go away. Too much and you feed back, so boom. And there’s your wide bass. Narrow bass. Wide bass. That’s the bass. So, altogether we’ve got:

So now we’re just missing the string sound, the synth string sound- a very bread and butter, common sort of pad used a lot of tracks. Gonna turn it down first, cause it’s gonna get way too loud but if I don’t… ok! So what it sounds like right now is: Single notes, first off, but we’re playing multiple notes so we gotta give it more voices.

No sub-oscillator, that’s a little bit better. Too low so we’re gonna bring this up- oh too high. There we go. Now we want the same swirling effect that the bass had, so we bring on a second oscillator at the same volume as the first. Now the reason the pitch just went up is because when you put two waveforms that are identical on top of each other, it can do some funny things.

Watch as I detune it to get the swirling sound and the pitch will go back to normal. There we go. So there’s our basic sound. Now… We want it to drift off a little bit at the end. So that way when you go from chord to chord, it kinda tails off a little bit.

And right now we’re using a low pass, the whole thing open, but in reality the sound’s got both some of its highs and some of its lows kinda carved off. This means it’s using a band pass- a band pass literally cuts off some highs and lows, so when you put it at about the mid point, you can hear it. It’s not super bright but it doesn’t have a lot of lows either, it’s a nice way of thinning out a sound.

Now we actually want the sound to start bright and get dark kinda like the bass, but we want to go all the way down if you hold the key long enough. So it goes down to nothing but it starts at about there. So we wanna go down to nothing, sustain to zero to match the cutoff and decay up here. Nice.

Now you may have noticed we lost the tail, even though our amp release is still up, it’s no longer tailing off. That’s because when we let go of the key, the cutoff is slamming down super fast cause release is zero. So we bring up release to match our decay. So that if you let go of the key, hold the key, no matter what, the filter’s gonna operate the same way. So there’s your basic sound right there.

Only thing missing is some reverb. Give it a little wet. I’ll show you what it really sounds like. Puts a lot of space around it, we don’t need that much. Bring the volume back to… and that is the entire track.

That’s it! Thanks for watching, click the link at the top of the page to download all the things you need to recreate the track.
See ya next time.