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10 Creative FX Tips You Can Use Right Now

Jul 04, 2019

Explore the world of Waves sound design. Here we provide you with a list of “must-haves” when it comes to creating unique and interesting effects for your mixes, live performances and film and game compositions.

By Charles Hoffman

10 Creative FX Tips You Can Use Right Now

There are many creative FX you can apply to your productions, both for sound design and mixing tools. While it may seem like the number of effects out there is overwhelming, here are 10 essentials you can add to your toolkit right now.

1. The Doppler Effect

In the words of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, the Doppler effect is “the apparent change in the frequency of a wave caused by relative motion between the source of the wave and the observer.” You’ve heard this effect before when a fire truck drives by with its siren blaring. As the truck approaches you, the pitch of the siren gets higher, and as the truck drives away, the pitch gets lower.

Waves Doppler is named after the effect, and this plugin can simulate either how the Doppler effect performs in “real life,” or how it’s expected to perform in “Hollywood.” Choosing the right application for the effect is significant when catering to the expectations of the listener. If you’re working on audio for a film, and an airplane flies by the camera or a superhero runs past at high speed, you’ll want something like the sound of a jet engine or rushing wind to inherit the Doppler effect.

2. Guitar Amps, Cabs and Effects

Amps, cabs and effects aren’t just reserved for guitars. They’re powerful sound manipulation tools that you can use on drums, vocals and anything else you can think of. A popular hip hop technique is running rap vocals through guitar amps. Sometimes this type of processing is done on an aux track to maintain the integrity of the lead vocal, and you could try this with the PRS SuperModels. It’s an aggressive effect that also lends itself well to Screamo, Punk and Metal.

GTR3 contains a variety of guitar effects that you can run both within your DAW and as a standalone application. You can control GTR3 ToolRack using a foot pedal during live performances or by implementing a MIDI controller. On top of being a superb tool for the performing artist, GTR3 provides a wide variety of creative possibilities for music producers and sound designers. Compressors, distortion units, gates, delays and doublers are just a few of the many stomp effects included in this powerful processing unit.

3. Subharmonic Content Generation

Creating basslines beneath complex, evolving synth arrangements can be quite a challenge. Dubstep is one genre in particular that can benefit from the generation of subharmonic frequency content. People are always looking for different ways to layer sub bass with their “wubs,” and it seems like the two most popular methods are creating a sub bass track or generating sub bass within the synth patch creating a bass growl. While these methods can work, there’s an easier and more effective way to go about this.

A separate sub bass track can feel too static, while sub bass generated from various synth patches can feel non-cohesive. Applying a plugin like Submarine or LoAir directly to your synth bus will overcome these issues and enhance subharmonic content. Both these plugins generate low-frequency content by lowering and filtering incoming audio by up to two octaves, in the case of Submarine. LoAir has 5.1 capabilities and is often used by professional sound designers in both the film and video game industry for creating larger-than-life sounds that thunder out of the speakers.

4. Flanging, Phasing and Chorusing

The Beatles were one of the first bands that pioneered the use of the flanger effect, which is actually a type of phasing. The flanger effect was originally used at Abbey Road studios by running two identical reel-to-reel tape machines in parallel with one another and applying pressure to one of the tape spools to slow it down. The pressure was then released, allowing the spool to speed back up. The slight difference in time between the tape reels is what created the flanging sound. Software and hardware flangers now emulate this effect, which is often described as the sound of a jet engine taking off.

Phasers introduce peaks/notches into the frequency spectrum of an audio signal, and flangers do the same thing. The difference is that flangers generate their peaks/notches in a linear harmonic series. When you sweep through the frequency spectrum of a sound using a flanger, there’s an apparent pitch, while phasers don’t necessarily demonstrate this characteristic.

A chorus simply creates duplicates of an audio signal and modulates the pitch and time of the duplicates. If you imagine a choir, there are multiple different voices singing slightly out of time with one another, and at different pitches. I’ll often reach for a chorus effect when I’m trying to thicken and enrich either a vocal performance, instrument or group of instruments. The Abbey Road Reel ADT plugin will allow you to emulate all these sounds.

MetaFlanger is another device that seeks to emulate the sound of vintage tape flanging, phasing, chorusing and more. It comes with several presets that allow you to affect your input signal quickly. This effect suits guitars and vocals especially well, but can also create unique textures when applied to other instruments such as drums.

5. Tremolo and Vibrato

If you create sample-based music, one of the biggest challenges can be writing musical pieces that contain believable performances. Adding zest to dull, sustained pads, guitars and pianos can be challenging. Infusing synthetic sounds with organic characteristics like tremolo and vibrato can help bring them to life. Tremolo is the modulation of volume, whereas vibrato is the modulation of pitch. Drawing volume and pitch automation into your DAW can be time consuming, which is why there are tools that help modulate these parameters for you.

MondoMod allows you to generate chorus effects and apply tremolo (AM modulator), vibrato (FM modulator) and panning (rotation modulator) to your audio signal. It comes with 5 LFO waveforms (square, saw down, saw up, triangle, and sine) and can sync with the tempo of your DAW. Using the same LFO waveforms across various tracks can create intriguing pulsing effects, while using different LFO waveforms can add a welcome assortment of texture.

6. Vocoding

Vocoders are often used to create robotic vocals. They infuse the tonal qualities of a carrier signal with the formant qualities of modulator signal (like a human voice); this can make the synth you’re playing sound like it’s talking. You can use any audio signal you like as your modulator, but traditionally this is a human voice. Try experimenting with different modulator signals because something like a drum loop could create very original results.

Morphoder is a vocoder that allows you to combine different audio signals together. It goes beyond simple vocoding and acts as an 8-voice stereo synthesizer. Lots of vocoders require you to set up complex signal routings involving sidechain inputs, but since Morphoder has an internal synth engine, you can place it directly on the track you want to affect. Set the modulator to “Left+Right,” and the carrier to “Internal.” By routing a MIDI track’s output to Morphoder, you’ll be able to take control of its synth engine and start creating vocoded arrangements instantly.

7. Pitch and Time-Shifting

In EDM, producers love gradually pitching up buildups. It creates tension that helps prepare the listener for “the drop.” Automating the pitch and time of a sample can often be tedious in certain DAWs. Ableton provides a fair bit of pitch and time control at an audio/MIDI clip level, but sometimes you want to modify the pitch and time of an entire group. You could go through each track, drawing in automation lines, but there’s a better way.

A pitch and time-shifting tool like SoundShifter will allow you to change keys and effect the pitch-time continuum of your audio. You can place this plugin on an instrument bus and affect the pitch and time of multiple instruments at once. It's capable of modifying the pitch of an audio signal without changing its duration. It can also perform time compression/expansion without changing pitch. This comes in handy when using samples with a BPM different from the song you’re working on.

8. Delay and Echo

A delay unit time-shifts its input signal, creating one or more duplicates. All echos are delays, but not all delays are echoes. Echoes are designed to sound as though they are naturally occurring, and very often have controls that help emphasize their intended effect; such as an ambiance parameter. Delays usually allow you to apply slapback, ping-pong, and intricate rhythmic effects to an audio signal. For an all-purpose analog sounding delay, try Waves H-Delay.

Delay plugins are somewhat similar to reverb plugins in the sense that they both assist in the spatial positioning of elements within your stereo field. You may choose to use a delay over a reverb if you're trying to preserve the intelligibility of a recording. Reverbs can easily wash out a signal when used in excess, whereas you can apply a fair bit of delay (especially when the feedback signal is run through a filter) before it starts to degrade your sound.

A plugin like SuperTap allows you to create exciting spatial effects that modulate in interesting ways. There’s a tap-pad for tapping tempo, global LFO modulation, 2 feedback modes, and a spatial positioning vector display. One of SuperTap’s biggest strengths is its vector display because it allows you to visually place delayed signals within your stereo field. The effects it can provide range from futuristic laser noises, to the wailing and drawn out tones found in horror films.

9. Doubling and Harmonization

A conventional vocal recording technique involves capturing many different vocal takes and layering them together. These vocal takes typically consist of a lead vocal, a left and right duplicate of the lead vocal, additional doubles at the end of phrases and harmonies of various types. The 3 lead vocals are often time corrected so that they’re tight with one another. They’re then panned left, right and center within the stereo field with the left and right vocals being reduced slightly in level; this creates a wide lead vocal. The other doubles and harmonies are then added, and the result is an incredibly rich, full and thick product.

Recording all the takes you need is easy if you’ve run the recording session yourself, but someone may have sent you stems to mix. Asking them to record additional takes that can be panned is an option, but vocalist availability and other factors may make this impossible. Even if you only manage to record one vocal or one instrument, you’ll still be able to perform this classic arrangement and mixing technique.

Using a harmonization plugin like UltraPitch, you’re able to transpose, harmonize, modulate and transform vocals and other sounds as required. It will enable you to apply stereo chorusing, doubling, parallel harmonies, vocal slaps, spread effects and much more. It consists of 3 formant-corrected components that include shift, 3-voice harmony maker and 6-voice harmony maker. Shift is meant for pitch shifting, while the two harmony makers are for harmonization.

10. Auto-Panning

Mixes that have an abundance of empty space can really benefit from spatial effects like panning. Giving the elements of your song movement can help turn a stale, stagnant mix into a product that morphs and evolves over time. A busy pop mix with a lot of layers probably won’t benefit from movement effects as much as a minimal house track; it’s easy to clutter up an already busy mix with spatial effects.

There are of course no rules when it comes to creating music, but you’ll be able to really push spatial effects harder if there’s more space available in your mix. They can make a simple mix more interesting without having to add more elements.

Brauer Motion is an auto-panner plugin that moves audio along the X-axis (left to right) and Z-axis (front to back) of your stereo field. It allows you to pan, spin, and bounce both mono and stereo signals around a virtual sphere. You’re given control over two panners that can be manipulated individually or linked together. The audio that you run into the plugin is mapped to a point that follows the path you set (one for each panner). Various controls allow you to modify these paths, which determine the trajectory of the sound within your stereo field.


Waves’ Sound Design Suite is a comprehensive bundle of effects for musicians, mixers, music producers and sound designers. The tools listed in this guide are all included within the bundle. Whether you’re looking to spice up your live performances with unique stompbox effects or create thick harmonies while mixing, the Waves’ Sound Design Suite has the right tool for the job.

Want more on sound design and creative effects? Get tips here on sound design for games.

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