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Sound Design and Workflow Tip: Make Better Use of the Stand-Alone FX Versions of Your Virtual Instruments


When I’m producing I use a lot of Ableton Live’s built-in FX. I do this because a) I like them and b) they adhere to the same workflow in everything else in Live so I spend more time making music. Of course sometimes I also want to use a third-party effect for variety or to take advantage of a cool feature. The down-side is that they all have unique workflow and you may find yourself scratching your head a bit rather than making music.

One way to have your cake and eat it to is to make more use of the effects within your favorite virtual synth as stand-alone processors. For example, in my rig, Absyhth, Rob Papen Predator, Slayer 2, Zebra 2 (Zebrify) all have FX only versions of their plug-ins allowing you to route signal through the FX processor sections of these synths.

The advantage of this is your synth chops can now be applied to your FX work and you can get more unique sounds in less time.

The Soul of a Synth in the Effects Processor

In many synths, it’s hard to separate the effects processor from the soul of the synth. Absynth for example has some very unique effects such as the wonderful Aetherizer which is used heavily in many factory patches. By using it as a processor on another synth or audio source you can combine the unique sonic character of the input with this wonderful granular effect.

More on External Input

Want to use your audio input as a modulation source? Both Absynth FX and Zebrifiy have envelope followers. Zebrify also has a pitch follower so you can map the pitch of an incoming signal back to synth parameters.

Below is an example of  my Theremin routed through an audio track in Ableton live with Zebrify in the device chain. As I slowly pitch up on the Theremin, Zebrify processes this signal with two comb filters and modifies the pitch of these filters with a step LFO.

Modulation Mania

Another advantage of using FX from your virtual synths as processor is that most modern virtual instruments are structured to make heavy use of modulation and a modulation matrix. This offers a lot of possibilities for automation and real-time control that often aren’t possible with many stand-alone FX processor plug-ins or even FX in your host.

Unifying Color

I also sometimes apply effects from a single synth FX plugin to all tracks (or a group of tracks) in a mix to help unify the palette of the piece. For example, in my recent track Ambient Drone track “Orbiting Miranda”, I used one instance of Absynth and three of Tone2 Saurus and then used Rob Papen’s Predator FX to do multi-effects with automation on every single track. One of the effects I used is a comb filter which nudged and shifted the timbral character of these synths more towards a center of color I wanted for the piece.

Download MP3 of “Orbiting Miranda”  here.

Presets to Get you Started

When you load the FX only version of these synths, you’ll see factory presets dedicated to just the FX parameters. Jump in, route audio through, and poke around. I was personally blown away at what is possible.

Maximizing Your Investment

I’ll close this by saying you’ve already invested money and time into learning these instruments. If you’ve not explored the use of the stand-alone FX capable plugs in your rig , your really missing out.

Happy producing – and workflow FTW!

Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Boulder, CO
Official Web Site:
Listen/Download Albums:

Visual Planning & Mind Mapping: An Artist Friendly Approach to "Playing with A Plan"

I’m kicking off 2010 with a post help you turn your New Years resolutions into finished projects.

As an artist I’d rather be creating than planning. However, playing with a plan is essential for both finishing projects as well as making the most of the time and resources you have to create art. Planning is also essential for growing the business side of your artistic endeavors.

In parallel to being an artist, I’ve spent many years in corporate IT and Marketing so I’m no stranger to planning large complex projects. Even in the corporate world I’ve never been a fan of “linear” planning tools. Luckily, years back I discovered visual planning and mind mapping which are nice alternatives to more classic approaches to planning.

Embracing visual planning methodology has literally changed my life by allowing me to achieve more in less time freeing up more time for art.  These methods also work well on creative projects and I find planning in this fashion to be more nimble, organic, less time consuming, and more in line with my “artistic side”.

To illustrate what I’m talking about I’ve included a mindmap showing part of the planning for releasing my REBOOT album. Click the image at the top of the post to see a larger view. Here is the idea in a nutshel:

  • I started with a central idea – a plan to launch and album.
  • Things I need to finish are on branches.
  • Album production and distribution has a lifecycle. I’ve organized by major phases of my view of this lifecycle and organized supporting tasks as children to bigger ideas.
  • Using visual planning, this multi-month project fits on one sheet of paper that I can pin up and refer to influence what I do day-to-day. Branches are color coded and I used graphics to increase readability and recall.
  • As I finish items I check them off. This “burn down” gives me a sense of accomplishment as I move through the project.

I’ve been doing this a long time and don’t expect you to just jump in and get the same results with these methods instantly.  Like anything planning is a “craft” and you need to practice. I’ve included some links to help get you started and discover if this approach is right for you.

Learn About Visual Planning

Visual Planning Software
There are actually a lot of apps out there. Here are some of my favorites at different price points.

Mindmeister (Web, Mobile) – Free for Basic, $36/6 months Personal and on up. 

Best app if your mostly in a connected state and want to sync maps through web or work using a web-based interface or mobile devices. Has nice collaboration features as well.

Checkout my Mindmeister channel with notes on various topic relates to electronic music here.

Mind Maps

XMind (Desktop) Free for Standard/Plus $79/Pro $129 (or $79/year subscription). Click here to view the features for each level. If you want to try mind mapping for free and want to run it on a desktop, this is a good place to start. XMind paid version are quite fantastic and will scale all the way to help you do complex planning with Gantt charts. You could go with Freemind but XMind is way more refined.


iThoughts (iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad) 
I think I’ve tried all the leading iPhone apps in this category. This one is hands down the best. I use this a lot when I'm in a disconnected state on my iPad. It has synch features so you can say sync files in a drop box and edited them on the desktop using Xmind.

Here is to 2010, playing with a plan, and wishing you finish many fantastic projects.

Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Composer, Sound Designer

Download/Buy my album REBOOT on Bandcamp
Buy on iTunes


Project5 - Fast way to select instrument patches from the Track Inspector

In addition to to selecting patches from within the instrument interface, you can also select patches from the Track Inspector. Find the "Property Page" for the instrument in question, then click "Select Bank/Patch".


You'll then be presented with a menu containing patches. The advantage of this approach is that all the patches are laid out before you making it easier to see all the patches at once in a paticular category.