Cyber Music ... for Cyber Monday!
The UJAM plugins you need to produce the music of the future and how to make them pack a punch.
NOVEMBER 28TH, 2021
With just a little time left in the big sale weekend, let’s take a look at everything you need to create your next industrial hit, dramatic sci-fi game soundtrack or cyberpunk adventure!
Creating movement and mangling pads
When capturing the feel of anything futuristic, mechanical, or sci-fi in nature, movement is a critical concept to keep in mind — repeated chord ostinatos, metal foley sound design and bass filter movement are all excellent ways to accomplish this, but by no means the only ones. If you want to go much deeper, Finisher DYNAMO is the fastest way to get there. For example, take its volume automation capabilities: ducking and ramping up the level of an audio track at a fixed interval or specific rhythm.
Using this effect, you can turn even ordinary chords and basses into rhythmic monsters that drive your songs forward forcefully or laid-back, depending on your choice of presets and effect amounts ... or apply it across your mix bus and affect your entire song at once! Boring pads become a non-issue, even if all you do is throw on a quick preset and see what destruction you’re able to bring. Glitches, pad transformations and a variety of rhythmic effects are all at your command.
Here’s a cool trick to use sparingly: use the Occasional Glitch preset for trippy, random glitch effects and make the audio feel like it’s being degraded, just enough for your listeners to stop and do a double-take. Combine that with the Tranced Out preset, and you can alter the whole mix to be staccato and pulsating — excellent material for TRON-like effects and broad changes when you’re short on ideas.
Mastering cyber beats
If you want unapologetic cyberpunk beats, look no further than Beatmaker NEMESIS — its insane power and destructive distortion are perfectly suited to your apocalyptic musical impulses. Film and game composers especially will love it for underscoring epic space battles and dystopian futures, as somber or aggressive as desired depending on the setting or scene. Of course, producers will love it as well for futuristic genres like liquid drum & bass, industrial trance and more. Let’s take a quick look under the hood...
NEMESIS sports the Hypercharge control, using multi-band distortion to smack and crumble any rhythm you feed it. This is the foundation of all styles of industrial music — it takes heavy kicks and snares and turns them into monstrous, melting sounds instantly; plus, you can push it as hard as you want and transform your entire arrangement into something fierce and otherworldly. You can also use the “reverse” option with Pressurize, using multi-band compression to punch things up and cut through the mix. To quickly reshape the full NEMESIS mix bus, simply use the Mix section and cycle between presets like Risen, Smack and Sloppy, controlling the amount as desired. Push this to the limit if desired, add a post-EQ for mixing if desired and you’re good to go.
Sci-fi grit and distortion
No collection of “cyber” plugins would be complete without good ol’ heavy metal guitar, which brings us to Virtual Guitarist CARBON. If you’re producing an aggressive cyberpunk- or sci-fi-inspired song, chances are it could use CARBON’s heavy-handed touch. In contrast to other “heavy” guitars, CARBON is very clean, featuring sharp note cutoffs, bright high end and accurate performances even at fast tempos. This provides an excellent rhythmic tool you can use to move along the drama, underscore intense battle sequences or simply add more power behind the drum beat.
CARBON isn’t just suited for rapid, high-drama songs and cues, though — you can use its sustained power chords and single notes to create space and tension during slow parts, which is perfect for suspenseful passages in ambient music and games & film soundtracks alike. Add in Finisher NEO to take things up a notch and transform the guitar tone over time, creating a wide variety of textures out of a single note or chord.
Start off with any of the Common Phrases and switch the rhythm up as needed, building a rhythm bed that precisely locks into your drum groove — power cords are often the best starting point for this, especially in a minor key. From there, you can start bringing in other elements of the arrangement, creating the foundation of a complex industrial piece in minutes centered around the guitar part. You can then add in synths, horns, anything you like; strings can be a very nice touch for cyber-focused genres, which we’ll dive into right now.
Powerful strings like Hans
It’s no secret that one of the masters of using string patterns in futuristic music is none other than Hans Zimmer — whose personal library we pulled from to create Symphonic Elements STRIIIINGS! Orchestral instruments help tie the synthetic elements of a cyber-heavy song into the present, making it feel more real than it otherwise would with synthetic instruments only. STRIIIINGS in particular is quite versatile in this style of music, packed with everything from punctuated, staccato phrases to heavy and drawn-out passages you can instantly drop into any song and immediately add energy and life.
In the context of cyber music, STRIIIINGS is an effective tool for creating background movement quickly and filling out your arrangement. If the idea of using strings with cyber, futuristic or industrial music is new to you, start off with octaves in a steady beat so you get a feel for what they contribute to the mix; once you get a feel for the sound, begin experimenting with a variety of different rhythms in the chorus, drop, interlude, etc. You get individual control over the high and low sections as well, so you can chop out the contrabasses and violins at will, focusing in on the timbre you need to create the cinematic strings passages necessary for powerful cyber music!
Cinematic drums of the future
In cyber music, Symphonic Elements DRUMS is a great acoustic accompaniment to the highly digital quality of NEMESIS. If you choose to get into producing epic percussion for games, film or your own projects, you’ll quickly see how having big drums comes in handy. Not everything is about precise, distorted drums; bombastic percussion gives you more options for building to a grand climax, especially in conjunction with big string passages. This practice of combining orchestra with grittier and more futuristic sounds is a highly effective way to create depth and power, as long as you use it appropriately.
A great feature of DRUMS, in particular, is the ability to add extra motion into the rhythm with delay and granular effects — this means if you’re ever stuck with a boring groove and aren’t sure how to spice things up, you can cycle through the Motion FX options and fill out space in the rhythm while injecting thickness as well. Head over to the Character FX and Focus EQ controls and tweak the frequency balance with just a couple of simple controls, punching up the overall Finisher control with a single knob in the middle. Also, if you want to thin out or thicken up the overall drum arrangement, you have individual control over the high (treble) drums vs. low (bassy) drums along with a slider to crossfade between both sections on the fly.
For a dramatic build, try starting out with high drums only and then gradually bring in the low ensemble to create more weight, all while automating the Finisher amount to deform your ensemble into whatever palette you choose. Once you reach the point of maximum intensity, hit DRUMS with some heavy distortion like Finisher RETRO or add in NEMESIS to get the punchy percussion you’re looking for!
While the title of the article is a pun, of course, there are tons of new opportunities to create futuristic and industrial music for video games, sci-fi movies and your own songs as desired. You can have the power to beef up your music with crazy Finishers, insane guitars, cyberpunk beats and cinematic orchestral sounds just from loading up your plugins, playing a couple of notes and using slight tweaks to create huge changes in your sound.
To nail “cyber” genres, you must strike a delicate balance between heavy distortion and intelligibility; if the drums don’t punch and the guitar’s timing is off, you’ll lose that mechanical, precise quality that lets you sell listeners on your musical ideas. Go crazy with effects, but always make sure you keep your rhythms aligned and that you’re constantly creating and de-escalating musical drama for a larger-than-life feel. Do this with the tools we’ve shown you here, and you’ll be creating the music of the future in no time!
About the Author
Harry Lodes is a copywriter, marketing consultant and content writer for audio and ecommerce brands. He lives in the Philadelphia area, releasing Eastern/Western hybrid EDM under the artist name KAIRI hearkening back to his roots in Berklee College of Music.
We develop software solutions that enable people to create, consume and interact with music.