Top Tips For Becoming an NI Massive Power-User

A couple of days ago, Audio Ordeal published Top Tips For Becoming a Serum Power-User. Today, we follow the same drill, this time, with Native Instruments Massive. Undoubtedly the most famous VST software synth on the market, Massive has been the main force behind electronic music's biggest sounds for a decade. It has vast sonic capabilities, sometimes falling just short of Serum, which came to the scene much more recently, though Massive continues to take podium position among the most powerful, and best VSTs on the market, offering unique features which have yet to be mimicked successfully. What follows, is a list of my tips to use Massive to it's fullest extent, so you can become a power user and have it's full sound potential at your fingertips.


Presets

Before we even decide to touch on the control features of Massive, we must appreciate the vast online library of Massives presets. While many must be purchased, it takes only a google search to find collections of free Massive presets. No user of Massive should be allowed to ignore the presets available, doing so would close doors for any song in production.

Normally I stand for people giving their best attempt at making their own sounds, but it is difficult to ignore the quality of sounds which are released in preset packs. In fact, I would be very happy to see Native Instruments release a cheaper version of Massive, perhaps branded as Massive Player, featuring only the macro controls with the ability to load presets.



One of the best thing's about Massive's interface is that it is all on the one page, so loading up a preset and transforming it into your own sound takes minimal effort. Due to it's age, being a whole ten years old, people have been adding presets, and tutorials online for it's whole lifespan. That ends up being a colossal amount of starting points for users to tear apart sounds, create their own, and most importantly, learn the synth inside out so that they can start making their own sounds from scratch.

Wavetables

While Massive doesn't offer the infinite number of wavetables that Serum boasts, it makes up for it with a sizeable amount on offer. Each wavetable you select is guaranteed to be of the best quality, because you know it was added by the developers.


The wavetables are handily divided into sections which help you determine what you need, including Basic shapes, Analogue/Electric, Digital/Hybrid, FX/Chords, and VA shapes. Every wavetable provided, particularly the more complex ones sound great as-is, let alone in combination with all other features utilised on the synth.

Combining these wavetables offers an expanse of sound, and for the more harmonically rich ones, sitting them in the lower octaves can allow for rich bass growls, and different amp attacks for each oscillator opens up possibilities for deep, ever morphing pads.

To become a truly advanced user, one should examine each sound and identify it's qualities, not ignoring their unique attributes at extreme octaves.

Oscillator Warp

With only five options in the warp mode, many may overlook it. It is a difficult tool to use as there is no visual representation of what it does for the sound. Nonetheless, it is only because we are spoiled by Serum's visual wavetable display that this would ever be a complaint, as the warping in Massive has been more than enough for a decade. The benefit to the limited options is that you have more time to learn each one in depth.


Set alongside the Wavetable position knob is an intensity knob, which controls the wavetable warp (selectable in the dropdown menu directly above it). Besides the default Spectrum option, which essentially acts like a low pass filter, are the bend options, and a formant option.

These come incredibly handy when wanting finer control over the sound of the wavetables on offer, and can be modulated for more complex sounds. The formant resembles the formant filter in Serum, and works great for producing vowel sounds and altering the wavetable in a more drastic way.

Nailing these features open up a wider range of sound than what the wavetables provide and they are heard prominently across the complex electro sounds in modern genres.

Modulation Oscillator

One of the features that stands Massive apart from it's competitors is it's unique modulation oscillator. While dedicated FM synths such as Native Instruments FM8 offer complete FM routing, Massive is a hybrid synth which includes the best of all worlds. The modulation oscillator can be routed to modulate any of the three main oscillators with Ring Modulation, Phase Modulation, and Position Modulation. All three modulation types can be used at once, though only one main oscillator per modulation type.


In addition, the filter cutoff of each of Massive's two incredible filters can be modulated, creating rich sounds at higher frequencies, or gritty growling at the lower frequencies. One of the best tricks with the modulation oscillator is to avoid being fixed to the same pitch as the notes you are playing. Experimenting with different octaves above and below yields great results, as does playing with fifths (try 7 semitones).

Of course don't stop with these two options, as the joy of this oscillator is in exploring the more dissonant sounds created by less perfect ratios. Try guiding your attention particularly to the fine tuning option where you can tune the modulation oscillator down to the cents resolution (100 cents = 1 semitone).

The pitch of the modulation oscillator can also be modulated with envelopes or LFOs, so it is by no means fixed, this can be great for drum and percussive sounds with fast pitch sweeps, or more drawn out movement with slow LFOs.

Filters

Arguably Massive's strongest feature is it's dual filter section. While, not having as wide a selection of filter types as Serum, I would have to say it completely beats Serum into the ground with its Series/Parallel slider, combined with its Mix1/Mix2 slider.


With Massive's Filters, you have complete control to split the signal equally between both filters, have them run in series, or any combination of both. You simply cannot find a set of filters which offer better control over the sound than that. From there, with the mix sliders, you have even more range, where you can choose how much of each output goes through to the final mix.

When running them in series, have the mix slider all the way down to mix 2, when in parallel have them in the middle. That is your starting point, from there add small tweaks to let each filter through in small amounts, or automate the mix to flick between both or all settings.

Now, even after swooning over all the above features of Massive's filters, I haven't even touched on the filters themselves.


Kitted out with all the standard options you'd expect, Massive also provides an assortment of notch and band passes, for more meticulous editing. The final four filter types are perhaps the most recognisable, including Scream, Daft, Comb, and Acid. By adding the Scream, Daft, or Acid filters to your patch, you end up with gritty LPF results, perfect for dubstep and electro. Comb is a very good quality Comb Filter, which works great on leads, and either in parallel or series with another type. 

A good tip is to spend some time modulating these parameters to exactly how you like them - oftentimes its best to only use one or two envelopes/LFO when modulating filter parameters as too much gets messy quickly. 

With the filters alone, you can select any random wavetable and make whole patches just by changing various filter settings. It would be absolutely fantastic to see Native Instruments release this filter section as a standalone plugin, though I see no sign of this coming anytime soon, sadly.

Filter Keytracking

You could go your whole life without ever using controls such as this, but once you see how useful it is, you wouldn't want to. The Filter Keytracking could be classed as one of Massive's most advanced features. For those of you unsure as to what this is, the filter figures out what note you are playing and adjusts the cutoff so that each note is affected in a similar way - essentially the higher up the keyboard you go, the more the cutoff will open up, as it tracks the position. 


Massive allows you to change the way it is tracked. By default, it is set to linear but you can change it to a custom shape, or even set it to "off" where it remains at a constant cutoff frequency regardless of where the note is played.

By making custom shapes, you have ultra deep control of the way the filter responds to input and can set certain octaves to respond in different ways. In the image above, you can see that it follows the standard linear patter for the first few, lowest octaves, before reversing. It flattens out at the octave which I have for the sub bass, then very sharply increases for the higher octaves so they get even brighter.

This allows you to have different sounds mapped to different octaves, though they are entirely dependent on the filters.

Routing

Another feature for the advanced users is the routing editor. Here, you can change where the signal path is directed, allowing different oscillators to bypass the filters, and giving you control over where the insert FX are placed along the signal path.

If you want a dedicated sub-oscillator which bypasses the filters but goes through a sine shaper instead, feel free! You are in control of the internal wiring of Massive. Simple tweaks can make minor differences all the way to major ones, depending on how you have the features set. 

It is a great way of making several variations of the same preset, allowing you to alter individual orders of effect to your precise needs.


Random

Once you have been playing around for hours, you are no doubt sick of coming up with sounds from scratch. Enter the Random options. Who needs presets when you can just select the parts you want to randomise, and let Massive do the work.

You'll have to keep clicking through some horrendous sounds until you find something you like, but it does allow you to enter preset design from a point other than the default preset. Click Random until you have found something useable, then start working on the filters and effects until you have crafted something completely new!


You can control the amount each parameter is randomly set, as well as whether you want the oscillator pitches preserved. Many of the parameters can be deactivated so you have the option to only randomise the parts which you select.