White Noise, Filters, and Effects: How to Use Them Together
Learn how white noise can be used to establish tension, rhythm, and mood. Follow along with audio examples.
White noise is one of the most common sounds used in music production. It’s an even mix of all audible frequencies, but we often perceive it as being high-frequency due to our sensitive hearing. It produces a flat "shhh” sound that, on its own, can be unnaturally bright and unpleasant.
It’s true capacity is revealed with the help of DAW filters and effects. In this article, I’ll show you how to combine these three elements to produce both functional and experimental sounds.
Do your drops neep more oomph? Build soaring, epic rises from white noise in your DAW. In Ableton, the simplest way to do this is with Operator. Drag it onto a MIDI track, change the oscillator to white noise, and loop a single note. It doesn’t matter where you draw in or play the note, white noise will sound the same across the entire keyboard. It has no defined pitch.
Then, draw out or record frequency automation that slowly opens up over a few seconds. This will manually add pitch to the white noise and create a classic rising effect.
White Noise Buildup
Turn up resonance to give more body and whoosh to the sweep.
White Noise Buildup with Resonance
Add an LFO for something different. You can set the LFO to control panning, volume, and a range of other parameters. You can also pile on effects like flangers, chorus and phasers.
White Noise Buildup with an LFO
This is an easy trick with many practical uses in music production, especially dance music. Keep experimenting to find the best approach for your music. Soon enough, you’ll have an arsenal of buildup tricks to fling at drum fills and drops that need a little love.
If an instrument or entire song is sounding thin, you may reach for compression or a boosted EQ. Try using a careful layer of white noise.
It fills up the frequency spectrum and glues together the seperate song elements. If you produce in Ableton, use the same Operator patch, or drag a white noise sample into Simpler, and draw out a note. Keep volume levels low. White noise can turn from pleasant to harsh within a few dBs. Light reverb will keep things smooth too.
I’ll start with this synth loop, and build on it.
Synth Loop Dry
Now, with a white noise layer.
Synth Loop Dry + White Noise
White noise adds a warm, relaxing character to the synth. If you want more activity, add an arpeggiator. This will sequence the white noise in a pattern you can tweak in real-time. I recorded rate and distance automation on the arp, producing a creaking sound. It lends a cinematic quality.
Synth Loop Dry + White Noise + Arp
I like to follow a “what happens when I do this?” approach to music production. I can get great results from this approach using VocalSynth. It’s a wild synthesizer-based effects rack for vocals, but it works just as well with non-vocal content.
So, add an instance of VocalSynth to the white noise and listen to the new textures that are brought out. VocalSynth succeeds at enhancing high end frequencies so they sound detailed and expressive. This works swimmingly with white noise.
Synth Loop Dry + White Noise + Arp + VocalSynth
The malleability of white noise allows you to craft soundscapes and ambience that enhance your music.
The white noise-filter-effects relationship is perhaps most exciting when white noise is used as a percussive element.
In your DAW, program a sequence that triggers a short white noise sample. Choose a few basic effects and drag them onto the track too. While the sequence plays, experiment with the effects parameters, ADSR controls, filter frequency and resonance. Settle on a sound you like and record automation.
There’s no set way to do this, but the general idea is to create an evolving sound. Here, I also added Trash 2 for grit. White noise gets crispy when it’s run through distortion.
White Noise Turned into a Percussive Pattern
And now, in the context of the same dreamy synth-rhodes loop from earlier, plus a drum beat.
White Noise Percussive Pattern, Song Context
White noise is a versatile production tool that can be used at multiple steps of the music creation process. Filters and basic effects are all you need make white noise really pop. It’s all about where your imagination takes you. The three tricks I showed you—buildups, ambient sound design, and programmed beats—are just the start.