How to make monster sounds (free Ableton and Serum presets included)

Halloween is right around the corner, and if you’re anything like me, you’re going to spend it in your bedroom tweaking knobs in a spooky way instead of risking going outside.

To celebrate this eerie occasion, let’s create our very own monster sounds from scratch via two different approaches: synthesis and recorded audio.

Creating monster sounds from synthesis

Let’s first try creating the sound of a sci-fi monster. I’ll use Serum’s wavetable and FM synthesis to try to simulate the sound of a foreboding, robotic final boss.

monster-sounds-serum

For the oscillator section, I used two of Serum’s custom wavetables, BS2 – Filthy and BSOD_Square. These provide a harmonically rich bed that can be heavily distorted and filtered. A few unison voices per oscillator and some de-tuning provide a nice thick sound. We’ll also use a triangle wave sub oscillator and a lot of noise.

All of this will be run through a comb filter with plenty of drive to turn things into a (good) crunchy mess. Envelope 2 modulates the warp modes of both oscillators to create a truly monstrous “croaking” effect. Then, the step sequencer LFO modulates both oscillators’ wavetable positions and levels to make a biting gated rhythm.

Serum’s effects will help us put the icing on the cake of this monster patch. The HYPER/DIMENSION and REVERB modules add a sense of space to the sound, while the CHORUS adds a bit of extra interest to the stereo image. By modulating the DISTORTION module’s filter cutoff, we can get a little more movement out of the sound. Aggressive FLANGER and PHASER settings add a cyborg-like touch, and the COMPRESSOR keeps everything sounding even.

Here’s the final result:

      

If you’d like to load up the preset in Serum yourself, here’s the .fxp.

Creating monster sounds from recorded audio

Now let’s go for a monster that sounds bit more organic. If you have an animal companion at home, or if you know a friend who does, this second method will help you transform their everyday sounds into monstrous growls. Meet Pablo, my precious little monster and our vocalist for the day.

First, I annoyed Pablo into making some noise. I did this by trying to pick him up and give him a nice big smooch, which he hated. Eventually, I was able to coax him into giving me a nice purr, which sounded something like this:

      

I used my iPhone’s built-in mic to record this, but a handheld Zoom recorder with a shotgun capsule or some other budget microphone will do the job as well.

Next, I transposed the audio down by 12 semitones to make my special boy sound enormous. Now, it’s just a question of adding a few effects to make the sound convincing. I’m doing this in Ableton, but you can use any DAW to achieve similar results.

EQ

Using Ableton’s EQ Eight, I cut frequencies below 10 – 15 Hz. This is lower than usual, but for cinematic effects, leaving some subsonic rumble can actually be desirable (that said, if you have some unintended rumbles from your environment, you may want to cut the lows a little higher). I also added a boost around 200 Hz to accentuate the body of the growling sounds.

Distortion

Some saturation and drive help add aggression to the sound. I used Ableton’s Drum Buss, but any distortion plugin will do.

Reverb and delay

monster-sounds-reverb-delay-ableton

A big monster’s growl should reverberate and echo, so I used Reverb and Delay devices with medium decay times to simulate a real-world space for the sound to travel through. Try a reverb with a Dry/Wet ratio of around 25% and a Decay Time of 1 – 3 seconds in conjunction with a 200 ms delay with Feedback set at around 20%. Experiment with these settings to adjust the sound to your taste.

Phaser

Finally, I used a phaser to add an otherworldly character. Ableton’s Phaser is a little idiosyncratic, but for starters try a Filter Frequency of around 1 kHz, with some Feedback on top.

After applying all of these effects, I arrived to this final result:

      

Pretty scary, right? If you’re an Ableton user, you can grab the device rack that I created to try it out.

Are you more of a dog person? If so, check out our previous tutorial where we turned a dog bark into a dragon roar.

October 28, 2019

Max Rewak Max Rewak is a record producer, audio engineer, and music writer, based in New York and currently working in Sounds content at Splice.