How To: 5-Hour Progressive House with Project 46

Project 46’s Thomas Shaw dishes the truth about delivering a Progressive House track lightning quick in FL Studio 12.


12 December 2015

Tutorial: Thomas Shaw

Even though it’s one of the most widely used DAWs on the planet, some people still have a weird aversion to FL Studio. I get it, a little. I mean, it’s called Fruity Loops and it’s also got that reputation that everyone cracks it and makes their first beats on it. Nevertheless, when you dive in, it’s really good.

I’ve used every DAW and I’m just fastest on this one, which is why I’ve persevered. I use Logic to quantise some live instruments, but I bring all the audio back into FL Studio.

It’s also really efficient. The MIDI mapping is simple and with ASIO driver support FL has really low latency — I’m running my whole project with only 5ms of latency. Even though the developer, Image Line, is close to releasing a proper version for Mac, it’s originally designed to work on PC. I see this as a big plus, because you can build a faster machine for less money.

Where FL Studio really excels for me is in the sequencing — it’s best of breed.

I keep banging on about speed because it can be really important when you’re working full-time on music. For instance, the song we’re looking at here, The Truth, took us four hours and 50 minutes to put together. They’re not all like that: Memories took us three years to make, and Last Chance took a year and a half. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This song worked. Which I needed to finish the song today, because the vocal was being cut again tomorrow, and I was getting on a plane the day after, which also happened to be the album deadline.


Version 12 of FL Studio was a huge upgrade because of the new mixer. Prior to this release, you couldn’t do simple tasks like select multiple channels, or route all of those channels to a bus. It wasn’t necessarily because Image Line couldn’t program it, it’s just that FL routes things in a different manner.

In Ableton or Logic, if you have a track, it’s a dedicated track. You have one instrument in that track, and that’s it. If you want to load a new instrument, you go to the next track. But FL is all sequencer based; the whole thing works like a drum machine. You can put 10 different instruments in the same track if you want. As a result, it’s a little messier because your automation is for individual instruments and sounds, as opposed to actual tracks. In FL Studio 12, they’ve really tuned up the mixer; selecting is vastly improved and you can easily gang faders. The bussing is much better, grouping is a breeze, and you can send tracks anywhere with virtual patch cables or set it to sidechain via the dropdown menu.

It also looks a lot nicer now. The colours are less ‘robust’ and you can scale your GUI to fit any screen, including hi-res ones. Unfortunately, not all the plug-ins I use scale as well, so even though my Razer Blade laptop has a 3K screen, I still run it in HD.  


My background is in singing, which I started when I was in primary school, so I have a soft spot for the melodic. Regardless of Project 46’s style, we’re always going to lean towards songs rather than bangers. This song, The Truth is from our album Beautiful. 

We worked with a lot of good writers and singers, and I got the piano and vocal from Jovany then added all the extra elements like cymbals, percussion and synth. There are a few key elements to Progressive House. For instance, you’re usually going to have a drop at some point but the first part I try to work out — when I’m listening to the song or thinking about it in the shower — is the main synth lead, and I’ll build the song around that.


The key to Progressive leads is layering. I’d say you need the equivalent of 30-40 voices to get the full widening. I stacked a number of synths to get the sound, including ReFX’s Nexus, Reveal Sound’s Spire and Xfer Records’ Serum. You can make the same sound with completely different plug-ins, it’s all about filling out the full stereo and frequency spectrum. For the first lead I used Nexus’ ‘Big Saw Chords 2’ patch, which is a shitty lead sound but a little lower, which works when you stack it. Spire ‘Lead 1’ is a basic wide saw lead I probably made, and the Serum saw sound reinforces only the top notes. It’s already a lot fatter with just those three. Otherwise it’s just really thin, and no matter how much you master or crank it, it’s not going to sound as wide or full. There’s a piano lead in there to add some spike, and some strings too.


Underneath the lead, I have a classic house piano sound playing the underlying chords. It sounds cheesy, but if you stack it in the right way, it’s like a Big Room version of Deadmaus eighth-note chords. You have to compress it pretty hard though.

I shorten the MIDI notes so they don’t sustain through to the next hit. That way it’s a little choppier and they stand out more. Then I over-compress them to make them sit together. The Kontakt piano used for the stabs is the softer sounding of the two, and I sidechained the sharper one to the kick to get it pulsing. 


The song has those three main components, the lead, the chords, and the bass. The bass is just a stock Nexus overdriven synth bass with some additive EQ at around 1kHz to push the talky sound — it’s like a soft bitcrusher. Usually when I talk to a sound technician, they’ll say, ‘wow, you’ve just added 12dB of EQ in a small band,’ which sounds like it’s a bad thing. Typically if you boost EQ that much, you’re going to distort, but I’m running -10dB on my output, so I’m not even close to clipping.

The reason I boost at that frequency is because if I was to boost the actual support chords there, it sounds really weird. But because it’s the high harmonics for the bass, it’ll punch through and support the mids as opposed to squashing them.

There are other tracks I’ve done where the bassline becomes half of the mid chords because of this technique. You have to be careful though, because when you’re cranking things you can easily overdo it.


The buildup has 10 instruments, which seems like a lot, but compared to other projects it’s not. We wanted to keep this song simple, because it’s a delicate breakdown. I kept it mostly to a snare roll, with a tom hitting on the one underneath, and a rising Sylenth patch. I like Sylenth’s pitchbent sounds  because they’re very controllable. I pitched up the snare, and dropped the volume at the same time so it fizzles out right at the very end.

At the buildup’s conclusion is a drum fill, which is comprised of the most realistic sounding drums I could find in the Vengeance sample packs. I’ve made my own samples, but their mostly claps and percussion.

I placed a phaser on the shaker percussion, automating the depth to produce a rising resonance, and boosted some EQ to make it sound even wonkier, then threw it into the background. It sounds almost like a wind/whitenoise build.

I’ve put a few wind effects in there too. Once, I spent a lot of time making all my own wind effects, then realised they sounded exactly the same as all the other wind effects from sample packs. I like to use reverse crashes, because they have their own sound. I make those myself.

To get all these different layers just requires time. I’ve made a lot of songs, and this is an example of combining what I’ve learnt by experimenting over the last five years. 


In the lead up to the drop, I put a high-pass filter on everything except for effects. On the waveform, you’ll see it will be compressed, then it thins out, before going super thick again on the drop. If you use simple automation in your mix, you can avoid having to drop the volume in your final master.

It makes a huge difference on this track, simply because the lead hits on the first beat. Usually leads aren’t hitting at the same time as the kick, so you can just sidechain it out of the way. This one was a real challenge to get it to sound right.


Usually you’d have more click on the kick. But I left it out of this track because it clashed with the synths. People started asking where the kick was, because they didn’t have good enough sound systems to hear that 60Hz bump. Whoops!

With kicks, it’s usually about finding where to EQ out the mids to stop it clashing with other instruments, then just making sure there’s some high end. I like kicks that are tighter on top, and looser at the bottom. 


I mastered half the album, the other half was by Wired Masters in the UK. I always do a WAV export, because it’s refreshing to hear it again, and the project runs more efficiently. I primarily use Izotope Ozone 5. I downloaded v6, but I still use five, because it’s my favourite.

Mastering makes a big difference, there’s a lot of general brightening. I re-crisp everything up and use multi-band compression to squash the mids really hard on the lead. 

A really good mastering technique is to use filters, like a low- or high-pass, just to hear what’s going on in certain areas of your mix. Another trick is mixing the vocal in after the compression on the master bus. I find it’s always a lot harder to get the right mix any other way, because once you throw the loudness on, it squishes the vocal.

The compression on the master is actually pretty minimal; an average of 1-2dB on any one compressor. It goes from Ozone’s multiband into Cytomic’s The Glue and Waves’ API 2500. All up, it’s maybe 6dB, which is also what I usually run for headroom. After compression, I just make up the gain on the API — this one was about +10dB. There’s still quite a bit of dynamic range at the end of it all. Love it or hate it, labels like it squashed, and tend to sign off on it if you make it loud.


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