5 Reasons Why Using Synth Presets is a Good Thing!
There are many people who swear you should throw away all the presets that come with your synths, and maybe you’re one of them. I have a few tips that may make you reconsider.
I do a lot of sound design, across a lot of different synths. Every single day. And there is a common theme that keeps popping up in forums, magazine articles, Facebook threads, etc that is a little alarming to me. It’s the idea that all synth presets are bad. Now I am the first in the room to stand up and say that people should make their own sounds and not use generic ‘cookie cutter’ presets, as I do truly feel that it hurts more than just the songs they are heard in. But I do feel strongly that presets are a GOOD thing to have on hand, and even to seek out!
So you load up a preset that is really complex, deep and pretty much intimidating to you at your current sound design experience level. Perhaps it does not even sound close to something that you normally use in your projects. Don’t throw it away! There is probably a lot you can learn from it. If it seems beyond what you could do on your own. spend some time with it. Especially with the modulation assignments and macro controls. Learning more about sound design, and synthesis in general, from reverse engineering synth presets is a great way to get past plateaus and/or writer’s block!
We all hit the wall sometimes. Writer’s block is not something that only haunts those who put pen to paper. It is also on the prowl for musicians, sound designers, etc and there are some great ways to fight it off. Sometimes all it takes is the smallest sound to get the creative juices flowing again, and what could be easier than loading synth presets! Selecting a preset that you may not normally pay any attention to is a good place to start. Maybe it uses wavetables that you never use. So use them! Try to find small elements in a patch that you can use as jumping off points in your own patches. Maybe there’s a filter that you never use because it mystifies you. Well, you can be sure to find synth presets that use that filter in such a way that allows you to wrap your mind around how it works. Once you get it, use it right away.
Checking out other peoples’ synth presets is also a great way to avoid making the same mistakes they do. Maybe you don’t have many patches that have mistakes in them, but I’m sure there are many you feel could have been done better. There are probably even more that you find annoying or not worth keeping. Take a few moment to dissect some of these synth presets to see if you can identify what it is that is rubbing you the wrong way. Perhaps it is a certain wavetable that you don’t like when it’s used with a certain effect or filter. Knowing these things helps you avoid frustration in your own sound design sessions.
Find Your Master
Apprenticeships under a true master is something that has slowly disappeared in many industries and trades of the years. The sound design industry definitely seems like one that is worse for this trend. But you can still find a master of your own and learn from them! Chances are, if you really like a patch that someone made, they have other synth presets you would enjoy as well. In fact, there are many rather prolific sound designers that spend a lot of their time and effort creating synth presets for the masses. Find one, or several, of them. Get all the sounds they’ve ever made for the synths you use and begin walking yourself through them step-by-step. Recreate the same patch yourself in a separate iteration of the same synth on your screen. You need to actually DO the work, not just look at the settings. This makes all the difference!
Stop throwing your synth presets away. And by that I mean start saving and archiving them. Make sure you can easily browse them in a file management approach that makes sense to you. As you progress and grow over time, it is important to revisit your older patches. This provides you the opportunity to gain perspective, a chance to look at your own work more critically and (hopefully) move beyond whatever it was that held back that sound from being something truly great. It’s easy to say that learning from your mistakes is important. But it is even more important to identify the things that need improvement and to be willing and able to make those changes. You should never feel like you have finally mastered something, if you are truly passionate and interested in it. You should continually chase the dream of being better, of still blowing your own mind with your own creations and, in turn, you should be able to level up again and again, even after years of hard work and practice.
To wrap this all up in a way that makes sense and inspires, I’ll leave you with this tip. Once you get into a groove with the ideas presented in this article, make some ‘starter templates’–synth presets that are loaded up with certain routing schemes, wavetable combinations, etc that you can use as a starting point for new sounds. Eventually you will become adept in this approach and you can begin experimenting freely within them, allowing yourself to be limited only by certain boundaries that you have chosen in advance. It is a wonderful way to strengthen your skills, efficiency and confidence when programming synth presets!
All that said, do not rely upon other peoples’ synth presets to make your music, if what you want is to make truly unique and groundbreaking music. Gleaning inspiration and knowledge should be more than enough to fuel your endeavors. If you are not a sound designer and currently need synth presets to produce the music you want to make, don’t listen to the haters and do your thing!