LEAVE SOME SPACE
Often if your designing a sound in an isolated way without the context of the rest of the mix, it’s common that you will over compensate for the silence by filling out your synth patch so that it takes up a vast majority of the frequency spectrum.
Whilst this sounds nice on its own you will find this large sound will be very hard to place within a mix.
Think long and hard about the type of sound your creating and whether you want the sound to sit behind certain instruments or cut straight through them in the mix.
This way you can make informed decisions about how large and upfront the sound should be, as well as how much room of the frequency spectrum to allocate to that specific sound.
Make use of filter envelopes to shape your sounds and prevent them from going too low into the sub frequencies or getting too crazy in the mid-high and high frequencies.
WORK WITHIN THE PLUGIN
Try to get the sound right at the source before moving on to the next stage.
firstly start with the oscillators, then move on to the filters and amplitude envelopes etc. You can then go back afterwards and make further tweaks before moving onto the FX section.
Try to use effects within the plugin before moving to your go-to effects within the DAW, this way you’ll be adding subtle variation between the types of effects you use.
Once again you shouldn’t have to be drowning sounds in effects to make them fit. You should simply be using these effects to further enhance the final sound and help it to sit in the mix.
MIDI NOTE SELECTION
When designing your sound try a few different methods of working. For example build yourself a midi pattern first, then try to sculpt your sound to best fit the pattern.
Likewise, try doing this the other way around and notice how different the results are. Always change up your methods and tactics throughout music production to further your skills.
By doing this You’ll often find yourself coming across happy mistakes that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to create.
LEARN THE BASICS
There’s no excuse for being ignorant to the fundamentals of sound design.
spend the time to learn the basic workflow of most synths: that is to learn the functions of oscillators, filters, amps, amp envelopes, modulation and effects and how they will manipulate the sound.
Also get to grips with the different fundamental waveforms such as sine, square, pulse, triangle, sawtooth and noise.
Learn they’re strengths and weaknesses as well as useful ways to combine and layer them to create certain sounds. By learning the basic knowledge you will be able to listen to, and reverse engineer almost any sound.
LEARN THE SYNTHESIS TYPES
Check out our synthesis types article for a low-down on the different ways we can create sounds.
Using the basic knowledge of synthesis is one thing but there’s not much hope in trying to make a metallic or glass like sound by using subtractive synthesis when FM synthesis is far more suited to it.
If you find that your sound design creations aren’t living up to the pro-producers tracks that you listen to, then try to listen more critically to how they’re sounds develop over time. Injecting movement into sounds without making it obvious is no easy feat. But there is a plethora of ways to utilise envelopes, LFOs and automation to add further interest, depth and character to your sounds.
There’s no harm in trying to emulate your favourite artists sounds, likewise there’s no harm in using presets either. Just remember to try and branch out and tweak these presets to make them your own. You can also reverse engineer these presets to learn how new synths work.
As with copying other artists, just remember that there’s already one Maceo Plex out there making his signature sounds. If you copy him your only ever going to be as good as his best work, which has already been done.
Use emulation as a tool to learn new skills, then develop on them creatively to find your own unique signature sound that no one has ever heard before. Become that new guy that everyone else is trying to emulate. Just remember to share your production secrets with us!
Moving back to what we said earlier about using presets, from time to time flip this rule on its head and build a bunch of patches from a blank initialised sound. This will make sure that you put all of the modulation routing to good use to get a really interesting sound and this also stops new sound designers getting tangled up with the inner workings and modulation matrix of ready made presets.
Try to set aside an hour or two a week purely to sound design. This could be purely to experiment without a goal other than to test a new synths features. You could set yourself a few miniature goals, such as to try and create 5 new sounds within the allocated time slot that you can save as presets and use in later productions.
By constantly practicing your sound design little and often, your skills will vastly improve.