Make your synths bigger!

Everyone wants bigger synths, don’t they? What’s the secret? Is there some miraculous plugin or hardware device that the Big Names know about (and keep secret from all the anonymous internet jerks)? Or maybe it’s a special combination of side-chained multiband mid/side compression alongside fully parametric dynamic EQ and three different limiters is series (in the right order!).

Actually, it’s quite simple. You probably already know how to do this. Most of the time, all it takes is three things:

  • Wide frequency range. This is just what it sounds like – prominent highs and lows. Depending on your mix, you might not be able to extend the highs or lows as far as you’d like, especially if you’re cutting off the top end with a lowpass filter or your bottom end is competing with your kick and bass. Still, keep this principal in mind and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Unison. What’s bigger than one synth voice? Many synth voices. This technique is hardly new – orchestras often have ten or twenty violins playing the same part and choirs achieve a huge sound through many voices. Remember that the more voices you add, the less definition will be present in the sound. As always, you will need to find a balance, and it will depend on the part and the mix.
  • Spacious reverb/delay. Don’t think ‘wet’ – think long (pre)delay time, wide stereo image, high diffusion. This is not to make the sound ‘reverberant’, but to give it a dramatic sense of space. Of course, the specifics will depend on the part and the mix. Sometimes delays can be useful even in a reverb-heavy delay-light mix – it’ll add ambience and space with more definition.

But really, take a step back.

Really.

What are you doing?

Be careful that you’re not just making things messy. Big synth sounds often don’t need much more than wide frequency range (prominent highs and lows), unison, and spacious reverb/delay.

In fact, your synths are probably big enough already. The real questions is – what are you really trying to achieve? Are you trying to beef up your synths to compensate for something else (no, not that something else!)? Or are you avoiding having to address other issues? Are you distracting yourself from the bigger problems in your track?

Bigger synths will not make your music amazing.

They might be an essential ingredient in expressing yourself musically, but what are you expressing? Does it even matter? Are you copying your idols, or are you creating something uniquely you? What are you expressing that no-one else has expressed in that way?

What is your contribution?

-Kim.

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    • Kronsteen
    • January 11th, 2011

    I think two related bad reasons for wanting bigger synths are: Acclimatisation and boredom.

    By acclimatisation, I mean the situation where you’ve heard your own track a hundred times, and what sounded amazing at first now sounds ‘meh’ because you’re so used to it. So you want to bring back the amazing.

    By boredom, I mean you’ve just got bored with tinkering with the track. It’s become a job, not a joy, and you want it over, or else somehow make it interesting again. The same happens when bands overrehearse.

    The difference between the two is: ears (and brains) get acclimatised, musicians get bored. I think when you realise you’re changing the sounds just because you’re bored with it, that’s the time to put the track away for a while.

  1. @Kronsteen
    Good points Kronsteen. Acclimatisation and boredom are good examples of why it’s important to work quickly and with focus.

    -Kim.

  2. Something to also keep in mind is that for one element to be big, other elements have to be small. When I started producing, I wanted everything in my mix to be big, which doesn’t work. Big happens through contrast.

  3. @Fabian Aldersey
    That’s absolutely right. If everything is huge, nothing is huge. That’s what I refer to as ‘everything louder than everything else’. It’s simply impossible.

    -Kim.

  1. January 10th, 2011
  2. January 11th, 2011
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