Posts Tagged ‘ Synths ’

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.


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?



Mixing Synths

Without getting too deep into ergonomics and workflow, often synth parts from the same synth (and sometimes different synths from the same company/designer) will make it easy to design sounds that blend well together. This is not only because they might share the same oscillators or filters, but also because the user interface encourages a similar approach to sound design. 

On the flip side, synths with different user interfaces may encourage a different approach to sound design. Of course it’s not just the interface, other factors may include different oscillator and filter algorithms, as well as different envelope curves, keyboard/velocity scaling, portamento curves, etc. 

If you don’t have a precise idea of the sound you want to design before you design it, you’ll find yourself more influenced by the affordances of the instrument. In other words, if you think “I think a snappy bass might work here”, you’ll go with what the instrument guides you to – the type of sound that the instrument makes easy to design, and the type of sound that sounds good quickly on that instrument. On the other hand, if you’re very clear about the exact sound you want (ie, you can hear it in your head) AND you know your instruments well enough to know how to get it, then you’ll “fight harder” to get what you want, but the end result will work better in a diverse mix. 

If you’re working on a project with several different instruments and you’re finding a part isn’t quite blending with the rest, try this: 

1) Pull the part’s volume right down to silence. Don’t use the mute button – actually pull down the channel fader. 

2) Listen to your mix without the part, and IMAGINE the part. This is sound design, so don’t just imagine the notes or the type of sound (composition stuff – I’m assuming here you’ve already got that sorted). Really imagine how it sounds in the mix – frequency spectrum balance, dynamic range, depth, height (seriously!), interaction with other instruments, etc. This isn’t easy, and you’ll need to practise in order to get good at it. 

3) SLOWLY raise the channel fader of the offending part. Stop as soon as it sounds wrong (or, you can hear the wrongness). Mentally compare the sound you’re hearing with the sound you’re expecting. Try to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the sound, and what changes need to be made. Sometimes it’s just one aspect of the sound, often it’s a combination (which is why it’s difficult to get the sound to sit in the mix if you don’t know exactly what you’re aiming for). 

4) Fix the sound. This is where it really pays to know your tools. Sometimes it’s adjusting the synth parameters. Sometimes it’s different eq, compression or other effects. If the sound is very wrong and you’ve used a lot of channel effects (such as eq and compression), remove them. Clear the channel and start again. 

If you still can’t get it to work, you might need to go back to the composition. What are you trying to achieve with that part? Perhaps the rhythm isn’t working well against the other parts. Perhaps you need to transpose the part up or down by an octave (or less than an octave!). Maybe your imagination has failed you and the music actually needs a different type of sound, a different instrument. 

Sometimes the music is simply better off without that part. Don’t try to shoe-horn in a sound just because you think it’s cool – every part in the music has to support the music. Ask yourself – what is the music trying to do here? How is this part supporting it? These are difficult questions to ask, and even more difficult to answer. With practice you’ll get better at it, and your music will thank you for it.