06/19/20

In Praise Of: The Flexibility Of Synth Presets

Production Tips

My ‘In Praise Of’ series returns today with a focus on one of the core elements of the ModeAudio catalogue: the humble synth preset.

‘What’s so great about synth presets?’, you may ask, and of course there are many answers to this, but the one I want to focus on today is their inherent flexibility.

Let’s backtrack for a second; I was deep into some work on a new track recently when I realised I wasn’t happy with my bass sound.

The sound just wasn’t sitting well in the mix, so I decided to scroll through some bass presets I’d made for various ModeAudio releases within Serum, which I was using to generate the initial bass part.

I couldn’t find anything I was happy with, so, on a whim, I loaded up a pad preset instead; suddenly, everything fell into place!

It turned out that a slow, unfurling, heavily filter enveloped sound was just what my track needed, and it completely opened my eyes (and ears) to just how multi-purpose synth presets can be.

I’d like to use the rest of this article to demonstrate just what I mean by building up a short beat from scratch, using a few layers created from synth presets. Let’s get producing!

The Seed

Of course, every track needs that initial spark or seed to kick things into motion. This initial inspiration can come from a great wealth of different sources, but for the purposes of this sonic illustration I’m going to sift through some presets, have a play around with my keyboard and see what flickers into being.

Pulling up the patches from our latest set of Serum presets, Apex - Serum Arp Presets and focusing firstly on working up a bass riff, I decided to start amongst the leads to see if anything sounded particularly interesting in the lower register of the keyboard.

I was immediately taken with the wavering quality of the ‘LD Plastic’ patch, coming up with a simple sequence of root notes I liked the flow of:

Having been designed as a lead synth preset, the sound contains more movement and layering that might be typically expected or associated with a bass sound, which is exactly what drew me to this pairing of preset and function within my arrangement.

Sprouting

Despite playing the sound in a lower octave of my keyboard, most of the energy is in the low mid frequency range, so I felt it needed boosting with an additional layer placed an octave lower.

Again, I sifted through the lead presets to see if anything fit - the ‘LD Magnesium’ patch triggered with the same MIDI but pitched down an octave worked a treat to my ears:

This thick, characterful and layered bass sound felt like a promising start! Next, I decided to concentrate on my lead melodic riff or sequence. Usually, I’d focus my search for this kind of material on the leads and synths but in the interests of thinking outside the box, I waded into the pads instead.

I quickly found a sound that fit the notes I had settled on, working up some chords suggested by my bass sequence - here’s how ‘PD Drop’ sounds by itself:

Now, here it is combined with the bass notes:

With things ticking along nicely, I decided to add an additional melodic part to give the beat a bit more rhythmic interest and movement. This is just the sort of sound I’d typically look to find in the synths and keys section of a given bank of patches, but I opted instead to sift back through the leads again.

The ‘LD Styrofoam’ preset has a lovely, fluttering feel to it, which worked very nicely with the simple descending, then ascending synth part I’d come up with:

Settling back to listen to the mix overall, I was feeling pretty satisfied with my little beat, worked up in minutes, created from presets used in ways other than how they were strictly intended to be used. The power of the preset in action!

Full Bloom

To finish things off, of course, I needed a beat; in the spirit of outside-the-box thinking, I choose to load up some kits from the ModeAudio catalogue which specifically use material that wouldn’t normally be associated with the percussive side of life.

Vapour - Drum Samples is a good example of this, with its blend of drum machines and field recordings, so I selected MA Vapour Kit 07 from this pack and got to work cooking up a rhythm.

Here’s what happened when I did:

Not bad for an hour’s work, perhaps you’ll agree!

I hope my little beat experiment today has showcased the flexibility and versatility of the synth preset, which often have a functionality far beyond what is indicated in by their labels and tagging.

A pad can work well as a bass; a bass as a lead and so on, and this is without any tweaking of the patches themselves even. Taking this also into consideration, it’s easy to see how a quick tweak of an envelope here or dialling back of an FX processor there could very quickly lead to sounds that perfectly fit your mix, offering up something unexpected, unusual and, hopefully, inspiring.

That’s it for today’s piece and I look forward to sharing more music production tips and tricks with you soon - until next time, get creative!