MEET THE WRITER
Joe Stachowiak, Online Editor
Our online editor & social media guru, Joe, has been performing on the Bournemouth Drum & Bass circuit on and off for the last 6 years and is now taking a break from live gigs to build up his home studio and delve further into his synth programming.
This article will give you a brief introduction of the things that you should consider when creating your own sounds.
When you first get into synths, you’ll probably only be interested in one thing… the presets. However, while presets are an excellent tool to gain inspiration, many people never make it past the ‘preset tweak’ stage and so miss out on one of the most powerful and exciting features of a synth: the ability to create a completely unique sound from scratch. In case you thought sound creation was only for the experts, you’re wrong! All you need is the urge to experiment and you’re off! Also it never hurts to look through the manual as often this unlocks a wealth of secrets, giving you an idea of what happens to a sound when you tweak one knob or another.
START IN NEUTRAL
It’s always best to start with a blank canvas. Some synths feature a ‘Default’ patch/function, but if yours doesn’t then it is worth creating one. In essence, you should aim for a sound that is as boring as possible! A default patch should contain no effects, no modulation and very neutral amplitude envelope and filter settings. If your synth features multiple oscillators, set them all to a simple waveform (such as a sine or saw wave), make sure that none are detuned and maybe deactivate all but the first oscillator. This should leave you with a very simple, single waveform, giving you maximum headroom to start creating your own sounds. You should then save this patch to your synth’s memory. Now, whenever you want to make a sound, you can load up this patch as a starting point.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
It sounds obvious, but even if you don’t have an exact sound in your head, it’s worth having a vague idea of what you want to create otherwise you will just be pushing buttons and knobs at random! At the very least you should know what type of sound you want to create (bass, lead, percussive), how much presence you want it to have in the mix, if it will be musical or effect-like, and you should also have a general idea of how this sound will evolve over time.
SOUNDS START HERE
The first things that I alter when creating a sound are the oscillator waveforms. Obviously you will be constrained by the types of waveform that your synth offers and the number that it lets you combine, so it’s worth having a listen to what each waveform sounds like in isolation at different pitches. You should then be able to pick a few that have the characteristics of the sound that you have in your head (or gain some inspiration if you don’t have a clear idea). If your synth offers multiple oscillators, you can layer different waveforms to create a sound with all the elements that you desire. You can then experiment with other oscillator parameters, the most obvious being the detune controls. However, your synth may also offer other controls such as pulsewidth modulation (PWM) and frequency modulation (FM).
The detune parameters can be used to make your sound appear 'bigger' by triggering oscillators simultaneously at different pitches. If you want to create a musical sound, experiment with the Semitone control and learn which settings sound appealing (a basic knowledge of chords will also help here). However, if you are creating more of an effect-type sound, then you can get really experimental!
FUN WITH FILTERS
At this point it is also a good idea to make alterations to the filter. Start by selecting the type of filter you want and then play around with the Cutoff and the Resonance controls and see what you can come up with. Also experiment with the Amplitude Envelope (and Filter Envelope if your synth has one). To give your sound a percussive, snappy character, set very short attack and decay times. If you want your sound to have more of a fade, set a longer attack time. Play with all the different envelope settings and don’t forget to go back and tweak other parameters as your sound progresses.
If you follow these basic steps, you’re already on the road to super sound creating, but this shouldn’t be the end of your adventure…
ADDING SOME EXTRAS
Why not try adding a second filter (if your synth offers one)? Or add a little bit of distortion to add more character to your sound (or lots of distortion to really filth things up)?!
If your sound still isn’t BIG enough, then think about adding some Unison. Also, why not add some effects? If your synth features an arpeggiator, you can also check this out for some fresh inspiration.
One area of your synth that you should definitely make use of are the LFOs (low frequency oscillators). At their most extreme, LFOs can add a completely different element to a sound, but when used subtly, they can inject it with new life! For example, you can subtly modulate the pitch of a sound to create a hint of vibrato or delicately modulate the pan parameter for a subtle stereo effect. There’s loads you can do, so experiment by trying varied rate and intensity settings.
In two short pages (well, it was in the magazine!) I’ve only skimmed the surface of programming. At the end of the day, it’s all about doing what sounds right and experimenting, so go for it! Don’t be downhearted if your first few attempts sound like a litter of farting kittens! After all, the more mistakes you make, the more you will learn, and the next time you load up that synth and carry on your programming fun, the closer you will be to becoming a synth-creating master. Feel the force!
• Roland Jupiter 80
We love this new take on the classic Jupiter 8 with its wealth of editability, must-have sounds and powerful synth engines.
• Korg Kronos (available in 61, 73 and 88 note versions)
In this year of the super synth, the Kronos has bowled us over with its nine synth engines and ultimate playability. This is what we call a Synthesist's synth!
Click HERE to read part 2 of this synth programming feature and learn how to create an airy pad sound, a techy moan and a 'Jump Up' bass sound.
If you want to view our full range of synths, then click the link below: