What is sound design?

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With so many people taking up music production, it’s very easy to feel like you’re just a drop in the ocean, or that you’re just adding to the noise. One of the easiest ways you can start to break out of the crowd and start becoming a unique producer is by having unique sound design. If you sound different than everyone else, people are much more likely to take notice. Now don’t take that to mean you need to make weird, experimental music that’s so far out of the norm that people can’t help but stop and stare. You still need to have a similar style and stay within your genre to some extent or you risk alienating all of your potential fans. I just mean that your actual sounds you choose need to stand out from others.

Sound design encompasses everything from your drums to your synth patches. Whether you use samples or create everything on your own. When you throw in a sample from the latest pack you downloaded, realize that many other producers are doing the same thing, so one way to immediately begin standing out is to modify those sample just slightly so they aren’t the exact same as everyone else’s. Something as simple as a filter, or compressor, or a little distortion can go a long way. If you’re like me when I first started, opening up a plugin for the first time can be overwhelming with all those knobs and sliders and lights and buttons……. I’m pretty sure I freaked out a little and just closed the program the first time I saw all that. Don’t worry though, developers almost always provide a set of free presets you can use. Despite what you may read on the internet, there’s nothing wrong with using presets. Even some of the big names use them. Someone put a lot of hard work designing all those sounds, so it would be a waste to ignore them completely. Remember what I just said though, if you load up a preset and don’t modify it at all, you risk sounding the same as other producers. Once you load up a preset try messing with some of those knobs or sliders, just see what happens. If it starts sounding really bad you can always load up another preset or even the same one again. Experimenting is half the fun!

Once you have your samples and your synth patches picked out, you’re not done though. That’s another mistake I made for a while when I started. I ignored the other half of sound design entirely. Effects. There are so many effects plugins you can use to modify your sound even more, it’s crazy. Distortion, saturation, compression, delay, reverb, EQ, the list goes on. Again, don’t get scared if you don’t know what any of those are, just throw an effect on your chain and see what it does.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I really recommend you just get in there and experiment. Lots of people do just that and come up with great sounds all the time! It’s actually a great way to break through a bout of writer’s block too. Just make sure when you find a cool sound you save the preset!!! Trust me, you’ll regret it later if you don’t. Make that a habit now, and before you know it you’ll have enough presets and sounds to make your own sample pack to give out!

As producers, experimentation is crucial, but our end goal is to learn how all these pieces work so eventually we won’t have to experiment and use guesswork to come up with good sounds. At Cryonaut Media, we want to guide you to that goal. We hope that you’ll be able to use the information we give out to be able to figure out how to get the sound out from your head and into your DAW. If that sounds like something you want for your production, then subscribe to our newsletter so you can get notified every time we post a new article or video! Now for the fun part, the homework! (You never thought you’d enjoy homework, did you?)

Action: (I’ll try to have some assignments for both beginners and advanced producers with each article. If you start with the beginner assignment and feel comfortable with it, give the advanced assignment a try!)

Beginner – Open your DAW and your favorite plugin. Pick one if you don’t have a favorite yet. Start cycling through a bunch of the presets until you find 3 or 4 that you really like. Take note of all the settings they used to get that sound. Move some of the knobs/sliders/etc and see what effect that have on the sound. If you’re feeling good about all of this, Initialize the plugin (sometimes called the init patch) and try to rebuild one of those presets. See how close you can get! It’s ok to go back and look again if you need to.

Advanced – Open your favorite plugin. Come up with 3 or 4 of your own presets that you like and save them in your user folder of that plugin. Really try to use all of the features in the plugin, especially if there are some sections you tend to avoid. Look in the manual or google how to use the different sections if you aren’t sure. You’re goal is to become a master of this one plugin. Try to use just one or two until you know them inside and out. Next, put some effects in the chain that complement that preset. Try to emulate some of your favorite producers if you don’t know what to try. Finally, if you have a great melody or bassline or anything, freeze the track and convert it to audio. Now you can use that to sample later on, or even start your own sample pack!

Question: What is your plugin of choice? How did you pick that one? Which areas of that plugin do you tend to avoid and never use?