When producing a track, your arrangement and composition may be the best, but music creation involves an equally important part that will give shape to this arrangement and composition, Sound Design.
Sound design, as the name says, is your ability to design sounds. There is no right or wrong for design, but a lot of decisions you make during the sound design process affect how your composition is perceived and also how cohesive it is along with other elements. Therefore, like any other “Big Five” of the track (Composition, Arrangement, Mixing, Mastering), it can make or break your track.
Today, we’ll talk about the following topics:
- Understand Your Genre’s Purpose
- Should You Use Presets?
- Why Develop Your Sound Design?
- Sound Design as an Idea Generator
- How to Develop Your Sound Design
Understand Your Genre’s Purpose
All genres have a purpose with sound design. While Pop is built with a sound design that fits in radios, mainstream EDM is built with sounds more suitable to dancefloors and big festivals. So understanding what is the overall purpose of your track will help you design your sounds accordingly.
Not only this, but some genres use sound design as a challenge and a quality test of the track. In Dubstep, it is as important as the arrangement of it. However, in Progressive Trance, it helps the vibe, while the composition is normally the main part of the track.
Not that it doesn’t matter to Trance, but some genres use sound design as an attribute to the uniqueness of the track while other genres just use it as a way to convey an emotion through the composition.
Therefore, knowing how important sound design is to your genre will help you determine how far you “need to go” with it. What do I mean with that? Let’s go to the next topic.
Should You Use Presets?
You can always use presets, but your ability to make them unique will vary based on how important your sound design is. As said, Dubstep values it so much that I bet some fans would be disappointed if they found out one of their favorite producers only uses presets.
One of the things I love about Skrillex’s Red Lips remix is that no matter how many people try, it’s freaking hard to do what he did and I’ve never seen a Youtube video that has this figured out and that’s part of the hype of the track. Therefore, if you’re making dubstep, then I’d definitely recommend you to tweak presets at least, but preferably create your own.
On the other hand, in Piano House, like MK, the sounds are not so unique. It’s a piano, kick, bass, mid bass and percussion, and that’s pretty much it. The song is mainly about the composition and the vocals whereas the sound design, although important to keep the track cohesive, is not a game changer to it.
I’d still recommend you to tweak presets, but a massive sound design is not what will give you the lead. In fact, overdoing it might not be good as well. Again, it all goes down to understanding your genre and its relationship with it.
Why Develop Your Sound Design?
Regardless of your genre, regardless of your necessity, sound design is a skill that needs to be practiced. To me, it is a bit like riding a bike or coding. Essentially technical, but can be as creative as composing a melody.
The more you practice, the more fluent you’ll be in it. The best part is that once you know how to do it, you’ll always know how. Even though you might be rusty after a long period without practice, you’ll quickly get back to it.
Developing sound design is important to ensure that you’re not limiting your tracks because of it. When I used to produce big room, back in 2015 (listen to Pixels), that was what I knew and period. If you asked me to make prog trance back then, I would have no idea how to start. After that came Cymatics, then I bought Serum, and that’s when sound design got me.
Since then. I’ve spent more than 100 hours with the sole intention of practicing this skill, with no project open or anything. Now, I have an idea of how dubstep or drum n bass are made. That doesn’t mean it will be easy for me if I make a DnB track, but at least I know where to start and have an idea of how sounds from other tracks are made.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy route for it. You’ll have to sit down, and practice, period.
Sound Design as an Idea Generator
Sound design can make your creation process more fun. Instead of viewing it as something that “happens to be like that”, when you understand the concepts, it becomes another creativity source for my creations. Like mixing or composition, Sound design is now an equally important part of my tracks that I have fun working on. I must admit, I’m not the best at it, but I know my ways with it.
The best part of studying sound design, though, is that it can trigger your creativity. Listening to a sound for the first time can be the spark you need to imagine an idea and start making it come true. I can use one of my tracks as examples.
As mentioned on the “Art of Failure” post, LUX, my track with Paul Arcane started as a study. Paul handed me a collaboration he was doing, and I had no clue how he did the bassline. I studied and created my version of it. After Paul dropped his former collab, I sent him the track and invited him to join my track and LUX was born.
How to Develop Your Sound Design
- Choose your synth: If you’re going to start practicing sound design, choose one synth and focus mainly on it. My synth of choice is Serum since I think it is very versatile to do whatever I want.
- Don’t solely watch a synth’s masterclass: Like coding, the best way to practice it is with a real world application for it. Knowing yourself around is necessary, but the only way you’ll develop it is by applying it to something you want to do. If you don’t know anything about Serum, you can watch this class by Virtual Riot to better understand kickstart your Serum practice.
- Tutorials on YouTube: Back in 2016, I did 40-50 tutorials on “how to create a growl” or “how to create a bass like XXXXX”, and I never used one of these presets I remade. Since reverse engineering was something I wasn’t ready for, I followed tutorials on how to create multiple basses. The purpose was not to use, but understand Serum, signal flow and how each parameter on Serum affects the other. My favorite channel for that is Synth Hacker, but I saw a lot of Cymatics and Rocket Powered Sounds.
- Reverse engineer: Pick a preset you like and recreate it by yourself. Understand what each knob or fader does to your sound and how it affects it. Don’t simply remake it without listening, really take the time to understand what’s happening. This will help you get a better sense of what to do when you need to create something. You can follow this example to better understand Reverse Engineering.
I want to hear from you
By understanding sound design, you’re going a step further to making your tracks more memorable regardless of your genre, and that’s why I definitely recommend you learning it.
What is your VST Synth of choice, and why?
Which of these sound design techniques will you practice next?
I love to discover new synths so leave it on the comments section below!