You are here

Synth sound strategies...

For fans of synths, pianos or keyboard instruments of any sort.

Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:03 pm

OK, this is one for the synth hardware nerds hereabouts. I am mostly meaning MIDI synths with memories, not fully analogue monos and modular etc, as should become clear.

Reading an interview with Tony Banks in Desmond’s marvellous Muzines http://www.muzines.co.uk (can’t recall which interview, there are a few...but it was from the 80’s or early 90’s) Tony said that his approach to synths was to have around 30-40 sounds per synth, because anything more was simply not manageable.

Accepting that everybody has different reasons for having synths and different ways of using them (e.g. gigging, studio, just noodling etc), I was wondering what strategies people have as regards finding and using sounds on synths with memories.

At one time I thought I would use librarian software and try to work through every sound on every synth (that had a suitable librarian) so that I could always find a ‘percussive harsh metallic with long release’ sound or ‘soft hollow pad with strings envelope’. But I have been trying to sort out the library for my SQ80 for about 15 years - 5000-ish patches! Still not getting there, then I find another source of patches and it all goes to pot again.

So I am a little more inclined towards Tony Banks’s approach - but maybe a bit more than 30-40 sounds. Is it better to find perhaps a few hundred sounds for each synth, which play to the strengths of each synth type, e.g. FM tinkles and gongs, smooth analogue pads and brass, arps on the best arpy synths, complex mods on the synths with good mod matrices.... etc.

Obviously some synths excell across many areas, and have useful sound type groupings. It wasn’t hard to organise all the sounds in my Nord Rack 3, more or less one sound type per bank, which works really well.

I suspect the technically correct, efficient answer is to have only a few synths and get to know, organise and use them really well.
But that isn’t going to happen. :headbang:

So how do you good folks manage this issue? Or is it not an issue for you? What’s that you say? Get a Juno 6 and shut up?!
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby IAA » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:14 pm

Tony said that his approach to synths was to have around 30-40 sounds per synth
......and you could tell! Banks is one of my favourite rock composers and players, but sound design wasn’t one of his strengths IMHO.

For me I create an init patch as a basis for lead, pad, etc and start from there. I do try presets, but invariably they’re a bit overcooked for me UNLESS they’re part of a specific design pack. There are some fantastic sound designers around (many in this parish) and some of those are even better starting points.

Using your own starting off point tends to get you somewhere a little different but more likely original, plus you’re learning your synths capability’s. Downside it’s initially longer, but like most things more rewarding.

I think if you start with an idea for a sound that’s a strategy that more often ends in the ball park than the “twist and see” approach.

So a few self penned curated starting off points, a sound idea of what I after and some ideas from some of my preferred sound designers.
IAA
Regular
Posts: 432
Joined: Fri Dec 28, 2007 1:00 am

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby nathanscribe » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:38 pm

I hadn't realised how few of my synths had memories at all till your post made me check. U-110, Mirage, Jupiter 4... and the Peak.

I've had lots of synths with lots of patch banks, and I don't think I ever arranged them by type. Some even have 'genre' labels on the panel, which I find annoying – but the main problem with this approach is that a sound might straddle several categories, or be designed for one purpose (lead, maybe) but sound really good as a bass drone etc. How do you categorise that perfect Oxygene pt.49 seagull-stealing-chips patch when your banks are labelled "2-step K-pop metalcore" or whatever the kids are listening to these days?

I find that when I have a synth with memories, I make patches during noodling time, and store them in the next available slot. The Peak, for one example, has onboard categories (bass, pad, classic, etc) but I wonder if it's as useful to just keep a spreadsheet or paper list with the sounds and some personal ideas/reference notes alongside. Whether I ever use those sounds is another matter.

Mostly these days I make sounds specifically for a project, record the patch details and any associated processing (which for me is as much a part of the sound as the originating patch), and move on. I rarely re-use any.

I do have lots of historical patch sheets loitering around the place, which have migrated from heaps to files and folders and back to heaps again. All of which suggests I am crap at organising things, and none of which helps you at all. :headbang:
User avatar
nathanscribe
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1108
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2007 1:00 am
Location: Wakefield, for my sins.
I have no idea what I'm doing.

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:56 pm

IAA wrote:So a few self penned curated starting off points, a sound idea of what I after and some ideas from some of my preferred sound designers.

That certainly is a ‘sound’ sound strategy - nice one.
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:59 pm

nathanscribe wrote:All of which suggests I am crap at organising things, and none of which helps you at all. :headbang:

Not at all - everybody’s approach is valid and interesting, even if it is not to store patches at all. Thanks Nathan.
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby Folderol » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:59 pm

My synth of choice has a highly organised bank storage system, that I take some pride in having helped to develop. It is highly configurable and clearly laid out allowing you to quickly create new banks and swap/move patches between them, maintaining reliable full MIDI addressing.

There are also smaller 'patch sets' designed for storage to specific projects. these are usually to the addressed 16 MIDI channels, but can actually be up to 64 under certain conditions.

Currently I have a total of 2234 patches, but actually mostly use the ones from just three banks with just under 200 spread between them, and I probably use about half of that number.

I confess to being a little on the OCD spectrum :lol:
User avatar
Folderol
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9728
Joined: Sat Nov 15, 2008 1:00 am
Location: The Mudway Towns, UK
Yes. I am that Linux nut.
Onwards and... err... sideways!

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Dec 27, 2019 8:01 pm

When I bought my Prophet 12 a few years back, I was initially put off by the presets, and nearly sent it back during my cooling off period.

However, I'm glad I didn't, as I've since created dozens of my own presets that work beautifully in the context of my own music. One of the problems with 'factory presets' is that the test bed instrument circulated between different sound designers is inevitably only available to them for a limited time, so you rarely get any in-depth sounds.

However, the other main thing that I find (particularly with an instrument such as the P12, offering lots of performance controls) is that presets you create yourself tend to evolve and get more expressive when you map various parameters to various performance controls as you play with it, to further the range of 'real-time' expression.

So, even if you come up with a fairly comprehensive 'universal preset labeling ' system, it's still unlikely to tell you all the things you need to know when choosing a sound.

Camel Audio had a very good stab with their Alchemy synth, but I can remember the nightmare we had trying to maintain a consistent use of all the sound 'tags' each time a new sound library was released - one person's 'bright' is another person's 'thin' ;)


Martin
User avatar
Martin Walker
Moderator
Posts: 14963
Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:44 am
Location: Cornwall, UK

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby MikeDB » Fri Dec 27, 2019 8:40 pm

IAA wrote:
Tony said that his approach to synths was to have around 30-40 sounds per synth
......and you could tell! Banks is one of my favourite rock composers and players, but sound design wasn’t one of his strengths IMHO.

There's an interview with him, I think for the Selling England remix/reissue where he says nowadays he just uses presets on instruments as there's always something close enough to the classic sounds he produced years ago.
MikeDB
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Dec 27, 2019 8:36 pm

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby desmond » Fri Dec 27, 2019 8:54 pm

My first preferred approach is to have a synth filled with my own patches - that way *all* of them are to my tastes, and I know them well.

Of course, that takes some time and effort to do.

The next favoured approach is to not delete stuff (in case they might be useful for some future project), but spend a little time and go through and Favourite or rate them. This means I can at least go into Show Faves mode, or Sort by Rating, and only flip through sounds that are to my taste, and skip all the wobble basses, EDM gunk and alien space landscapes. While this is also an investment, I usually break it up by grabbing a coffee and say "Ok, let's going through the Pad category" today, and just work through the sounds to fave or rate them (depending on the features of the synth).

In something like Alchemy, say, I will usually do something like:
5 stars - *love this*
4 stars - really nice
3 stars - ok, but nothing special
2 stars - don't really like, can't see it being useful
1 star - awful/useless

I used to do a lot more using sysex management (SoundDiver by choice), but these days, it's more about software synths, but patch management is a pain - for instance, with virtual versions of Casio CZ synths, Yamaha DX synths, Roland D50, Korg M1/WS etc - the amount of patches out there in the while is rather staggering. Attempts are organising them is rather futile and hits diminishing returns very quickly.
User avatar
desmond
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9104
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:00 am
mu:zines | music magazine archive | difficultAudio

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Sat Dec 28, 2019 1:27 am

Really interesting thoughts, thank you all. It wasn’t meant to be a question of presets vs roll-your-own, but I suppose to some extent it comes down to that. One of the reasons for keeping some presets is that some of them may have been very well programmed, so provide an insight as to what is possible and how. I have listened to some presets, thought ‘how did they do that?’ and in digging around to find the answer, realised that the synth could do something I wasn’t previously aware of. So presets merit a good check over, even if they later get deleted or customised.

The question of synth sound types or categories is an interesting one, because there is no standard - nor could there be.
These are some category examples I already had typed up, so just pasted in here:
KingKorg
Synth Lead Bass Brass Strings Piano Key SE/Voc
Blofeld
Init Arp Atmo Bass Drum FX Keys Lead Mono Pad Perc Poly Seq
Nord 3
Acoustic Arpeggio Bass Classic Drum Fantasy FX Lead Organ Pad Piano Synth User1 User2
Novation KS
1 Bass 2 Arpeggio 3 Motion 4 Dance 5 Pad 6 EP/Clav 7 Strings 8 Brass 9 Organ 10 Sweeps 11 Soft Lead 12 Hard Lead 13 Bells 14 SFX 15 Vocoder 16 Ex Aud Trig 17 Drums

I left out the Roland JV system as that could take an entire posting on its own. It has 38 categories but, cleverly, each one has a three letter acronym. I am wondering about using a limited selection of these (maybe 12-15) then a 1-5 star rating as Desmond has. 3 letters and a numeric 1-5 rating could be included in a patch name on many synths that don’t have an inbuilt category system but do allow a longish filename.

A problem with ranking synth sounds is, what are you ranking them for, at the time you are auditioning? Probably the sounds that stand out and make you pay attention, but that may mean you only keep stand-out sounds and that some vanilla sounds that would work well in a mix might not seem to make the grade...

No easy answers here :headbang:
but fun to think around the questions :beamup:
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby desmond » Sat Dec 28, 2019 1:57 am

BillB wrote:A problem with ranking synth sounds is, what are you ranking them for, at the time you are auditioning? Probably the sounds that stand out and make you pay attention, but that may mean you only keep stand-out sounds and that some vanilla sounds that would work well in a mix might not seem to make the grade...

For me, it's really down to two main things - my rating scheme is about how much I *like* a patch, and how *useful* it is likely to be for me - the idea being that if I'm looking for sounds I want to use, if I stick to 4 and 5 star patches, I'm likely to have a high hit rate and it's all stuff I like, and is stylistically applicable to my typical music.

I'm only going to venture into the lower rated sounds for a particular reason - say, I still need to find a sound but haven't found it in the higher rated patches, or I need something unusual that I'm not normally likely to use - say, I'm scoring an alien movie and I actually *do* want to trawl through the sci-fi ambiences and wibbly crazy FX for a change (which I don't normally need in my regular music).

Basically, the goal for rating systems that's most useful for me is to effectively remove all the crap I don't want to waste time on, and only leave stuff that matches my tastes - *without* deleting all the other stuff *in case* I might need it, or want some inspiration or source material outside of my usual tastes.

Of course, everyone's needs vary, but I'm sure most people have had the same old tedious trawl through presets going "Nope... nope... dreadful... weird useless EDM noise... oh, *that's* nice! [play a bit]..." Once you systematically go through each category and weed out the "nopes" and "dreadfuls" and "I'm never going to need *that* in a million years", when finding patches later on, the search is more efficient as you're not having to retread through all the stuff that's useless to you, unless there is a specific reason to want to...

If that makes any sense...
User avatar
desmond
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9104
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:00 am
mu:zines | music magazine archive | difficultAudio

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby Arpangel » Sat Dec 28, 2019 10:23 am

It takes decades to find out what your sound actually is, and to become comfortable with it.
Once you have you’ll find that you only need a handful of sounds, that you use most of the time.
If I get a new keyboard I just automatically try and get sounds on it that are like the ones on my other synths regardless of what it is, but they will have a slightly different character.
My A-Station has 32 sounds in it, my Micron 24, my Buchla has none for obvious reasons.
I have about 40 sounds for my DX7, so I’m with Tony on this one, any more than that is a waste of time IMO.
User avatar
Arpangel
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2530
Joined: Sat Jul 12, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Sat Dec 28, 2019 1:44 pm

desmond wrote:If that makes any sense...

Yes it does. It sounds like quite a lot of work, but we know you are not afraid of that :thumbup: :clap:
Worth it to be more efficient when you come to pick and play sounds.
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Sat Dec 28, 2019 1:51 pm

Arpangel wrote:so I’m with Tony on this one, any more than that is a waste of time IMO.

Interesting you are the only one to back up your namesake so far... a coincidence? Perhaps... :D

It’s a valid approach, but do you ever worry that ‘your sound’ may be at the expense of missing a wider sonic palette that might take you in different compositional directions? Or is the self-imposed limit a fair trade-off?
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby desmond » Sat Dec 28, 2019 2:03 pm

BillB wrote:Yes it does. It sounds like quite a lot of work, but we know you are not afraid of that :thumbup: :clap:
Worth it to be more efficient when you come to pick and play sounds.

Over time, it may be a fair amount of work, but you're only ever doing it in short stints, so much so that it doesn't become a chore, in some ways is a nice break from the more serious effort of working on or finishing something, and it's also a useful spark along the way as you discover little musical ideas while surfing through sounds - so it's not like it's entirely wasted time... :thumbup:
User avatar
desmond
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9104
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:00 am
mu:zines | music magazine archive | difficultAudio

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby ManFromGlass » Sat Dec 28, 2019 2:39 pm

I’m the opposite of OCD. (DCO?)
Each project requires its own sonic signature. I tend to start with a preset and then turn stuff off within the patch as most take up too much of the spectrum. With softsynths like Omnisphere (wot more than 5000 patches and growing?) I use their category suggestions and then jump in anywhere in the extensive list and start to audition. I find something close. I want to get writing as soon as possible without the sound hunt getting in the way.
The idea of spending down time organizing patches has no appeal here.
User avatar
ManFromGlass
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2543
Joined: Sun Jul 24, 2011 12:00 am
Location: In the woods in Canada
 

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby Adam Inglis » Sat Dec 28, 2019 2:53 pm

Great topic Bill, and you make some excellent points, viz:

BillB wrote:A problem with ranking synth sounds is, what are you ranking them for, at the time you are auditioning? Probably the sounds that stand out and make you pay attention, but that may mean you only keep stand-out sounds and that some vanilla sounds that would work well in a mix might not seem to make the grade...

BillB wrote:It’s a valid approach, but do you ever worry that ‘your sound’ may be at the expense of missing a wider sonic palette that might take you in different compositional directions? Or is the self-imposed limit a fair trade-off?.

More and more, I find my own taste is my enemy!
Well, at least, the narrowing of focus that occurs when one is "searching for a sound"!

I'm currently about 12 months into learning Midiquest. Incredibly deep program, with dizzying potential for building tagged libraries of sounds ("patches"). It's been quite a curve, but, oh joy, to have a DX7, D-50, two CZ101s, a Proteus, Ultraproteus, M1, TX81Z, MKS-50, and a bunch of drum machines all accessible from one program... what took me so long?? It's not for everyone, but for managing the vast number of sounds available from that many synths, there aren't a lot of options anymore. Or should I say, there are maybe too many options, all separate and not integrated...
User avatar
Adam Inglis
Regular
Posts: 412
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:00 am
Location: Gold Coast Queensland Australia

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby Folderol » Sat Dec 28, 2019 3:10 pm

... and another thing :)
Quite often when inspiration finally? strikes, I use just any old sound to get it fixed in place and broadly arranged, then go back at my leisure trying different sounds, splitting parts out and developing counter melodies, for which again I use any sound at first.
User avatar
Folderol
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9728
Joined: Sat Nov 15, 2008 1:00 am
Location: The Mudway Towns, UK
Yes. I am that Linux nut.
Onwards and... err... sideways!

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby BillB » Sat Dec 28, 2019 4:12 pm

Adam Inglis wrote:Great topic Bill
I'm currently about 12 months into learning Midiquest. Incredibly deep program, with dizzying potential for building tagged libraries of sounds ("patches"). It's been quite a curve, but, oh joy, to have a DX7, D-50, two CZ101s, a Proteus, Ultraproteus, M1, TX81Z, MKS-50, and a bunch of drum machines all accessible from one program... what took me so long?? It's not for everyone, but for managing the vast number of sounds available from that many synths, there aren't a lot of options anymore. Or should I say, there are maybe too many options, all separate and not integrated...

Thanks Adam. I am a MidiQuest user too. That’s where my 5000 SQ80 sounds reside. And yes, it edits or ‘librarians’ a whole load more of my MIDI synths and devices, which is when it comes into its own in cost terms. Just checked - about 17 :crazy: of my bits of gear are on this list.
https://squest.com/Products/MidiQuest12 ... ments.html

I have set up tags to suit my own approach to categorising them, but I’m not sure I can face the process of categorising all the sounds on all the synths/fx, to the depths that MQ allows (as per examples in my first post). However, it is fairly quick to dump everything from an instrument into an MQ library, then give it a basic category label (bass, lead etc) and a ‘star’ ranking as Desmond does.

From there, they could be made into banks of category types, with ranking. Whether you can then store these in the synths’ memory or a card/drive for quick access, depends on the synth and what ingenious storage updates may have been made for it.

Not sure that I want to work with the patch librarian premise of MidiQuest, which is to enter a search for all the sound parameters you are looking for, to get a refined set of sounds. This is rather like the hardware equivalent of the patch selection in VSTs like Omnisphere, Alchemy (as already noted by Martin), Analog Lab, and software like Yoshimi (if I am understanding Will correctly). I have an idea that that approach may work better in the software world than it does in hardware. If you select a softsynth VST sound within a DAW for a project, it stays selected. Whereas, if you squirt a patch as MIDI Sysex from a software librarian to a hardware synth, it needs a place to live if it is to be recalled for further song development. So fixed banks perhaps make more sense.

There is a MidiQuest response to this, which is to use each librarian as a VST, embed it in your DAW project and have the sound sent each time you load the project... super clever, but feels like a layer of complexity too far at present. Plus, I really enjoy not turning on the PC and just noodling, so the idea of working towards a hardware-based solution, albeit getting there via software librarians, is what appeals. Those who actually make a living from their music might want something more efficient...

If I wanted real efficiency I would just a get a capable DAW + Omnisphere or similar, and be done with it. Not my bag!
BillB
Frequent Poster
Posts: 816
Joined: Mon Apr 07, 2003 12:00 am
Location: East Yorkshire

Re: Synth sound strategies...

Postby Eddy Deegan » Mon Dec 30, 2019 4:40 pm

Interesting thread. I must admit I've never had this problem as I simply don't bother categorising things. It's far too organised for me :-)

At a quick rough estimate I'd say I have a ballpark 25 thousand patch memories collectively between my various hardware synths and the thought of doing any form of manual indexing on them is something of a nightmare.

What I do have is a good awareness of the sounds that each synth can make, so when I need a string sound, I'll either use the built-in category search on one of the digital synths or flip through the sounds on one of the analogue polysynths until I find something I can use for now. Most things I record the MIDI performance along with the audio anyway, so changing it later is easy enough.

Other than a handful of special 'goto' patches that I made myself, I like trying to use new sounds in my work anyway and I find that happy discoveries are quite common with my approach.

One thing I do often is make notes on paper about each track with information about the synths, patch locations and other salient info for future reference. This then gets stuffed into a folder and never looked at again in the main. I've not always kept that up to date but it's something I try and do.

Possibly not a method for everyone, but it suits my way of working as, with a few exceptions for some special patches, I prefer forging new paths to retreading existing ones!
User avatar
Eddy Deegan
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 3299
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:00 am
Location: Brighton & Hove, UK
Some of my works.
Please consider supporting the SOS Forum Album project.
 

Next