The Trap of Collecting Synths
How many synth plugins (or hardware synths) do you currently own? Out of those, how many do you use on a regular basis? Do you have one or two ‘go to’ synths that you use on nearly every song?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you should start using just one or two synths out of your collection for the next month. Don’t use anything else. I know you paid good money for them, but don’t worry, you can come back to them after this experiment.
Just One Synth?!
I know you think I’m crazy right now, but hear me out. By using just one or two synths in all of your productions, you’ll be forced to really learn them inside and out.
Maybe you have a whole bunch of plugins that you use for different purposes. Maybe you feel that since you paid money for them, you need to use them. You can come up with all kinds of excuses, but the reality is by using many different synths or plugins, you’re holding yourself back.
When you restrict yourself to using just one or two synths, you have to sometimes get creative to get the sound you want. Instead of just throwing on another synth that you know how to get that one sound with, you have to figure out the limitations of the synth you’re working in, and how to get around them.
Jack of all Trades, Master of None
When we use a wide variety of synths, we never really master any of them. Sure, you may know how to do a couple of things with each one, but I promise you there’s sections in all of them that you never touch. Maybe you never even knew they existed!
Let’s take professional athletes for example. You don’t see a pro baseball player spending his time playing golf, basketball, football, hockey, and tennis. They spend their time practicing baseball.
In the same way, if you constantly jump between plugins all the time, you’ll never get great at using any one of them. You’ll be stuck being mediocre.
By focusing on one or two, you’ll really start to learn how to use it well. You’ll figure out what sounds it’s best at making, you’ll figure out how to make it do things it wasn’t designed to do, you’ll know what every knob, every slider does.
The Road to Mastery
To begin, choose your synth that you’ll be using exclusively. If you haven’t already, go find and read the manual. Most people don’t do this, and they miss out on so many cool features in their synth. That’s the first step towards mastering your synth.
Now, make sure you use this synth and only this synth (or one other) for the next month. Even if you know how to make the sound you want in another synth, figure out how to do it in this one. There’s very few sounds you can’t make in any given synth.
Next, if you haven’t already done this, look through the presets and listen to each one. This will give you a good starting point for what your synth can do. Also try downloading some extra presets. In popular synths like Serum, there’s a ton of presets available, some for free while others cost something.
Once you come across some sounds you like, but aren’t sure how to create, start by reverse engineering them (or check out my video). Then try to recreate them by ear. This will significantly help you improve at sound design in general, as well as using your chosen synth.
Don’t forget, if you ever get stuck you can always look to google or youtube for specific tutorials on your synth or check out one of many PML sound design tutorials (start here: "List of sound design tutorials")!
"Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person." - Albert Einstein
After doing this for a couple of weeks, you should be getting to the point where you really know your synth. Doesn’t it feel good?! You should know how to get a lot of different sounds out of it, and you should know where all the different sections are and how they interact.
If you’ve successfully gone a whole month with only using one or two synths, feel free to start incorporating others from your collection. Make sure you take the time to really learn each one of them though, and I highly recommend you limit your productions to only a few different synths at a time. There’s no need to be using 6 different plugins most of the time.
Beginner - Spend the next month using only ONE synth for all of your music. Make sure you pick one that’s capable of doing a lot, and not a super niche plugin. Most subtractive (Massive) or wavetable (Serum) synths will work great. Read the manual, picking a few chapters each day, and then spend time working in your synth going over the things you just read. Figure out how to make at least one bass, lead, pad, and arp sound in your synth. Make sure you know what sections are there, and how to use each one.
Advanced - Choose one or two synths to use exclusively for the next month. See how far you can take these synths, and try to make sounds you wouldn’t normally make with them. Open up old songs and try to recreate the sounds you made in other plugins with your current synths. Make a new song using only one of your synths. If you normally use samples, try to create your drum sounds in one of your synths as well. Look up some tutorials on youtube, and recreate a few of the sounds they make that are different from what you normally make.
About Jake: I currently run the website cryonautmedia.com, where I explain sound design and synthesis. I’ve been playing musical instruments for over 20 years, and eventually found my way into producing electronic music. I’d love to hear your thoughts/issues/questions on anything sound design!
Don’t know where to even begin with designing your own sounds? Download my FREE 10 step guide to sound design, and get started today!
More on Sound Design
Available Online Courses at PML:
Sound Design with Sylenth1 (coming soon)
Overview: Sound Design with Xfer SERUM: