My thoughts on creating your own sounds

by Ruben on October 6th, 2014 Leave a comment »

Every once in a while, someone in my little circle of friends and acquaintances comes along that says: “I never use presets, real artists make their own sounds.”

The short version of my thoughts on that: bollocks!

For those interested in the long version; I get a little nervous by people yapping about “you should always create your own sounds”. Mostly these are teenagers with no imagination at all, don’t know shit about music and do nothing but repeat what they hear others say. There is no need to create your own sounds from scratch if someone else already made sounds for you and probably did it better. I’m not saying it is bad to create your own sounds, I’m just saying it isn’t bad at all to use presets either!

Are you trying to be creative, compose, arrange, actually make some nice music? Or are you trying to be a programmer that knows how to tweak numbers and enter digits in the right places?

Do you really think that famous painters in history made their own paint? No they didn’t. Someone else made the paint and they got creative by creating their own palettes using the ready-made paint and made some awesome paintings with it. The paint was their ingredient, the brushes and canvas are their tools (which they probably didn’t make themselves either) and their artwork is the painting they made in the end. It’s the same with musicians. The sounds are your ingredients, the synthesizers are your tools and you (hopefully) create some nice artwork using the tools and ingredients someone else provided for you.

But great names like Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis also make their own sounds!

Well, first of all they didn’t. Jean Michel Jarre for example had someone specially making those sounds for him so he could focus on making music rather then spending hours to figure out how the synths in these days worked. The only difference being that he had the money to have someone make the sounds exclusively for him rather than using sounds that someone made for a larger group of people (synthesizer customers). Aside from that the first synthesizers in the Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis days didn’t have presets at all, you HAD to make your own sounds to get any sound at all. Working like those artists did in those days doesn’t automatically make you a great artist as well.

Some people “fear” that the public that listens to their music might recognise certain sounds that have been used many times before. Would that be such a bad thing? Do you want to make music for people that don’t care about the music at all but just want to hear new sounds? Do you think great names in history like Stevie Wonder cared that hundreds of other songs already used the Yamaha DX7 “Rhodes” sound? Did Whitney Houston care that literally everybody already knew the famous “Cow Bell” from the TR-808? Did Enigma care that people already knew and loved the “Shakuhachi” from the E-mu Emulator? Or how about the famous Roland D-50 sounds like “Pizzagogo”, which is a very recognisable pizzicato string sound that can be heard in almost every Enya track? See? There’s nothing wrong with using presets. You can create great hits using presets as long as the MUSIC is great, THAT’s what is important. Oh, and don’t even start about the famous Sarrarr sound from the Fairlight CMI. It would probably take the entire day to sum up all the artists and songs that featured this famous PRESET sound that everybody loves!

But using existing sounds isn’t creative!

Why? For God’s sake, WHY? Again; is creating music about mixing the right ADSR settings and filters, or is it about finding a great chord progression and some catchy melody? You can be creative with preset sounds if you want to. You can tweak presets by changing the attack or decay. You can mix presets to have some sharp sound with a short attack cross over to a warmer sounds with a long delay. You can use anything you like on already made presets. If you have a certain type of electronic bass sound in mind, what the F*** does it matter if you start creating your own sounds from scratch, or just start with a preset “Euro Synth Bass” that is present in almost every synth and then tweak it about a bit.

You can here a song made entirely on my Korg WaveStation EX here.

I only used presets on this. It was just a spontaneous jamming, but many people liked the song very much. Can you name or even recognize the electronic piano variation that it starts with? Can you name another song that used it? It’s just a Korg preset! I’m sure you heard the synth bass sound and the rock organ sounds that follow before. Does anyone care that I didn’t create that rock organ sound myself but just used a preset? I don’t think so.

So, I think you get the idea here. Don’t come boasting to me about creating your own sounds! It doesn’t make you any better of an artist and I don’t fucking care at all. First build your own synthesizer and then come back yapping about other stuff that doesn’t matter.


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