Blog: Why Presets Are Evil

The joys of the init patch      23/07/13

Blog: Why Presets Are Evil


Ok, let's get a few things straight from the start here:

  1. Actually I don't really think presets are evil, many people who use synths have no time or inclination to find out how to program them and benefit hugely from the work done by the many preset programmers out there and just get on with making music. I totally get that. This article is aimed more at the many synth-users who use presets because they are overwhelmed by the idea of programming or just find it's too much effort because they don't know what they're doing.

  2. Presets can be a way of learning how synths work. They can be a way to see how someone may have used part of a synth in a way you may not have thought of and tweaking presets is at least a start towards programming your own stuff and being original.

  3. I use presets. There, I said it. "Hypocrite" I hear you cry. Yeah yeah ok, let me clarify. If I choose to just flick through a few presets it's because I either don't have time to start from scratch right now or more likely I know I have a preset which fits exactly what I want for a track. Often the patch is something I've created at another time during a dedicated sound design session, sometimes it is a preset that came with the synth. Some of the people working on presets for some of the bigger synths are far better and more inventive programmers than me and there are times when their sounds are exactly what I'm looking for.

So, I'm not making any sense, are presets evil or not?

Let's start by saying this: Samplers were designed to sample, not just playback from huge libraries and Synthesizers were designed to synthesize! To create new sounds not heard before, to start from basic elements and craft a noise so devilishly intricate that listeners would wonder if someone had dropped something hallucinogenic in their morning tea. My feeling is that if you have a synth and you are not exploring it, bending it to your will, finding out everything it can do (and then pushing it to do more) then you are missing out.

If you buy a synth, scroll through the presets, get bored and then go buy another one then you are missing out. You're also wasting money. Yeah ok life is short, people are busy, Facebook status updates have to be read, Coronation Street is on shortly and for goodness sake who has the time to read manuals and learn how these complicated things work!? Well fair enough, life is busy but honestly I believe that as a musician you stand to gain massively more from owning 2 synths that you know inside out than 10 that you've barely scratched the surface of.

When you create a sound for a track, especially given the complexity of synths these days, it's possible, likely even that you just made something 100% original. It's possible that the sound you just used on that track has never been heard before.

If you'd used a preset then anyone who buys that synth has access to that sound and could also use it on their track. That's not always a problem of course and with modern DAWs it's possible to layer track upon track ad infinitum so maybe nobody will notice you used a preset but there is something special in knowing you just made a track using 100% or even 50% sounds you created.

There is a lot of music around these days, so much so that getting heard above the white noise of free downloads created in bedrooms world-wide can be nigh-on impossible. But I guarantee that you are more likely to get heard if your starting point is originality and I believe this starts from crafting new and original sounds. You may think the listening public don't identify presets, sure they probably don't know the exact patch or synth it came from but you can be sure that hearing the same sounds over and over will have people flicking to another track before you can say Attention Deficit Disorder.




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