One of the purposes of this site is to encourage aspiring engineers and give them the tools to make their recording dreams come true. There is a lot of talk about the best ways to get good sounds, not waste time, and maximize your time. Now, let’s take a different tack.
Sound design. Sound design is a ubiquitous element to TV, movies, and theatre that creates incredible nuance and pivotal storytelling, using sounds that range from weird to the commonplace. Just about every DAW is ready made to create amazing sound design, yet most producers shy away from sound design.
The reason is simple: synthesizers are intimidating. Increasingly so. Synths have come a long way since the 1970s and some now require a degree in electrical engineering to comprehend.
Do you know the difference between a voltage controlled filter and filter resonance? Do you understand low frequency oscillators? Lots of people think they do, but it gets confusing. There’s a lot more to sound design than twisting knobs on synths, like Foley recording and effects processing, but synths offer the tools to create incredible storytelling sounds.
Of course, understanding synthesizers goes beyond sound design. Synthesizers are a pretty common element in many home productions, but a lot of producers just reach for a preset and tweak it a little bit. What if you understood synthesis and knew how to make the sounds you have in mind? It doesn’t take much. There was a post here recently that helped visualize the parameters of a synthesizer with an oscilloscope. Now it’s time to start putting it all together with this article from Unique Blog .
The oscillator is the first stop in the synthesis food chain. Oscillators create sound by spinning at a high rate of cycles per second, hence the name. The shape of an oscillator’s wave form is the first stop along the way to determining the harmonic character of the timbre created. Typically, options in a standard subtractive synth will include sine, sawtooth and square waves, not always, but often present is the triangle wave. This is what people mean when they are talking about “waveforms.”
This might sound like a simple explanation. But a lot of people play with synths and never understand this. Just reviewing the basic principles of synthesis is a good exercise for electronic musicians of any level. Even if you don’t use synths, many of their principles apply to plug-ins and other parts of modern production. Understanding synths will increase your overall production knowledge.