26 Synthesis & Sound Design Tips from the Experts

26 Synthesis & Sound Design Tips from the Experts

September 6, 2017 — We surveyed 45 expert music producers to get their very best music production tips… and the result was awesome!

Our panel of experts had so many great synthesis and sound design tips that we decided to organize them here for easy reference.

We asked each member of our panel to give us his/her very best tip or technique for synthesis and sound design.

So here they are: 26 synthesis and sound design tips, according to our panel of expert music producers.

Cheers!
Scott Hawksworth's signature
Scott Hawksworth
Founder, AudioSkills

Click here to view the entire list of our expert contributors, including links to their social media profiles.

We asked the experts: What’s your best tip or technique for synthesis/sound design?

  1. Start by making a sound with the basic fundamentals, i.e. pad, acid, bass, lead etc… Then from there keep working on the sound and experiment until something cool comes out. — Bjorn Akesson, BjornAkesson.com
  2. I find that it is so easy to waste time when it comes to creating synth sounds. Nowadays I’ll tend to start with a preset of a sound that’s almost what I’m looking and manipulate the sound from there. If I’m using a software synth I’ll always save my own preset to recall later. Likewise, If I’m using hardware I’ll always take a picture of the settings if there’s no option to save. — Kurt Martinez, KurtMartinez.co.uk
  3. Take a simple drum sample and use pitch shifting, distortion and filtering and try to create different sounds with it. Can you make a kick drum sample into a snare drum or hihat using just those tools? — Cristofer Odqvist, Magnetic Sound
  4. Convolution reverb in iZotope Trash2. it’s the single easiest way to make a sound more ‘professional’, interesting, and unique. importantly, use the dry/wet slider as you definitely don’t always want it 100% wet. — Adam Pollard, Multiplier
  5. Bounce to audio, especially in Ableton. It’s insane how much you can change a sound with warp modes alone. Also, running virtually anything through granulator 2 always results in some interesting stuff. — Nolan Petruska, Frequent
  6. Tweak and…tweak! Try new combos, new effects, new oscillators, the only way to get new sounds. — Mauro “Kenji” Serra, Music Producer
  7. Don’t worry too much about creating a library of sounds outside the context of a specific composition. Every sound lends itself to various compositional ideas and when there is synergy there might be magic. — Alex White, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
  8. I love just taking ordinary sounds and then processing them heavily with effects. Sometimes I’ll cut the sounds up weird and even resample them so the new sound can be played on the keyboard again. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
  9. Movement. It’s all about movement. Variances in velocity, pitch, or even just a subtle LFO on a filter will go a long way. It’ll take a simple sound and make it more interesting and natural. — Brett Edwards, DJBrettEdwards.com
  10. Do separate sessions that are devoted solely to sound design. This helps you to focus solely on the music when you are producing and keeps you from getting bogged down in technical tweaking land. — Matthew Tryba, MatthewTryba.com
  11. Start with a preset, and tweak until you get what you want. It’s way faster (and way easier) to start with a decent preset, and tweak it until you get what you’re looking for. If you need to learn how to tweak synth patches, try Syntorial. — John Lavido, JohnLavido.com
  12. Use simple parts, but layer — Jimmy Deer, JimmyDeer.com
  13. You have to believe there’s something new out there waiting for you to find it. — Ark Patrol, ArkPatrol.net
  14. I absolutely love resampling my OWN track ideas and sounds. Are you bored with a song you’ve worked so hard on? Speed it up or slow it down and render ‘odd’ sounding elements to an audio file. Chop those samples up and start a new track with these resampled elements of the track that grew stale. — Lee TNB, The New Beatmaker
  15. Layering is the key to achieving the professional sound. It can be used to make sounds richer and fatter but using the attack of one layer and release of another can add sonic variation to catch your listeners ears. Employ different ADSR parameters on each layer so that the sound continually morphs between the different layers. — Rick Snoman, Dance Music Production
  16. I tend to focus on a background ambient bed before going crazy with front-facing content. Tons of discernible sounds will still sound out of place if there isn’t the basic “air’y” sounds of life behind them. — Marc Plotkin, MarcPlotkin.com
  17. Get yourself an analog synth that doesn’t use any presets (something like a Korg ms20 mini). This will force you to start from scratch every time you use it and will ensure you have a better understanding of synthesis after some time. — Idan Altman, IdanAltman.com
  18. When you are sound designing this is a great time to be as extreme and creative as possible with your processing. This also makes it a great time to explore and learn the parameters of your hardware or plug-ins. Kill two birds with one stone. — SoundOracle, SoundOracle.com
  19. After you are done with a mix, listen to it. It’s that simple. No really, listen to it. Listen to it in the car. In earbuds. On the home theater system. Really take moments to listen to your mix any and everywhere! I’ve found listening to your mix in the studio over and over really limits the ability to pinpoint flaws, because your studio’s system is top notch! You can hear a fly sneeze, that’s how clear they are. Take the mix and listen on different systems, critique it and from there you will get the best mix possible. — Chris Adams, Von Joie Music Group
  20. YouTube is a godsend for sound design. There are so many different tutorials on all the major synthesizers. Watch as many as you can stomach for whichever synthesizers you are using. You’ll be an expert in no time. — Phil Ber, PhilBer.com
  21. Make sure to utilize your EQ, a little bit of EQing can turn the most awful sound into something beautiful. Also, use plugins that aren’t meant for your instrument, for example use a plugin meant for guitar on a piano sample. Something cool could come out of it. — James TenNapel, Syndrome
  22. Start with simple sounds, as sound design can be incredibly overwhelming when you’re new to it. Most of the best, most usable sounds in electronic music are simple, and they have stood the test of time. Learn the basics of subtractive synthesis, and try to restrict yourself to just one synthesizer/plugin to start with. — Paul Laski, P-LASK
  23. Experiment. Learn, read books on subtractive, additive, frequency modulation, phase modulation, granular synthesis. Some types of synthesis work better for specific genres! I prefer FM and Additive for EDM! Subtractive is great for hip-hop but, as I said, EXPERIMENT! — Florin Mitru, Kugelbleatz
  24. Learn about the 7 basic elements of a synthesizer and what they do; Oscillator, Pitch Envelope, Filter, Filter Envelope, Amplifier, Volume Envelope and LFO. Once you know how to use those elements really well designing any sound you want becomes easy. — Thomas Glendinning, ELPHNT
  25. Layers are your friend when you’re sound designing. A sound by itself may not work but once you’ve added other sounds it can really transform into something cool. — James Nagel, JamesNagel.com
  26. Learn Scales Octive Roots and Triads — Cairo Dyvine, CDyvine Muzik Group