I am curious about the process of making innovative sounds for synths (no matter hardware or software). I have been impressed recently by some factory presets from NI's Massive. If some of you have insights, experience or ideas about it, please feel free to share.

  • Psychedelic drugs.
    – MickLH
    Oct 4, 2013 at 6:19

5 Answers 5


1 . Knowing how the synthesizer works and how it sounds, knowing its limits -> Knowing how to use it and adjust it towards a certain idea from a certain start point.

2 . Having listened to different synth sounds to gain inspiration from them. Having explored and reverse-engineered settings of good presets to gain knowledge about different "tricks" and understanding of the relationship of different synth components and values/parameters, maybe in a particular synth.

3a. Having an idea or specification of what to create (emulating a known synth sound, creating a new version of a known synth sound e.g. wobble bass, creating a sound that fits into a certain musical style/genre or fills a purpose as an instrument or sound e.g. bass, lead, pad, fx).


3b. Play around until you hear something that gives you an idea and go to 4.

4a. During building the first idea you may hear something which evokes another idea which you can add to your existing patch. Then you take that direction or continue doing what you originally intented.


4b. Trying something unintentionally ("Lets see what happens if I plug this here / change this value here") which evokes another idea, which you then explore or try something else.

5 . Going around this idea-or-experimentation -> implementation cycle until you have something that you're happy with.

AND: Particularly important if making presets for others to use: Knowing how people play or sequence the synth and that particular style of sound. Presets have to be playable and thus are made playability in mind.

The more complex the synth, the more variables there are and the more it's about knowing the synth well and going the experimental 3b/4b route until you hit something interesting, which you can build on. You can build rigorously, but if the synth is very complex it's too overwhelming to chase "precise" ideas and better to just "go with the flow". Or you can always keep it simple.

It doesn't really matter progress-wise what the synth's capabilities or sound sources are. You use a certain synth in a way that the synth is intended to be used and for sounds that you know/think that it can do, you know its limits reasonably well and you know how it works.

Discerning between chaotic/non-predictable/experimental ways of using synths and intentional/knowledge-based ways to use synths and using both methods.

  • Many thanks Mviljamaa. Exactly the kind of informations I was looking for. Methodology is the key ! Jul 16, 2012 at 23:11

If you've not seen it, this panel discussion at Moogfest might be of interest - Eric Persing, Diego Stocco, Richard Devine and Scott Gershin.


and the link:



Another thought. I also watched this program about Curtis Roads the other day. He's basically the father of granular synthesis if you've not heard of him before. He talks a bit about his composition strategies, but as his main tool is the granular process it's really about how he programs his synths. There's a great bit where he likens composing to landscape gardening. This really got me thinking that isn't it the stuff we learn around our chosen field which can sometimes inspire us the most creatively? - even in a field so technologically deterministic as music from pure synthesis.

Pt 1


Parts 2 & 3 here



Can't get them to embed for some reason?? Feel free to edit them in if you know how.

  • Wow ! Listening to Curtis Roads is so inspiring. I use to read his major book but did not imagine he was so... human :-) ! Jul 17, 2012 at 19:56
  • I mean his "Computer music tutorial" was kind of hard stuff for me as a (french) student. Just ordered the book is talkin' about : "education of a gardener". Curious to see how inspiring it could be. Jul 17, 2012 at 20:18

I am a soundware maker for a living, so if I don't make great presets then my family does not eat. That's about all the inspiration I need. :) Inspiration comes the way any inspiration comes; something you hear in a movie, something you think of in the shower, a weird dream, nature, real life, science fiction, or just via happy accidents.

There really isn't a way to dig into the creative process, because the process is going to be completely different for every instrument. Like someone mentioned above, having a solid understanding of the instrument is important. And if you're doing sample-based instruments, which is all I do, then it's really all about the source material.

At the end of the day, just about anyone could randomly twiddle knobs until something cool sounding comes about. Giving it value is much more difficult. Making it musically useful, creating an entire collection of similar, but unique, instruments, making something that people will actually buy and use, and love, and come back for more.

But the real value, and the truly special sounds, tend to come from the people with the great ideas. It's really all about the idea, which I guess applies to any artform. That's my opinion.


I have to agree with the answer given by @theodorejordan. The only other thing I'd add is everyone will have there own way of going around a creative process (coming up with the ideas). This is reflected in the Mavericks of Sound Design Panel video above, where each of the panel clearly have their own way of working.

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