Presets - is it cheating?

In this blog post I look at whether using presets from your synthesizer of choice is cheating. To sound unique should you always roll your own? 

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By Adrian Earnshaw

There’s no denying that synth presets which come with your latest hardware or software purchase normally sound fantastic. That’s what they are designed to do, make the synthesizer or effect sound impressive. They are there to shift as many units as possible after all. However, there are sometimes downsides in that patches can be saturated using built in effects that you find it hard to make them fit into your track.

So it begs the question as to whether using presets at all is cheating? The short answer is both yes and no.

 

Presets - The Friend

Presets have their uses, especially when it comes to getting your track started and fleshed out into an arrangement. They also provide an ideal platform to adjusting and manipulating the sound to make it unique to your track.

I tend to find using the random feature within Omnisphere, my synthesizer of choice, can help you stumble across patches that you may not have ordinarily stopped to listen to. By using this method a lot of the patches I have come across have helped me get that all important starting idea for the track.

“Let’s take a famous example, the ubiquitous ‘Amen’ break. This is arguably the most used sample in the history of music”

Using presets, therefore, has it’s uses and should not be dismissed as cheating your way to a successful track. Let’s take a famous example, the ubiquitous ‘Amen’ break. This is arguably the most used sample in the history of music but I doubt those who have sold a million records on the back of it considered that they were cheating. Each use of this short break has created unique tracks, as the key is how you mould sounds round it.

Coming up with your own patches for each and every part can be very time consuming. By the time you have done this any idea of writing music can just feel like one step too far and you end up calling it a day.

Presets, therefore, play their part when you are up against a tight deadline to provide a track for a client in a short space of time.  Alternatively, you may already have composed a bank of your own presets, but are these truly unique to the track? This is where we move on to the downside of using pre-built patches and samples.

Presets - The Enemy Within

The most obvious reasons for not using presets is to avoid sounding too much like your peers. That absolutely mega sounding lead synth patch you like may have been used in a million different tracks. This may give a confusing message to your fans, are you trying to make a track in the style of <insert artist name here> or is it that you haven’t found your own unique sound.

Using presets can also be a destroyer of creativity. Just think, you have composed a killer bass line but the patch you have chosen just isn’t what you were looking for. You then spend the next 10 minutes preset surfing until you find the right one. However, when you come to build on that bass line the spark of creativity you had has now gone.

Conclusion

There we are, some for and against arguments of using presets. What do you feel about using presets and what do you consider their pros and cons?

I will leave you with one little story. A musician called Bert feels so strongly about not using presets he decides to build his own using his favourite hardware synthesizer. But after making the patch he thinks to himself that this is cheating as he didn’t design the filters and oscillators. So he goes and learns how to make his own. 

But after learning this he still feels like it’s cheating so he goes and learns how to actually build his own hardware synthesizer. Having discovered the keys are made of wood, he then chops down a tree and makes his own keys. But he didn’t grow the tree and so he plants seeds to grow his own. Hang on, who made the seeds though?

The motto of this story – when is creating your own patches and samples really your own?

Take care my friends and until next time check out my YouTube channel for more cosmic music – YouTube Link

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