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YoshiBlade

Are VST presets a cop-out?

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So the title is it? Are presets in Massive, Thor, Hypnotic Dance or whathaveyou a cop-out? I will almost always tinker, under the hood with any VST preset, but someone I respect greatly almost made it seem like they were a crutch, unless you built it from the ground up...It's always been so much easier to take a preset that sounds close to something I would like to use, then tinker from that point rather than go ground up. I want to level up my productions so seriously I need personal opinions...."Are VST presets inferior ( weakening my production skills) to building sounds from the ground up"

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I find the "you have to use your own tones exclusively" mentality among electronic musicians absolutely hilarious.

The reasoning usually is "you'll sound like everyone else!" Well, even if you make your own dubstep sounds, trance plucks, etc....you're still making the same tones as everyone else and I doubt the average listener is going to be able to tell your supersaw apart from any other. The elitism, as far as I can tell, stems from the belief that "I'll sound different if I use different sounds" instead of "I'll sound different if I composed different sounding music."

I'm not saying conventions of the genre(s) are a bad thing, but it is pretty funny to think that making your own synth patches is going to set you apart from the pack when you're using the same types of chord progressions, off-beat bass and four on the floor kick patterns.

It's the logical equivalent to thinking that building your own guitar and amp, but playing the same drop-tuned metal as everyone else is going to result in you sounding different from every other metal band.

So no, I think tinkering with an existing sound that is maybe close, but not quite how you want it to sound or just coming up with a serendipitous sound based off that preset is totally valid.

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No. It doesn't matter whether you make a sound from scratch or modify from a preset. If a preset sounds close to what you want or you can envision it becoming what you want, then go use it. If you want to personalize your music and have your own style, then having your own custom sounds helps, but it's not all you need. You need to bring other new things to the table, like your own melodic contours and interpretations, your own structures if possible... go beyond simply making the new sounds.

If they were 'cop-outs', then I wouldn't want to sell Zebra soundbanks.

Edited by timaeus222

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No, they're not.

You can use all kinds of presets and make an amazing song. You can also customize every piece of sound in your work and have a boring waste of time. It's the end result that matters.

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this is a great question that I will be happy to share my 2 scents on the subject since I would catch myself asking the same thing to myself from time to time.

To me, its only cheating (or a cop out) if you went ahead and grabbed a preset to then do nothing about it and leave it the way it is... Always find a way to change things up and experiment even if its just a little bit.

Heck! even the type of presets that play entire notes/beats while 1 key is being pressed (that are usually avoided), are extremely fun to mess around with. True that u can't really call it ur own but if u experiment it hard enough where u can barely tell its the same preset, then ur doing the job right by experimenting and learning new ways to create music in the process, so give urself a lil pat on the back for being a miniature DJ for a moment there. ;-)

Some may agree/disagree with me, but in the end. Whats a better way to learn then to experiment. Preset or not.

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I find the "you have to use your own tones exclusively" mentality among electronic musicians absolutely hilarious.

The reasoning usually is "you'll sound like everyone else!" Well, even if you make your own dubstep sounds, trance plucks, etc....you're still making the same tones as everyone else and I doubt the average listener is going to be able to tell your supersaw apart from any other. The elitism, as far as I can tell, stems from the belief that "I'll sound different if I use different sounds" instead of "I'll sound different if I composed different sounding music."

I'm not saying conventions of the genre(s) are a bad thing, but it is pretty funny to think that making your own synth patches is going to set you apart from the pack when you're using the same types of chord progressions, off-beat bass and four on the floor kick patterns.

It's the logical equivalent to thinking that building your own guitar and amp, but playing the same drop-tuned metal as everyone else is going to result in you sounding different from every other metal band.

So no, I think tinkering with an existing sound that is maybe close, but not quite how you want it to sound or just coming up with a serendipitous sound based off that preset is totally valid.

^

THIS. Yeah, this mentality is definitely elitist - most listeners aren't going to give a %@*& if your sound is a preset or not - and I think that some presets are friggin' amazing.

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no, presets are there to help you. People dont often realize that being a musician is a multi-faceted hobby. some people excel in arrangement and composition where others excel in drum programming or sound design, it doesnt mean you suck as a musician if you dont design all of your own patches and SFX.

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Oh you write for trumpets in your orchestra pieces?

I write for and play my own hand crafted custom brass instruments that I made myself in my brass instruments workshop I built myself in my garage.

But your way is fine too, I guess.

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There have always been 2 demographics for synthesizers which is both those who have a great passion for fiddling around with them to create their own stuff, and those who just want something useable straight away. The DX7 in the early 80's was massively successful on an unprecedented scale in spite of being a bitch to program for, because it was one of the first synths to come with factory preset banks.

Even before the days of memory-stored presets in the 70's, musicians who programmed synthesizers would largely gravitate towards the same kinds of sounds. Since in the end it's really about what sounds pleasant and functional to us humans, which in reality is extremly narrow compared to the actual possibilities. It's just the same with theory and composition where the vast majority will hardly ever venture outside the 12 tone system even in avant garde circles.

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Good presets are meant to be used, and can often be used verbatim. No need to feel dirty or wrong. No preset-shaming!

They can also serve as a jumping off point for JUST the right sound, with varying degrees of tweaking, or to illustrate the capabilities of the synth/library in question.

It really only gets squishy for me when you start talking about individual patches that have melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic components, each with substantial structure/complexity, where you can press a key or two, hold them down, and you then use that as the guts of your track. Ahem, Nexus.

My objection to doing that echoes my objection to the extensive sampling we sometimes see in ReMix submissions, where an entire melodic part AND accompaniment have been sampled at length, and form the bones of the track, with the artist's own contributions layered on top.

In essence, I feel strongly that you should own the bones of your music, but that borrowing some fleshy bits here and there is acceptable and often inevitable.

Pretty much.

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No, they're not.

You can use all kinds of presets and make an amazing song. You can also customize every piece of sound in your work and have a boring waste of time. It's the end result that matters.

this is where i draw the line. it's not just the end result that matters. the process of creation is meaningful in itself. it is intricately linked to the end result.

at the same time, i'm not against presets at all. you don't have to build your own violins to make chamber music. (ic darkesword already did that one)

the point is, you can express yourself in many ways. it needn't be the creation of a new instrument (patch). composition is enough to spend a lifetime with. no one forces you to be a sound designer as well. there's so many good sounds out there already.

but that "end result" sentence i keep hearing over and over, i disagree with it. completely.

Edited by Nase

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Prefab sequence/rhythm style are funny in several ways. I remember listening to some of those that came from the Korg Wavestation and one of them sounded awfully familiar. Turns out that in the US version of the Sonic CD soundtrack, Metallic Madness has practically the whole song made out of just that preset being held down at different keys.

Then there's the conundrum with how it affects the ridiculous Content ID system which is implemented in online services like YouTube and Soundcloud. If you use one one those presets and someone else has used it in their material earlier and gotten it registered in the Content ID list, then you risk being labeled for copyright infringement. Just goes to show how at odds with reality that kind of shit is.

Another interesting thing I've notedis in how communities centered around making dance music, when people are talking about "chords" they are more likely to be talking about synth presets with harmony baked into them.

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ehm, gecko's post made me think a little more...i'm not really 100% happy with the analogy both i and DS used.

one has to acknowledge that the essence of a synth is the fact that you can program a multitude of pretty different sounds on it. that's the essence of the instrument. the essence of a synth is that it offers many sounds that have some instrument-like quality in their own right.

that's why comparing an acoustic instrument with a synth patch doesn't feel perfectly right to me. the instrument is the synth, at the end of the day.

and this is reflected in electronic music. when a new sound appears, it hits hard. if people dig it, it becomes kind of an instrument in its own right. think acid 303, dubstep wobz, hoover sounds lol.....a lot of electronic music is about finding new genius/silly/orgasmic/transcendental/mindnumbing sounds. and the instrument for doing that often is the synthesizer. not the patch :P

so ehm, anyway, it's really about what you want. idk, i don't mind some cheesy elements in my music either, sometimes using a really fucking silly showoff preset seems...just right. sometimes it ends up sounding genius in the right context. and that's awesome.

but one has to acknowledge that the sound searching is a large part of many electronic genres.

Edited by Nase

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Oh you write for trumpets in your orchestra pieces?

I write for and play my own hand crafted custom brass instruments that I made myself in my brass instruments workshop I built myself in my garage.

But your way is fine too, I guess.

Funny and a very good point!

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isn't this whole discussion an extension to the "does music have to be original" question? and if original, how original?

if so, isn't it a bit stupid?

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this is where i draw the line. it's not just the end result that matters. the process of creation is meaningful in itself. it is intricately linked to the end result.

but that "end result" sentence i keep hearing over and over, i disagree with it. completely.

and that's fine, you're a producer. As a producer, the creation can be meaningful, but your average listener isn't going to know or even care about the process of your creation, they're only interested in the end result and whether they like it or not.

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this is where i draw the line. it's not just the end result that matters. the process of creation is meaningful in itself. it is intricately linked to the end result.

at the same time, i'm not against presets at all. you don't have to build your own violins to make chamber music. (ic darkesword already did that one)

the point is, you can express yourself in many ways. it needn't be the creation of a new instrument (patch). composition is enough to spend a lifetime with. no one forces you to be a sound designer as well. there's so many good sounds out there already.

but that "end result" sentence i keep hearing over and over, i disagree with it. completely.

So I feel this is a good place to partition the discussion from the"oh you use loops" angle to this point...I once saw a guy working out with a mask that reduces oxygen flow in the hopes that it would help him with distance running...now he was working harder than anyone else, but it didn't provide any benefit, it just made his workout harder. So does ground up synth design make the work harder without any benefit or is there some substational learning benefits from synth design?

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So I feel this is a good place to partition the discussion from the"oh you use loops" angle to this point...I once saw a guy working out with a mask that reduces oxygen flow in the hopes that it would help him with distance running...now he was working harder than anyone else, but it didn't provide any benefit, it just made his workout harder. So does ground up synth design make the work harder without any benefit or is there some substational learning benefits from synth design?

that comparison is pretty rofl.

see, what it boils down to is, if you have a synth, are you gonna use that thing? i mean really use it, explore it sonically and stuff? good. that's cool. not like you have to. some of em i can't get into at all. but if it clicks and you're somehow pushing the plugin's sound into interesting territory, then everything's good! and that involves learning to program it a bit, most of the time. period.

doesn't mean you have to reprogram every tiny sound from scratch over and over. you know, apart from giving you readily made sounds, these preset thingies are pretty good at storing your OWN sounds as well! that's awesome! you can reuse your old shit! and expand on it! technology these days......

sorry i have a headache.

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So I feel this is a good place to partition the discussion from the"oh you use loops" angle to this point...I once saw a guy working out with a mask that reduces oxygen flow in the hopes that it would help him with distance running...now he was working harder than anyone else, but it didn't provide any benefit, it just made his workout harder. So does ground up synth design make the work harder without any benefit or is there some substational learning benefits from synth design?

No, then yes.

You do get the benefit of a fresh take on the synthesis of a sound each time you start from scratch. There was a time when I synthesized four quite different basses from the same essential steps that I ended up memorizing as I made them, just changing one or two steps. I find that pretty much every time I sit down and synthesize something, I don't make the exact same thing each time. And if I do, then I try again. But I only do this to see what can come out of the synth.

I think learning synth design can help train your ear to detect otherwise subtle production issues or nuances. If I didn't learn how to use Zebra2, I doubt I would be as keen to detecting resonances as I am today. And, it also helps you to recognize what other people may have done in their sound design (or preset editing)---whether it's synth-based... or physical modeling... or something else---so you can distinguish what they did in their overall layering, or even their production in general.

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