Tuesday, May 25, 2021

SYNTHESIZER PROGRAMMING: Why Program Synthesizers?


Synthesizer Programming in the Age of a Thousand Factory Presets. 

I recently read an a magazine article discussing the iconic Polysynth comp used in Prince's 1999 where member The Revolution Lisa Coleman said Prince had a tendency to 'just use a preset, and brighten the f**k out of it!' So if it's good enough for Prince why don't I, or anyone else just use raw or slightly tweaked factory presets. Let's face it, synths and keyboards come with a lot more factory loaded stuff now then when 1999 was recorded.  

With both software and hardware synthesizers being supplied with hundreds, if not thousands of factory patches and sounds, I've found myself asking the question 'why do I program synths'. To be honest I had no firm answers, but I though it might be interesting to sit down and actually think about why I take part in this sometimes time consuming, frustrating, but ultimately rewarding exercise. The answers didn't actually come that easily, but here are my thoughts. 

It's an Essential and Embedded Part of the Music/Art Creative Process.

Not all of the music I make can be described as 'electronic'. I'm not a purely electronic musician but I still consider synthesizer programming an essential element that is often at the root of the creative process not just an embellishment or afterthought. For me, many songs and pieces grow out of original patches and sounds created with a range of software and hardware synths. 

Factory Presets Still Don't Cover It. 

Most modern hardware and software synths do come with a plethora of factory presents and sounds but you still have an almost limitless supply of possibilities with many modern instruments. I even find some of the 'mainstream' hardware synthesizer workstations still have pretty powerful synthesizer engines with close to infinite combinations and settings. 

Synthesizer Programming Is An Art In Itself.

Yea. I guess this is an important one. As I mentioned, programming synth patches can be a frustrating and time consuming process, but also a rewarding creative endeavor. Rather like songwriting or creating fully realised musical artworks, synth programming is an art in itself, and I can share or even sometimes sell the results.

To Really Dig Deep and Master An Instrument.

I don't use that many synths. Financial restrictions are one factor (although there are lots of great sounding freeware instruments) but I like to really dig deep and master any instruments I use. You can only really do this by diving in and programming sounds. That way, if a factory sound does only need 'tweaking' you know how and what to 'tweak'! 
For me, the best example would be the original Synapse Audio DUNE. I've produced hundreds of patches for that instrument and I really think I know it inside out, and it took me some time. I consider myself a DUNE power user and I've only just recently invested in DUNE 3. 

I'm Not A Very Good 'Pure' Songwriter.

I guess someone who is a pure singer/songwriter type musician might use a 'standard' palette of sounds (piano, bass, drums, etc) and more power to them. This piece is not meant as a criticism of artists who don't program synth sounds from scratch. In fact maybe it's my own limitations as a songwriter that I find myself seeking inspiration from my synthesizer programming efforts. Maybe it's a crutch!

It Keeps Me Out Of Trouble. 

As someone with many vices, any more 'innocent' pursuits that can keep me occupied and take up my can't be a bad thing! Everything in moderation!


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