How do you approach writing synth patches

During these work from home days I keep my synth handy so I can tweak a bit, which got me into writing patches a lot and raised a few questions:

  • do you write patches with a goal/sound in mind or do you just explore the synth and let the interface take you places?
  • do you try to tweak your patches so they sound right at different octaves?
  • Do you test them in a particular key? For some reason I tend to program patches around F or G so I try them in those minor scales

Don’t get me started on naming…

yea i just explore the synth tweaking till it sounds good, and tune/ tweak the patch according to how it sounds in the mix…

I don’t really pay attention to the making a patch around the key/chords im using…

for me naming i just describe the sound or randomly mash keys on laptop keyboard i.e. neuro bass, reese bass, lead, pad1 ,pad2, arp thing, default, ghiegkjk, fwhwfihw, etc…

I start at the osciallators. Try to bring out interesting harmonics or create a bit of movement there. Then I do the amp envelope before the filter (which I didn’t see the importance of for years). Then I get into the filter, and I try to either emphasize some more harmonics or the movement that I created in the oscillators. Then I get into filter envelopes, which again is just about movement OR making a more audible attack phase so you can pick up the sound in a mix. And then I get into more movement either with LFOs going after something that makes sense (osc shape, mix, tuning, filter res or cutoff, etc) and/or go into effects. As the Junos have shown, a nice chorus never seems to go out of style, or a nice delay.

I just play whatever I’m feeling, though honestly I don’t know many scales so I usually just stick to screwing around on the black keys and throw in a few whites now and then. Sometimes I want a patch to play well across the keyboard and I put effort into making that work with keytracking of a few parameters, but usually I’m happy with something that changes a bit over 2-3 octaves. To put it in perspective, even with 9th and 11th chords, I won’t wander wider than that for an entire chord progression, nor for leads and basses. I sometimes take arps to like 6 octaves for effect, but it’s not really a practical use case.

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I don’t tbh.
I basically use komplete kontrol now and find sounds I like and tweak them slightly as required.
I like that setup tbh. I just write with it instead of wasting time making sounds I won’t use.
Especially since I use a ton of guitar now days.

Presets or gtfo.

Seriously though, it depends on what I’m looking for. For me, a lot of sound design in the beginning of a track starts with just fucking around with knobs until something jumps out that sparks my interest. Honestly, a lot of times my motivation to make the track comes from the discovery of some new sound that interests me. It often involves semi-randomly dumping effects into the signal chain and tweaking the synth through those. A lot of what I do is as much process as compositional anyway.

Later on I’m generally more focused - I know what’s working and what sort of frequency range I’m dealing with or trying to fill, and I’ll design around those constraints, building patches from oscillators up. Sometimes I get a happy accident that takes over the track, but it’s usually more icing on the cake.

I vary rarely tune anything to octaves because I rarely use a standard tonal center. It’s a lot of extra work if I’m only going to be using a couple of tones, and I don’t do a lot of work with melody lines anymore. I do bang around on some keys to see how notes interact, and if there’s any weird phasing or whatever from effects.

I almost always name them after the track they were created for. Nothing fancy.

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With making patches I always think of what I’m going for.

Is it meant to be a old school west coast whine lead? Should it be fashioned after a pluck? Am I going for a synth drum? Once I have determined what sound I am after I pick a vst- i/synth with the appropriate textures.

Once I have these criteria out of the way, I begin to determine what sort of wave will interpret the idea I want to convey:
Sine = single fundamental frequency of harmonic.
Square = odd harmonics, instant harmonic changes.
Triangle = fundamental plus odd harmonic.
Sawtooth = both odd and even harmonics.

Draw a long note in the root of any key: determine if the sound will be higher, mid, or lower tone. Then I work on the ADSR of the sounds envelope. Many times I’ll go back and adjust adsr later. Envelope all shaped? Sound starting to sound like something I felt? Then I either add more oscillators, detune, check if I want to add phase, or create pitch bends on my “midi note(s)”.

If everything is sounding ok, I’ll do some work in internal routing for filters, glides, lfo, or any other internal modulation. Once all of the internal modulation routing has finished, I’ll do some internal fx and determine if I want to have any internal routing to them as well.

After all of that I may go back and pitch the tone up or down, or even fine tune it a few semitones…but that is only if I need it to be in a specific key.

Once all of this has been sorted out: time to create macros! Or not…but I usually like to setup a few…even if they don’t get used. May go back and use the synth another time, and volia it’s got macros!!

I think I left out wavetable drawing or importing, but that is also usually done pretty early on. Like after shaping my adsr.

I like to organize so I tend to make a few groups of folders:

After all is said and done I either come up with a name as I am creating the patch, or at the end will have a random title I give it, and put it in it’s folder.

Nothing worse than being at work and having someone say “we need a loud impact sound to warn people of the dangers of electrical shock”, and not knowing where I saved my photon zap Patch!

Most of the time I just like to explore with sound, unless I’m using a drum osc in order to make some hits that can be used later. Most of the time this spills way outside of its own environment and bleeds into the DAW pretty heavily, so I just resample audio as well instead of trying to fit them into neat little compartments to use later.

Then the resampling can be just as bad, spilling out everywhere. I need a janitor :hot_face:

  • both. sometimes if i am just playing around i will just mess about and see what happens. sometimes a happy accident can provoke inspiration or even become the backbone of the resulting sound. other times i know what i need and i work towards that, although the outcome is always slightly different from what i imagined.

  • i create my patches with 2 or 3 octaves in mind. sometimes they happen to work in other octaves but i rarely do much work to make them usable across the keyboard. the only time i do is when the sounds are almost there anyway and the changes that are necessary to make it work do not negatively effect the range i created the patch for.
    bonus info: sometimes i make patches for a certain range, but they end up sounding much better as a different sound played a few octaves away. when that happens i make a copy and work on it as a seperate sound.

  • i usually write some MIDI notes out in my DAW across a few bars that contain a range of notes, chords, gaps, etc, depending on what i am making. but i also regularly bash keys on my keyboard. i guess the short answer is i try to make it work with as many keys as possible so it can be used in the future.

  • as for naming. i try to include as much information as possible. the category will be the first word, eg BASS, ARP, etc then i will come up with a creative name for it, then at the end i will put any other relavant info, such as BPM or keys etc
    the result will be something like “BASS - Dirty Cunting Bass - 170bpm/C”.

all of that ^ goes out the window when i am designing on the fly during the production stage. i will typically design to work with the keys/octaves i am working with, of course with a goal in mind, and naming goes completely out of the window :smiley: