Experimentation with sound has been a common theme within the music community for as long as music has been made. It’s human nature to seek out new things and new sounds are definitely one of them. Over generations it’s led to the creation of new instruments, samples & synthesized sounds.
Making things even crazier is the fact that we’re still finding weird, new sounds today. It seems like any time we decide that we’ve “found” every type of instrument and musical sound there is, someone comes along and finds another one. Just look at the prevalence of bass-heavy instruments today. Genres like dubstep and djent didn’t exist 15-20 years ago. Today, they’ve led to some of the biggest innovations in electronic and metal music.
Creatively, producers need to be able to adapt and innovate with their productions in the same way. Embrace the weird sounds you come across as you experiment. Find the right fit and you’ll not only discover a completely new sound, but possibly pioneer a new genre altogether.
Bridging Analog & Digital
Producers and engineers love the tactility of physical hardware, but the line between analog and digital is blurring more than ever.
On one side, you’ve got those explorers seeking out new organic sounds. A major lift in this space has come from bands using natural, everyday samples and found sounds in their music productions. Bands like Superorganism are composed of creative musicians with very few actual instruments in their productions; most of their sounds come from normal household objects.
On the other side you’ve got artists going fully synthetic with their sounds, using incredibly flexible synthesizers with oscillators, filters, noise generators, and many other features to seek out unique tones with their own timbre and voicing that’s hard to replicate with anything else.
Still more musicians find themselves right in the center – either combining both types of sounds in their productions or crossing between the two by taking an organic source such as a vocal sample and running it through a chain of digital effects and processors to heavily manipulate it. If you’re looking for some inspiration in this space, definitely check out Reggie Watts, Marc Rebillet, and Tim Exile. They’re all pushing the boundaries of what the human voice can sound like when using technology to manipulate it.
One of the biggest opportunities to get into synthesis today comes in the form of modular synthesis, where you can combine unique processors and modules from all sorts of large and small music manufacturers to create your own sounds. These modular setups are much like a guitarist’s pedalboard in the sense that they can contain dozens of different units all designed to add a certain character to your sound. Echoes and delays are common in modular setups, but so are more advanced modules like clock dividers, sequencers, sample & hold units, and many others.
Just like with a pedalboard, you can patch these modules into and out of your signal chain as needed. This provides a ton of flexibility and it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of what’s possible, but there’s no doubt that the sounds coming from these setups are unique and ready for use in mainstream productions.
Using Weird Sounds In The Box
The biggest drawbacks with hardware often come down to two things: price and space. A massive modular setup is cool, but for many, it’s unrealistic if they’re working in a tiny studio space. Fortunately, the modules and effects common to modular setups are becoming more common and widely available in software versions.
As far as accessibility and ease of use go, it doesn’t get much more convenient than having a plugin available to help mix things up and generate some new, weird sounds. Whether you’re starting from a software synth or using a modulation plugin on a live-tracked instrument, there’s plenty you can do in-the-box to generate some new and unique sounds.
Just check out the guitar and bass tones James Thoubbs is able to achieve with Pixelator:
As you can hear, there are some great lo-fi sounds right out of the box. Getting those tones to fit with the song’s rock & metal core adds a whole new dynamic to the mix.
Synthesis and samples aren’t going away any time soon. They’re two of the most highly used elements in modern music production and the demand for high-quality patches and samples isn’t going away anytime soon.
If you’re looking to get in on the action, definitely check out The Producer’s Guide To Synthesizers & Sweeteners. In this eBook, we cover eight chapters of what synthesis is at a component level, how it can be used to completely change your production style, and how incorporating stingers and sweeteners can enhance just about any mix.