I'm interested to know if people think that using preset sounds is 'cheating' in a way and if it might be bad in the long run to use them. Do most people on here make their sounds right from the ground up?
There are different kinds of presets. Few would argue that for example a (Synth) Piano is a sound that you must do from the ground up in order to make it your own
because this type of sound is a classic instrument that people recognize yet do not attribute necessarily to a specific artist. It can be reminiscent yet feel unique.
How unique depends how successfully you make a preset sound your own. How you play it is likely a strong influence on this, so if you do play physically that potentially sets you apart already with that. If you don't play per se it's harder but not impossible to evolve your style instructing a sequencer or other machine player how to play.
Another aspect is composition. Even with very familiar sounds you can make a unique composition that sounds novel.
Now, if your songs rely on composition and your playing rather than exploiting specific sounds then the risks of using presets of the general classic instrument types — of which there are classical synth sounds as well — are probably significantly smaller than if the value of your music is relying on the richness of the sound itself, of which the preset may be a major part — it really comes down to the rest of your instrumentation and what the part do that you use this preset for. If you rely on sound itself, then making your sounds from the ground up or tweaking presets beyond recognition are probably very useful approaches.
It happens that I start a composition with some factory presets and decide I don't want to use a sound that others may have used before me. I have currently a few methods to make it my own sound or make a new sound
- I play the preset in a way that few (likely) will do, like for example using it for a rhythmical part instead of what I assume it was made for, say a lead part.
- I use automation or expressiveness as an integral part of controlling the sound beyond the capabilities of the preset/patch itself, building on it yet keeping the original.
- I recreate a similar sound in another synth, which makes me analyse the patch and decide what I like about it, abandon what I don't. In the process I learn about the similarities with the original synth and the one I use for recreation and also pick up how to make sounds I like from the ground up, using the original patch as a guide.
Because of my personal taste and the choices I make and the limitations in both synths I always end up somewhere else, with a usually better sound (to my ears anyway).
- Similarly I tweak the preset to suit the track, either just enough or with time I go beyond recognition effectively evolving my own preset from the starting point of the original preset
There are artists out there that take original sound very seriously. I seem to recall James Holden refusing to listen to an artist as soon as he'd detected the artist had used a preset known to him. I think some parts of the audiences too, but a very small number.
Most of the audience are hopefully focused on the emotional or energetic content of the music, rather than the sound design itself. However, a sound can make or break a track, but that's a given.