Six ‘wrong’ design tips
A collection of sound design ideas that are technically incorrect but may just deliver inspiring results
Completely stuck for inspiration? Hunt down your most creative suite of effects processors, load them up over a distinctive sound in your track, then flick through presets as you record the results to audio. Sure, this might not be the most individual approach at first glance, but the simple act of ‘preset jumping’ can, in fact, generate unique stutters, scans and general weirdness you might never come up with otherwise.
Crush on you
Bitcrushing, sample-rate reduction and digital distortion effects are often just too much when applied over complex signals in a mix – those scratchy, munchy artefacts sound messy, and can ruin the polished sound you’ve been refining. However, these effects work well when factored in from the start of the sound design process. Have a go at synthesising a basic sound from a clean sine wave, then dial in digital distortion – the clean waveform will ‘isolate’ the digital distortion, making it sound like another oscillator.
Pile ’em up
As mastering engineers know, every single stage of processing you apply will theoretically alter your source signal, which is probably why it’s usually advised to keep processing to a minimum. But who doesn’t like piling up processor after processor? When creating new sounds, part of the fun is exploring what long chains of effects might do to a relatively simple sound. Who says you can’t stack up 20 or 30 effects in the search for something new? Not us!
Guitarists have been forcing signals through extreme distortion for decades, and it’s just as relevant an approach for electronic musicians. Smash beats or synths through distortion for roaring timbres; resample the results; then load the audio into a sampler and play around with parameters (eg, playback speed, pitch and looping) to design completely fresh sounds with a gnarly, grainy edge.
Turn to the first page of ‘The Music Production Rulebook, Vol.1’, and it’ll probably tell you to avoid clipping in the digital realm. But though this is a commonly cited piece of advice, and it’s certainly not advised to clip channels when cleanliness is paramount, you may actually want to use this effect to your advantage for sound design. Try pushing a plugin’s output level into the next for some extra bite, or ramp up your channels to the max in the search for wild clipping artefacts.
The joy of context
Who says a vocal processor is only good for vocals? For example, iZotope’s excellent Nectar 3 channel strip is designed for vocal treatments, but its pitch, stereo and timbre-shaping modules make it a winner for processing almost anything. And the same goes for guitar effects: plumb a hardware synth through a huge chain of guitar pedals, get tweaking… and subsequently say goodbye to your weekend!