Sound design is the art of creating and manipulating sounds for use in music production, film, and other media. This could include designing a bass sound for electronic music or manipulating audio to create foly or other audio effects for music and multimedia production.
If you are new to sound design, it can seem intimidating at first. However, with some research and experimentation, you can learn the basics and start creating your own sounds, or modulate and manipulate preset sounds to add movement, depth, and emotion to your project. This article will provide an overview of music production platforms, sound design techniques, and how to use different types of synthesis.
Where to learn Sound design?
One of the best ways to get started with sound design is to research different techniques and tools. There are many resources available online, such as tutorials, articles, and forums, that can help you learn sound design. You can also find inspiration from other sound designers and see how they approach their work.
YouTube is a great place to learn this and I would like to give you some recommendations of Youtubers who will add value and point you in the right direction. The tutorials that benefit you most will depend on the type of synthesizer you're working with and the sound or genre you're looking to produce.
Stranjah - Fun, enjoyable watching for Drum and Bass sound design and music production tips in general.
Julien Earle - Julien creates a lot of youtube videos on sound design up Ableton. His videos will break down sound design for genres and artists such as "how to sound like burial"
Oscar from Underdog - Mostly relates to Techno production and covers a range of music production topics and concepts, including rhythm, music theory, and sound design.
Once you have a basic understanding of sound design techniques, it's important to start experimenting and finding your own style. This can involve trying out different sounds and techniques and seeing what works for you. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and try out new things as this is all part of the learning process.
Sound design software and platforms
In the world of music production and digital music, there are many ways to approach sound design. The most popular platforms and techniques for creating or manipulating sounds are Synthesis, Sampling, and field recording/audio manipulation. Although audio manipulation and sampling can be seen as the same thing, it is very common for music producers and sound engineers to rely on pre-recorded samples rather than using their own authentic recordings. There are benefits to both methods, but this will largely depend on the sound you're trying to achieve, the samples you have access to, and the recording equipment available to you.
Types of synthesizers
Synthesis involves creating sounds using hardware synthesizers and virtual instruments loaded into your digital audio workstation (DAW). Synthesizers allow you to create a wide range of sounds by shaping and manipulating waveforms. There are many different types of synthesizers available, from simple monophonic subtractive synthesizers to more complex polyphonic FM synthesizers. I have listed the most common types of synthesizers with a brief description of how they work;
Subtractive synthesis is a method of synthesizing sound using an oscillator to generate a waveform, and then using filters to remove or "subtract" certain frequencies from the waveform to shape the sound. It is called "subtractive" because it involves removing part of the sound spectrum from a harmonically rich source, as opposed to "additive" synthesis which involves adding sine waves together to add extra harmonics. Subtractive synthesis is commonly used in analog synthesizers and is particularly well-suited for Basslines and monophonic sounds. Examples of a subtractive synthesizers include
Novation Bass Station
Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis is a method of synthesizing sound using oscillators to modulate the frequency of other oscillators. In FM synthesis, one oscillator, called the "carrier", is modulated in frequency by another oscillator, called the "modulator". The modulator can be set to a fixed frequency, or it can be controlled by an envelope or other modulating signals. FM synthesis can be used to create a wide range of sounds, from simple sine waves to complex timbres with harmonics that change over time. It is particularly well-suited for creating rich lead sounds, pads, and even percussive sounds. Examples of FM synthesizers include
Native Instruments FM8
A wavetable synthesizer generates sound using a digital wavetable, as opposed to the traditional oscillating waveforms found in analog synthesizers. Because the wavetable is digital, it can contain different-shaped waveforms and include a table of multiple-shaped waveforms which can be interweaved and played together. This sound can be modified using traditional subtractive synthesizer modules such as filters and envelopes. Wavetable synthesizers are often used to create rich, complex sounds with a lot of movement and change over time. They are commonly used in electronic music and are a great choice to recreate realistic emulations of acoustic instruments.
Native Instruments Massive X
A Granular synthesizer creates sound by breaking down a waveform, or a sample, into small snippets known as "grains". These grains are then looped, rearranged, manipulated, and played at various speeds to create new sounds and pitches. A Granular synth has similar capabilities as a modern sampler as both use audio and samples as their source sound, however granular focuses on selecting and blending small sections (ms) of the sample at various points in time. This makes it great for creating atmospheric pads with heaps of movement and rhythmical patterns. Granular is often used to create rich, layered, and evolving sounds with interesting texture and cinematic complexity.
Ableton Granulator II
Native Instruments Straylight
Sampling involves using existing sounds and manipulating them to create new sounds or triggering them rhythmically, or at different pitches, to create your own composition. This can involve cutting and pasting sounds together, pitch shifting, and applying effects. These tools are provided by hardware samplers like MPC or software samplers like Kontakt. Sampling is an extremely common technique in electronic music, and can be a great way to create your desired sound or composition quickly.
Field recording and audio manipulation
Although very similar to sampling, recording your own sounds using a high-quality microphone allows an accurate representation of the real world. This is particularly useful when trying to re-create real-world sound to use in a video or multimedia production. Recordings can include sounds from nature, machinery, or everyday objects. Field recording can be a good way to add realism and depth to your sounds, but can also be a fun way to get creative in music. Genres such as Lofi and future garage use this technique a lot, a great example of this is from Aphex twin Bucephalus Bouncing Ball where multiple recordings of a bouncing ballbearing were manipulated to create a unique track.
Common tools for sound design
Whether you are working with sampling, audio manipulation, or synthesis, the tools and principles used can be quite similar. I have detailed the typical tools found within the multiple sound designing platforms, with a brief description of how they work.
If you have started your music production journey you will likely have some experience with filters or EQ. Like an EQ, a filter is used to make selected frequencies quieter or even louder. There are many different types of filters, and they work in different ways to shape the frequency content of an audio signal. Here are a few common types of audio filters:
Low-pass filter: Allows low frequencies to pass through and attenuates high frequencies.
High-pass filter: Allows high frequencies to pass through and attenuates low frequencies.
Band-pass filter: Allows a range of frequencies to pass through and attenuates frequencies outside of that range.
Comb Filter: Creates a series of peaks and dips in the frequency spectrum of a sound creating a sense of depth and space in a mix
Each of these filters can be designed to have a variety of responses, such as a sharp cut-off or a more gradual roll-off. The specific design of a filter will depend on the desired frequency response and the application it is being used in.
An envelope is a set of parameters that control how a sound changes over time. Most commonly an envelope is often used to shape the amplitude (loudness) of a sound, but it can also be used to shape other parameters such as pitch, filter, FX, and timbre.
An envelope typically consists of four stages: attack, decay, sustain and release.Attack: The Attack determines how quickly the sound reaches its maximum level when it is first played. A fast attack will make the sound start at its maximum level almost immediately, while a slow attack will take longer to reach the maximum level.
Decay: Decay determines how quickly the sound level decreases from the maximum level to the sustain level. A fast decay will make the sound level drop quickly, while a slow decay will take longer to drop.
Sustain: The sustain is the level at which the sound will remain as long as the note is held.
Release: The release determines how quickly the sound level decreases from the sustain level to silence when the note is released. A fast release will make the sound stop almost immediately, while a slow release will take longer to fade out.
An LFO, or low-frequency oscillator, is a type of oscillator that generates a waveform at a frequency below the range of human hearing, typically below 20 Hz. In music production, LFOs are often used to modulate various parameters of synthesizers, such as the pitch or waveform of an oscillator, the cutoff frequency of a filter, or the level of an amplifier. They can be used to create a variety of effects in music, including vibrato, tremolo, and periodic changes in timbre. They can also be used to create rhythmic patterns, such as the classic "wobble" effect in drum and bass and dubstep music.
Audio FX are great tools for sound design, they can be used for creative purposes, to match the sound to an environment, or to fit the sound to work in a mix. The most common effects used in sound design are Reverb; Delay; Distortion; Panning; Phaser
Distortion is a common audio effect that modifies the original signal by compressing it and adding extra harmonics. There are various types of distortion, each with its unique characteristics and uses in music production and sound design.
Reverb is an effect that mimics the natural echo and decay of sound in a real-world environment. It simulates the reflections of sound waves off surfaces, creating a sense of physical space.
Delay is an audio effect that involves repeating a sound after a specific time interval. It can be used to create an echo-like effect or to add depth and complexity to a sound. The delay time, and the number of repetitions can be adjusted to achieve the desired outcome. In music production, Delay is often used to create rhythmic patterns, and to enhance the overall depth and dimension of a mix.
Sound Design Tutorials
The aim of this article is to give you an understanding of the tools you will be working with, however, if you have a specific sound you are trying to create, then you may find these video tutorials, or links to more detailed pages useful.