Welcome to Your EDM School, a feature that dives into the world of electronic dance music production. In partnership with Point Blank Music School, Your EDM School is returning weekly, with a variety of installments that will include guest posts from artists offering inside tips, detailed looks into the minds and tools of producers, and tricks of the trade for all you aspiring producers at home.
Hear from your favorite artists and learn about their worlds when they leave the decks and hit the studio. Your EDM and Point Blank’s weekly series is educational for music students and informative for fans.
We’re back this week with Statik Link for a special Your EDM School that includes a new premiere from the artist. This future funk track is a perfect example of many of the elements Statik Link describes below. Check it out.
Top 5 Tips for Sound Design by Statik Link
1. Be creative, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things
This is the most important piece of information I can give. As a Music Theory and Ableton instructor here in NYC, and an avid sound designer, I find a lot of up-and-coming, or beginner producers who are hesitate on trying new, innovative procedures. Usually they are afraid of being rejected, or sounding whack. It’s important to remember that in dance music, or instrumental music, the lead synth is your voice. Use the wrong plugins. Try using auto tune on a detuned lead synth, or a vocoder on a drum kit or a bassline. Just because an effect is designed for a specific instrument or vocals doesn’t mean it has to be used solely for that purpose. Automate parameters that you think won’t make sense, push the boundaries of what the VST (Virtual Instrument), analog instrument (hardware) can do, add in additional effects from outside the instrument, and most importantly concentrate on being unique.
2. Learn basic wavetables, basic sound physics and synthesis.
I know, sounds boring, right? Some people find it really interesting, some people find it incredibly dull. None the less, it’s extremely important. Just like a painter or sculptor who learns how to use the tools given to them to craft what’s in their mind, so does the artist/musician. Understanding how oscillators work, the different types of sound waves (i.e.. Sine, Sawtooth, Noise, Square, Triangle), and how they interact with each other to create certain sounds is important. Research the sound waves that fit the sound you’re trying to design. For example, if you are trying to create your own 808, understanding a Sine or Triangle wave is more than likely the best choice. If you’re looking to make a Lead synth, understanding that a Square wave or Sawtooth wave may be the best choice. What makes them sound different, though? That’s an important part of understanding sound design. Learning the difference between FM Synthesis, Wavetable Synthesis, and Subtractive Synthesis, will help you choose the correct tool to design the sound that you’re trying to create. My advice, is to start with one VST that you’d like to master and become a pro. After a while, branch out to other VSTs. This helped me immensely. Now I am comfortable designing on classic, analog (hardware) synths as well as VSTs because I mastered a synth first and learned the relationship between waves.
3. Start using online tutorials
There is a plethora of videos on YouTube showing how to design the sounds of your favorite artists. This is an excellent way to learn how basic synthesis and sound design work. It’s also a great way to learn how different parameters and controls work on the virtual instrument (VST) you’re interested in using. So next time you’re thinking, “How did they make that sound?” search for it on YouTube and more than likely there is a tutorial explaining how to make it. This will help develop your skills and your understanding of your synth. Start by finding the sound you’re interested in making, and follow the tutorial. Then after a few attempts, find a different tutorial and a different sound and attempt to make the sound yourself without watching the video. See how close you can get. Does it match the sound you were trying to create? If it does, great! If not, watch the tutorial video, see where you went wrong, and continue to practice. This sharpens your skills and will make your workflow quicker. It also teaches you some basics about synthesis. Which brings me to my next point, that same question, “How did they make that sound?” is what can make you unique as an artist, which is an important part of sound design.
4. Design a sound that can become your “trademark sound.”
This is probably one of the most important pieces of advice I can give. Think of your favorite artists… When you think of them, do you hear a certain sound, maybe a certain lead synth in your favorite song? Think of artists like Snails, Skrillex, and Flume. Or pop/hip-hop artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Future, and Drake. These artists have a specific sound that defines their career. Dance music is tough because a vocal tone, or vocal songwriting style may not be present due to the instrumental nature of the music. However, both Flume and Skrillex defined independent genres that blossomed from their unique sounds. This ushered in an era of electronic musicians attempting to copy their specific sound. Not only has this defined them as musicians, but also defined their brand. When you hear a Snails, Skrillex, or Flume song, you know it’s them. It’s very unique, but also fits their genre. Also, there is a lot of money in Sound Design. By defining a sound that becomes popular, it can also make you money on the side by selling sample and preset sound packs. My advice? Approach sound design with the thought of how will this define what emotion or idea I’m trying to portray. When a DJ or friend plays your track, will it be recognizable? Does it define you as an artist? This is not only a great way to separate yourself as an artist, but also helps develop your brand. Think about this next time you are creating a song, or making a sound. Does it define you?
5. Last but not least, practice makes perfect.
Design, Design, Design, and don’t stop. Crank out as many sounds as possible. Don’t get frustrated. Sound design is tough and takes time. It takes a lot of practice. I’ve been producing dance music for 5 years. I still take days where all I do is try to create certain sounds and save them for later. Save every sound you design. You never know when you may use it. Saving also allows you to come back and make minor changes in the future. You never know when you may design something that’ll become your trademark sound. Dance music is constantly evolving and changing. It’s important to stay on top of the technology. Learn new synths, practice sound design with them, and become a master. Sound design is tough, but it is what makes you unique as an artist. It is your voice.
For more expert tips, visit Point Blank, the award-winning music production and DJ school with classes in London, Los Angeles and online. Six-time ranked ‘Best DJ & Production School’ by DJ Mag, Point Blank offers ground-breaking courses taught by expert instructors including songwriters, producers and Grammy award winners. Former students include: Claude VonStroke, Nicole Moudaber, Gareth Wyn, AlunaGeorge and more. Head to their site for production tips, tutorials or to sample an online course for free.