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Is your software synthesizer letting you down?

Software synthesizers can easily lead to restricted patterns of thought. You may end up sounding exactly the same as everyone else who uses the same soft synth.

If you use preset synth patches to create your music, better stop doing that right now. Everyone else is using the same patches, so how are you going to stand out from the crowd? At the very least you should modify the factory patches that you use. That will be a good start.

But there is another problem with software synthesizers that makes them sound 'samey'. And as the traditional recording studios spirals through a vortex of cost and convenience into a 'soft universe' inside the computer, then the problem is getting worse.

Think of how you would set up a software synth... Typically, you just insert it into a channel of your audio recording software and start hitting keys. That's all there is to it.

But think about the hardware alternative. You plug a cable into the hardware synth's output, plug the other end of the cable into your mixing console, and route the output to your multitrack recorder.

That EQ section on the channel strip is tempting, isn't it. It's just there, ready for use, you don't have to insert it, or worry about overloading your system resources. And the auxiliary sends - just there once again, and of course your reverb/effects unit is already patched in...

Let's face it, you can't resist, can you? And as soon as you get working on the controls, you automatically start coming up with original sounds. OK, you can do it on your computer, but you have to think-analyze-do, rather than just do it. (Nike got that right, didn't they?)

And there's another possibility - plug your hardware into an amplifier and cabinet; mike up the real acoustic sound, maybe even in stereo. Choose from any mic in your collection; apply a 'boutique' preamp if you want.

No two recordings made with microphones ever have exactly the same sound, so automatically the sound you create is unique to you. And there is an infinite world of sounds available simply by adjusting the microphone position.

Now try this with your software synthesizer. Yes, it can be done. Route your soft synth to an unused output on your audio interface and come back in through the mic input.

Well that's fine if your audio interface has more than two outputs. If it only has two, then you'll be using them for monitoring. Perhaps you can temporarily use one as an aux output, but the process will be hit and miss. A simple two-in/two-out interface is very limiting in this respect, so for preference an eight-in/eight-out interface is much to be preferred.

Is there a moral in this? By all means consider the easy way of doing things. Then consider that everyone else is doing things the easy way and try something else!

By David Mellor Monday December 12, 2005