Presets, Are they Killing Your Mix? 7 Reasons to Switch

Cover/ Thumbnail Photo Credit : Drew Ressler /Rukes 

Have you learned all you can about "mixing" but still can't get the clarity you want? End the preset hunt...

This preset sucks. Let me try another.

This preset sucks. Let me try another

This preset sucks....ughhhhhhhh

This was me years ago. Before I learned sound design I was a hunter.

I would hunt for the next preset fix.

I would Google for the latest and greatest presets. I thought, fuck, there MUST be better presets out there. " Best Free EDM Presets". Over and over again, never finding the magic pill. 

It wasn't that I didn't find cool presets, I found a bunch. It was that none of the presets would "fit in my mix" .

I would take 3 or 4 random, 100% stock presets ,layer them and hope for the best.

Yea I would do a little EQ,

Yea I would fiddle with the levels.

But the fact remains that NOTHING really sounded solid. 

It didn't sound clean.

In fact, it usually sounded like a wall of shit.

Me being me, I kept trying to layer stock presets for years, hoping that magically my mixes would get better if I just kept trying.

However over time it got really fucking boring.

I would sit down in my studio ( and at that time, I mean a $100 laptop and $10 ear buds) and just try preset after preset.

Ohh look, its 1 1 pm, let me just adjust this sound...

... its now 3 am, I haven't done a thing, all I did in the last 4 hours was click through nexus presets !

This was me.

If this is you now, don't fret. Trust me I am sure the majority of us have been there. 

Side note : I give away hundreds of presets, I truly think presets are AWESOME and great starting points for making your own sounds. However, by not knowing basic sound design you are truly shooting yourself in the foot.

In the time you spend searching your files for the best preset, you could be CREATING that preset. I would search 4 or 5 hours for one preset. Now? I could make 10 unique sounds in that time frame. It's not only a better out come, it saves me time. 

So am I going to teach you sound design in this post? 

No it isn't that easy, sadly.There will be a LOT of posts on it in the future though. Promise

All my previous videos have been based on how to make a Zedd Synth or how to make a Knife Party sound etc etc.

With the videos coming in the following months I am going to focus on why you need certain elements to obtain a clean mix. This will be hours of content and isn't just a post once and done type of deal. I feel there are certain methods that once you train your ears to listen for, your mix will massively improve.

So, why am I even telling you this?

My point is simple, I want you to improve your mix and over all sound profile.

Not only that, I want to enhance the EDM community as a whole, if everyone starts to improve their sound design skills now. In five years we will have hundreds of new artists that have AMAZING unique sounds.

If we keep using the same presets over and over again, the genre as a whole won't grow as fast.

( Again, I am NOT BASHING PRESETS. I feel they are amazing tools to use and learn from. However, I simply want it to be known, if you learn to DESIGN the presets, it will help your mix on all levels)

Not only that, I truly believe in order to get the most out of your tracks, you need to have some knowledge of sound design. Although knowledge is important, equally as important is the ability to PICK OUT sounds in the mix. 

Once you learn sound design, your mind will EXPLODE with new thoughts when listening to your favorite track, not only that I promise your mixes will radically improve as well.

Flash back.

I used to listen to tracks and have NO IDEA what made up each sound. Yes, I had access to the same "style" presets, but I could never make them work. I would just endless try presets in hopes of finding a winner.

After learning the basic's of sound design, I started to hear tracks 100% differently. It was no longer, wow that sounds crazy ! I love this song I wish I could do that.

It turned into...

Ohh awesome ! I love the brass style synth with a slow attack and LFO modulation that speeds up. Is that a hint of vibrato I hear? Must be 2 Saws detuned ever so slightly. Nice !

Now, even though I could be using the same preset to achieve the sound, after I gained the knowledge of sound design, I ALWAYS ended up with a much more solid sound. 

I feel this is because when you have this knowledge you can "see inside" the sound to what makes it up. Not only can you see inside the sound you can see what makes it work.

This is king.

Once you realize what works and what doesn't ( in the mix) then your mix skills will grow leaps in bounds. 

I LOVE when I hear a new unique sound, fucking makes my day. While listening to the latest Madeon Tune I about shit my pants at 2:19 when the talk box sound comes on. Yes , its not a " brand new " sound and its been used before. But it sounds glorious.

If I haven't dropped the point home hard enough, let me give you 7 quick reasons why you should start to learn sound design TODAY. There is a bunch of free content out there to get you started and I will be posting a ton more on this topic in the future.

7 Reasons to Ditch The EDM Preset Hunting


1. It's quicker (once you learn)

 Spending 3 hours trying out 100's presets that don't really "fit" is time consuming. If you simply invest the time to learn sound design, it will pay off 10x in the future. 

2. Better Mixes

In order to mix good, you need to have trained your ears to hear what needs to be done. The best way to go about it is learning what makes up the sounds you are using.

Song sounds hollow? Then maybe you could use a sine wave boost at 1khz.

Song has a less than stellar groove? Maybe you should have an element with a fast attack and fast release to enhance this.

My track doesn't sound like "xyz" artist. Maybe if you learn how they made their sounds, you can then replicate and create your own.

In the end, the majority of mix problems, aren't problems with proper sound design skills.

3. Labels Love Unique

Some of my friends that run labels ALWAYS complain that everything sounds the same. In fact, most people use the same samples for everything. While this isn't a debate about "all tracks sounding the same" the fact is simple, if you have unique sounds, when you send your tune to a label at least you won't be "that guy using vengeance samples ".

4. Your Own Niche

Look at the majority of the pro's you admire, a LOT of them got there by their own signature sound. If you use all stock presets, a signature sound will be much harder to craft. 

5. Hook Listeners

I listen to a TON of music, this is my life. When ever I hear a new unique sound or style I always make a mental note of it. Usually that person gains a fan. I don't care if your music sucks or your mix is horrible, if you created a sound I've never heard I will follow you on your journey to see where you end up.

6. Less EQ / Effects

Let's face it, if your sound design skills are lacking, typically you will need to be much more effective in " mixing". You can design your "mix" by designing your sound properly in the first place. 

7. The ability to hear mixes clearer.

This is a hard one to explain, but basically when you know sound design you no longer view mixes in the same light.

You start to think, stacked super saw detuned with low pass filter and mild bit crushing. Or you think, Saw bass pluck with a really fast attack and almost no release lag. Works great for tight bass notes.   

Your ability to analyze your mix and improve it is massively improved when you learn sound design, which is why it can be so helpful.

Now before everyone starts jumping ship to make their own sounds, I do want to say this.

I personally feel, you need to have a decent knowledge of production before you start.

I don't think if you've been producing for a week, or even a few months that you need to jump down this path. However, if you were like me, I produced for YEARS preset only. I feel if this is you, truly your mixes and tracks will massively improve if you start to learn sound design.

I will be the first to admit, when you start to learn this it will take some time to sink in. Take it slow.

Maybe spend half your "production" time a week learning sound design for a few months. It's going to take time, but even basic knowledge will massively help you.

You don't need to start with a blank slate either.

In fact, I feel when starting out you are BETTER OFF to simply tweak presets you download.

Take one of the presets you've downloaded off of my page. Take any preset you like, even nexus presets and tweak it.

Don't just adjust the filters and add effects. Take the preset and drastically alter the way it sounds. ADSR ( Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) although " boring" by nature, will change the sound leaps and bounds. I pretty much avoided this entire section of synths for years.

While tweaking presets, try to focus on how the sound changes effect the mix.

For years, I would tweak presets only concerning myself with " if it sounded cool". While that is important, also keep in mind ...

How is this... Filter/ADSR/OSC/Table/Routing etc etc effecting the mix.

When you start to look at presets not as "sounds" but as an element you can mold to fit perfectly in your mix, a whole new world will open up to you.

I truly wish you the best of luck. 


Posted on February 15, 2015 and filed under Music Production.