One problem I regularly face when trying to develop a piece of music is finding the right sounds… This has always been an issue of course, but these days with multi-gigabyte sample libraries and multi-thousand patch ROMplers it’s nigh-on impossible to know every sound available in your library – and that’s before you consider tweaking patches, layering presets and synthesising totally new sounds with the huge range of very capable software synths available. Then you have to consider effects, and how the many hundreds of different effects can, well, affect the sound and each of which have on their own those same issues of numerous presets and endless tweakability.
Technology is generally our friend in music, as much as in any other walk of life today. Powerful computers and cheap storage make for Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) which cost little and promise a lot – it’s pretty easy to put a system together for a few thousand today that comes damn close to being as capable as a multi-million pound recording studio (and if it is still lacking that certain je ne sais quoi that expensive, rare, difficult to find vintage gear brings – software is coming up very quickly from behind – just wait!)
But it’s a double-edged sword, all this power. It’s all-too-easy to overload a DAW with too many and too varied a selection of virtual instruments and to then totally lose yourself in the mire, stranding yourself in a sea of sounds…
“Patches, patches, everywhere!
And not a clue which bloody one to use…”
Let’s take as an example Native Instruments Kore 2. Kore functions as an umbrella over most of Native Instruments software instrument range, making available their presets and offering hundreds of patches of its own. It can also be expanded with Kore Soundpacks which add further presets. My tricked-out version of Kore has over 6.000 patches at my fingertips, each of which have eight morphable variations and an infinite number of tweaks via Kore’s parameter knobs. How can I possibly manage this?
If you’re anything like me, when you first get a new software instrument, you install it and immediately start to play through various patches. If you’re organised, you might even have a notebook beside you to write down the names of interesting patches you discover. And it’s great fun (and in itself can be a major source of inspiration when you’re suffering writer’s block – more on that in another post) but eventually you get bored and you go back to something else. Depending on your fortitude, you may have auditioned 10%, 5%, 2% or even just 1% of all the available presets, and you’ve almost certainly not played with each presets parameters very much. In short, you have pretty much no idea what this new software you’ve just payed a few hundred quid for is capable of, and there is no way that at some point in the future you’ll say “Hang on, doesn’t Kore have a patch that would sound excellent here?”
Of course, some virtual instruments try to help you with this problem. Kore 2 contains a pretty sweet patch browser which lets you choose certain qualities and facets that a sound may have (although you can’t select a filter and say “give me everything <em>without</em> this, which is already missing a trick, I think). It’s a very useful feature indeed but it only works for instruments produced by Native Instruments and it doesn’t cover anyone else’s synths. Other virtual instruments might have a similar facility, but you still need to go to each one, enter your filters (if you can even codify the sound in your head in such a way) and see if you can find something that fits. If not, it’s onto the next one…
The problem gets bigger still when you consider samples of instruments – I have no idea how many samples of cellos I have, for instance, but between LA Scoring Strings, EWQL Gold Orchestra, the Kontakt 4 factory orchestral samples and others I’m sure I’ve already forgotten there are a lot and I just haven’t had the time or the energy to audition them all so I have no idea when I come to be looking for a cello sample where I might find the best one for the job.
Of course, I know there’s an easy solution – just stop buying new synths and sampler sets! But technology and gear-lust are pernicious and you’ll know as well as I do that it’s addictive – as addictive as drink or cigarettes I’m sure – so that’s very much harder to do than it is to say. There would be benefits to doing so, though – not only would it be much easier to find sounds and much less time would be wasted auditioning and hunting (and installing – man, installing a 5 DVD sample set takes <em>an age</em>!) but it would also make it far easier to focus on developing an individual style.
And so I’m thinking more and more that cutting down the amount of installed software on my DAW and imposing some limitations on the amount of different tools I can use for a project can only be a good thing. Learning to use one or two tools very well has to be better than having a passing knowledge of a hundred different programs and not being able to decide to use any one!
How do you manage patches and samples? Do you feel bogged down or have you found some technique for keeping track of useful and useable sounds in your library? Let me know in the comments…