Anybody who sits down to do creative work knows that time is not an unlimited resource. Which is unfortunate, because time invested is the number one influence on our abilities and our freedom of space to come up with ideas.
This is my very first post in my production blog, and I decided to use it on a tip for getting the most out of our time, because time spent really is king, and our ability to maximize the time we have unlocks both technique and results.
I can't speak for most of you, but I'm a preset hopper. When I get a new synth, I immediately start jumping through presets to see what the instrument can do. When I get a new delay plugin, I click through the presets to get a feel for the style of sounds it can make. When I get a new multi-plugin, like Effect Rack by Soundtoys, I embrace the new creative elements of having someone else program which plugins appear in which order, and how each one of them is set, then slapping that combination on a sound the creators never dreamed it might process. This is a big part of my creative discovery and sound design process.
The trouble starts when I run out of "creative presets" and start recycling the limited few stock presets I really love, putting them in heavy repetition. Or worse, I decide that I don't like this particular delay plugin or that synth because I don't care for its stock presets, or even that it makes it too difficult to find the presets I might actually use.
Trouble begets trouble, and I start forming bad habits. I stuck with AIR Multi-Delay for way too long over more advanced, colorful, powerful delays because I could easily use it to jump to a ping-pong preset that gave an instrument more life and movement. I decided H-Delay was a better solution for me than the mighty EchoBoy because H-Delay put its most interesting presets right up front. And I can't tell you how much time I waste in Omnisphere looking for patches that fit the sound I want and not finding them. It's a major creativity buzz-kill.
Let me tell you what I do now:
When I have a song that is finishing the production stage and moving on to the mixing stage, I go into each of the virtual instruments I used and save the preset of what I was using. Whether it was a patch I created, or more likely, a preset I heavily mangled and modified to achieve the sound I was looking for, that was valuable time I spent creating a sound I want to hear - time that doesn't need to be repeated for this type of sound in my future projects. So: I save it as a preset.
And when I wrap up the mixing stage of a project, I do the same for my effects plugins. Clearly, compressors and EQs need to be set and determined on a case-by-case basis, but it's definitely worth saving your intricately tweaked delay and reverb settings as presets for future use. Same with distortion plugins that you've tweaked for just the right vintage crunch, or getting tape emulation to freak out in just the right way, or the exact way you set your filtering or modulation plugins to breathe a little life and movement into an otherwise stale sound.
And this works for entire plugin chains too, depending on your DAW: many DAWs allow you to save an entire insert chain of multiple plugins and the settings for each as a single preset. And this can save a heap of time, helping you quickly recreate just the right vocal sound for the same singer on the same mic, or just the right vibe and grunge to mix in parallel on your drums. We're talking major time savers here, in addition to the ability to recreate your favorite sounds that you've made in the past.
Why It Works
Now, I'm like you. I'm not super eager to start one more clean-up task, one more maintenance routine. Particularly when it seems to take me out of the moment of making music, deferring work on a song even a little. It feels like musical buzz-kill for a moment, no doubt. Though this is exactly why I do it after completing a major phase of a song, not in the middle of creating. That said, you don't have to have been saving presets for months to gain the benefit. Try making even a couple of delay presets set aside that you know please you and achieve a sound that you love hearing: this helps you stay in your groove! This helps you create faster and more freely next time.
And as for synths: yeah, it will take a while to build a bank of instruments that you like the sound of. But imagine how freeing it will be to flip through presets knowing that every one of them matches your genre, your particular influence, and contributes toward your unique sound. Of course, you likely won't want to reuse old patches exactly as they are, at least not often. But now you have a starting point that is more original than what can be used by anyone else with the same synth, and it's more your style than what anyone else has access to. And with a few tweaks, you'll have a completely new sounding patch that you can use in your next project. It builds and builds, and is a huge ingredient in sounding like you, a big leap forward in getting your music to sound the way you imagine it during creation.
Give it a try for a week, or one full project. And see if you're not tempted to reach for your own delay presets or synth patches as a starting point next time you're in the zone and not immediately finding the sound you're looking for. I can tell you now: it's addictive.