Should You Be Using Presets?

Almost all software synths come with presets to get you started. There is a huge debate over whether these presets should be all a person uses in a song or not. It is an understandable argument as people spend many hours working on their own sounds, building them up from scratch to get it exactly how they want it.

Beginners especially need to use presets as the fundamental understanding of a synth is not as important as the song-writing process. It is more important to focus on writing the song than to minutely tweak the filter 2 resonance but when people develop to the intermediate stage should they stop using presets all together?

My first inclination would be to say yes. Every song has a different set of sounds that all need to fit together nicely. Mixing is so much easier if you design all the sounds to occupy their own space as opposed to EQing them further down the line.

Consider artists such as Skrillex, love him or hate him, his sound design rocks and his synths are insane. Almost every track of his is immediately identifiable as his own. Why? Because he has spent time designing his own signature sound.

Using presets eliminates the uniqueness of an artist since they are available for every artist with that software synth to use. Chances are your song will sound the same as another and there is nothing to set it apart.

This is demonstrated with looking at trends in EDM. After the release of songs such as Knife Party's LRAD the "woodblock" sound was abused by many in the emerging Bigroom style that flared up in the past few years. Bigroom house seemed to be the epitome of preset use and artists all using the same sounds consider the Pryda Snare and the Bigroom kick drum.

Melbourne Bounce and Trap music also feature these same occurrences, these examples are perfectly described in DJs From Mars's video "Phat Ass Drop 2":

The real answer to whether people should use presets is a bit more complicated than yes or no however. Sometimes a preset may be the perfect sound you are looking for in a song. Other times it is not far off and with a short amount of time tweaking it, it will be what is needed. 

Sometimes a minute change can make a significant difference for example Frequency Modulating one oscillator with another in a pre-existing preset may drastically alter the sound. So using presets isn't all bad, especially if you have the know-how and willingness to tweak it to properly fit the track.

As long as you don't ban yourself from touching and using presets which will result in you being stuck with the potentially awful sounds that you forced yourself to make, there is little issue. By combining both presets and your own designs will further enhance your music as you can straddle a genre trend while adding your own signature sounding lead or bass-line that could set you apart.

In the end as long as you can write good songs, people won't care about the presets. If you can, in addition, pioneer your own unique sound and set yourself in a niche then that is even better. Many producers gain success from piggybacking another's style, just look at all the bigroom house songs that suddenly emerged after Martin Garrix's "Animals", many of them gained mainstream club success.

As long as you are happy with the sound you are making, the use or lack-of presets will not bother you. If people take offence to you using the same preset as them, or not being 100% original then that shouldn't matter. It's the music that counts!