Two great ways to judge a software synthesiser are by looking at its immediate ease of use, and it's deeper feature set. Without a doubt, Xfer Serum reigns king in both aspects. With an incredibly intuitive interface that allows instant editing capability from the very first attempt to deeper more hidden features that allow experienced users to keep learning after many hours of use. Today, we are going to cover some of my top tips for becoming a Serum power user, and how to use its features to make the most of the synth, opening up the range of sounds available to you.
One of the best features of Serum, that isn't immediately obvious, is the shortcuts. Use of Ctrl, Shift, and Alt opens up much wider control of the synth, from LFO drawing to modulation direction.
By using Alt + drag, you can adjust the modulation range by clicking on the knob, which saves trying to click the smaller modulation range control above the knob.
Alt + Shift and clicking on a modulated knob changes from unipolar to bipolar mode. Unipolar means that the modulation progresses in one direction from the knob position, bi-polar means it goes each side, with the knob being in the centre position.
Hitting Ctrl and clicking resets any control to its original value, great if you want to undo a change. For more precise movement hold shift while moving a knob and it will move much slower allowing smaller changes.
There are many more of course, discoverable through playing about, reading the manual, and even watching Youtube tutorials.
Resample To Oscillator
A great way of freeing up oscillators in Serum is to resample to an oscillator. What this does, is renders a whole bar, including all effects and modulations into one oscillator.
A few things to note:
- It takes a 1 bar sample of the sound so you may want to tweak your LFOs to span one bar.
- It overwrites whatever wavetable you assign the render to, so make sure you save the wavetable if it is heavily edited.
- It simply renders to a wavetable oscillator. Any modulations on that oscillator need to be removed. You will also want to turn the filters, sub, and FX off because they aren't turned off by default when you render. (Remember all of these are "sampled" into the new wavetable so keeping them on will double the effect.
By doing this, you can essentially combine multiple patches by rendering them to oscillators and saving the waveform, then assigning each one to osc A and B.
Note Velocity/Position Modulation
Described in more detail here, what you can do is set parameters to be modulated with the velocity of the note hit, or even the position of the notes on the keyboard. This allows you to control filter cutoffs and wavetable positions with simple differences in pressure, or positions on the keyboard.
It allows for very complex sounds to be created and generates greater levels of expression in the sound. One of the best uses of this is modelling real-life instruments which respond differently to how the note is being played. For example, on a guitar, different octaves of notes have different tonal qualities due to different strings being used, and by picking notes harder they come out much brighter.
Serum even offers linearity response editing so you can control, in depth, exactly how these differences in velocity or position modulate the sound.
Make yourself a coffee before delving into this, because this one feature is deeper by itself than most software plugins. This one small tab in Serum is enough to be an instrument itself, easily worth the price of Serum. Let's look deeper:
At its core, is the options to draw in the wave shape yourself, opening new frames for each new table, this combines with two windows at the top where you can draw in harmonics (topmost window) and dial in their particular phase (below it). This is an incredibly well-designed feature and perhaps sets Serum as the must-have tool for learning about sound and how harmonics and phase works.
For the geeks among us, there is even a box to enter the mathematical formulas for the waveform where you have tweakable presets, or the bravest of nerds can type it in from scratch.
There is also the option to load samples and even images - one extremely popular article from this site goes deep into using images to synthesise sounds using this method.
Furthermore, are the extensive wavetable morphing and editing tabs which would require several articles to delve into.
Coming slightly more to the surface here, are Serum's filters. You would be forgiven for thinking there is only one, but don't worry, there's two. While the first one is fixed on the main panel, the second one is in Serum's effects rack. For those of you used to Massive's two filters where you can parallel and series process the filters, Serum offers something different.
The second filter, as with all effects in the rack is completely moveable, you can reorder each effect to your particular preference. This means that you can have the second filter immediately after the first, or at any other position in the signal chain.
In addition to your bog standard filters, there are a plethora of different types, including phases, flanges, combs, formants and multi-filters. Again, the filters alone are worth Serum's price tag in themselves. If you were to load any basic waveform and the only other parameter you could modulate was the filter, you would have insanely good synth sounds.
A cool, hidden trick, is to click on the actual filter window, where it will change to show you the phase alterations, this is particularly useful to advanced users, as well as geeks who like software eye-candy.
If your sound is lacking something, try adding a comb or reverb filter at the end of the patch in filter 2, and play about with the cutoff and Dry/Wet knob, I have found in most cases that that is enough to transform your sound into something delightful.
Rent To Own
Serum is an expensive plugin, but cost far less than what could be charged for each individual feature. If you are a student or average penniless musician, then you are in luck Serum was recently made available as a Rent-to-own synth in collaboration with Splice.
This means that you pay $9.99 monthly and get complete access to Serum, with options to pause the subscription and resume later when more money comes your way. The best part is that Serum is then free to use after it has been fully paid off.
This means that you have access at the equivalent cost of a few Starbucks coffees per month. It is a platform that I hope many companies adopt because it opens up the sound to people who can't dish out the bulk sum immediately.