Sound design

Sound design. What path would you recommend to a musician who is not yet a professional and earning a living in a completely different way? He has little free time but a great desire to create and, most importantly, bring his project to the finish line, to have the result.
A) Only independent sound design.
B) Mixed: own + purchased + presets from the manufacturer
С) Enough factory presets!
It is very interesting to hear the opinion of professionals, people using synthesizers, samplers, not only for pleasure!
Thank you!

What percentage of their income do they have to earn from music to qualify as professional for you?

(Hint: not many people here make a living from it)


Personally, I think the OP is looking at this the wrong way.

I can think of two other perspectives worth looking from:

  1. This is sound design, so design! By which I mean: solve the problem you have in front of you. Identify the problem you have and work out what qualities of sounds fix that problem. Then work out how to produce those sounds. Is the problem that you make techno or ambient, and need something unique: make it yourself. If the problem is that you need a shiny lead sound for your middle 8, a preset might be the answer
  2. What do you want to learn? What will make you happiest? This is your hobby: enjoy it! If you don’t want to learn synthesis, don’t. If you don’t fancy editing samples to get them “just so”… don’t.

I´m still not professional yet, but a few friends of mine made it (in different areas)
I think their trick was to just do it. and they somehow made
it to get always their shit together that is not related to their profession at all.
So my tip is get a microphone and a field recorder first.

edit: sorry, didn´t understand your question first.

classic sound design per se begins with a mic in my opinion

if you are a composer it´s normal to go 100 percent presets.


I can’t speak to professionalism but to answer the question based off of what you have bolded in the first paragraph (not a professional, little free time, and a need to bring a project to a finish line) I guess the logical answer is just use presets?

My personal experience with learning sound design (electronic music in general) is that it’s really a journey that involves a lot of time, exploring, and a genuinely burning curiosity. My advice to anyone wanting to learn would be to learn the basics of subtractive synthesis, download a ton of free soft synths, and then just explore, have fun, and try to create/recreate the sounds you love. It can get pretty heady so it helps to go in with a clear and energized mind, i.e. sitting down for a session after a long day of work isn’t the best idea when you’re still learning the basics.

At the end of the day it’s something you have to love and have fun with. You might find out that you don’t enjoy it in which case it makes complete sense to use presets- there are a lot of great sounds out there made by professional sound designers and there’s nothing wrong with using them in my opinion.


I wouldn’t say that anyone designing presets is a professional. I started designing sounds for synths around 1993 Iv’e mainly worked at Waldorf Music on testing and sound design but have also worked for the following:

  • Waldorf Music - Blofeld - Pulse 2 - Largo - PPG3 - Factory and Commercial
  • MOTU - MachFive 3 - Factory
  • Rob Papen - Various - Factory and Commercial
  • Lennar Digital - Sylenth - Commercial
  • U-HE - Ace - Factory
  • Xenophone Hypersynth - Factory
  • Synapse Audio Dune 1-3 - Factory and Commercial
  • Presonus Studio One - Factory
  • Nord - Commercial
  • DS Thorn - Factory and Commercial
  • Fabfilter - Factory
  • Tone2 - Factory
  • KV331 Audio - Synthmaster Factory and Commercial

There may be more Iv’e missed but Iv’e done very well with sales and royalty payments from the above. I do less sound design now as I don’t have to and love to just play with my synths but you can make money for sure.

I’d make some presets and send them to the developer you like i.e buy a blofeld make some sounds and send them to Waldorf if they like them they’ll contact you.
I may design sounds again in future but for now I will just play with my gear although the perks are having synths sent to you etc… I wouldn’t say any sound designer is a professional tho haha it’s the luck of the draw who likes your’e stuff…



Thank you Garfield.

Thank you Rob.

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I would say quite the opposite: get a deep enough hardware synth with a sequencer, and learn it from A to Z while making tracks.
Presets are a nice way to understand some subtleties, analyse the use of a parameter or some performance macros, but even with presets I end tweaking them to my taste or current use.

Reading is actually another very good way to learn about synthesis.
Sound On Sound’s Gordon Reid made very extensive articles about synthesis, not for the lazy ones, but you learn a lot from it.


Ensure to make dedicated time for sound design. Start with an init patch and use LFOs and envelopes a lot and explore the beauty of synthesizer. For me VITAL is one of the greatest for sound design and it‘s free.

If you like hardware, Hydrasynth is one of my beloved sound design machines.

Some resources for learning:


Yep, great series! Here’s the link:


If you can make money, no matter how much money, that means you are using your devices professionally. Is’t it?
Just a professional and an amateur look at the instrument differently. Some enjoy, others work with the device. We often hear the opinion of amateurs, the opinion of professionals who advertise a product. But the independent opinion is interesting. After gaining access to the instruments of the 80s and early 90s, I was surprised how often the manufacturer’s presets were used. How are things now? There are a lot of opportunities and tools. An abundance of information, knowledge and trends needs to be digested and turned into a product. How and where can you find extra time for them? It is very interesting

You ll find as many ‘professionals’ using mostly softsynth presets and samples as you ll find only building their own modular patches, max/msp or supercollider synths.

I m on that spectrum, varying per project.

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I think this discussion about pro v amateur is a little misguided. It is not about monetary reward. Many athletes are world leading in their sport yet are amateurs. Most (if not all) successful musicians are amateurs before they become successful (ie. they write their breakthrough material as amateurs). As you can see from the replies, the key is to just do it. Set a goal and be good at what you do.


Here’s three famous presets:

Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” - the snarly lead/acid sound is a preset from the Korg Prophecy (although right now I can’t find what it’s called so maybe it’s not a preset)

Joey Beltram “Mentasm” - a preset called “What The…?” from the Roland Alpha Juno 2 (sampled and edited a bit, but it later inspired Prodigy’s “Charley” and the entire “hoover sound” trend in techno)

100s of house and techno records use the DX7’s “Solid Bass”


Also used a Nord Lead preset on Funky Shit (the “bwoooaaaaooww” sound).


I don’t have enough info about professional’s choice, but it seems like presets are very useful these days, modern vst or hardware synth ready to impress all of us. And huge success of vst , maybe partly , because of huge attention to presets commercial/free. And I wonder how important is our striving to have some unique sound everywhere? maybe we are missing something more important, something that is of great value? I mean melody, harmony, balance, soul, etc. What do you think about that?

Thank you! Your link is very useful. SOS is a good resource as always. There is less and less time for a large number of excellent resources. I admire the ability of some of my friends to do everything. I have not organised my life well. Maybe I study the subject deeper. Maybe my brain is working slower. … Anyway, I go through the articles. This is a good way to structure my knowledge and sometimes find some new forms or ways. :blush:

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Just do whatever you enjoy that helps you make finished tracks. I’m just a hobbyist but I can tell you:

  • there are people out there great music with presets. I am not a fan of his music, or personality particularly, but I was once recommended to watch a baauer livestream of him making tracks. He just throws things together from splice and somehow makes his stuff sound crafted. It’s kind of annoying

  • there are people out there - where the music IS the sound design. Richard Devine being the obvious example

But the hardest thing about all this is getting stuff done. You need to get a LOT of stuff done to become a professional (in terms of aptitude) and if you spend your time thinking you should be doing something else (“I shouldn’t be using patches” “I shouldn’t be twiddling knobs”) you’ll find the hours you need to put in tedious.

At some point - after a few thousand hours - you’ll be able to answer your questions for yourself.


Yeah time is one of the main factors for sure, it can be very time consuming and also somewhat tedious work - more so the administration side than actually designing the sounds.

Learning about synthesis is probably the easiest part, the SOS articles mentioned are great, and there are also some great books available, Designing Sound by Andy Farnell is a great example.

But truth be told, like anything you get good by doing/practice, and finding your own techniques and practices, there are lots of people making sounds and to stand out you will need to bring something to the table, books and learning will only take you so far, inventiveness and using your ears is more important IMHO.

Think of it a bit like cooking, you can read a book by Gordon Ramsay to learn to cook, but it won’t get you a Michelin star, that comes from work that you put in, flair and personal touches and techniques.

Good luck.