There’s a story from the 80’s that you are probably familiar with if you’ve been interested in synths for a while. Legend has it that back in the early 80’s after Yamaha’s infamous DX-7 had been out for a couple years, the company would, as you might expect, receive malfunctioning DX-7’s in need of repair. As more came in, the technicians noticed something strange. Even though FM offered an entirely new palette of sounds over the previously dominant analog synthesis, almost all of the DX-7’s that came in had the factory presets intact. No one had bothered to make their own sounds.
Given the rather cryptic interface and programming method of the DX, this isn’t all that surprising, but I am still shocked these days how many musicians I meet who rarely do more than tweak presets on even relatively simple analog-style synths. To me, this is like having an Italian sports car and never driving it over 30 MPH. Don’t get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with using the occasional preset. The right sound for the song is the right sound for the song, regardless of where it came from. As with anything unfamiliar, though, all the new jargon and theory can seem very intimidating and probably scares a lot of people off when it really shouldn't.
So over the next couple weeks, I’m going to attempt to explain the basics in a way that is simple and easily understandable. As I am on tour at the moment, I won’t be able to answer questions directly, but I know we have a lot of well-versed readers here, so if you have questions, speak up in the comments, and any of you more seasoned readers feel free to jump in and provide some answers. I've never done anything like this before, so while I will attempt to be thorough, I'll probably miss a thing or two here and there, so don't be afraid to speak up. This isn't aimed at teaching you everything about synth programming. It's just meant to help people who haven't tried making their own sounds get a basic understanding of the concepts in an easier to understand format than the sometimes cryptic manuals some synths come with.
We’ll get started tomorrow, but for now I’ll leave you with this thought. Once you understand the basics of synthesis, you’ll understand how to make your own sounds on just about any synthesizer out there. Well… any synth but the DX-7.