Don’t Blend In: 9 Ways to Create Unique Sounds

I’ve worked on and written music for plenty of Hollywood movies and TV shows, including NCIS and Arrested Development. With so many episodes, so many storylines, and fast turnarounds, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So anything that can help you get the work done faster is a plus.

Therefore, I’m a huge fan of sample and loop libraries. Many of them let you achieve great sounding results on a decent budget, and especially nowadays, your options are pretty much limitless when it comes to the sound offerings. You can find anything from the highest quality samples of the world’s best acoustic instruments to the most creative sound design patches you’ve ever heard. (If you haven’t yet, check out Splice!)

But there’s also a potential problem you may encounter. If you’ve ever listened to a song and thought “Hey! I’ve used that instrument/loop before!” you’re not alone. The truth is almost everyone uses the same synths and sample libraries. Each one of them comes with hundreds (or even thousands) of amazing preset patches, but sooner or later, you’re still bound to hear someone use the patch that you used in a song.

So how do you make sure that you’re not sounding like everybody else? Well, the true fun begins when you really start to play outside the box and create the unexpected and new.

In this article, I’m going to show you nine simple ways in which you can easily manipulate the same preset patches and instruments that you know to create unique sounds.

Splice sample pack

Screenshot of Splice sample pack

1. Add delays to acoustic instruments

One of the simpler effects that you can apply to give motion and increase the activity of an acoustic instrument without altering its original sound is by adding a delay plugin. Using the DDLY (Dynamic Delay) plugin, you can achieve some great activity.

Take a marimba for example. This isn’t necessarily an instrument that you’d see frequently used in a pop song. Yet by adding a cool stereo delay to a simple part, you can take that same instrument and give it motion. Suddenly it sounds a little more like something that may have come out of your favorite synthesizer. Take a listen.

  • First, you’ll hear the original unaltered marimba part
  • Then the same part using DDLY, finally adding in the groove

2. Create long reverb tails

Another fun way of creating slightly altered sounds is by applying a reverb with a long tail. Think big. Like a 14-second tail. In most cases, this would be considered way too much, but if used sparingly, this can create a pretty fun effect. Rather than setting it up as a send effect, we’ll make it an insert on the track. And to make things truly interesting, let’s take out the original source audio (called the “dry signal”) and only use the processed reverberated signal (called the “wet signal”). Now you’re starting to create some nice haunting sounds.

  • First, you’ll hear four long single piano notes. Not very exciting
  • Next, you’ll hear the same four notes, but this time with a very long reverb applied. Notice how each note actually seems more interesting now

Learn more about reverb in our guide: Reflecting on Reverb: What It Is and How to Use It.

3. Pitch instruments up/down

You’d be surprised by the cool sounds you can create just by pitching an instrument way out of its natural playing range. Take a Xylophone, for example. It’s mostly a mid and high note based instrument with a playing range of F3-C7. So, it cannot play very low notes.

But what if you pitched the whole instrument down a couple octaves?

Suddenly you’re using samples from higher octaves that are pitched down and slightly time-stretched by the sampler’s engine to make them sound a couple octaves lower. This creates a whole new sound out of that same instrument. The more you change the pitch, the more those samples will get morphed and warped. And that’s not a bad thing when your goal is to exactly create something new. When pitching an instrument up or down, I like to jump by octaves and see how each jump affects the sound.

  • Original sound at its original pitch
  • Same sound pitched down by one octave (12 steps)
  • Same sound pitched down by two octaves (24 steps)

4. Layer effects

Now that you already have three tricks up your sleeve, how about we start combining them to create something new? Let’s take a sampled Cimbasso (a brass instrument that kinda sounds like a Trombone and a Tuba had a baby). By pitch shifting it, delaying it, and throwing on a reverb, I’m able to turn this classical instrument into a low “Waaaah” that actually sounds a bit synthy despite being a fully organic sound.

  • Original sound
  • Pitched down one octave
  • Pitched down two octaves
  • Pitched down two octaves with a pulsing delay
  • Pitched down two octaves with a pulsing delay + reverb

5. Get crazy

Similarly to the step above, it’s all about layering. But don’t be afraid to take it further. Apply absurd amounts of layers upon layers to get something truly otherworldly sounding. In the following example, I turn a clav into a pad. Didn’t think that was possible? Let’s see how I did it. Hit play below and follow, as I create the sound. With each instance, you’ll hear how I’ve added one new effect and how it affects the overall sound. By the end, I’ve applied so much, that the original clav is no longer recognizable in this new pad sounding instrument.

Read more at the Source:

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