Sound design is probably one of the most elusive aspects of electronic music production due to the vast variety of ways a producer can approach it. From a synthesis standpoint, there are so many types of synthesis, such as subtractive, FM, and granular synthesis to name a few, and there are countless plugins to choose from!
Then there are the different ways that samples can be used in sound design and audio effects and MIDI effects. With so many options, no wonder we struggle so much to master this frontier of music production. In this article, we will take a look at how to go about learning sound design.
Learn the Basics of Synthesis
The basics of synthesis are a must-have in your sound design repertoire. Without this, you will not get very far in the art and science of sound design. These concepts span all synthesizers whether they are subtractive, FM, granular, so you don’t have to worry about having a particular plugin to learn synthesis.
Once you have the foundations of synthesis under your belt, pick a plugin to dedicate all your effort and time to. We suggest you do your research to find the plugin that you want to dive into first, but we recommend you begin your search with one of these:
These plugins are some of the most popular among music producers for sound design, and we can tell you from our own experience with them that they are in fact the best in the game!
Once you have decided on which plugin to focus on through your learning process, you need to look for the right instruction.
Obviously, the best and most ideal route is to join a music school that offers a course in sound design (there are several internationally acclaimed ones that do so) but before you whip out your credit card, we recommend that you use YouTube to get the basics down. Yes, you can learn sound design for free through some select YouTube channels, and who knows – you might not even need to shell out the big bucks to go to a Point Blank or an SAE!
Once you have a good understanding of the basics of synthesis, there are plenty of resources online that can help you take the next steps into intermediate and advanced territory. These resources are simply the websites of the YouTube channels which we will be talking about in this article, where you can pay a subscription (or a fixed price) for video lessons on sound design along with a huge selection of other music production-related topics.
Synthesis is not the only way to design unique sounds. Sampling is just as effective in creating vast soundscapes as any synthesizer plugin out there. The main thing is actually to develop your ear to identify what source material can be used to create great sounds. Once you understand this (it takes a lot of practice and experience), you will even be able to design sounds using audio and MIDI effects.
Let’s take a look at some YouTube channels that are great sources of information on sound design.
Founded by DJ Vespers in Canada, Warp Academy is a global online community of music producers that offers a lot of free video tutorials on YouTube. Their videos cover every aspect of electronic music production as well as many different styles of electronic music. They are known for creating quick but in-depth videos that offer practical knowledge that can be used in actual productions.
Additionally, they offer a subscription service on their website – for $29 per month, you get full access to all their courses on everything from sound design to performance, and for $199 per month, you get all that plus one on one coaching and student discounts for DAWs and plugins. Both subscriptions can be canceled at any time and you’ll be able to complete the month before losing access.
The educational wing of Gravitas Recordings, Gravitas Create is an online resource for all things music production – courses, tutorials, samples, presets, and more. They offer the Find Your Sound course, which they claim is an all-in-one music production course that will leave you with an original sound ready to release and perform.
However, their YouTube channel has a bunch of free video tutorials from renowned music producers like Au5 and David Starfire. So even if you can’t afford to sign up for their course, you can still learn a lot from this YouTube channel.
Mr. Bill made his name by being one of the first producers to upload YouTube tutorials on electronic music production with Ableton Live. His tutorials have inspired many music producers around the world to expand their palettes and push their creative boundaries. His YouTube channel is a fantastic resource for learning the basics of music production and sound design as well as some unique tips and tricks for making some weird and glitchy sounds.
In addition to his YouTube videos, Mr. Bill offers a lot more on his website through the Hardcore Abletoneers section. For $15 per month, you get access to his advanced video tutorials, hundreds of hours of live streams, and anything new he comes up with. At $15, this is quite a deal!
Another one of the first producers to offer video tutorials on his YouTube channel, Tom is an Ableton Certified Trainer from New Zealand who has always strived to give people as much content as he could for free. As a result, his YouTube channel is an encyclopedia of music production and sound design knowledge that can give you the jumpstart you need.
His website does not have much more than his YouTube channel because he doesn’t believe in a paywall, but you can still check it out if you want to contact him or get on his Discord server. Tom’s approach to music education is much more casual than other producers but no less effective in getting you where you want to be.
This Canadian/American bass artist is the owner of Producer Dojo, an online community of electronic music producers. There are different tiers of membership, including free access, group coaching, one-on-one coaching, and a premium tier known as “The Class of 808,” which includes personal training from ill.Gates himself.
The Producer Dojo is also a label that releases music created by graduates of the program, and hosts events where graduates can perform in a lineup alongside ill.Gates. One of the most thriving communities in North America, the training is all online, so you can access it from anywhere in the world.
Known for his high-quality YouTube videos, which are a mix of tutorials, tips & tricks, and cool discoveries in the world of electronic music, Andrew Huang is probably one of the most followed electronic music producers on YouTube. His style of video has made him accessible even to those who are not really aiming to become music producers but are simply curious about what’s going on in the thumbnails.
He doesn’t really teach regularly but he does sometimes offer one on one zoom classes, which he will announce in some of his videos. If you happen to catch one of these while they’re fresh, you should definitely give it a shot because Andrew is one of the best in the biz.
One of the most prolific bass music producers on the scene, Au5 has made a name for himself through his mastery of the popular plugin Serum. His music is equal parts heavy and ethereal and much of it comes from his deep understanding of Serum as a sound design tool.
He has created several video tutorials on his YouTube channel and has done some videos for Gravitas Create as well. If you are looking for a sound design tutorial for bass music specifically, then you can’t go wrong with Au5.
8. Ben Encanti
One half of the audiovisual duo Zebbler Encanti Experience, Ben’s YouTube channel is an assortment of tutorials and performance videos. A much more informal channel than the others in this list, his tutorials cover his own experiments with sound design using his favorite plugins. While it may not be the best place to start your journey into sound design, it is definitely a must-visit once you are an intermediate or advanced student.
Founder of Julian Gray Media and Graydient Collective, Julian’s YouTube channel consists of tutorials, reviews, and original music to help people get started on their music production journeys. His work has gotten him signed to renowned record labels like mau5trap and Anjunabeats and his tutorials have inspired many producers of the new generation.
His videos include full track walkthroughs in various styles of music like EDM, melodic techno, and more, as well as tips and tricks, product reviews, and a viewer-focused series of live streams called Fix Your Project in which he would take submissions of Ableton Live projects and show how he would go about improving upon them.
Vancouver-based Jeanot Mey, better known as Kermode, uploads tutorials, cool tips and other kinds of inspiration to his YouTube channel. These videos include track breakdowns, tips and tricks, device walkthroughs, and more. He has even hosted a podcast called Kermodecast, in which he has interviewed other music producers to discuss all things music production and sound design related.
His sound design tutorials are mostly focused on Serum and Phaseplant, and they are good sources of information for students at all levels of proficiency.
Woulg is known for making weird music full of weird sounds so this is a great place to look for sound design tutorials. His YouTube channel contains videos on Serum, Phaseplant, and Max for Live, all of which are heavily focused on glitchy, wobbly sound design.
Woulg has done many collaborations on his channel with a company called glitch[dot]cool which specializes in glitchy sound design projects, so this is also a great place to check out for anything related to sound design.
This music producer from Canada has been uploading to his YouTube channel for years and has built up quite a following doing so. His videos are mostly long-form deep dives into whatever topic he is covering in that particular video. His method of instruction is usually on the more casual side of things, with him simply playing around with a plugin and talking the viewer through whatever experimentation he’s doing.
Sadowick’s approach to sound design is very experimental, as he likes to look for ways to use plugins in ways that they are not meant to be used. This approach yields interesting results and is a great resource to tap into once you are comfortable with plugins and your DAW.
The founder of Upscale Recordings, Frequent has uploaded only a few tutorials to his YouTube channel, but these videos are invaluable to budding music producers and sound designers. He has separated his videos into two different playlists, one for music production and one for sound design. His sound design tutorials include Serum, Phaseplant, and Ableton Live’s Granulator Sampler.
Frequent has also made a video on Sine Compression that focuses more on using audio effects to achieve a sound design goal, rather than an instrument, which is the usual way to go. Although there are only a handful of videos on his YouTube channel, they are gems to anyone interested in sound design.