Using the presets is nothing to be ashamed of
The advancement of technology in music production department has greatly simplified certain processes to such a degree that we often forget how complex and complicated some things really are and how difficult was to handle those in times before computers became a center of our studios. By “computers” I don’t necessarily mean only PC and Mac systems; all digital studio hardware, including synthesizers, samplers, workstations, drum machines, effects processors etc. can also be considered as such in their own right. One of the most obvious advantages of digital equipment is memory. The older analog devices were actually capable of quite a lot even in comparison to their more modern and powerful successors. However, the lack of ability to recall certain settings was quite a hindrance, both in a practical and creative sense.
The digital equipment had introduced one of the most revolutionary concepts in music production: presets. Basically, a preset is a collection of many different parameters which you can easily recall with just a touch of a button. The immense power of this system is likely the best demonstrated on digital keyboard workstations. With the old analog keyboards, when you wanted to play and use a certain sound, you had to create it from scratch every time. On top of it, these devices didn’t have any additional sound processing on board, so to achieve a sound that was ready to go in a production sense, you had to use various external hardware equipment, including an equalizer, compressor, delay, reverb, etc. And since the earlier versions of these were analog too, you can only imagine how difficult was to produce a finished sound that you could readily use in a project, especially if you wanted to use it multiple times.
This had changed dramatically with the arrival of digital studio equipment. From then on, whenever you’ve needed a certain sound or setting while working, you only had to push a button. This has brought a significant update to a speed of the workflow and it also meant more creative freedom. But like all concepts, including the revolutionary ones, this one also has its disadvantages. First of all, by using the presets exclusively one can easily overlook the importance and benefits of having at least a theoretical knowledge on how certain things work. This is perhaps the most evident today in the world of computers, virtual instruments and plugins that rely on presets more than ever before.
The system of presets is so sophisticated nowadays that you don’t have to think about the technical issues at all and you can simply “be creative”. However, speaking of creativity, the inception of presets has brought another downside: similarity. The presets are not only a great starting points; many times we’re so inspired with a certain preset that a whole composition or a song is born from it. And this is the very problem. Some presets have been used so many times in a music production over the years that they’re considered cliches as soon as they’re heard.
Another creative issue when using the presets exclusively lies in the fact that the sounds they produce often won’t easily fit into a project you’re working on, regardless of how much you’ve been thrilled at first. This is the most obvious with many preset sounds found on hardware / software synthesizers or samplers. Often, these sounds are sonically so complex that they simply stick out too much in a mix if not further manipulated. Also, presets found in plugins such as equalizer, compressor, delay etc. will not always suit your needs and every project you’re working on, although they can often put you in the right direction.
Despite the obvious downsides of using the presets exclusively, they’re still a huge time-saver and a big help for those not technically inclined. Although many purists and experts will often frown at “preset junkies”, this doesn’t necessarily mean that using and tweaking the presets can’t be almost equally creative and rewarding as programming from scratch. I could compare this with the traditional photography versus the point-and-click age we’re living in today. There is no doubt whatsoever that possessing the technical knowledge and skills will always give you the edge, but you can also be creative and able to produce great works while taking certain shortcuts that these modern tools and concepts provide.