Laidback Luke has caused quite a stir on Twitter. One of the more active members of the dance music community on the social media network, he often shares advise for new DJs and producers and interacts with just about everyone who tweets at him. However he stepped in the mud, figuratively yesterday when he made the claim “Knowing how to design sound is a luxury, not a necessity. It’s fun, but you’ll always suck compared to the professionals that design presets.” Producers all across dance music quickly called him out (and the comments are still coming in). In subsequent tweets to individuals he has clarified that this was aimed at producers just starting out, but the spirit is there. So is he totally wrong to dismiss sound design like this, or is there some truth to his idea?
Taken for face value, the tweet is discouraging. Telling producers to dismiss outright sound design is dangerous. Electronic music at its core is about experimentation and innovation and sound design is an integral part of that. Creating new sounds with either existing ones or creating new ones from scratch is part of the fun and the process. Without it, songs would all start to sound the same and the entire genre would get stale and lifeless -- quickly.
However his point that many new producers can get bogged down in sound design from the get-go instead of practicing writing better melodies, sampling, programming drums, mixing, mastering and even DJing, if they plan on becoming one, isn’t invalid. A track can have an amazing design, but if the overall song sucks, nobody will listen to it. There needs to be a balance.
Many of the commenters point out that sound design helps with originality. As Eprom says, “One original sound is worth more than the best synth preset.” It is a way for you as an artist to stand out from others. When everyone is copying Flume, Odesza or Skrillex, designing something of your own that may be similar, either using their own sounds, or entirely your own can make your music stand out.
Thys of Noisia, who are known for some of the best sound design on the planet, chimed in, saying, “I can see both sides. @LaidbackLuke is in a world where the intelligence/creativity of the hook is more important than the innovative aspect of the sound design. I got love for that. In our respective worlds however, it's more like the sound design commands the hook, is the hook.” If Noisia can find reason in both sides, then I think that just about everyone else can.
Laidback Luke has done more for young producers than most will do in their lives between his constant feedback online, owning several labels, including one that is dedicated to new producers, having his forum that has launched the careers of countless big name acts and more, he deserves credit for advise. It is also good that he was able to take the criticism in step and not lash out at those who came back at him.
In the same thread with Eprom, Luke goes on to provide some more clarity.
“Presets can be training wheels to eventually become ready for sound design.”
This should have been the first tweet and a better guide for new producers. It is also another lesson that is sometimes lost on all of us -- think before you tweet. No matter your credentials, even the biggest names can say something that just isn’t right. Take the time to make sure it is right.