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Xfer Serum Sound Design: 10 Tips For Music Production

Xfer Serum Sound Design

Xfer Serum may be one of, if not the most, well-known user-friendly wavetable synthesizer plug-ins on the market.

And if you’ve already downloaded it, you probably know that by now, but we’ve all downloaded stuff, and that doesn’t exactly make us all expert producers.

So, we’re going to show our 9 great Serum sound design tips to ENHANCE your synth production skills!

Table of Contents

Tip#1: Custom Wavetables

Tip #1 Custom Wavetables

We think this is one of Serum’s best features and one of the things that make this software so unique.

Serum gives you a lot of control when customizing your wavetables so that creating synths distinct to the sound design you want has never been easier!

Audio Import Wavetables

This feature is beyond useful because more than just a basic loop, you’re getting all the technology Xfer Serum has to offer with any waveform file you choose to use!

  • It’s a simple drag-and-drop away from getting started on creating the sound that you want.
  • Record the waveform in another synth, then input your audio straight into Serum’s oscillator. The wavetable editor starts to cut up the sound into single cycles instead of leaving it as one loop.

If you find that the original audio sounds too “techy” or “digital,” you’ll LOVE this feature.

Because with it, you can edit each cycle individually to create EXACTLY what you want from the audio.

This means you can achieve the sound of analog synths even with completely digital samples.

Wavetable Morph

Yet another feature you can use for sound design is the morph tool for your wavetables.

  • Once you have the wavetable you’re going to work with – either imported or one you made from scratch – the oscillator will immediately process it.
  • AFTER it’s been processed, it will create waveform steps through the wavetable, which, although helpful, also make the audio sound a little awkward.

But fear not, because Serum gives you the option to morph the wavetable to get a smooth blend in the waveforms. It will end up with a sound similar to time stretching.

Find the wavetable editor and CLICK morph. It will show you different morph types and fill the wavetable with more waveforms so you can use the position dial to fix your audio.

Tip #2: Warp Modes

Tip #2_ Warp Modes

Serum has seemingly endless warp modes, and you SHOULD be taking advantage of them.

Each warp mode preset will change the way the wave sounds from the wavetable oscillator. This means every time you choose a new warp mode; you can easily change the pitch of your synth wave.

Here’s a list of the warp mode presets that Serum offers so you can understand what each does:

  • Self-Sync: a formant-shifted effect that plays back the sound faster than normal then restarts at the ‘correct’ length. Perfect for buzzy sounds.
  • Windowed Sync: if you want a smooth fade with your waveform, use this to soften the sound.
  • Bend + pinches or bends the entire wave shape into the middle of the wave cycle.
  • Bend – pulls or bends the waveform out onto the edges of the wave cycle
  • Bend+/- makes both of the last two warp modes. 
  • PMW pushes the whole wave to the left, useful on square waves.
  • Asym + bends the whole wave right.
  • Asym – bends the whole wave left.
  • Asym +/- to bend your wave to the left or right
  • Flip makes a phase-inversion on the waveform.
  • Mirror to get a mirror image of the wave, giving fuller quality by ‘doubling’ the waveform into both halves of the wave cycle.
  • Remap 1 gives you custom remapping of the wave cycle inside the graph to change how the waveform will remap. 
  • Remap 2 is mirrored remapping. It’s the same as Remap 1, but instead of the whole wave, it applies the graph separately to each half of the waveform.
  • Remap 3 is a sine wave-based remapping of the waveforms. Use this to remap easily without having to draw extra curves.
  • Remap 4 is a 4x remapping. It’s like Remap 2, except the graph comes up 4 times.
  • Quantize is similar to sample-and-hold, which is sample rate reduction. This happens on the waveform itself so that the sound you used will follow the pitch exactly.
  • FM (from other OSC) provides frequency modulation from the other oscillators. Make sure the other oscillator is enabled when you want to use this mode.
  • AM (from other OSC) is like the mode above but gives amplitude modulation.
  • RM (from other OSC) again, the same thing as the ones before except it’s ring modulation.
  • FM Noise OSC FM from the noise oscillator.
  • FM Sub OSC FM from the sub-oscillator.

Experiment with all these different warp mode presets to find the one that you prefer the most.

Tip #3: Direct Out

Tip #3- Direct Out-

Direct out is one of Serum’s most useful tools.

You should know by now that Serum actually uses 4 oscillators – oscillator A, oscillator B, the noise oscillator, and the sub-oscillator.

Direct out allows you to remove all the filters and effects on only the sub-oscillator.

This means you won’t get too much distortion or too heavy of a sound on your wave loop’s bottom end pitch, especially when you start processing the bassline of your synth.

Tip #4: Noise Oscillator

Tip #4- Noise Oscillator

When used with a second oscillator, the noise oscillators allow you to design sounds with more or less noise.

You can create sounds SINGULAR to your music taste.

For example, if you assigned an envelope to the FM synthesis amount knob of one oscillator, Serum will produce a distortion on your wave.

This is a simple technique to add to your samples for a little more grit and create other synths with more texture to an otherwise super clean synth.

Here’s a quick demo and tutorial of the feature!

Tip #5: Multiband Compression

Tip #5- Multiband Compression

The Serum compression feature is pretty much the same as the standard free OTT compressor. Although you can get it, just having it built-in makes life better.

The fact that Serum sound design has included this makes it all the more useful and easier to adjust the sound to your music.

IMAGINE not having to individually compress all the layered sounds of the patch without affecting pitch.

To make this clearer, this type of compressor processing divides the frequencies of the wave into different bands, which can then be assigned different compression settings.

Tip #6: Serum FX Envelope Trigger

Tip #6- Serum FX Envelope Trigger

If you have another DAW but want to use Serum techniques to get a certain kind of sound or modulation in the patch – you can totally do that.

Send MIDI to Serum FX on a separate channel, and this will trigger the envelopes. Do this with other sound files to get new waveforms as well.

Tip #7: Combs Filter

Tip #7- Combs Filter

If you want to get a more acoustic sound to your patch, then use the combs filter!

The comb filter style of sound design is made when you use multiple microphones for recording certain sounds.

Usually, it’s used with pluck sounds when you need to create a sound with a real play-back feel.

This is another pro of having Serum because achieving this realistic sounding technique on completely digital music can be challenging, but this filter makes it easy.

Turn on the combs filter if you want to add greater and “lifelike” depth to your patch.

Tip #8: LFOs into Step Sequences

Tip #8- LFOs into Step Sequences-

Serum also has the capacity to turn your LFOs into step sequences:

Simply create points in your LFO, hold shift, then start moving the points you made. You’ll see that the curves of the waveforms will start becoming straight lines.

Now, you can modulate the semi-pitch parameter of your LFO. Remember to use + or – 12 to 24 semitones to stay in key.

If you want to change keys, feel free to adjust the pitch however you like.

Tip #9: Switch Your FX

Tip #9- Switch Your FX

Like most DAWs, Serum also allows you to REORDER your FX processing chain.

You can completely change up the pitch and sound of your patch by adjusting the delay, reverb, and modulation of each sound.

Play with options outside of the preset order given by Serum. You’ll find that other producers get the best sounds by simply doing this.

It’s a quick and easy technique and a fun way to discover a whole other vibe without even doing too much work.

Tip #10: Velocity Sensitive Envelopes

Tip #10- Velocity Sensitive Envelopes

Velocity-sensitive envelopes add a more human effect to an otherwise robotic preset on Serum.

Changes in velocity give a “played by a human” feel, and it’s easier than adjusting the velocity of the rest of the notes individually.

This means Serum can keep the rawness of live performances and retain the human-like velocity of your chords and harmonies.

Conclusion

We understand sound design can be tricky, but Youtube tutorials are also a great source for learning more about the basics of Serum.

With some practice, we’re sure you’ll nail it like other music producers in no time!

Hopefully, these sound design tips have helped you understand Serum a little bit better.

About the author

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After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.