Tell us a little bit about yourself and your synth soundsets?
I am Matt Bowdler, a composer, producer and sound designer. I do all my sound design work under the name of The Unfinished.
I’ve been designing synth sounds professionally for about a year now. I started out mainly because I was being badgered into doing it by a producer friend, and also because I was investigating different avenues for making working in music/audio something I could do full-time.
I started by releasing a bunch of sounds that I’d designed in Massive that I had previously used in various projects, just to test the water, see what people thought of them. That went well, so I released my first commercial soundset: Massive Darkscore II. The response was surprisingly positive and I ended up getting bespoke sound design work from it, so I figured it was worth pursuing it further!
My sound collections are mainly aimed at media composers and therefore hybrid electronic scoring, but also cover wider genres such as ambient, dubstep and industrial.
How do you prepare or should we say, how does one start making synth soundsets?
The key to kicking off a project is a ‘point of reference’. What is going to make a sound belong to this particular soundset? I’ve made numerous sounds I have been pleased with but ultimately have had to drop from a release because they don’t belong. So you need to know what your soundset is going to be about. If it wanders all over the place tonally and in style, then it makes life difficult for the end-user.
In a wider sense, I’m also looking at what sounds people want. Not necessarily what is ‘en vogue’, but what is useful and missing from most people’s set-ups. Although, of course, this is all framed by what I actually enjoy making – I’m not going to suddenly start making prog rock mono-leads or hip hop stabs.
How long does it take to make a synth soundsets?
This usually depends on my levels of familiarity with the synth I’m using. I know my way around both Massive and Absynth pretty well now, so can usually hope to spend a couple of weeks really nailing a collection. Whereas I suspect my first soundset for Zebra will take a good month to do.
It also depends on the number of sounds. Last year I was making soundsets at strictly 128 patches (referencing the old hardware synth banks), whereas this year I’m expanding on that until I feel I’m done. Two new Massive soundsets have 200 patches in them!
Can you give us a little insight on your creative process?
I sit in front of my computer and turn knobs until I like what I hear. That’s the short answer anyway. For more insight, perhaps it’s more useful to reference a ‘bespoke’ project – the approach is not entirely dissimilar to commercial sets.
A bespoke set starts with the client giving me their ‘brief’. This can include basics like which synth(s) they want the sounds provided on and which artists’ music their project is influenced by. On a deeper level, I find it useful to have specific tracks/scores/albums to reference. To break it down further can include what type of sounds are required: is it mostly pads, arpeggios, basses, sfx? Of course, there are also more ’emotional’ briefs, where the ideas are more abstract – like being asked for organic sounds, dark sounds or, if you’re really in trouble, more purple sounds!
Then I will go away an create a core collection of sounds that I feel fits the brief, fire them off to the client for review and continue from there. With a commercial soundset it just so happens that I am the client!
What inspires you to make such amazing products?
Well, I have rather fallen in love with the process of designing sounds for synths. Only 18 months ago I was little more than a preset tweaker myself, but now I adore the idea of sitting down with a synth and creating new sonic territory. I get an enormous amount of pleasure out of writing music using my own sounds. One of the main factors behind the sounds I produce is can I and will I use them in my own music. The answer has to be “yes” before I will tackle a project.
Also, I get an equally big kick out of hearing my sounds used in other composer’s work. Knowing sounds I created are being featured in films, television series and albums is pretty cool. Hell, we all like a pat on the back occasionally!
But most of all, it’s a love for music. For listening to it as much as writing it. I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient music recently and at the end of it all decided I simply had to put a new collection of ambient synth sounds together – and so I have.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Primarily, work for yourself. Don’t agonize over what you believe other people might be thinking. You can’t work on a project with this level or minutiae and repetition without loving it, so you have to design projects that excite you. If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, you can’t realistically expect anyone else to be.
And make sure that the project you’re working on now is at least as good as the last one you did. It should be better. But never let it be worse.
How can a composer approach you to become a demo writer for your synth soundsets? (Do you accept demo reels from composers?)
I have a great team of talented and supportive demo writers/beta testers, who provide the most amazing music for me to hang my sounds on! And they’re also great with the feedback and encouragement. Having said that, I don’t operate a closed door policy. I’m always happy to work with new people, but I have to remain loyal with those who have helped me so far – they get preferential treatment, haha.
I’d say at this point I’m fairly unlikely to take on someone I do not know in some capacity, but never say never. Email me or message me on Facebook – always room for a unique voice.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, depending on when this interview gets published, I either have Massive Darkscore IV coming out very shortly or its been out for a few days now! I also have a new Omnisphere soundset ready, a follow up to Horizon. Then there will be a further Massive soundset aimed at ambient electronica.
I also have one particularly cool synth soundset project I have done in tandem with a AAA games score composer, which is gonna be really exciting to see launched.
Beyond that, I must make a start on working on a Zebra soundset. I also have three sample library projects at various stages of production – one of which I am VERY excited about. Plus, I have plans for a sample/synth crossover project using my collection of ethnic instruments that will be for either Absynth or Alchemy… or maybe both?
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
If you’re interested in synth sound design, the best thing to do is pick one synth and learn it inside out. Whilst there are an enormous number of softsynths on the market and their architecture varies, many of the lessons you’ll learn by focusing on that one synth can be applied to the others – but you’ll pick them up quicker if you stick to one. And if, after all that, you find you don’t like it, then just buy my soundsets instead.
Oh, and finally… I beg someone, please invent a random preset name generating algorithm with a vast number of words fed into it. I have designed over 2,000 presets in the last year and it does my head in! I’ve only noticed a couple of repeated names so far. Bizarrely, one of them is ‘Hotorget’, which is a station on the Stockholm metro system!