Because even though mixing synths is usually a piece of cake, sometimes the sound is just not quite right. The problems can be anything from the sound being way too clean, hi-fi and flat sounding to downright boring or obnoxiously harsh. Fortunately, there are a couple of tricks you can use to turn those synth sounds into something special or at least passable for the genre you’re working in.
Layer the shit out of them: Yup. Even if you are the lazy kind, and you end up using way too much factory presets and patches, you still have a way to get creative. If those factory sounds are too ordinary on their own, you can create interesting sounds with layering a couple of them on top of each other. Of course you can do this with your own sounds as well. It’s especially fun, if you have something in mind right from the start, so you at least have an idea what you’re doing and what kind of sounds are your goals. For example, you can add a percussive sound for the attack of the note, like a marimba. Then use a medium length sound to have some sustain and decay, like a piano. Finally, you can embed it into a soft pad of some kind, like some strings. Then when you’re mixing synths, just adjust their levels and pan position to taste, to get the final ratio of the three sounds.
Send them through a DI, plugins or real speakers: Using a DI for synths is an old practice. In some cases it’s actually necessary, to get the correct impedance match between your devices. Other times, it’s simply for the color the DI adds to the sound. Passive DI boxes with transformers especially work great. Running them to a nice sounding mic preamp will further enhance your synth sounds.
Another trick is to add the sound of the room to your synth sounds. If you have a good sounding room, wire the synths into a couple of amps and speakers, and mic them up. It can be anything from a hi-fi or monitor system to a keyboard or guitar amp.
You can do the same virtually as well. There are great amp and speaker simulation plugins out there, so if you’re mixing synths in a DAW, send your tracks into one of these. You’ll be surprised how much life a dirty guitar amp sim and its speakers can inject into your boring synthesizer tracks.
All three methods will narrow down the frequency response of your resulting sounds. If you still want to add back some of the high end that would get lost otherwise, it’s possible as well. When you’re mixing synths, just use the original track parallel with the processed ones.