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Are synth Pads as bad as I think they are?


EricBarker

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I've always had a love/hate relationship with pads, tending toward 'hate'. They sometimes have their place in a studio mix, or during a quiet ambient section, but as a standard "go-to" I can just feel a million eyes roll. I don't think I've ever been in a band rehearsal and heard someone say, "Ya know, I think this could use more synth pads", I would be less surprised to hear a call for "more cowbell". I think the only person who asks for pads in rock music is the guitarist who really just wants to keyboardist to get out of his f***ing way. I figure that's how it got invented, "Could you not play that weedly line, and just hold some chords?"

 

Some context:

I was asked to work up U2s "Baby Please Come Home" for the holidays, and had the giant pad part all dialed in. The moment we started, the drummer said, "can you cut that out and just rock?" Part of me felt a little gypt since I'd taken the time to work it out, but most of me was totally relieved, they sound like crap. Song is 500% better without them.

 

Only time I ever had a non-keyboardist who wanted "more pads" was when I played in a Goth Metal band, they always wanted big symphonic strings. I get it, that's the style, but they're pretty much alone in that.

 

Not talking about mellotrons, btw.

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They have their place. I think most of the time, if applied right, you may not notice them directly, just the way they affect the feeling of the song. I think they are good for building parts where maybe the rest of the instrumentation hasn't changed, but layering in a pad changes the mood and helps build towards something. I use them in some of our original metal - not the symphonic stuff you're talking about. I'll change voicings and build layers throughout a verse and then build up to something melodic for the bridge and into the chorus, as well as change things up from verse to verse. It adds some movement throughout the song rather than just repeating verses and choruses. I'll lay in some B3 for the same effect except in that case, Leslie can help build parts in the way I would instead do with voicings of the pads.

Dan

 

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I know, I'm partly being a bit silly here with this. There are times when I really love pads, and have worked them into a song to great effect. In my current band, I'm mostly playing a lot of pop and new wave, which is often over-drenched in very bland pads.

 

These days, if I'm creating original material or arrangements, I like to create "pads" from other sounds. I've had really good results with acoustic piano with tons of pre-fader delay and reverb. It gives the pads this wonderful "blooming" effect that's still tonally piano. Organs and synths (and guitars) washed through Leslie are always great too. But I have to admit, that in a live setting, when playing straight-ahead rock, pads are kinda silly, and I encounter it so much it drives me a little batty.

Puck Funk! :)

 

Equipment: Laptop running lots of nerdy software, some keyboards, noise makersâ¦yada yada yadaâ¦maybe a cat?

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They have their place. I think most of the time, if applied right, you may not notice them directly, just the way they affect the feeling of the song.

 

I agree with this.

 

In many songs you don't notice the pads until they're not there, so to speak.

 

I have often been learning a tune, and wonder how they got it to sound so full. Then I'd realize there was a very subtle pad, just audible enough to make you hear what I call the fullness of the sounds.

David

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I take a different appraoch with pads. If they are signature part of the tune I play them, but in many cases at a lower volume so they fill out the sound but don't suck the drive out of the song.

 

I also use them to fill out the song and make up for less than stellar BV's or where BV's of the range required are not available. An example - the choir ah's in Bowie's Lets Dance.

 

On the other hand they would be loud and proud if I ever had to cover an Enya song, which has never happened.

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I don't think I've ever been in a band rehearsal and heard someone say, "Ya know, I think this could use more synth pads", I would be less surprised to hear a call for "more cowbell". I think the only person who asks for pads in rock music is the guitarist who really just wants to keyboardist to get out of his f***ing way.

 

I wish I had a dollar for every time a guitarist or a member of a guitar-oriented band told me they wanted a keyboard player specifically to fill the sonic void created when the guitarist stops chording and plays single note lines. They want long sustained sounds, pads, organ, no piano or scales or such.

 

I myself like pads in exposed sections of a tune. I do not like synth pads as backing to guitar solos, or as sonic filler.

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I wish I had a dollar for every time a guitarist or a member of a guitar-oriented band told me they wanted a keyboard player specifically to fill the sonic void created when the guitarist stops chording and plays single note lines.

Usually, I see my job there as taking the place of rhythm guitar. Wurli usually works well.

 

I don't use synth pads, personally.

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Synth pads are the most difficult timbres to make work through the live FOH. Pop tunes like Talking Body and I Can't Feel My Face.

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Depends on the type of music for me.

 

In my classic rock cover band, I use a pad sound on a couple songs, tops. Every Rose has its Thorn is one (and mainly because there's a pad on the record!). One problem with pads live is that those patches tend to have too much reverb for many rooms and they can muddy the mix. Having in-ears helps because I can hear exactly what it sounds like.

 

For my home "compositions", which tend toward cinematic/electronic, I use them often. However, I'm trying to get away from big chords with a single patch lately. Say I want to play a big G major chord; typically you grab a nice sound and play it. Now I'll play one or maybe two notes with one sound, then play a different part with another sound etc. Essentially it's playing a big "concert strings" in one go vs playing individual violins/cellos/etc in different passes. Way more work but the end result can be more interesting.

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Since there is only so much frequency spectrum available for the listener to realize and pads take up so much of it, its really important to narrow any pad with LPF and HPF. The larger the band and the more chordal/harmonic instruments in it, then panning is a nice feature to have on stereo recordings. Live in mono, the balance is key.

 

I dont find pads any worse than heavily distorted and layered guitars (more so with time and modulation fx) in their ability to eat up sonic space. And often times its a pleasure to hear a really nice pad alone - without layering of AP or EP, or as filler for thin sounding guitars. YMMV.

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Those who lack a musical background -composition/arrangement in particular - tend to use or abuse pads A LOT for the wrong reason. It's just a way to mask thin arrangements. It attracts too much attention and you won't have to worry about voicing and stuff.

 

Other than that they can be extremely useful. Kronos has some amazing evolving pads. I like the ones that are less predictable and evolve in different directions. It's fun to play leads and keys along.

 

Some instant satisfaction:

 

 

They're also good for song writing. If you just want to focus on the melody and need some background harmony for inspiration, then you can use pads to write your song.

 

I don't think it's possible to have a general opinion about pads.

 

 

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I don't think it's possible to have a general opinion about pads.

 

^^^^^^

 

That one. Time, place, and genre, just like everything else. As a player, I almost never use them (but do use organ for the same purpose). As an arranger/engineer? Often. Our basic goal is to control time. Pads can be time-expanding. Sometimes thats a useful tool...

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No theyre not! :laugh:

 

 

Totally agree with the responses that it depends on genre. I play a lot of church stuff, and there pads are a staple. Mellow, bright, evolving, whatever they may be, they always find a use somewhere. I also play a lot of 2nd keyboard stuff, so there again its pads, strings, brass, and organ. Synth and percussion sometimes. Sonic filler really. But here, we really need that filler. Why? Because it is rare to be able to get together a group of more than drums, piano, and keyboard. One acoustic guitar if we are lucky. Havent seen an electric guitar or pedals for two years. Bass is rare as well, so I end up playing bass patches most of the time too. My point being, I am THE sonic filler guy. But they let me play pretty much anything I want to, so its not that limiting. Only occasionally does it get annoying with this one keyboard guy who has an obsession with simple held out strings on long songs. So when he is leading thats what I get to play on long songs. But on the other hand, it has helped me somewhat with voicings and getting used to the way strings are played rather than just root block chords.

 

Sometimes its only one keyboard and drums with a few singers. In small towns, it seems versatility is the name of the game for keyboard people.

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I dont like pads, I always feel like they dont fit in with my music, except for the FM strings sounds and organ (mostly Farfisa-type sounds). Ive never been too much into pads. They always never work in my own music because they drown out too much of the lead stuff that I use, even the piercing resonant leads.
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I generally don't care for the majority of pads found in most keyboards. I have little use for those long-evolving pads that have a lot of movement/motion. However, I have two or three I really dig and use quite frequently in my classic rock/pop/dance bands. My favorite is one I put together that combines Jupiter-8 type of string patch and this airy/ethereal D-50 type of program. It's super smooth/transparent, and adds a lot dimension without getting in the way. Seems I always get favorable comments from fellow musicians when I dial it up.

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I generally don't care for the majority of pads found in most keyboards. I have little use for those long-evolving pads that have a lot of movement/motion. However, I have two or three I really dig and use quite frequently in my classic rock/pop/dance bands. My favorite is one I put together that combines Jupiter-8 type of string patch and this airy/ethereal D-50 type of program. It's super smooth/transparent, and adds a lot dimension without getting in the way. Seems I always get favorable comments from fellow musicians when I dial it up.

 

They won't be a good candidate for a song with a very specific arrangement. Absolutely not! ...but try improvising over them. I'm not into ambient music at all, and even I find them useful.

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I use synth pads and string pads all the time in our Top 40 sets depending on genre and they help me fill out the sound of only having 1 guitar player on stage.

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What we like is irrelevant. We need to do a job. The reality of a working Pop band.

 

"It doesn't have to be difficult to be cool" - Mitch Towne

 

"A great musician can bring tears to your eyes!!!

So can a auto Mechanic." - Stokes Hunt

 

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I love a good pad - especially an evolving one (see Korg Wavestation, figure A).

 

One of my favorite songs to play with my band (The Cars song Drive) has a few gorgeous swirling pads I put together by stacking sounds and adding timbres using velocity. I also love fat analog string pads - especially single low notes - and am a big fan of putting a nice soft pad behind an AP or EP. Not necessarily just strings, either...

 

I understand a pad to essentially be a sustained tone or chord...so I imagine it can also be reasonably argued that some Hammond parts/sounds are pads. Some Taurus bass pedal parts too, perhaps... :idk:

 

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Those who lack a musical background -composition/arrangement in particular - tend to use or abuse pads A LOT for the wrong reason. It's just a way to mask thin arrangements. It attracts too much attention and you won't have to worry about voicing and stuff.

 

Other than that they can be extremely useful. Kronos has some amazing evolving pads. I like the ones that are less predictable and evolve in different directions. It's fun to play leads and keys along.

 

Some instant satisfaction:

 

 

They're also good for song writing. If you just want to focus on the melody and need some background harmony for inspiration, then you can use pads to write your song.

 

I don't think it's possible to have a general opinion about pads.

 

 

+1 for the Kronos pads. Qui Robinezs pads for Kronos are dope to me. Extremely inspirational for soloing over.

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Just like outboard effects (reverb, delay, chorus, etc.), pads should be treated like a spice. Add a pinch to provide flavor but not so much that it dominates the sound.

 

I layer pads underneath EPs for weight. Sometimes it is hard to tell the pad is there until it's not. :cool:

PD

 

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O(ff) T:

My favorite pad is the one that you find on a $750 piano bench.

 

O(n) T:

My problem with pads is that I can't play them. I am very rhythmic in my musical sense, almost to an OCD level. Thus my problem playing pads is that I don't quite know when they start or end, and so I can't quite inspire myself to press the key in the first place.

 

If I find a pad whose timbre I like, I'll invariably edit it to shorten the attack and release envelopes; then I can use it without feeling wrong.

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I love great pads, but I imagine it's different making records vs. playing live on stage.

 

These are dated now (16-20 years old??) , but I don't think this record would have been the same without my pads. As others have said, the mark of a good pad is you don't notice it but you miss it if it's gone. Warning: This is truly a twangy Country song.

 

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I love synths pads, we play "I vpcan't feel my face and I made two pads layered and changing, this evolution of the pads made the songs having the exact right mood...

Ok, I was in love with the Roland Synths in the 80's and they were very famous for their strings/synths lads...

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What we like is irrelevant. We need to do a job. The reality of a working Pop band.

Actually, that's exactly WHY I don't use them. My band leader(s) don't like them, and they muddy the live mix. Once in a while on a few numbers where they're really central, I'll use them, but if they're not 100% necessary, I'll play something with some attack (typically Piano or Wurli) so they can get out of the way and not muddy the live mix. 95% of the time, acoustics at venues just can't handle that kind of constant frequency sustain.

 

So yeah, in my experience, the reality of working in a Pop band is use a lot less pads than on the album.

 

Keep in mind, studio albums are dry, live rooms are not. Pads are often used to compensate for the dryness, which the natural reflections of a hall will provide.

 

Consider that I'm playing about 95% live music these days, for the past 7 years or so, with occasional session work. I'll play on maybe 1-2 full studio albums a year. Studio is a different animal and sometimes requires pads.

Puck Funk! :)

 

Equipment: Laptop running lots of nerdy software, some keyboards, noise makersâ¦yada yada yadaâ¦maybe a cat?

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