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What is Serum?
Serum is a Virtual Studio Technology (VST) synthesizer plug-in that uses wavetable synthesis. Electronic dance music producers, including Joel Zimmerman (aka deadmau5) widely favor Serum as their VST plug-in of choice for certain effects. Steve Duda, the founder of Xfer Records, developed Serum; Steve was an early collaborator with deadmau5 under various DJ monikers such as WTF and BSOD. Because of his close working relationship with Steve Duda, deadmau5’s unique sound, is often associated with Serum, and the signature deadmau5 pluck was created using xfer Serum.
Serum is essentially a synthesizer, which is a digital instrument that creates electronic music (Korg synths are some of the most common ones available). One of Serum’s standout features, among many, is that it is also a sampler. That means that not only can you create unique and new electronic sounds with Serum, you can also use samples from vocals or instruments and modify them to create new sounds.
Serum is also known for producing excellent audio quality (even though it means using a large portion of your computer’s processing power). This relies on Serum’s ability to alias faster than other programs. Essentially, digital waveforms, like those produced by a synth, are actually advanced algorithmic predictions of what the sonic waveform would be, otherwise known as aliasing. Older, slower synths have waveforms that can be unpredictable and can therefore sound muddy. Serum has the ability to alias those waveforms faster so that they are smooth and sound extraordinarily clear.
Some common terminology to know when using Serum and other VST plug-ins to create EDM music
Oscillators produce the basic waveforms of sine, square, and sawtooth, each with its own distinctive sound. These waveforms can have different frequencies, usually from zero to 20,000Hz (Hz = oscillations per second). Having two or more oscillators playing waveforms on top of each other is called “additive synthesis.”
Filters modify a sound by taking away certain frequencies and adding emphasis to others. A low pass filter (LPF) takes out certain high frequencies (the low freqs “pass” through). A high pass filter (HPF) does the opposite. A band pass cuts out low and high frequencies around a certain middle band. The “cutoff” of a filter determines the frequency where the modification begins. The “resonance” affects the sharpness of the modification.
Envelopes shape sounds over time. They usually control either the volume of a sound or the amount it is affected by the filter, from the time a note starts to the time it stops. The basic parameters of an envelope are attack, decay, and release. If the envelope is effecting volume, attack determines how long it takes for the sound to reach full volume; decay determines how long it takes for the volume to start fading down; and release determines how long it take for the sound to go silent once the note is no longer being played. Those parameters together are often referred to as ADR. Sometimes an envelope will also have a sustain parameter (this is an ADSR envelope). Sustain determines how long a sound holds at a given volume after it has decayed.
5) Low Frequency Modulation (LFO)
LFO (low frequency modulation) and Cross Modulation occurs when one waveform alters a parameter of another — usually either the pitch, the volume, or the action of the filter. This can produce tremolo-type effects (waveforms altering volume), vibrato (altering pitch), or sweeping sounds (altering the filter). If the modulation is happening at a rate of about 20hz or lower, it’s considered LFO.
Other features that make Serum standout among VST plug-ins are its visually intuitive and appealing graphical interface, and that Steve Duda is still actively involved in updating the program—all updates are free to customers for life. Serum can easily be added to popular electronic dance music production programs like Ableton Live or Logic Pro. There are also many free sample packs and free presets for Serum, which can give you the ability to fully customize your sound design, adding in vocals, guitar, or a dubsteb bass sound without having to create them yourself.