I had one lone release, back in 2001 or so, on Chill Productions as "Chis". It's been a long, long time since those days. I've often regretted not pushing myself for another release, between then and now, but I must admit it's only been since the last couple of years I feel my sound is polished enough.
It's rather egocentric to admit to perfectionism, right? But it's a fools errand, particularly within art. However electronic music has become so over-produced in the last decade, it's difficult not to feel intimidated and pressured to make one's own material sound "as good".
Let me cut to the chase (sorry, old cliché): Rick Snoman's "Dance Music Manual" is an essential purchase for anyone in a similar position. It's now priced under 15 quid here in the UK so there's no excuse. That Amazon page links to the newest - second - edition, but doesn't have any proper reviews, however there are a couple for the older edition. Don't buy the latter, the newer version has extra content despite the paucity of reviews and lower price!
I've always secretly hated flicking through presets. Well, back in the days of "Chis", I rifled desperately through them in the hopes of finding sounds that would suit me. Which is why I was rarely satisfied. So thankfully now I've gone through the Dance Music Manual and bothered to sit my lazy arse down and learn to properly program my own sounds... the results speak for themselves.
The DMM doesn't mention some other essential tips though: exciters and compressors, these are essential, even with a hardware synth! I am very fortunate to have been able to cut my sound design teeth on a Waldorf Microwave XT and a Pulse. Two fabulous hardware synths that can both be had for pretty reasonable prices on Sound On Sound's readers ads or eBay if you're lucky. They're not enough as they are though, layering, "exciting" (glorified distortion, but don't use any on the mid-range!), and judicious compression are all prerequisites for modern electronica production. Having good synth sounds is just the start. But it feels a damn sight more satisfying being able to say my music uses sounds purely made by myself. Well, save for the drum samples. Overused they may be, but I've long had a love affair with 909 drums (and techno, but that's a whole 'nother story), so I'm happy to use those as a starting point.
So, yes, I suppose this little rant was entirely to say I'm happy with where I am as a producer and I'm finding it far easier to put material together that sounds good with far less effort than I required before. Once you get used to a sequencer of choice (my kingdom for an Ableton hardware equivalent - probably not this decade though), and learn some vital tricks (google about side-chaining with filters, and I don't just mean to move cut-offs!), you're no longer endlessly battling with your tools just to make a nice sound.
Phew, now I can finally finish that album! (*cough*bollocks*cough*)