We live in a time where anybody can record anything anywhere and at any moment. Every DAW comes with its own unique set of plug-ins, which are usually pretty extensive and creative in their own right. Plug-ins are an interesting component of the music creation ecosystem. They are those little add-ons that help you create your unique sound and sonic identity. There are compressors, and EQ’s, and compressor EQ‘s, and EQ compressors, and multi-band compressors, and about 1 million different reverbs and delays and creative effects. We haven’t even got into all of the virtual instruments that seem to be limitless, and available for super cheap.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by Black Friday sales or get sucked into some flashy video showing how a cool brand new plug-in works. Guilty as charged! I have too many plug-ins loaded into my studio computer that I never use. Most professional creators have their own set of go-to plug-ins, and every once in a while they will enhance their productions by pulling something cool and seldom-used off the bench. Also…knowing what you have is important. I always suggest exploring any plug-in as soon as you get them. Find cool inspiring presets, and save those immediately!
Here are five of my must-have plug-ins to make your Pop POP, your Rock ROCK, and your hip hop BUMP!
By Justin Gray (Songwriter/Producer/Founder MDIIO)
Noire - Every DAW comes with some pretty decent stock pianos. For many years, my go-to piano was Alicia’s Keys for Native Instruments Kontakt. Until I discovered Noire. Noire not only comes with some incredible presets, it’s also the most densely and beautifully sampled virtual piano I have ever come across…even down to the pedal sounds. Use it with Native Instruments Kontakt player. It will change the way your piano recordings sound.
XLN Audio RC-20 - In one way or another, this plug-in makes it into every single session I produce. Used sparingly, or maxed out, the beautiful colors that this plug-in can create on an individual channel or across an entire mix bus makes this a truly special option. You might use it only for its reverb, or it’s subtle vinyl effect. Perhaps you use it to wobble your audio or even for it's super intuitive EQ. This really is one of the most versatile plug-ins on the market. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Slate VMR - This is a must-have to set for every single person who makes music. Densely populated with faithful re-creations of iconic audio processing gear makes this plug-in bundle stand out. For $10 a month, you'll access a ton of incredible musical instruments, and stunning re-creations of SSL, Neve, Empirical Labs Distressors, LA2A’s, 1176, tape machines, classic delays and buss compressors and Reverbs. And don’t worry if you feel like you’re not technically savvy enough, It comes with an incredibly well-crafted and exhaustive list of fantastic presets for you to jump off from. You will use these plug-ins on every single channel. Whether it is a vocal or acoustic guitar or drums, or even your master buss, Slate VMR has the answer.
Guitar Rig - Don’t let the name fool you. Yes of course it’s an excellent plug-in used to model classic amp tones. But beyond that, it’s masterfully authenticated and bundled a ton of very cool FX like DJ stutters, reverbs, and tons of modulation effects. Calling it Guitar Rig is almost a crime. As a toolbox, it does hold every single creative option that you could ever want. Try putting Guitar Rig on a tambourine track. Crazy right?!?!
Output Sounds Arcade - This is one of my favorite creation tools. And it’s only $10/month! You can even try it for free for 30 days! It’s not really an instrument, it’s not a sample bank, it’s kind of everything creatively bundled into one. Inspiration on demand! Yes it has a seemingly endless array of cool samples and well-crafted sound banks, but it also has an extremely intuitive search interface that allows you to find what you want exactly when you need it. They’ve also just recently released a new player mode that is included that allows you to take some of these samples and spread them out across your keyboard or your midi interface device for playability. Arcade will help you sound very cool, very quick! It might be why people think I am cool. Or maybe I just think I am cool. Dunno. Moving on!
The CODA: Having access to every sound doesn’t mean that you should use it. Limiting your options can and will expand your creativity in so many more ways. Even if you never use any of the plug-ins I have suggested, you can craft your hit record on your iPhone in GarageBand. Never forget it’s about the song, not about the technology. It’s the steak you need to sell...not the sizzle.
See you next week, and keep writing those hIts!