Guest Post by Caleb J. Murphy
Without audio plugins, your potential as a digital musician is very limited. Make no mistake, you can still make kick-butt music with a reliable DAW and a MIDI controller and no plugins.
But audio plugins can take your game to the major leagues.
For that very reason, I’m going to talk about the 9 audio plugins that should be on your digital producer’s tool belt.
For your convenience, we’ve even provided a price rating system:
Free = Completely free plugin
$$ = double-digit price tag
$$$ = triple-digit price tag
Deadmau5’s frequent partner in EDM crime, Steve Duda, created this plugin, so you know it’s top-notch. This wavetable synth allows you to import audio to be used as a wavetable. And if you want to modulate something, just drag and drop the source using the knobs on the interface.
With ten effects, including EQ and distortion, you’ll be able to get a synth sound like no other plugin in its league.
XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums is one of the best drum plugins, at a reasonable price too. Using this MIDI tool, you can drag and drop every little snare hit and cymbal crash, honing the beat to be exactly what you want with ease. You can choose pre-EQ’d drum kits with the ability to manually EQ each piece of the kit and add effects like reverb and echo.
While writing this article, Addictive Drums is on its second iteration, which includes a bunch of improvements from the first version.
If you’ve never mastered your music or you’re new to it, iZotope Ozone is a plugin worth checking out. You want your music to sound professional, and mastering is a critical step in that process.
If you can master your music yourself, great. If not, this plugin can give you a polished sound with presets for nearly any type of genre or instrument. Presets are a beginner’s best friend -- it’s a good idea to start with presets and tweak from there, making the mix specific to your song.
Right now, iZotope Ozone is on its seventh iteration, so you know it’s made leaps of improvement since the original version.
Kontakt sounds like the name of a DJ, and that’s appropriate -- it’s one of the leading sampler plugins out there. The instruments it has sampled include synth, piano, drums, bass, and more.
For its fifth version, Native Instruments has developed 37 new filters, four extra studio effects, better time stretching, and many more features. One of the new samples, the Studio Drummer, proves that this plugin dares to innovate.
When they say you can have too much of a good thing, they weren’t talking about UVI Orchestral Suite. With this plugin, you get over 60 classical instruments, including strings, brass, a percussion section, and even a full choir.
It also offers samples of less used instruments, like the harp, harpsichord, and a celesta. With the ability to specify how you want each instrument played, you’ll be able to create realistic and compelling performances.
Fabfilter Pro-Q brings professional EQing to your studio. Bringing this plugin to your computer will allow you to use linear phase operation, zero latency, and complete control of the stereo placement.
Right now, Pro-Q is on its second go-around of this plugin, so the company says you’ll get the “highest possible sound quality and a gorgeous, innovative interface with unrivaled ease of use.” For a plugin in the quadruple-digit price range, that sounds about right.
Fabfilter is apparently so good at what they do that they earned a second spot on this list. Saturn happily distorts your sounds, pulling inspiration from the vintage tubes and guitar amps everyone loves. It boasts fantastic modulation ability, allowing you to get warm and defined sounds, all in a drag-and-drop setup.
Compression is a very important step in mixing and mastering music and it shouldn’t be overlooked. The Rough Rider Compressor is a new tool yet it flaunts its vintage clothing. It’s not a compressor for every instrument, but it works really well on drums, synth bass, clean guitar, and backing vocals.
Currently in its second version, Rough Rider works with Windows 8 and up and is available as a 32-bit and 64 bit VST3 and VST. It’s also available for iOS devices as an app. Oh, and it’s completely free.
LFOTool is a nice little piece of software. It’s an effects plugin that offers tremolo, auto-pan, trance-gate, side-chain compressor simulation, and even wobbly effects perfect for dubstep music.
It’s compatible with MIDI, it allows you to create custom LFO waves (presets are available too), and it boasts ease-of-use and beginner friendliness. And at a fair price, this plugin is a steal.
If you’d like to open up your world of possibilities as a producer, I’d recommend you seriously consider getting some of these plugins. I know a lot of us are working on tight budgets, so you could always try the demo versions that many of these plugins offer. So here’s to “plugging in” to potential.
What are your favorite plugins? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know on social media: (@Tunedly on Facebook and Twitter)
Caleb J. Murphy is a talented songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer. He's released several albums of his own and currently does freelance work to help out brands and artists alike.
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Tunedly.