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Music Production

A few good plugins can go a long way

As you probably don’t know (very sadly for your ears!), I make music and have been making music for a long time now. I’ve had my music published and synchronised to some cool things, an Audi ad, Disney channel bits, Sky tv etc. Now it’s by no means my full time job, but it’s nice to get a bit of change, (money), every so often from doing something I really enjoy. In today’s episode I thought I’d share a few of the plugins I love and why they are so good. There is a bewildering array of plugins to choose from these days and I must mention that the stock plugins that come with most DAWs are brilliant. But I am going to focus on third party plug-ins today. 

Now, let me share some hard learned knowledge before I even get into the actual plugins. After a stupidly long time i’ve come to a basic realisation, and that is before you get obsessed by using third party plugins or even stock plugs – start actually FINISHING SONGS. Get into the habit of finishing whole songs, even if they sound crap. I can’t reiterate that enough. So many of us music types are twiddlers and ‘loop masters’. We sit there having made a loop and listen to it endlessly, imagining the hordes going wild for it, but it’s not a song, it’s just a 4 bar or 8 bar loop. Look, I said it right there, it’s not a song, it’s just a loop. Once upon a time my computer quickly became a loop graveyard! Some brilliant, some average, but all unfinished and just clogging up disk space. After listening to anything 1000 times you get bored of it, regardless of how good it sounds. 

When I sit down to make music these days I’m very clear about what I want to do. Some days are playing about days where I experiment and have fun, I program synths, try effects tricks etc. and yes I do create loops. But most of the other days I sit down solely with the focus of finishing a song. Creating a song finishing habit is essential if you want to be successful in music.

So to a few of the plugsin I love and use every session at the moment:

Serum by Xfer Records – Software Synthesizer

Serum is a wavetable software synthesizer that has quickly risen to the top of the pile. It sounds brilliant, there are a ton of tutorials and also sound patches out there for it, and it’s got a huge fan base. It was 3 years in the making and was created to have inaudible levels of aliasing (those harsh artifacts you can hear when playing high pitched sounds, typical on most other soft synths).

As a result Serum sounds amazing. It’s also got a superb, visually pleasing user interface. In terms of pick and play it is relatively easy to learn and also program. Even if you don’t want to program it, the sounds included are fab and there are loads of free sounds and banks out there for you to use.

The one downside of Serum is that it is really processor hungry. I often find that if I have more than one instance of it open it kills my CPU and makes my laptop lag. In some ways this is actually a positive as I have to commit to sounds and bounce them down to audio. Sometimes constraints like this are actually beneficial, I guess it’s how you look at it! I would definitely give it a try, I doubt you’ll look back.

Soundtoys 5 – Multi effects bundle

Ok so this isn’t a plug in per se, but a bundle of plug ins, including the following:

  • Crystallizer
  • Decapitator
  • EchoBoy
  • Little AlterBoy
  • EchoBoy Jr.
  • Little Plate
  • PrimalTap
  • Devil-Loc Deluxe
  • Radiator
  • MicroShift
  • Tremolator
  • Sie-Q
  • FilterFreak
  • PhaseMistress
  • PanMan
  • Little MicroShift
  • Little PrimalTap
  • Little Radiator
  • Devil-Loc

The centrepiece of this great bundle is the Effects Rack. In this you can build your own effect chains using any of the included plugins. Once you create your own chain you then have a global control that lets you treat the Rack as a single plug in. Trust me, Soundtoys 5 is a real joy to use and it’s not really a shock that it’s a staple of many of your favourite producer’s studio set ups. The way you can craft, emphasise and mangle sounds can be spectacular and you can end up playing around with the effects for hours on end.

A couple of my favourites from this bundle are Decapitator and Crystallizer. Decapitator is an emulation of analogue saturation. There are 5 different style buttons that are modelled after legendary hardware studio preamps and input channels, including the Neve 1057 and Ampex 350 tape drive. If you want to make a sound pop out in your mix this is a great first port of call. Hear it in action yourself here: Decapitator Tutorial

Crystallizer is a granular echo effect. It delays a portion of audio that you feed into it and this is called the Splice. You can then create lots of weird and wonderful delay type effects with this Splice function. It can also be synced to your session tempo. Have a listen to it in action here: Crystallizer in action

Fabfilter Pro Q 3 – Equaliser

Last but not least is my favourite Equaliser plugin. An equaliser is one of the most important tools that an engineer or producer uses. It lets you balance the frequencies of an individual sound, vocal or whole mix. How do you balance these frequencies? Well an equaliser allows you to boost some frequencies and cut others. 

As you can see above the interface that the Pro Q 3 has is beautiful, it shows the frequency spectrum of the audio source you are treating and you can drag the yellow line up to boost a frequency or down to cut a frequency. It is so easy and intuitive to use and innovative that there have been lots of copies. None seem to match this, the original, however.

You can refine your boosts and cuts using the Q setting and you can also split the signal between the mono and stereo channels and treat each separately. I literally use this plug in on everything and would really suggest giving it a go. 

So that’s a little breakdown of some of the things I use. I’d love to hear what you guys rate or use, comment below or drop me an email –

At the end of the day less is more when it comes to plug ins I believe. I used to have so many at one point and could hardly use any well. Now though I have a few and know them really well. This approach has really raised my production level and get the sounds out from my head and out through my speakers.

Keep creative!

About Pal

Co-founder @ SendMusic

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