Run Multiple VST Instruments

Digidesign (Avid) Pro Tools Tips & Techniques

Published in SOS March 2003
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Technique : Pro Tools Notes

Pluggo instruments, such as the Analog Drums module shown here, work in the same way as other Pro Tools virtual instruments.

Pro Tools' plug-in power continues to grow. A port of Cycling 74's Pluggo provides Mac users with over 100 RTAS plug-ins, while you can now run multiple VST Instruments with the new Multi VST Shell.

Simon Price

The last 12 months has seen Pro Tools catching up a little on its peers in the soft synth revolution. Digidesign's (sensible) decision not to provide direct support for VST plug-ins and Instruments had the initial effect of leaving Pro Tools users unable to enjoy the oceans of free or cheap downloadable goodies available to others. Clearly this is a drawback to us home users who buy an M Box system for our desktop studio: we don't want to spend the same amount again just to add one commercial 'pro' plug-in. One of the most significant turning points in this story is the addition of RTAS support to Cycling 74's amazing Pluggo suite of effects and instruments, while the icing on the cake is C74's recent release of the free RTAS 'run-time' version of Pluggo (see box on the next page). I've also been playing with a new program that lets you run up to four VST Instruments and plug-ins within Pro Tools — read on!

Pro Tools Meets The Never-ending Plug-in

Multi VST Shell is a simple MIDI + Audio application that can act as a stand-alone VST host, but can also be used to add VST Instruments and effects to Pro Tools via Direct Connect.

Even if Pro Tools has always been the main weapon of choice in your studio, you're likely to have heard users of the other big audio and MIDI applications mentioning Pluggo. At the most basic level of description, Pluggo is a pack of over 100 RTAS plug-ins for 200 US dollars. Some of these are sound-generating plug-ins (soft synths), while the majority tend towards the weird and wonderful end of effects processing. Cycling 74 describe it as a sound-design suite rather than a 'sweetening' package. What makes Pluggo interesting (and explains the vast number of effects you get) is that the plug-ins are all created in an audio/MIDI programming environment called MAX/MSP. All the instruments and effects are accessed through a 'shell' plug-in and extension, in the same way as the Waves plug-ins are. This is cool because the MAX/MSP development package is available for public purchase, so you can buy it and make your own plug-ins. OK, so most of us won't do that bit, but luckily lots of other people have, and are good enough to share what they've made on the Internet. Cycling 74 themselves add a new free plug-in every month on their web-site for Pluggo users.

I downloaded the Pluggo demo from, which came with everything I'd have got if I'd bought it, including 113 new plug-ins! This trial version has its wings clipped by cutting the audio outputs at regular intervals. Also like the Waves installer, the Pluggo one put a single master plug-in in the Plug-ins folder, and created a new folder in the Digidesign directory to store all the plug-in files. I have to tell you it's nice suddenly having a huge list of plug-ins when you only had the factory set in to begin with. I was particularly keen to see how well the plug-in instruments were implemented, so I tried a few out including Analog Drums. Thankfully it works in the same way as existing Pro Tools virtual instruments: the plug-in is inserted on an aux input channel, and then appears as an available MIDI output device in all MIDI tracks. The screen shot above shows how I was able to quickly set up a drum pattern using the Analog Drums plug-in and a MIDI track in grid mode.

And VST Instruments Too

The Pro Tools mixer, showing the four channels created by Multi VST Shell.

One thing that other versions of Pluggo can do is host VST plug-ins and Instruments, making them available to the master application. Sadly this is not possible in Pro Tools, due to technical difficulties (and also by Digi's request). However, there are other ways to integrate VST Instruments into your Pro Tools studio. You may remember that in last July's Pro Tools Notes I looked at a stand-alone VST host program called Ugly VSTi which could output audio into the Pro Tools mixer via Direct Connect. Well, this month I've found another such application, only this time it can make four separate VST Instruments available to Pro Tools at the same time. What's more I tested it with Pro Tools Free on an iBook, and it was perfectly stable with all four synth slots being used (with free instruments from the Internet), as well as a bunch of Pluggo run-time plug-ins — now that's a pretty serious music package for absolutely no money! The screen shot, top right, shows the main window from Multi VST Shell, the program that makes this possible. The program itself is essentially a very basic audio application that can only do a few things: run four VST Instruments and four VST effects, set levels and effects sends for these modules, and set MIDI and audio routing in and out. In this way it can be used as an instrument in its own right, controlled from a MIDI keyboard with sound going directly to your audio outputs. It's even got an arpeggiator and a SMF (Standard MIDI File) player. All very lovely, but the reason we're talking about it here is that it supports OMS (and IAC busses) and Direct Connect, meaning that we can play and sequence the instruments from Pro Tools, and bring up the audio directly into aux input channels in the Pro Tools mixer. To get it working, download and install Multi VST Shell, which is available from Next you'll need to get some VSTi synths, and optionally some VST effect plug-ins. A good place to start is, and you should also check out

Make yourself a VST Plug-ins folder within the VST Shell folder and copy across any VST modules you've found. Finally you'll need the MSP-PI Direct Connect plug-in, which apparently has been mistakenly omitted from the VST Shell download. You can get it by downloading the Drum16 program from the same page as the shell and moving the MSP-PI file from the Audio Stuff folder in Drum16's folder into your Pro Tools Plug-ins Folder. Now, to make it work, create or open a Pro Tools Session, add an aux input track and insert an MSP-PI plug-in. The plug-in provides the conduit from VST Shell, but for now there will be no inputs available. Launch VST Shell, and make sure that you have an IAC buss ticked as an input in the MIDI configuration box (if not set one up in OMS Setup). Click the Audio Driver button and select Direct Connect as your driver; you also seem to need to come into this page and switch audio 'On' each time you run the program. You can now use the Load buttons in the four channels to insert instruments. At first it won't look like anything's happened, but click Edit and the instrument's panel will be displayed. In Pro Tools you will now be able set the Direct Connect channel pair you're using for each device (in the MSP-PI plug-in). A MIDI track can now be set to the relevant IAC buss and channel to control each instrument.

  Quick Tips  
  Just as with audio tracks, it's possible to assign multiple outputs from a MIDI track. With an output already assigned, hold down Control and select another device/channel from the output pop-up. This can be repeated to add as many MIDI destinations as required from a single track, and is great for creating layers.

Here's an innovative TDM technique from the Digidesign User Conference (thanks to user Tron) to be experimented with as an alternative to reverb sends on tracks in your stereo mix. Use a quad surround output on each track, with the front two channels going to your main mix buss, and the two rear channels going to a reverb buss (this works best if your reverb is mainly early reflections). You then have a novel X-Y controller for quickly setting a stereo position and 'distance'.

One of Pro Tools LE's advantages is its song file compatibility with TDM systems, but moving from TDM to LE can be a pain because of the lower audio track count. Only the top 24 (or 32 if you're up to date) tracks appear when you open a TDM Session in LE. Because LE doesn't have the Import Tracks command, it's essential that you plan for this before you lose access to the TDM machine! Save two copies of the Session in the TDM system, with the tracks split across them. You may also want to bounce some tracks down together so you can carry on working.


  Free Running  
  No matter how much of a bargain Pluggo is, if you don't have $199, you don't have $199. If this is the case, you can download the free Pluggo run-time installer from This gives you benefit of being able to download and use plug-ins created in the Pluggo (MAX/MSP) format, while not being able to use the effects and instruments that actually ship with the full Pluggo package.

Here's a couple of good places to start your search for plug-in downloads:


  Current Versions  
  Mac OS
HD: 5.3.1r2.
24/Mix: 5.1.3cs4.
LE for Digi 001/Audiomedia III: 5.2.1cs1.
LE for Digi 002: 5.3.2cs1.
Free: 5.0.1.

HD, LE for M Box: 5.3.3.
24/Mix, LE for Digi 001/002/Audiomedia III: 5.3.1.
Free: 5.0.1.


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