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Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

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Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby Sunshine82 » Sun Aug 30, 2020 11:59 pm

This is yet another ambitiously broad thread. But I’m what you’d all recommend.

Firstly, I’m leaning towards upgrading to Studio One Version 5. I believe its native plug-ins are pretty solid. But are there any third party plug-ins, of the cheap or free variety, that you would consider essential for your creative process? (Anything compatible with S1?)

Secondly, for those drum programmers out there, what program would you recommend trying? What’s easy to use and sounds realistic?

Thirdly, I’m looking for a realistic orchestra sample library. Is Kontakt or Native Instrument the industry standard?
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby Watchmaker » Mon Aug 31, 2020 1:08 am

You have an affinity for opening cans of worms don't you Sunshine?

Personally, I don't do cheap or free without a damn good reason. Tends to be exorbitantly expensive. All choices you will face in the realm of software based music production will be dependent on your use case. I have over purchased significantly over the years thinking I needed the newest bestest most up to date shiniest yet, ever! A lot of it never gets used and much of it never will. That's the marketing demons whispering in your ears.

I am, however, a retired drummer who likes to hear real sounding drum grooves without having to fix my timing in audio files so I use either BFD2 or Superior Drummer3 for "real" sounding drums and just write MIDI on the fly then go back and edit until I'm happy. I do not do anything with digital drum sounds though I have nothing against them. Just don't have ears to hear percussion that way.

BFD2 has earned a soft spot in my heart for many reasons. One has to do with the blood, sweat and tears shed figuring out how to make it sound great. I learned a lot of new swear words learning that program. SD3 is my go to now because it sounds great, is flexible, easy to use, and has solid development going on. I'm not sure where BFD is on that front, they seems to have tapered off a few years ago which is one reason I moved on. SD3 is truly epic imho. There is a less feature rich product by Toontracks called EZ Drummer th[at might suit you.

I do much less piano/keyboard/synth/pad work and though I own a few different software packages, I mostly use the native sounds in S1's software synth "Presence," simply because it's convenient. If I were going to do a release, I'd see what the talent preferred and try to compromise there somewhere though in my limited experience, most keyboard players bring their own sound engines and don't rely on me for that.

Also, as you build out capabilities, I've found that I had to commit to a "ecosystem". I use Mac, StudioOne and have a UAD interface which makes UAD plugins the best choice for me. I have several interfaces and other stuff but because the UAD plugins offer so much, I use the Apollo as the brain. I've been experimenting with UADs new DAW "LUNA" but prefer S1 for post. Still deciding if LUNA's gonna work for tracking. The ecosystem you evolve will involve some trade-offs between what the next steps can and can't be. This shouldn't deter you from getting the most appropriate item for your needs, just to indicate that sometimes that might lock you in to a certain approach. I don't know if the same is true for controllers and instrument libraries.

Also, all these instrument libraries have their own learning curve so be ready to go down the bunny trail. Happy hunting!

Oh, one more thing to think about is licensing. Do take the time to understand how the dev supports licensing. It can be a massive hassle or totally painless. Get an Ilok account!
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby adrian_k » Mon Aug 31, 2020 6:19 am

Oh, one more thing to think about is licensing. Do take the time to understand how the dev supports licensing. It can be a massive hassle or totally painless. Get an Ilok account!

Don’t underestimate this. For this reason I don’t use anything that has complicated copy protection (even iLok is complicated for me...).

The other point that Watchmaker makes that’s worth reflecting on is “what is my use case?” because your options are pretty much limitless. There are lots of ways to achieve the same or similar results but they will depend on preferred workflow, available hardware, experience, key requirements for the kind of music you want to make, etc.

Cheap / free for me include ReaPlugs and Hornet. Worth checking out some Soundfonts before you dive into Kontakt, they meet might your needs.
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby The Elf » Mon Aug 31, 2020 8:13 am

If there's one standard, love it or hate it (I mostly love it...), it's Kontakt. I create all my drums and orchestral arrangements with it. After that it's just about which libraries you choose, which is a different question.
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby CS70 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 8:30 am

Sunshine82 wrote:This is yet another ambitiously broad thread. But I’m what you’d all recommend.

Firstly, I’m leaning towards upgrading to Studio One Version 5. I believe its native plug-ins are pretty solid. But are there any third party plug-ins, of the cheap or free variety, that you would consider essential for your creative process? (Anything compatible with S1?)


Yes, but you don't know which are for you until you try.

Take away from your head the idea that it's about the software: it isn't. It's about your ability, which grows over time. The only thing about software is that, the more you are acquainted with it, the better it is (for you).

Normally at the beginning one doesn't have much clue, so he/she collects effects in the hope that they would fill the lack of skill. Of course they don't, but some, over time, you become acquainted with them, so they become "better" (for you).

Of the free variety, I cannot but recommend the Variety Of Sound plugins from Bootsy. They're 32 bit (so you need rock solid 32 bit support from the DAW), they're old, Bootsy's not so interested in audio processing anymore so no evolution or upgrades.. but they are totally wonderful and absolutely worth having. I've used them for years and still do, even having purchased equivalent effects for not so little money. "Free" doesn't get any better.

That said, there are a few processors that probably you don't find stock (as powerful as Melodyne or useful as spectral analysis tools, say) but it's unlikely you are gonna need them off the bat and the stock plugs will serve you well almost whatever DAW you use. It's not the effects, it's how you use 'em.

Secondly, for those drum programmers out there, what program would you recommend trying? What’s easy to use and sounds realistic?

Thirdly, I’m looking for a realistic orchestra sample library. Is Kontakt or Native Instrument the industry standard?

Once again, "realistic" these days is not so much about the sample package but your ability to program. They all have well recorded samples and uncountable starting loops played by generally pretty good drummers: so long you listen to a loop it's realistic because it's a drummer playing!

It's only when you put stuff together or sequence your own patterns that things change - and in the hands of a beginner programmer, the same samples will sound like crap and have worse groove than a song by the Shaggs.

Addictive Drums, Superior Drummer, BFD, EZ, Kontakt samples.. get any and learn how to sound realistic or they will not. Unless you use a single pre-defined loop. There are differences in ease of use and immediacy, but not so much in the sound of the samples.

For orchestral stuff, I have more limited experience (and none of my experimentations and learning tracks have made it any other ears than mine so far.. :D) but I like the Spitfire Audio stuff.

However, there's plenty choice of Very Good Stuff even there as well - actually there's so much competition, and packages are sold for so little (in the face of the enormous amount of work and expenditure that's required to make a good library) which I don't understand how so many can possibly exist and survive.. but probably they don't (survive)..
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby Sunshine82 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 8:58 am

Watchmaker wrote:You have an affinity for opening cans of worms don't you Sunshine?

Personally, I don't do cheap or free without a damn good reason. Tends to be exorbitantly expensive. All choices you will face in the realm of software based music production will be dependent on your use case. I have over purchased significantly over the years thinking I needed the newest bestest most up to date shiniest yet, ever! A lot of it never gets used and much of it never will. That's the marketing demons whispering in your ears.

I am, however, a retired drummer who likes to hear real sounding drum grooves without having to fix my timing in audio files so I use either BFD2 or Superior Drummer3 for "real" sounding drums and just write MIDI on the fly then go back and edit until I'm happy. I do not do anything with digital drum sounds though I have nothing against them. Just don't have ears to hear percussion that way.

BFD2 has earned a soft spot in my heart for many reasons. One has to do with the blood, sweat and tears shed figuring out how to make it sound great. I learned a lot of new swear words learning that program. SD3 is my go to now because it sounds great, is flexible, easy to use, and has solid development going on. I'm not sure where BFD is on that front, they seems to have tapered off a few years ago which is one reason I moved on. SD3 is truly epic imho. There is a less feature rich product by Toontracks called EZ Drummer th[at might suit you.

I do much less piano/keyboard/synth/pad work and though I own a few different software packages, I mostly use the native sounds in S1's software synth "Presence," simply because it's convenient. If I were going to do a release, I'd see what the talent preferred and try to compromise there somewhere though in my limited experience, most keyboard players bring their own sound engines and don't rely on me for that.

Also, as you build out capabilities, I've found that I had to commit to a "ecosystem". I use Mac, StudioOne and have a UAD interface which makes UAD plugins the best choice for me. I have several interfaces and other stuff but because the UAD plugins offer so much, I use the Apollo as the brain. I've been experimenting with UADs new DAW "LUNA" but prefer S1 for post. Still deciding if LUNA's gonna work for tracking. The ecosystem you evolve will involve some trade-offs between what the next steps can and can't be. This shouldn't deter you from getting the most appropriate item for your needs, just to indicate that sometimes that might lock you in to a certain approach. I don't know if the same is true for controllers and instrument libraries.

Also, all these instrument libraries have their own learning curve so be ready to go down the bunny trail. Happy hunting!

Oh, one more thing to think about is licensing. Do take the time to understand how the dev supports licensing. It can be a massive hassle or totally painless. Get an Ilok account!

Haha! You’ve got me pegged already. Yes, i tend ti specialize in cans of worms — got soil in my hair and mouth most of the time. I have a feeling that my inquiries will taper from the ambitious to the specific as i figure out what I’m doing. ;)

You’re probably right about learning to use the native plug-ins first. But I’ll take notes as i learn along the way about what’s useful out there.

Do BF3 or SD3 allow you to select stick type (can you use a jazz brush, for instance), or select where the drum hit is placed (like a rimshot, for instance)?

Does that mean some plug-ins are more compatible with certain audio interfaces? If so, that means I’ll need to create another ambitious thread about interfaces. Haha!

Good, solid advice all around. Thanks!
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby Sunshine82 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:08 am

adrian_k wrote:
Oh, one more thing to think about is licensing. Do take the time to understand how the dev supports licensing. It can be a massive hassle or totally painless. Get an Ilok account!

Don’t underestimate this. For this reason I don’t use anything that has complicated copy protection (even iLok is complicated for me...).

The other point that Watchmaker makes that’s worth reflecting on is “what is my use case?” because your options are pretty much limitless. There are lots of ways to achieve the same or similar results but they will depend on preferred workflow, available hardware, experience, key requirements for the kind of music you want to make, etc.

Cheap / free for me include ReaPlugs and Hornet. Worth checking out some Soundfonts before you dive into Kontakt, they meet might your needs.

I hear you about avoiding confusing copyrighted stuff. I don’t want to spend time interpreting what i can and can’t do. I just assumed that anything i pay for can be used in any way i chose. Not so?

Are Soundfonts the programs that increase sample library AI performance? Or at least allow for more finely tuning variables like attack and decay?
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby Sunshine82 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:16 am

CS70 wrote:
Sunshine82 wrote:This is yet another ambitiously broad thread. But I’m what you’d all recommend.

Firstly, I’m leaning towards upgrading to Studio One Version 5. I believe its native plug-ins are pretty solid. But are there any third party plug-ins, of the cheap or free variety, that you would consider essential for your creative process? (Anything compatible with S1?)


Yes, but you don't know which are for you until you try.

Take away from your head the idea that it's about the software: it isn't. It's about your ability, which grows over time. The only thing about software is that, the more you are acquainted with it, the better it is (for you).

Normally at the beginning one doesn't have much clue, so he/she collects effects in the hope that they would fill the lack of skill. Of course they don't, but some, over time, you become acquainted with them, so they become "better" (for you).

Of the free variety, I cannot but recommend the Variety Of Sound plugins from Bootsy. They're 32 bit (so you need rock solid 32 bit support from the DAW), they're old, Bootsy's not so interested in audio processing anymore so no evolution or upgrades.. but they are totally wonderful and absolutely worth having. I've used them for years and still do, even having purchased equivalent effects for not so little money. "Free" doesn't get any better.

That said, there are a few processors that probably you don't find stock (as powerful as Melodyne or useful as spectral analysis tools, say) but it's unlikely you are gonna need them off the bat and the stock plugs will serve you well almost whatever DAW you use. It's not the effects, it's how you use 'em.

Secondly, for those drum programmers out there, what program would you recommend trying? What’s easy to use and sounds realistic?

Thirdly, I’m looking for a realistic orchestra sample library. Is Kontakt or Native Instrument the industry standard?

Once again, "realistic" these days is not so much about the sample package but your ability to program. They all have well recorded samples and uncountable starting loops played by generally pretty good drummers: so long you listen to a loop it's realistic because it's a drummer playing!

It's only when you put stuff together or sequence your own patterns that things change - and in the hands of a beginner programmer, the same samples will sound like crap and have worse groove than a song by the Shaggs.

Addictive Drums, Superior Drummer, BFD, EZ, Kontakt samples.. get any and learn how to sound realistic or they will not. Unless you use a single pre-defined loop. There are differences in ease of use and immediacy, but not so much in the sound of the samples.

For orchestral stuff, I have more limited experience (and none of my experimentations and learning tracks have made it any other ears than mine so far.. :D) but I like the Spitfire Audio stuff.

However, there's plenty choice of Very Good Stuff even there as well - actually there's so much competition, and packages are sold for so little (in the face of the enormous amount of work and expenditure that's required to make a good library) which I don't understand how so many can possibly exist and survive.. but probably they don't (survive)..

Thanks. This is a good reminder not to go overboard with software. Keep things easy and light and let experience guide my learning process.

Is there a plug-in that allows for 32-bit plug-ins to be used in a 64-bit ecosystem? If so, how reliable and worth it are they?

Some of those cheaper libraries could work as long as they allow me to nuance sonics, like attack and delay and such. Any suggestions along those lines? Thanks, all!
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument PacksItvof money on a good EQ

Postby RichardT » Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:56 am

Sunshine82 wrote:This is yet another ambitiously broad thread. But I’m what you’d all recommend.

Firstly, I’m leaning towards upgrading to Studio One Version 5. I believe its native plug-ins are pretty solid. But are there any third party plug-ins, of the cheap or free variety, that you would consider essential for your creative process? (Anything compatible with S1?)

Secondly, for those drum programmers out there, what program would you recommend trying? What’s easy to use and sounds realistic?

Thirdly, I’m looking for a realistic orchestra sample library. Is Kontakt or Native Instrument the industry standard?

For me, the plugins I use tend to be paid for, or come natively with the DAW (Cubase in my case). I would suggest looking first just for a good compressor, EQ and reverb. Try out the native ones first, and maybe then compare them to trial versions of some paid for ones, based on reviews online.

I used SD3 which sounds great and comes with some very useable midi grooves.

Kontakt is a host. It’s the libraries that it hosts that generate the sounds. No, NI is not the market leader here. There are a huge number of good orchestral libraries available now. I use Spitfire and EWQL play, but there are so many I can’t tell you if they are the best. I’d suggest having a look at the new spitfire BBC SO Discover or Core libraries.
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby adrian_k » Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:08 am

Are Soundfonts the programs that increase sample library AI performance? Or at least allow for more finely tuning variables like attack and decay?

Soundfonts are the audio samples plus supporting scripts used by Soundfont players - there are a number of free players out there. It's essentially an alternative to Kontact, which uses its own file formats. Although the Kontakt player is/can be free, there are restrictions on what you can do without the paid version. I never got my head around exactly what. Some Kontact libraries/instruments need the full version of Kontakt is as far as I got with it, at which point I started looking at Soundfonts (not because I didn't want to spend money but I just wanted something simple).

Can I ask what kind of music you want to create?
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby blinddrew » Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:29 am

This isn't so much a can of worms as the audio engineering equivalent of, "What instrument should i play?" ;)
But actually a lot of the answers are the same...
- it depends what you want to do.
- it depends how much you want to spend.
- it depends how much time you want to put in.
- it depends what you've already got.
- it depends what you already know how to do.

Effects plugins for example; the stock ones that come with most DAWs will do the job for 90% of cases. For the next 9.9% of cases you'll quickly establish a few regulars that work for you. And maybe one time in a thousand you'll hit something that only one tool will fix.
Instrument libraries aren't that different in some ways. Want a beautifully sampled, multi-mic'd, full orchestra with all kinds of options and articulations? Great, take your pick from Spitfire, East West, Vienna and half a dozen others. With a whole variety of different payment options to boot.
But as with the drummer options mentioned above, what makes them work is the programming ability of the user.
I have some personal favourites, particularly at the budget end, but they might be completely useless to you if we're not making similar noises or prefer to work in different ways.
What might be an interesting exercise, to try and avoid the old 'buying something but never using it ' pitfall that many of us have been tempted by, would be to look up the back catalogue of various regulars here, find something that resonates, and then start a specific discussion about that track and what was used.
Or search for the thread about the first SOS forum album and have a listen there. (Volume 2 is in progress.)
Plus there's all the Inside Track articles in the magazine of course.
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby The Elf » Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:32 am

If you're looking for an 'industry standard' pick list then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. There are as many combinations of tools as there are those of us using them.

I get the impression that you're wanting to know all about the destination, but you've yet to start the journey!

In other words, jump in and start swimming - you're going to get a mouthful of water every now and then, but you'll never learn to swim over a forum!
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby desmond » Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:39 am

adrian_k wrote:Although the Kontakt player is/can be free, there are restrictions on what you can do without the paid version. I never got my head around exactly what. Some Kontact libraries/instruments need the full version of Kontakt is as far as I got with it, at which point I started looking at Soundfonts (not because I didn't want to spend money but I just wanted something simple).

I've broken this time a few time here - check this post out:
https://www.soundonsound.com/forum/view ... 17#p706717
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby desmond » Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:43 am

The Elf wrote:I get the impression that you're wanting to know all about the destination, but you've yet to start the journey!

In other words, jump in and start swimming - you're going to get a mouthful of water every now and then, but you'll never learn to swim over a forum!

This.

You can't properly make informed decisions about a lot of this stuff, because you don't have the context to understand how you work, what you need, and what does and doesn't work for you.

My advice is - don't spend months trying to anticipate every need you might have and let that paralyse you into inaction. It sounds like you're really already made your DAW choice, so get it, and start making music. Use and learn the tools that come with it. If you find there is a hole lacking (say, you want something to do drums that is over and above what you already have), then research *then* and choose a product for that specific need, and get that too.

Honestly, if you're new at this, and you go and buy a DAW, a sub-DAW, a scorewriter, and 10 deep third-party plugins - you're going to have a helluva time trying to learn all that stuff at once, let alone do anything creative with it!

Focus on the immediate needs, get those things, and start working. How well you do, and what you might need to get to expand your system, will start to become more self-evident.
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Re: Beginners’ Guide to Plug-Ins & Instrument Packs

Postby CS70 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 12:28 pm

Sunshine82 wrote:Is there a plug-in that allows for 32-bit plug-ins to be used in a 64-bit ecosystem? If so, how reliable and worth it are they?

Some of those cheaper libraries could work as long as they allow me to nuance sonics, like attack and delay and such. Any suggestions along those lines? Thanks, all!

It's not about plugins, but DAW support. Many DAWs allow a "bridging" of VST plugins thought for 32 bit DAWs into a 64 bit DAW. Such bridging is a relatively simple and mechanical operation, but it needs to be well debugged and tested - which in turn is driven by how much attention the DAW manufacturer (and its customer base) has on the matter.

So with some DAWs it's a seamless experience (for example Cakewalk, that I use - they added the bridging when moving from Windows 32 bit to 64 bit and did an amazing job at it, it's completely transparent and simply never crashes), while with other DAWs you may not be able to use them or 32 bit plugs can cause crash.

If you're heading towards Studio One, it looks like it does not support them natively so you would need to get/buy a bridge (for example https://jstuff.wordpress.com/jbridge/)

Is it worth it? Well, for me it would be a dealbreaker, but that's just because I know the VOS plugs so well that I can select the right one depending on the sound I have in mind and get very quickly exactly what I want from them. But once again, for you it can well be different and it may be not worth the hassle. In the end what matters are the results - and the results depend on you more than the specific software :)

As for libraries, most do allow these params to be tweaked, yes.

+1 to what the others say. Stop thinking too much, get something and start messing around. Even with the best software in the world, the first things you do will kinda suck.. :D we've all been there. Then upgrade when you find the limits of what you have. You don't learn to drive a car by looking at specs :)
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