Getting started with music production – Part 2

Confusion

Part 1

You’re a DJ, and not just any DJ, but a DJ who’s been killing it in the local scene. You’re getting all the gigs you could ever want and have a burgeoning fanbase who follows you from club to club, but you want to break out of your town and move on to surrounding areas, maybe even surrounding states (or countries). Problem is, none of those venues have ever heard of you and think you’re just another guy with “DJ” scrawled in front of your name to make yourself look professional. How do you make yourself stand apart? The answer is music production.

However, it’s at this point that another problem presents itself. You have absolutely no idea where to start! There’s tons of different software options out there, not to mention the vast array of effects and instrument plugins, and even once you get all that, how do you even use it? That’s what this little guide is for.

Part 2: The Plugins

Last week, we covered the concept of the DAW and gave a basic overview of some of the big ones. While most, if not all, of them include several basic plugins and effects, often they are not enough for a burgeoning, experimenting producer. We are, of course, speaking from experience here. While you may be content to use the stock instruments and effects, we’re here to show you some fantastic free plugins that will certainly expand your horizons, and will certainly allow you to produce some exceptional music – should you learn how to use them properly, of course. Unfortunately, that is not something that can be taught in a basic music production tutorial…it is something that must be learned from experience or in a classroom.

Now, all of the plugins listed here are VST plugins, which means if you’re using Logic Pro as your DAW of choice, none of them will work. Logic Pro, unfortunately, doesn’t support VST plugins. We can guarantee these all work on Windows systems; however, we cannot do the same for Mac systems, as a VST that works on one does not necessarily work on the other. However, we will do our best to tell you if there is not a Mac version available.

Anyway, here’s some of our favorite VST plugins, ones that we use on a regular basis in our own music.

Instruments:

  • Chip32Chip32
    This one is an excellent 8-bit synth, with an included bitcrusher and filter. It’s quite simple to use and doesn’t take up very much memory, and is perfect for adding an older flare to your productions. All you have to do is draw the waveform you want…or use one of the included presets.
  • mda Pianomda Piano 
    While it’s likely not going to win any awards for its beauty, mda Piano is a fantastic free piano plugin, and it’s the one we use for any and all piano in our songs. It’s very customizable and comes with several presets which are quite useful starting points for the perfect sound.
  • Superwave P8Superwave P8 
    When you first turn it on, it looks like a mess of buttons, knobs, sliders, and the like. However, once you start tweaking things, it all begins to make sense. “Oh, this one’s the LFO! This is the envelope! This is the oscillator!” Messing around with things is one of the best ways to learn, and that’s especially true with this very capable synth. Note: there is no Mac version.
  • TAL NoiseMakerTAL NoiseMaker 
    Unlike the Superwave P8 synth, NoiseMaker is much more easy to figure out upon first glance. It’s a very capable virtual analog synth and comes with a few very basic effects. Don’t just take my word for it though; try it out yourself! Note: not only does this have a Mac VST plugin, but it also has AU variants as well, which means it works in Logic Pro! That obviously means its programmers have put quite a lot of work into it…
  • Tweakbench PadawanTweakbench Padawan 
    While every single one of Tweakbench’s plugins are fantastic and incredibly useful, Padawan, in my opinion, is in a class of its own. Not only does it have an analog oscillator in it, but it also has a wavetable oscillator, which means you can come up with some pretty deep, spectacular sounds. As its punny name suggests, it is primarily a pad synth, but just like anything else in music production, it can be manipulated to make sounds other than those for which it was intended, such as leads. Note: Windows only!
  • u-he TyrellN6u-he TyrellN6
    We have a tendency to layer synthesizers in our music (in essence: using several synths on top of each other to create complex sounds), and in nearly every single stack is this one. It is by far and away the most capable free synth we have found and in many cases surpasses its paid competitors in capabilities. Use this, learn it well, and you will never go searching for another synth – at least, not for a while.

Effects:

  • Illformed GlitchIllformed Glitch
    Ever listened to our original song When The Morning Comes and wondered how we did those cool effects on the hats at the end? Or have you ever listened to our remix of Let It Go and wondered how those hats and vocals and other instruments do such cool things throughout the song? Well wonder no further, because we used this plugin for all of it. And you know what? We’ve only scratched the surface of what it’s capable of doing. Scroll down to where it says “OLD VST PLUG-INS PACK” and click the download link; you won’t be disappointed. It looks like a mess, but play around with it. You’ll have fun. Note: Mac is not supported.
  • TAL Dub DelayTAL Dub Delay
    While an excellent delay plugin in its own right, we have also used and abused this one to no end in altering the sounds of our instruments. This alone was responsible for making the ‘guitar’ sound in the chorus of our Let It Go remix from some ordinary synthesizers. Careful though…it might just be addicting. We could (and actually have) spend hours messing with all the dials and buttons on this one, changing the sounds of our synths and generally just having fun writing music. Don’t forget to check out the other Delay plugins on that page either.
  • TAL Reverb 2TAL Reverb II
    Noticing a trend here? The fact is, Togu Audio Line (TAL) make some spectacular plugins, and this one is no exception. It’s nothing too fancy, but it was used extensively in our song Event Horizon to make it sound so airy and spacey and floaty and any other -y words you can think of which apply. The part that starts around 0:50? Yeah, that was this plugin, applied heavily to the piano track.

That does it for all our plugins! Download them, but don’t install them unless you know what you’re doing – we’ll cover all of that in next week’s guide. Anyway, stay tuned, and see you next Friday!

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4