If you have aspirations of becoming a bedoom producer, you need music software. There are thousands and again thousands of different kinds of music software, that can perform pretty much everything that you can imagine on a track, if you have the know-how and the vision to make it real. In this article we’ll scratch the surface of music software, especially the world of audio plugins, or VST-plugins as they’re usually called.
DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations)
DAWs, or Digital Audio Workstations, are your bread and butter in music production. They’re your software platform to create your music, and these workstations can be expanded in a multitude of ways; with other DAWs and third-party programs known as audio plugins or VST-plugins. We’ve written a more specific article talking about DAWs, so remember check that out as in this page we’ll focus more on the third party add-ons.
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of this article, which are audio plugins. Audio plugins, or VST-plugins, are an essential part of the the world of music software, that can really make a difference in your sound. We briefly touched the subject of audio plugins when we talked about DAWs, but let’s cover the main points here. So there are three common types of audio plugins:
- VST (Virtual Studio Technology): The most common type of audio plugin, so much so that their name is pretty much synonymous with “audio plugins”. Available for both PC and Mac.
- AU (Audio Units): AU’s are anative audio plugin line created for Mac OS, but can also be used on other operating systems.
- RTAS (Real-Time Audio Suite): These audio plugins are exclusive to Pro Tools, a DAW developed by Avid.
As the VST is the most common and widely known type of audio plugin, we’ll refer to the music software in this article as them from now on.
Types of VST-plugins
Now, this is completely a personal preference, but I’ve usually divided VST-plugins into three main categories: “Mixing & Mastering“, “Effects” and “Synthesizers“. It’s pretty easy to sort the music software this way, as they’re pretty self-explanatory:
- Mixing and mastering VSTs are the ones that you use to balance your mixdown in the production process and are also your main tool in giving the finishing touches when you master your track. This class of music software includes plugins like waveform analyzers, limiters, compressors and EQs. Every DAW usually comes with it’s own set of these plugins, but some dedicated developers take their concepts and functions to the next level, to the point of where you might want to consider buying the instead of using your default tools.
- Effects can really make your sounds interesting. There are countless types of sound effects that you can have and apply to your tracks, but the main gist of them is their way of manipulating sound waveforms. Just like with mixing and mastering plugins, you’ll usually find a native bundle of effects with your DAW, but there’s some really insane third party effects out there that you’ll find yourself using on every track!
- Synthesizers are your virtual instruments, that you use to initially create your sounds. These include your keyboards, drum machines, samplers, basses etc. A good synthesizer comes with its own set of effects, that you can use to tweak your sound presets completely unrecognizable. DAWs usually don’t natively come with an extensive library of VST-synths, and to unlock them usually requires you to buy the more expensive editions of the software. There are, however, a universe of awesome developers, who create only third party synthesizers, with prices ranging from free to hundreds of euros.
Fine-tuning, mixing and mastering
Let’s have a look at some of the most common music software for mixing and mastering.
Waveform analyzers are a great too to see your track in a visual way. You can see your volume output, waveform range and with some of the better analyzers, even the width of your stereo image. The PAZ Analyzer by Waves is my personal pick, as it finds itself into every single sound that I have on my tracks so I have a perfect picture of the sounds 100% of the time.
Although it’s definitely not required to produce a great track, I’ve always enjoyed having a visual image of the tracks that I’m working on. They also make it so much more easier for you to equalize overdominant frequencies, so you don’t have to do everything by ear.
Equalizers, or EQs for short, are quintessential music software for your mixdown, as they can be used to control the volume output of individual sounds and also cut off and filter unwanted frequencies. You most likely don’t want too much high frequencies on your bassline and massive amounts of low frequencies on your lead melodies.
A good EQ is a precise tool that gives you a massive advantage on making your tracks sound clear as day.
We’ve briefly talked about the subject of limiters in out article about mastering. Limiters are one of the last things that goes into your track in the mastering process, as it allow you to raise your track’s volumes (both master volume and individual sounds) to their potential maximum without going to the territory of distortion, which degrades the quality of your sounds.
You just have to be careful not to overuse them, because listening to a flat brick-wall-looking soundform is not a pleasant experience. Limiters are to be used with caution, just to bring the mixdown up to decent levels where the track is loud enough to be enjoyed, but still dynamic enough to have breathing room for the sounds.
We dedicated a whole section for sound compression in our aforementioned article about mastering that is available here. In the article we go through the main purpose of a good quality compressor and what main functions you’re bound to find in all of them.
Their principal goal is in a lot of ways similar to limiters, but with the main difference that compressors allow you to compress and boost individual frequencies, where as limiter usually works on the whole audio track. Compressor allows you to bring out the essential sound range of the waveform you’re working on.
Sound effects are music software, that really kick off the fun in music production. Break, tweak and turn the waveforms upside down on their heads to really create something unique, or just enhance them to really create the feeling of large spaces!
Waveform filters, flangers, phasers etc.
I’ve decided to bundle these general sound effects together, since you’re very likely to find some iterations of them within any DAW. These are your basic sound effects that you can use to give your tracks more color and make them sound more fat and warm. They also work very well when doing automations to make your tracks feel alive.
Reverbs are one of my absolute favorites, when it comes to music software. The ability to give your vocals, synths and drum hits the feel that they’re being played inside a cave, a canyon or a massive cathedral just lovely! Well-controlled and divided reverbs make your tracks sound huge, but just like with compression, you shouldn’t over-do it.
If you put reverb on everything, you’ll end up with a mish-mash of confusing echoes overlapping each other. There are great third party reverbs out there, that are definitely worth the money. A prime example is the Waves Renaissance Reverb (picture on right), which is one of my go-to VST-plugins. I’ve yet to find a sound or a sample, that doesn’t get better when you apply the “Plate” preset to it and then give parameters a good tweak.
Delays are adjustable echo effects, that work extremely well, when combined with a reverb. You can achieve both clarity and disorientation with delays, and they’re usually something that really makes a dominant sound or an instrument to stand out in your music.
Distortions, saturators, bitcrushers and noises
Most of the time we wouldn’t think of “ruining” sounds by literally destroying them with distortion, but there definitely is a place for them – especially, if you’re into hardcore, IDM, metal and other heavier music genres, whether it’ll be electronic or acoustic. Hell, there’s a literal global Lo-FI-music scene, that builds its foundations on making their sounds rough around the edges. Distortions, white noise and saturation overdrives can really bring out the devil in your tracks!
Stereo Image Expanders
Some sounds might be way too wide or narrow for your liking. We tend to want our basses and drum hits to have more narrow stereo image for dynamics and clarity, since they tend to be very loud and dominant in music. Melodies and synths on the other hand, naturally want to expand the stereo image and be wide, giving more room for your drums and make the track feel open and big.
Having plenty of synthesizers is a great feeling, and it don’t matter if they’re hardware or software. Having an arsenal of instruments mean, that you have pretty much a limitless sound source in your hands, but by no means it’s required to own 100 synths – a handy bedroom producers gets by with a handful.
The advantage of software synths is that you don’t have to pay so high prices for your instruments, because you can find very compelling synths even for free! Some of the high-end synths are hang in the price range of hundreds of euros, but they might not be the first ones you should look into.
Remember, that DAWs usually come with their own set of synths and other instruments, even if you purchase the mid-tier editions. They can get you well off the ground, but once you start to understand how VST-synthesizers work, you might want to start looking into more renown developers, who create some of the greatest virtual instruments in existence.
Keyboard synthesizers are so much fun, and usually the main source of your music. Keyboard synthesizers emulate real life hardware synths, and some of them are actual software recreations of classic synths of the past. They come with their own built-in effects and preset soundbanks, that have a massive range of adjustments made possible.
Drum machines are used to create drum beats, percussions and loop patterns. They might produce original drum sounds, or they might imitate some recognized drum kits. They come with an interface, that the producers can use to arrange and mix all the sounds found inside the instrument.
The most iconic hardware drum machines include such classics, as Roland’s TR-808 and TR-909, and their sounds are still constantly used and emulated to this day since their inception in the early 80’s. Some drum machines also may have a built-in sampler.
Samplers are a close relative to drum machines, with the exception that they’re not only committed to drum sounds. Samplers allow you to record or save your own samples and they come with a sound library that has a more extensive selection of sounds to choose from. These various instruments can the be manipulated with the sampler’s built-in sound effects, or some other third party VST-effect if you so wish.
One of the greatest hallmarks of sampler work is DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. album, that made it into the Guiness Book of Worlds Records as the first album that was 100% created by using two turntables and a MPC-60 sampler.
Buy music software from trusted retailers and developers
We perfectly understand the temptation of illegally downloading music software, but this might actually do you more harm than good in the long run. Cracked and illegally shared VSTs and DAWs tend to not work properly, causing frequent program crashes, file corruption and system boots – not to mention the potential amount of spyware, ransomware and other malware that might be hiding beneath the surface!
When you invest into a legit DAW and a handful of carefully selected audio plugins, you’ll cut off 99% of the problems that usually plaque bedroom producers, when it comes to music software. That’s why we at Bedroomproducers.net promote the original developers of the software, alongside with their trusted retail partners.
If you want to get more into music software and are looking for trustful sources, feel free to check out the following developers and retailers:
Music software developers:
|Audiomodern offers tons of plugins, virtual instruments and sample packs in many formats for Windows & Mac (VST, VST3, AU, AAX).||Go to Audiomodern|
|Initial Audio also offers a great selection of virtual instruments and samples, as well as lots of awesome effects plugins.||Go to Initial Audio|
|Magix offers complete DAWs for every step of the music production process, for everyone from complete beginners to true professionals.||Go to Magix|
|Waves has a very wide range of software for producers. Check out their offers for free bonus plugins!||Go to Waves|
Music software retail:
|Thomann.de is the biggest - and quite possibly the best - music shop in Europe. Huge selection of instruments, equipment and software.||Shop now!|
|Gear4music is another great online music store with 54,000+ products from 888 different top brands.||Shop now!|
Do you think we should add more software plugins on the list? What is your favorite plugin and why? Feel free to leave us feedback with our contact form and we’ll come back to this list in the near future!