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VST Audio Plugins: Create Music Without Instruments!

Know How VST Audio Plugins Allow You to Make Music Without Instruments!

Now that you know how to set up a home studio and which Digital Audio Workstations to begin making music with, we will now tell you how you can elevate this experience some more with an array of audio plugins.

Let’s admit it, as kids, it was exhilarating to playing around with a myriad of presets and instrument voices on our so-called “CASIOS.” Today, VST Audio Plugins have opened the door to a much wider range of possibilities in terms of what one can do with instruments to improve the musicality of a musical composition.

Imagine not having to invest in instruments to create tracks! Gone are the days when you’d spend weeks contemplating over which guitar effects pedal to buy. Today you can have overdrive, distortion, and fuzz crunch, all in one little VST effects plugin!

VSTs, or Virtual Studio Technology, are plugins for DAWs (Digital Work Stations) or other stand-alone hosts, that allow you to add layers of instrument voices on top of your track and transform your bare vocals and acoustic accompaniments into thriving pieces of music.

In more technical terms, VSTs are software interfaces that emulate the sonic properties of studio hardware and help integrate the resulting synth-lines, sound effects, samplers, and the likes, to audio editing software and recording systems. Their GUI is built complete with knobs and switches that give you a more or less realistic feel of playing instruments in a studio.

VSTs can be of instruments (VSTi), effects, and MIDI effects types. There can be some other kinds too, like the spectrum analyzers and meters.

VSTi typically come as synthesizers or samplers, the VST effects plugins help produce sound enhancements like reverb and phase-outs (very popular in the 80’s), and VST MIDI effects that help relay MIDI data to other virtual instruments and can also transpose songs a key up or down.

These little workhorses come handy, not only to beginners, but also to professional sound engineers, as buying all the instruments in a musical arrangement is not always part of every musician or sound engineer’s plan. Besides, it anyway gets quite hard to find people who can play rare instruments when recording tracks and having such musicians play in your live band is asking for a lot.

But not to worry, today, there are thousands of VSTs (rare and popular sounds alike) available over the Internet, both as paid and free versions. We have listed some free ones available for downloads later in the article.

The first ever VSTs to come into the market were those developed by Steinberg in 1996, and these were released along with their DAW, called the Cubase. VSTs have since come along.

VST Audio PluginsSteinberg VST for bass lines: Model E

How do you make audio plugins work?

VSTs, that have been integrated with DAWs, can be communicated with by hooking up your setup with a MIDI instrument, such as, a MIDI keyboard or a digital piano (as explained here). This way, notes that you play on your controller can be relayed to play these virtual instruments with ease.

Your host application (or DAW) is also capable of directing audio outputs from one VST to another, this process in effect is known as “chaining” of audio plugins.  For example, the output from a VST synth can be connected to an effects VST that produces reverb (continuing reflections of a note even after the sound from the source has stopped).

How to Install VST Audio Plugins

You will need to first download these plugins, the installer packages come with extensions like, PKG or EXE. For most plugins, you will also need to unlock authorization codes and license files. VSTi and VST effects are the most popular ones that are universally downloaded and integrated into DAWs/VST hosts. These come in raw DLL (for Windows) and VST (for Mac) formats that need to be manually copied to the plugins folder.

  • Suppose you are working with Cockos REAPER DAW, you will first need to set-up a directory like: C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins
    • Plugins by default install into: C:\Program Files\Steinberg\VSTPlugins
  • Select this directory in Reaper under Options > Preferences > Plugins > VST
  • Navigate through the folder containing the new plugin and click on “open”
  • Click on “Rescan,” and REAPER will add this to its list of VSTs
  • Go the to “Insert” tab in the menu bar and click on the VST that was just installed
  • And you are good to go!

VST Formats

To make things clearer, “VST” is basically a type of a format for audio plugins that has a cross-platform compatibility and is still one of the most preferred formats used. (VST3 is the latest version.) AU, AAX, and RTAS are some other plugin formats in use today.

VST plugins are written for either 32 or 64-bit systems, though, it’s best to upgrade to a 64-bit system as it can support more number of plugins without much lag.

AU (Audio Units) audio plugins do not allow you to send MIDI outputs. Avid’s AAX format is found only in the Avid Pro Tools software.

Itching to know how virtual instruments are created?

The preferred language for writing VST plugins is either C++ or Python. It’s best to start out by learning your basics, because let’s face it, programming is hard. Consider enrolling in a programming class.

Developers will need Audio Plugin Frameworks for building audio plugins. We have listed some of the popular ones used below:

  • JUCE: C++ class library
  • IPlug: A C++ framework that helps develop sound plugin and good quality GUIs
  • Cockos’ IPlug: A C++ framework that helps you target multiple plugin APIs with the same code
  • Yapsy: Helps design audio plugins in Python

Next, how should you record instrument sounds?

The sounds that come out of VSTs are recorded and processed to sound good in any genre of music (pop, rock, and metal productions.) Analog signals from instruments are pre-processed with compressors and EQs to make them a perfect fit for any mix. These sounds are usually recorded either using microphones (especially for drum kits) or audio interface for string instruments, pianos, etc.

Here we list some of the best freeware for audio plugins

  • For bass lines
    • Steinberg – Model E
    • TAL – Elek7ro
    • Plogue – Sforzando TableWarp2
  • For drums
    • Mx Project — T.Rex 606
    • Wavosaur — DjinnDrum
    • Studio Linked — Drum Pro
    • MT Power — Drum Kit 2
  • Synths
    • Dexed – FM Plugin Synth
    • Audjoo — Helix
    • Martinic — Combo Model F
  • For effects (VST effects)
    • Valhalla – Freq Echo
    • Audio Damage — FuzzPlus3
    • Tritik — Krush Bit Crusher
    • Mercuriall — TSC Overdrive
    • Pecheng — Tremolo

 

Go ahead and sample some of these and create your very first track!

Want to learn how to make VSTs of your own, but have no prior experience in coding? Start by learning Python, enroll into AcadGild’s course today!

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