(Updated December 09th 2016)
What do I need to start making music?
Well, you don't need much. In fact, you can make all sorts of music using only free software. That's what I did for around 10 years, using Buzz Tracker and whatever free VST plugins and Soundfonts I could find online.
There are a lot of freeware programs out there and it doesn't matter which program you choose, just pick one and figure it out. They're all going to be difficult. Your best bet is to read the help files and look up tutorial videos.
Check out all of the different Digital Audio Workstations and free VSTs that are available on KVRaudio.com. It's a great resource for audio software.
Even though I've switched from Buzz Tracker over to Reaper, and use a lot of paid software now, I still use a ton of freeware. I'll list some of the better freeware plugins in the Miscellaneous section below.
Digital Audio Workstations
Cockos REAPER (v4) – The DAW I currently use, which I started using in January 2011. What drew me to REAPER was the overall simplicity of the interface and the customizable hotkeys. The price point wasn't bad either.
Jeskola Buzz – Anything I wrote between 1998 and 2011 was likely done in Buzz. Here’s an old page of Buzz tutorials and synthesis examples: THA Buzz Page
Digital Audio Editors
Celemony Melodyne (v4) – A fantastic audio manipulation suite that I use for all sorts of pitch, timing and formant alterations. It’s much more than a simple pitch correction program and can be used on more than just vocals.
Sony Sound Forge (v10) – A general purpose audio editor. I use it for simple recording and editing tasks.
Native Instruments Software
Native Instruments Komplete 10 Ultimate – Out of the many plugins in Komplete, I use Kontakt and Massive the most. Guitar Rig also gets a fair amount of use.
They've also recently released Komplete Kontrol which basically a replacement for Kore, as a preset manager and simplified interface for all of the NI plugins. I've been using it a bit and it's good.
- Massive – A fantastic quality synth with a wide range of uses and lots of options. The modulation options are especially nice.
- Absynth 5 – Great for ever-evolving soundscapes and odd synths, but the interface is terrible. Luckily, it comes with plenty of usable presets.
- FM8 – A decent FM synth that can make some pretty good sounds. I don’t use it that often as I’m not really into the distinct sound of FM synthesis.
- Reaktor 5 – Reaktor is a strange program. It’s actually a synth-building environment, but some of the synths it ships with are fantastic to the point that I wonder why they aren’t standalone products. Spark, Prism and Lazerbass in particular could stand on their own. The rest of the Reaktor collection is fairly hit or miss.
- Kontakt 5 – A versatile and incredibly useful sampler. Komplete 7 comes with plenty of good sounds but the real value is in all of the great add-ons there are.
- Battery 4 – Woo! A new version of Battery - way better than Battery 3 in every way. Very enjoyable to work with. In short, it's a drum machine with a lot of automation options.
- Guitar Rig 5 – A large collection of effects, mostly designed after real-world guitar pedals. Quite useful, especially with the Reflektor and Traktor’s 12 add-ons.
- Monark – An attempt at emulating the classic MiniMoog with all it's analog goodness intact. Works quite well.
- Reflektor – A convolution reverb that works as expected, except for the part where it only runs inside Guitar Rig. That aside, the impulse responses it comes with are very good.
- Traktor’s 12 – Useful effects for glitchy sounds and lofi effects. Most of the effects are designed to be toggled sharply and work well in this fashion.
- The Finger – Another set of glitch effects, except these ones are set up for live performance and triggering via midi keyboard. Good stuff.
- Guitar Rig 5 Mixing Effects – SOLID BUS COMP, SOLID DYNAMICS, SOLID EQ, TRANSIENT MASTER, VC 2A, VC 76 and VC 160. Compressors and whatnot, the most useful of the bunch being Transient Master.
- The Mouth – A voice-controlled synth thing for Reaktor. I haven’t tried it out yet as I wasn’t particularly impressed by the demo videos.
- Rammfire – An additional amp for Guitar Rig with a unique sound. Well, as unique as yet another distortion in a sea of distortions can be.
- Razor – An additive synthesizer that excels at making dissonant, noisy bass synths.
- Reaktor Prism – A physical modeling synth, which basically means it’s fairly decent at mimicking organic instruments. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a believable guitar sound out of it, but it’ll at least sound guitar-like. Prism could be very useful for making organic sounding ambient pads.
- Reaktor Spark – An advanced subtractive synth that attempts to be more analog and unpredictable.
- Skanner XT – A somewhat unwieldy sample-based synth that once under control can be absolutely fantastic for roaring basslines and wub wubs.
- Vari Comp – A new compressor - haven't used it yet.
- Enhanced EQ – A very simple equalizer, almost BBE Exciter-like in it's simplicity. Want a little bit more bass or treble? Well, here ya go. For that it works just fine.
- Passive EQ – I haven't used it yet, but it seems similar to Voxengo's GlissEQ, but without the nice interface.
- Driver – A weird distortion with some frequency modulation stuff and envelope following filters. Haven't found a good use for it aside from the possibility of remixing Aphex Twin's Ventolin track.
- RC 48 – It's a reverb and a nice one at that. I used it extensively on the track, "Water World".
- RC 24 – Yet another reverb! This one is also good and sounds distinctly different from the RC 48.
- Transient Master – The standalone version of Transient Master. It works the same as it does in Guitar Rig - there's a control to increase the attack and a control to increase the sustain of the input signal. A really wonderful plugin for boosting the hell out of drum tracks.
- Supercharger – About as simple as a compressor can be with a giant knob labelled "compress." Works pretty good for when you just need something to be louder.
- Supercharger GT – A Supercharged Supercharger. More controls and a better sound. I use this one a lot.
- Rounds – I haven't used this one in a track yet, but it's an interesting synth.
- Polyplex – A drum system with a randomizer. Haven't used it on a track yet, but I like the approach of just mashing the random button until you hear something you like.
- Kontour – I haven't used this one enough to say anything about it other than it sounds pretty nice.
- Molekular – A modular effects thing. I guess I'm not experimental enough with my effects routing to have a need for it yet. Guitar Rig works great for effects chains.
- Replika – It's a delay plugin that does a lot of stuff.
Native Instruments Kore 2 – Kore 2 is basically a preset organizer. It comes with a hardware controller too but it’s really not that useful. The useful part is being able to access all of your presets and plugins via well-organized groupings. If you want a Fat Mono Lead for a Funk track – it can take you right to it.
Kore 2 Add-ons
- Acoustic Refractions – A lovely collection of odd yet organic sounding patches, often using both samples and synthesis. Awesome stuff.
- North India – Fantastic Sitar and Tabla samples. Very usable and natural sounding. Can’t say much for the rest of the sounds.
- Absynth Twilights – A substantial collection of Absynth patches
- Paranormal Spectrums – An interesting collection of dark synths with effects-processed recordings layered on top. Some of the patches are incredibly silly, but there are plenty of good patches within.
- Sonic Fiction – Similar in style to Paranormal Spectrums, but with a sci-fi skew. Clicks and clacks and other real world sounds atop Tron-style synthesizer cheese.
Kore 2 Electronic Experience
A bundle of Kore libraries containing a wide assortment of patches for all of the Native Instruments products.
- FM8 Transient Attacks – I’m not a fan of FM synthesis, but there are some great patches in here. On the other hand, there are also a lot of dry, uninteresting patches and an excess of sequenced synth loops and arps.
- Massive Expansion vol. 1 – A collection of synth patches primarily for genres like Electro, Trance and House. Lots of saw stacks. Lots of locked chords.
- Best of Absynth vol. 1 – Lots of great Absynth patches, the majority of which are geared towards Ambient music and Film Score.
- Best of Reaktor vol. 1 – A variety of patches using the strange and unconventional synths built-in to Reaktor. Several usable sounds, mostly in the Ambient and Electronic category.
- Synthetic Drums Reloaded – A nice collection of drum kits using samples put together by various music acts. Most of the drums are fresh sounding with the exception or one or two kits that have recycled oldies that you probably have already. Who thought it would be a good idea to put “Amen” samples in here? Pendulum, apparently.
- Deep Transformations – A bank of effects patches, most of which are delay-based or use large chains of effects to achieve their results. The patches utilize Guitar Rig extensively. There’s some good stuff in here, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Kontakt Sample Libraries
- Abbey Road: Vintage Drummer – The brush articulations are where this kit shines. Perfect for swanky jazz, lounge, and spy music.
- Abbey Road: 50's Drummer – Sounds great, and especially vintage when you start turning off some of the microphones. Try it with just the Room Mic.
- Abbey Road: 60’s Drummer – A nice set of drums with an older sounding quality which I find quite appealing.
- Abbey Road: 70’s Drummer – This library is geared more towards funk with the tight kit and 70’s rock with the other kit. Again, very nice quality sounds.
- Abbey Road: 80’s Drummer – Drums with a distinctly 80’s flair, with the inclusion of a gated reverb on one of the kits.
- Abbey Road: Modern Drummer – A good set of modern drums. Surprisingly, their sound is much less in-your-face than the Abbey Road 60’s drums. They certain have their use though and sit nicely in a modern music mix.
- Studio Drummer – The most useful drum kit library provided in the bundle, primarily due to it’s built-in effects, selection of mixer presets and an extensive database of pre-made MIDI drum patterns.
- Alicia’s Keys – A very nice piano library that has a lot more bass and resonance to it than the pianos included in Komplete 7’s Classic Pianos Collection (originally sold as Akoustik Piano). Alicia’s Keys sounds more alive and natural than the other pianos as well, perhaps due to better sampling of finger and key noises.
- Session Strings – A decent sound with terrible usability. There’s no way to trigger the articulations manually, which really limits the use of these sounds.
- Session Strings Pro – A huge improvement over the non-pro edition. The Pro edition comes with an expanded set of articulations and methods for controlling them.
- Retro Machines MK2 – A selection of old synth and drum machine patches, some of which are awesome, whilst most of them are just old and uninteresting sounding. I can generate my own basic saw waves, I don’t need a sample library of them.
- Classic Pianos – The New York and Vienna Grand have the best sound, both of which I use a lot.
- Vintage Keys – Some fantastic electric piano sounds and an alright clavinet.
- Vintage Organs – Organs. Mostly good ones with the transistor organs being the low point.
- West Africa – A lovely selection of african drums and instruments. The stringed instruments are exceptionally natural sounding. There are some preset drum sequences, which I consider to be too repetitive for use outside of dance music. Regardless of the repetitiveness of the loops, the one shot samples are quite usable.
- Maschine Drum Selection – A couple of Hip Hop oriented drum patches pulled from NI’s MPC-like Maschine controller.
- George Duke Soul Treasures – A collection of piano, electric piano, clavinet and Wurlitzer loops. The loops can be rearranged via midi notes, with a variety of options for controlling length, playback direction, pitch and volume.
- Session Horns – I've always found brass libraries to sound exceptionally fake...especially brass ensemble libraries. This one is no exception, it sounds terrible.
- The Giant – When I first heard about this, I thought "oh great, yet another piano in Komplete...", but after I got a chance to try it out it turned out to be one of the best piano libraries they've made. The "cinematic" prepared piano sounds are a nice touch.
- Definitive Piano Collection – Alright, I think that's enough pianos, guys. This is yet another set of pianos in Komplete. They are really nice sounding...but it's not like the previous sets were bad sounding.
- Action Strikes – This is a nice sounding percussion library. Big, booming drums. I've used them a few times now.
- Rise & Hit – Basically, a whole library of whoosh-bang sounds, but I don't think they're actually that good. They all sound a bit weird. The transition from whoosh to bang lacks impact.
- Kinetic Metal – Seems like a nice tool for ambient and film score type stuff, but I haven't had a chance to use it yet. It's a pretty soft sounding instrument.
- Session Horns Pro – A much improved Session Horns library. This one sounds a lot better than the old one and has some usable solo brass instruments. I still prefer to use the Sample Modeling stuff though.
- Drumlab – A nice collection of drum samples, both acoustic and electronic.
- Cuba – Great percussion sounds, and not-so-great melodic instrument sounds. At least, I have a billion other pianos and guitar libraries I'd use over the ones in here.
- Scarbee MM-Bass – A good studio bass type sound that works for a lot of situations.
- Scarbee MM-Bass Amped – The same as the library above, but run through an amp to provide a few new tones.
- Scarbee Jay-Bass – A nice slap bass.
- Scarbee Pre-Bass – A different bass guitar from the one used in MM-Bass. As I am no bass guitar expert, it’s just another bass guitar.
- Scarbee Pre-Bass Amped – The above, but amped!
- Scarbee Black Bass: Amp 4 – Scarbee MM-Bass Amped before it was renamed.
- Scarbee Red Bass – Scarbee Jay-Bass before it was renamed.
- Scarbee Funk Guitarist – A truly fantastic sound, but the interface is only a slight step up from a train wreck. Fortunately, the quality sound is worth the hassle and everything you do can be saved as a preset.
- Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass – Perhaps the best Scarbee bass yet. I like the palm muted articulation in particular, I've been using it a lot.
- NSKIT 7 – A fantastic sounding sample set with an insane number of velocity layers for each drum. There’s also a set of bongos and congas and a few other percussion instruments that are also very good.
- True Strike 1 – A lot of great orchestral percussion samples. I’m a big fan of the Gran Cassa and Suspended Cymbals as well as the Xylophone and Celesta sounds.
- True Strike 2 – A more exotic set of percussion samples which are also very good. The Dystopia set has some nice cinematic booms in it.
- Symphobia 1 – A collection of symphonic sounds with a skew towards more extreme playing styles. If you’ve heard the Dead Space soundtrack, this is basically the library used for all of it.
- Symphobia 2 – More of the above, with the addition of more legato instruments making it much more useful than the first Symphobia.
- Lumina – Touted as part 3 of the Symphobia series, Lumina is all about softer fantasy sounds, like tin flutes and celtic harps, much of which is incredibly nice sounding and very usable.
- Array Mbira – A big-ass Kalimba. Good quality although it feels like the whole instrument should have one more octave up top and could have done without the lowest octave. Regardless, the overall sound is wonderful.
- Kalimba – A normal-sized version of the prior instrument. Handheld. This was a freebie on offer which has a nice sound to it.
- Hang Drums – Hang Drums are essentially inside-out pan drums. Instead of hitting them on the concave side, you tap them on the convex side. A unique and ethereal sound with a very limited range.
- Pan Drums – An expanded set of drums similar to the Hang Drums. The Halo Drums have a much richer and cleaner sound which I find more usable than the Hang Drums. The Tongue Drums have a unique metallic sound but it’s fairly thin.
- Guzheng – The Chinese equivalent of a Japanese Koto. A plucked zither of sorts. It’s a classic sound and the sampling here is very good although there aren’t enough samples to make repetitious playing sound realistic.
- Khim – A hammered dulcimer from Thailand. Sounds very nice but also suffers from a lack of samples, which becomes apparently when playing the instrument like it’s meant to be played. Still, the sound is very usable.
- Morpheus – A very clean vibraphone-like sound. Lovely.
- Skiddaw Stones – A rough, clunky mallet sound which sounds a lot like the instrument used on the Akira soundtrack. Very nice, but perhaps limited in it’s usage.
- Balinese Gamelan Compact – A very unique sound that seems nearly unusable for any music other than traditional Gamelan.
- Ebow Guitar – Sounds lovely but I haven’t found a lot of uses for it yet. Aside from the occasional fret noises, it’s difficult to get across the fact that it’s a guitar and not just a synth or bad flute sound.
- Bowed Gamelan – Sounds terrible. There might be a use for it, but I find it to be too grating of a tone and too slow of an attack to really be of use.
- Devilfish 303 – Well, it’s a 303.
- Tube Drum – Sounds like PVC tubes being hit. I haven’t used it in anything yet, but I can see the potential.
- Speak & Spell – Infinitely amusing, but ultimately not all that useful. The circuit bent samples are a real treat.
- VA Brush Kit – Sounds good, although light on samples. It’s a simple Jazz brush kit.
- Music Boxes – Two music box sounds that I use these a lot as they’re brilliant sounding. There’s a patch that layers the two music box sounds but I find that I get better results if I simply add both music box sounds to Kontakt so they’re slightly out of time from each other. Gives it more charm.
- RMI Rocksichord – Useless really, but it was a freebie, so I’ve kept it.
- Abstrakt Bass – The acoustic basses aren’t that great and it seems a bit odd to have a sampler full of synth basses, but there are a couple goodies in the mix.
- Glisten – A novelty freebie that makes some sort of clunky sleigh bell sound drenched in reverb and delay. Has a few knobs you can twist to change the effects.
- Evolve – It’s like a movie trailer soundtrack in a box. A wide array of booming percussion samples and other weighty sounds. There’s a collection of vocals and melodic instruments as well, some of which are quite usable. Fantastic quality overall with an emphasis on action-oriented cinematic styles.
- Evolve Mutations 1 – See above.
- Evolve Mutations 2 – See above above.
- Damage – Another booming percussion library. On the default settings it mostly just sounds weak and muddy though. One way to resolve that is to crank up the "punish" control and mess with the EQ options, but the real problem is that it's loop-based and the built-in rhythms aren't great. Fortunately you can re-sequence the individual samples...unfortunately they sound like a chopped up loop when you do.
The usability of most Tonehammer libraries isn’t great and often leave me wondering why they set up the patches the way they did, but the sounds are fantastic nonetheless.
- Mini – Lots of samples of lots of ordinary things and household items. Pencils, chairs, bubble wrap, paper, etc. Plenty of good samples. This library is a good example of the usability issues with Tonehammer instruments – they don’t use any key colors to show which keys trigger samples at normal playback speed. Sometimes there are several keys like this and they’re spaced-out with no way of identifying them.
- Shake vol. 1 – Shakers. Shakers! SHAKERS! Shake shake shake shake shake… SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE. Shakers as far as the eye can see.
- Gnomehammer – A line of freebies from Tonehammer. The most useful patches are the Toy Glockenspiel and Sleigh Bells.
- The Trumpet & Others – Trumpet, Trombone, French Horn, Tuba, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax and Baritone Sax. Wow. What a collection! Truly incredibly quality here with the most articulate and realistic sounding virtual brass and woodwind instruments around. The various mutes available for some of the instruments are also quite nice and expand the collection greatly.
8DIO is one of the companies formed when Tonehammer split up. The usability of these libraries is just as bad as the Tonehammer libraries.
- Adagio Strings – Basses, Cellos, Violas and Violins. This gargantuan collection runs the full gamut of string sounds with ensembles, small groups and soloists, playing in all manner of styles. A wonderfully playable and beautiful sounding library and definitely the best I've used.
- 8DIO Claire Woodwind series – A collection featuring a Bassoon, a Clarinet, an Oboe and a Flute. All quite beautiful and usable virtual instruments that sound basically exactly like their real-life counterparts.
- Requiem Pro – One of the best choir libraries available with Requiem being geared towards an epic movie soundtrack style sound. Some of the patches are a bit messed up, but the sounds are lovely if you’re willing to work around the issues.
- Progressive Metal – A glorified loop library, lacking in flexibility making this mostly unusable. This is NOT a true multi-sample, or “deep sampled” as they say on the product page. It’s loops and they’re either playing or not playing, that’s really all the control you have. Not worth getting.
- Glass Marimba – A nice sounding Marimba.
- Steel String Guitar – Sounds great, but is lacking in articulations. No hammer on and offs. No portamento slides. It's basically plucked guitar or go find another sample library. There's a second instrument for strums, but the strums seem to only have one velocity. I hope they release and expansion some day.
- Agitato Grandiose Ensembles – A set of strings that fit right in with the Adagio ones, but which are designed for faster music passages.
- Agitato Legato Arpeggio – Even faster legato! Also, bonus Ostinato phrases, which are basically the same kind of thing as NI's Action Strings.
- Electric Violin – Sounds alright, but it's kind of flat compared to the wildly dynamic sounding Neocymatics Hybrid Strings.
- Jenifer – Perhaps the best sounding solo female vocal library around. I used it for the intro to Riders of Vengeance.
- Studio Sopranos – A less-good but still pretty great female vocal group library, used further in to Riders of Vengeance.
- Qanun & Santur – A Zither and a Dulcimer, basically. Both lovely sounding with quite a few articulations.
The other company that formed when Tonehammer split up.
- Frendo – A broken string sound that’s simultaneously hilarious and creepy. Great for horror compositions.
- High School Drum Corps. – A high-quality drum line library. I really love the snappy quality of the snares and the tight ensemble sound.
- Sick 1 & 2 – Weird noises, in essence. Nothing spectacular.
- Voice of Gaia: Strawberry – A solo female vocalist library with an assortment of sustains, phrases, staccato and legato patches. All quite nice, but I wish there were more legato patches and that the vocal ranges were a bit wider, but, given that this is a real person, it's hard to demand that they include notes the person wouldn't be able to achieve. Regardless, she has a nice voice and it's a very usable library.
- Voice of Rapture: The Soprano – Another solo vocalist, this time in an operatic style. My comments about Voice of Gaia apply here too.
- Direct Guitar 2 – A good quality guitar sound that’s severely limited by how the articulations are only activated at the highest velocity level. I also find that the note off sounds are too loud by default and usually turn them down 10 to 15 db.
- Yamaha Pacifica – A remarkable feat of guitar programming prowess. The usability is high, allowing for incredibly natural sounding guitar solos with the lead guitar sound. The rhythm gutar sound isn’t as spectacular, but quite good in it’s own right. The velocity layers are set up properly, allowing for great control over the many articulations.
- Juggernaut – The big brother to Cinematic Synthetic Drums. More booms, more hits, more slams, more risers, more reverses, etc. It's a whole lot of big noises and I've been using them quite a bit.
- Archtop – Definitely the best sounding lead guitar library I've ever heard. This is the sort of guitar library other composers ask you about, unsure if it's real or sampled. It's really good for clean and crunchy lead guitar sounds. Has a strumming mode with variable strum speed.
- Shreddage & Shreddage X – Perhaps the best sounding rhythm guitar library I've heard, if you disregard its successor. Really fantastic. Perfect for all sorts of rock and metal play styles.
- Shreddage 2 – It's difficult to pinpoint in what way Shreddage 2 is better than Shreddage 1 - they're both so very good. Overall, Shreddage 2 is simply a more usable instrument with a more natural sound to it.
- Shreddage Bass – Incredibly simple in comparison to its non-bass guitar brethren. Still, a highly usable picked bass library.
- Cinematic Synthetic Drums – A decent set of hard-hitting "film score" style drum hits.
- Plectra Series – A collection of plucked instruments, namely a Bouzouki, A Celtic Harp, a Lap Harp, A Lyre, a Dombra, and an Oud. The Bouzouki is the real highlight here, with an unmistakable sound and fantastic playability.
- Sitar Nation – It's a sitar! Not the most playable sitar library I've used though, that honor goes to the North India Kore library.
- Koto Nation – has a lot of the same playability problems Sitar Nation does, so for now I'll stick to using Sonic Couture's Guzheng library and just say it's a Koto.
- Super Audio Cart – A collection of old console sounds so good I can't believe the haven't been contacted by Nintendo's lawyers.
- Ventus Shakuhachi – An authentic sounding bamboo flute. Very playable and emotive.
- Celestia – A pretty sound machine of sorts. Lots of ethereal plucks, bells, mallets, guitar pads, and such. Pretty good.
- Curio – An attempt to make a bigger deal of a toy piano sound. It's okay, but I kinda prefer my toy pianos to just sound like toy pianos.
- Forest Frame Drum – I haven't really used this much yet, but it sounds nice.
- Groove Bias – I'm not sure if I'll ever use this. I already have a lot of funk and hip hop drums and that sound great.
- Impact Steel – There's always room for more metal clanks and thuds!
- ReForged: Cinematic Metal – MOOORE METAAAL!
- Resonance – All sorts of nice mallet sounds. Mallet overload, really.
- Rhapsody Orchestral Colors – Primarily a simple collection of orchestral ensembles. Not much in the way of articulations, as I guess the goal here was simplicity and efficiency.
- Shou Drum – A tongue drum. I already have a lot of tongue drums. But hey, what's one more, right?
- Sonic Forest – An interesting sample-based ambient sound generator. Pads, pads, and more pads.
- Vocalisa – A Slavic women's choir. I haven't used it for anything yet, but it sounds pretty good. Not as in-depth as the 8DIO choirs, but still usable.
- Bravura Scoring Brass – Sounds pretty good, but also pretty simple like Rhapsody Orchestral Colors. Not as rich with articulation as some of the other stuff I have.
- Pearl Concert Grand – A grand piano. I think I have over 15 grand pianos now.
- Shreddage Bass 2 – Another Shreddage Bass.
- Shreddage Drums – A drum library that I haven't put enough time into to really evaluate, as the NI Abbey Road drums are just so good! These sound more processed from the get-go. They're pretty aggressive sounding overall.
- Lap Steel Guitar – Beautiful. Sounds just like the real thing and oh-so-silky smooth.
- Teh Floppy – "ERRRRRRRRRRRRRT. CHK. VVVVVVVVBT." What I mean to say is, it's lovely.
- Fujiya MC-3A – A fun vintage keyboard instrument similar to the Yamaha PortaSound series. The drum sounds will probably be the most useful to me.
- Cello – Not only one of the best sounding and most playable legato cello samples I've ever used, but also a freebie. Go get it and drown it in reverb!
- Hybrid Strings – So...They're basically strings in the same vein as the Sample Modeling brass instruments, and as such they're very dynamic and lively. Perhaps not great for symphonic pieces, but great for more ethnic sounding strings and rock music stylings.
- Brazilian Drums – A collection of loops and one shots from a Cuica, Pandeiro, Surdo, Tamborim, and Timbal. But let's be real, they had me at Cuica.
As well as assorted free Kontakt instruments from Embertone, WavesFactory, TaleWeaver, Bolder Sound, Spitfire Audio Labs, Zvon, Precision Sound, Hugo Kant, Ajatar, Dargalon Instruments Studio, and whatever else I can find out there.
VST Instrument Plugins
(that aren't by Native Instruments.)
Arturia Collection - A great collection of faithfully recreated analog synths from the past. ARP 2600, CS-80, Jupiter 8, Mini Moog, and such. All very nice sounding.
Xpand!2 - Far from the most realistic sounds in the world, but perfect for certain genres and styles. Sometimes you just need some fake brass or a cheesy pad.
Zebra 2 - A powerful FM synth with a lot of tweaking possibilities. A good companion to NI's FM8 synth.
QuadraSID – Emulates the sounds of the Commodore 64 quite well. I use it for the majority of the Chiptune sounds in my tracks.
Sophia – A lovely noise maker, great for all sorts of bizarre soundscapes.
Some of my favorite freeware VSTis are: PitchBlack, Drumatic 3, Fuzzpilz Oatmeal, SuperRiff Guitar, DMI Flute, Farbrausch V2, TAL-Elek7ro, Addictive Drums, ymVST, and mda Talkbox.
Some non-freeware picks would be: Adventus, Whitenoise ZeroVector, and Jeskola XS-1.
VST Effect Plugins
I have quite a few Voxengo plugins, but my favorites are definitely the following three which are used excessively in every track:
- Elephant Limiter – A very transparent mastering limiter. Set it and forget it, it does what it’s supposed to.
- GlissEQ – Simply the best sounding equalizer around. It’s dynamic behavior is very impressive in how cleanly it boosts and cuts frequencies.
- VariSaturator – A great tool that can be used to boost and sculpt sounds without drastically altering them. Alternatively, it can be used to add a helluva lot of bite to a sound and make it cut through a mix like nobodies business.
- Voxformer – A magical multi-effect, great for anything but tuned for vocals. The "debreath" noise gate is fantastically useful. The mini-GlissEQ and dual-band compressor work great together to really polish a vocal track.
In addition to the above, I occasionally utilize the following Voxengo plugins as well: AnalogFlux Suite, Crunchessor, LF Max Punch, Marvel GEQ, Polysquasher, Soniformer, Transgainer, and Vintage Modulator.
dBlue Glitch – Makes glitch effects incredibly easy. The master filter is a nice addition, allowing for funky big beat filter swells and such. It would be nice though if the effects could be tied to midi notes like in The Finger instead of midi notes being used to switch through the step sequencer patterns.
DtBlkFx – A neat FFT effects suite that allows for all manner of strange manipulations, most of which sound like compression artifacts and unintentional mishaps.
Sonic Charge Bitspeek – Makes everything run through it sound like it’s coming out of a Speak & Spell, whilst still offering a lot of control over the way it processes the sound.
TrackSpacer – A Side-chain Compressor Equalizer hybrid. Use it to punch a hole in the bass range when your kick drum hits without affecting any of the other frequencies.
Flux StereoTool – A lovely little plugin for manipulating the stereo field of a sound.
Quik Quak - I like their Mashtactic, UpStereo, and Crowd Chamber plugins in particular. Really creative plugins.
- ACID 7 Loops
- ACID Latin Loops
- Acoustic Revolutions vol. 1
- Bangin’ Beats
- Mazsound Human Vocals Kit
- Megaton Big Beat Bomb
- Methods of Mayhem: Industrial Toolkit
- Methods of Mayhem II: Damage Control
- G-Town Church
- Kalava Drum Archive
- Mixman Gloss House
- Jeff Baxter Skunkworks
- Vocal Planet
- Welcome to the Sampledome
- Phatso’s Drumloop Archive
- DJ BB’s Breakbeat Paradise Archive
- Prosonus Prepared Piano
My workhorse USB microphone that I use for just about everything. If you've ever watched one of my Youtube or vYou videos, then you've heard and possibly seen it. I use it for singing and recording instruments too.
My Beatboxing Microphone.
A 24-string, five octave instrument that uses guitar strings, but is played more like a piano via tapping. The Harpejji is fairly wide and flat like a bodyboard with black and white markings laid out like piano keys and the strings tuned a whole step apart.
There’s also a built-in muting circuit that silences the strings whenever they aren’t making contact with the frets. Overall this layout allows for very complex chords to be played, as well as fast and comfortable playing.
An acoustic guitar that has been in the family for a while. Looks great and sounds lovely.
An electric guitar that I picked up back in high school. It has a nice Black Pearl finish.
I bought these off eBay a long time ago. They arrived covered in dust with the unfamiliar aroma of a far distant land. They also looked awesome and were impossible for me to play like the Tabla players I saw in videos. For now they sit as living room decorations, although I may eventually take a class to learn how to play them for realzies.
Another eBay purchase from decades past. It’s an African drum that has ropes connecting the heads on both sides of the drum. This allows for the drum to be squeezed, altering the pitch of the sound. It was sampled for ezmuze+: Hamst3r Edition.
Bongos. Tiny drums. Playing. Fingers dancing. An array of sounds. Everlasting. Bongos. Playing.
A set of simple percussion instruments that are shaped like frogs. They come with a wooden mallet that can be stroked along the spine of the frog to make a sound somewhat like a frog croaking.
Upon first look, this keyboard may seem like just a simple toy synthesizer. A closer look will reveal that it not only has an envelope and LFO controls, but it’s a sampler too! A feature-rich toy which I have used in several tracks. I used to have another PortaSound keyboard but misplaced it when moving to a new house.
A small and simple keyboard midi controller. I had a Korg Nanokey before this and it was satisfactory, but I kind of wanted something with slightly bigger keys.
A very nice piece of hardware that came paired with the Native Instruments Kore 2 software. It a block of 8 touch-sensitive knobs and 8 toggle buttons. Works great with Kore but also works fantastically as a general midi control.