Info » Links
- Ableton Live: My music production tool of choice. It has a flexible non-linear approach to music making that I find great for improvising and composing.
- Max for Live and Max: Max is a visual programming environment for realtime multimedia processing and a whole lot more. Max for Live (part of Ableton Live Suite) embeds Max inside Ableton Live so you can build your own synthesizers and FX and extend Live in various ways. A lot of people share their Max for Live devices on http://maxforlive.com/.
- Numerology: Probably the most powerful step sequencer in existence. It's modular so the possibilities are limitless. Also comes in plugin form for use inside apps like Ableton Live.
- SoundCloud: The youtube of audio. This is where I post my songs.
- KVR Audio: Comprehensive web site for audio plugins. Has a big forum community that offers support for various plugins and general music making topics.
- Create Digital Music: Frequently updated blog on all things digital music.
- MusicRadar: Reviews of music software and hardware.
- Spotify: Listen to pretty much anything you want, any time you want.
- Syntorial: A synthesizer that teaches you how to do audio synthesis. Want to learn/improve sound design skills? Try this.
- MIDI Monitor: Watch MIDI input and output on your computer. Great for reverse engineering MIDI hardware.
- LilyPond: Free music notation software.
Audio Plugin Developers
The following companies have received a lot of my money over the years for building awesome music-making products. IMHO, you can't go wrong buying stuff from the following developers. In the following section I will discuss specific plugins.
- 2C Audio: Some of the best algorithmic reverbs on the market today.
- Audio Damage: Diverse range of very reasonably-priced plugins. Some can be hit-or-miss (some of the FX are a little too "out there" and produce sounds that are too glitchy for my tastes), but they are always fun and the price is right.
- Cableguys: Plugins that allow you to draw your own LFO waveforms, so a good option when you want really fine-grained modulation control. Their newer products also feature a seamless online preset sharing system, so if you are not a sound designer you can get an endless series of new presets from the user community.
- Camel Audio: Makers of an incredibly powerful sampler/synthesizer hybrid called Alchemy, which has a ton of high quality expansion packs available (NOTE: you don't need Alchemy to use these sound packs. They all come with a stripped-down version of Alchemy called Alchemy Player). They also make some nice FX plugins.
- FabFilter: One of my favorites. These developers care equally about usability and sound quality. The interfaces are elegant and intuitive. They sound great and are efficient with the CPU. And their products cover the gamut of computer music production: synthesizers, FX, mixing & mastering tools. I use FabFilter plugins in all my productions.
- FXpansion: Develops a very broad range of plugins. Many of their plugins feature a very powerful and easy-to-user modulation system called "TransMod". Once you use it, you'll wish other plugins handled modulation this way.
- iZotope: Some great tools for audio-repair, spectrum manipulation, mixing, and mastering.
- Madrona Labs: Has 2 very unique modular instruments. If you like having more control of your sound and breaking away from standard conventions, these are worth a look.
- MusicLab: Makers of my go to plugins for guitar sounds.
- Spectrasonics: I only own Omnisphere, which is great. Their other product, Trillian, is generally considered to be one of the best bass plugins available.
- Sugar Bytes: A diverse line of plugins including some very unique ones with fresh, modern features. A lot of their plugins are very fun to work with.
- Sonic Charge: Some very unique and very cool plugins.
- u-he: A company founded by Urs Heckmann (u-he, get it?) that produces plugins with exceptional sound quality. You're going to need a good CPU for some of these though.
- ValhallaDSP: A variety of delay-based FX and reverbs at reasonable prices.
Here are plugins (most from the developers listed above) that I love and use regularly:
Synthesizers - You can never have enough!
- Alchemy by Camel Audio: A highly expandable "sample manipulation" synthesizer with additive, spectral, granular, and virtual analog synthesis capabilities and a powerful modulation system. Creates interesting blends of synthesized and organic sounds with lots of sound morphing possibilities.
- Diversion by Dmitry Sches: Powerful synthesizer with a modern sound and lot of immediately accessible sound design features. The on-board distortion options help make sounds cut through the mix.
- Omnisphere by Spectasonics: This thing is massive. There are so many sounds and presets I will probably never hear them all. This covers a lot of ground from drums, basses, pads, leads, FX, organic instruments, heavily synthetic sounds, vintage sounds, modern sounds, and the list goes on. You could probably make do with this as your only synthesizer.
- Twin 2 by FabFilter: A straight-forward (i.e. fast & easy to program) subtractive synthesizer with an extremely flexible, open-ended modulation system. This is a great plugin for learning sound design with subtractive synthesis.
- Cyclop by Sugar Bytes: A monophonic bass synthesizer with some really modern features. If you want to give people bowel movements you should try this. And if you make dubstep you definitely want to take a look at this. But please, folks, let's stop making bad dubstep...
- Iris by iZotope: This unique sample-based synth let's you draw the spectrum of the sound over time. A really cool sound design tool for people who work with samples or like manipulating the frequency spectrum in creative ways.
- Spire by Reveal Sound: Easy to use synthesizer that's good for layering many oscillators. It's very easy to do "super saw"-type sounds with this one.
- Aalto by Madrona Labs: A modular synthesizer that's easy to learn. It's a modular subtractive synthesizer with a lot of unique possibilities due to its flexible signal routing options. This is a good choice if you want to learn more about modular synthesizers.
- Kaivo by Madrona Labs: A modular granular synthesizer + physical modeling instrument. This combines some cutting-edge synthesis methods in a way I have never seen done before. Kaivo can make a huge variety of amazing organic sounds. Definitely recommended if you are looking for something different.
- ACE by u-he: ACE stands for "Any Cable Anywhere". A modular synthesizer where virtually anything can be plugged into anything else. It let's you do things you should probably never do in a modular synthesizer, which can be great fun. The sound quality is also fantastic but it might eat up a lot of your CPU. It's best to have some familiarity with modular synthesis to get the most out of this though.
- DIVA by u-he: DIVA stands for "Dinosaur Impersonating Virtual Analogue". It realistically simulates the analog circuitry of various modules from old hardware synthesizers, which, thanks to the flexibility of software, can be connected in new ways never before possible on the original hardware. You can get some incredibly analog sounds out of this.
- DCAM: Synth Squad by FXpansion: A collection of synthesizers that use FXpansions elegant "TransMod" modulation system. Each of the 3 synthesizers uses a different approach to synthesis and so produce distinct sounds from one another. Includes a 4th plugin that lets you layer combinations of the 3 synths together and apply additional FX. I think these are good plugins for beginners who want to learn synthesis techniques.
- Synplant by Sonic Charge: An evolutionary approach to sound design that causes lot of happy accidents finding sounds you wouldn't have gotten by other means. You start with random "seeds" of sounds, and then mutate them in different directions to explore the possible soundscapes. There is nothing else like it!
Virtual Instruments - Synths/Samplers that emulate acoustic instruments.
- PianoTeq by Modartt: Uses a "physical modeling" algorithm to produce incredibly realistic piano sounds without using any samples. Can also simulate vibraphones, xylophones, steel drums and more via optional add-ons.
- RealLPC by MusicLab with AmpliTube by IK Multimedia: RealLPC is the best virtual electric guitar plugin I've found. Coupled with AmpliTube, the best virtual guitar amplifier plugin I've found, this covers my guitar needs. AmpliTube comes in a paid version with a lot of built-in amp & cabinet models, or a free version with just a couple amps to get you started. Either way, you can pick and choose paid add-ons at any time to grow a collection of amps as you see fit. MusicLab also makes a nice acoustic guitar simulator called RealGuitar.
- BFD by FXpansion: the most realistic drums I've found in a plugin. Has lots of optional add-ons for different kinds of drum kits, all meticulously sampled. Isn't just about samples: there are tons of drum grooves / patterns with fills and variations, recorded by professional drummers. BFD3 improved the interface so it's easier than ever to mix and sequence acoustic drums tracks.
Synthetic Drums - synthesizers designed to produce drum-like sounds.
- Microtonic by Sonic Charge: A drum synthesizer/sequencer that focuses on a few key features and does them very. Because of this, it's a great plugin for learning the ins-and-outs of synthesizing drum noises. Sonic Charge also provides an online randomized drum loop generator called the Patternarium where you call download presets for Microtonic when you find something you like. This has helped me come up with new song ideas. You can also upvote or downvote the generated drum loops to affect future output. Cool.
- Tremor by FXpansion: Vaguely similar to Microtonic but has a much more in-depth synthesis system. So you can do more with it but it's also harder and slower to work with than Microtonic. Still, you get FXpansion's lovely TransMod system, which can help maintain listener interest, and the sequencer allows for each drum lane to be a different length/speed, allowing for complex polyrhythmic drum patterns.
- Axon by Audio Damage: The synthesis in this plugin is perhaps a bit too simplistic, but the sequencer is really unique and interesting. It uses something like a neural network to generate drum patterns that don't repeat in a predictable way. If you don't like the onboard sounds, you can send MIDI output to another plugin and use Axon to sequence another plugin that generates the sound.
Samplers - A lot of other plugins contain sampler functionality. This section is for dedicated sampler plugins.
- Geist by FXpansion: Geist can take any loop and slice it up into individual drum hits for you. From there, you can use a step sequencer to lay down drum loops with those samples. Each step in the sequence can have different FX applied, and change the pitch or reverse the sample. Lately I've been having fun building an entire song around a single drum loop by slicing it up in Geist and creating variations of the loop to keep the song interesting.
- Volcano by FabFilter: Provides 4 filters, each of which can be one of 10+ different filter types applied in serial or parallel. Includes FabFilter's flexible modulation system that's used in Twin 2 and Timeless, so you can build all sorts of interesting evolving filter sweeps. Also has mid/side processing so it can help you design a 3D sound stage in your mix.
- Etch by FXpansion: A dual-fitler, with 20+ filter types. Includes FXpansion's TransMod system for easy modulation. Similar to Volcano in many ways, but with a different approach to modulation and a different sound. Also includes a variety of on-board distortion options.
- Wow2 by Sugar Bytes. A modulated filter plugin with 20+ filter types. More strightforward than the others because it only has a single filter. Includes distortion capabilities and tends to have an edgier, more in-your-face sound than my other filter plugins. One of my favorite things about this one is it has a vowel filter that simulates the formants of the human voice, so you can produce "talking synthesizer" type of effects.
- Timeless by FabFilter: My go-to delay plugin. 2 delay lines, available in in stereo or mid/side mode. 2 filters in the feedback loop. Changing the delay time can behave in 2 different ways: tranditional tape delay, or time-stretching mode where the pitch does not change when the delay time changes.
- Satin by u-he: An analogue tape machine emulator spanning "all major historical developments in tape technology". Has a great sound. Can be used as a typical delay,s or as a mastering tool to add some extra polish to your tracks. This is my newest delay plugin and I expect to be using it a lot in the future.
- Bloom by FXpansion: A solid, full-featured delay plugin that can do a few different types of delay including reverse delays. The modulation options include a step sequencer that can be used to sequence switching between normal and reversed delay.
- Multitude by Sinevibes: 4 delay lines, various on-board effects, and a step sequencer per delay line with 8 recallable patterns. Great for sequenced effects.
- Aether and B2 by 2C Audio: Probably the best algorithmic reverbs on the market today. And since they are algorithmic, there's a lot of parameters you can change in realtime, opening up some really creative possibilities. My biggest complaint is there is actually too many parameters and flexibility, which can be overwhelmed, so I tend to just "surf the presets" and tweak a preset to taste. Nothing wrong with that.
- ValhallaVintageVerb by ValhallaDSP: Another algorithmic reverb inspired by vintage reverb hardware from the 70s and 80s. Contains 9 different reverb algorithms so there's plenty of room to explore. Compared to 2C Audio, the controls are much simpler, so this might be a good choice if you are learning how reverbs work.
- Maul by FXpansion: A multiband distortion with 30+ distortion types. Has all the usual FXpansion goodies (TransMod for modulation). You can either use 3 bands (low, mid, high), or 3 single bands in serial, or just use a single distortion.
- Saturn by FabFilter: A multiband distortion with 10+ distortion modes and up to 6 bands. Has all the usual FabFilter goodies (FabFilter's modulation system, easy-to-understand UI).
- Trash by iZotope: Yet another multiband distortion. This one has the most options. It's a dual-stage distortion, where each stage can have up to 4 bands. There are 60+ different distortion types to choose form here! You can also make your own customized distortions with an interactive waveshaper. Also includes a pre- and post- filter, a convolution module (so you can simulate real amplifiers and such), multiband dynamics, and delay. It's almost like a mini-Ozone plugin. I tend to "preset surf" on this one because there are too many options! But there's no denying this is a quality distortion plugin.
Special FX / Multi-FX - stuff that doesn't fit into a category above.
- Turnado by Sugar Bytes. This plugin is so much fun! It's perfect for getting hands on and glitching up your music in real time by turning knobs on a physical controller. If I did live gigs I'm sure I would be using this. It has a place in the studio too, when you are trying to create some variations in your musical material to make a song more interesting.
- Stutter Edit by iZotope. Another fun realtime glitching plugin. Each MIDI pitch can be assigned to multi-FX with various modulation behaviors. Whenever the plugin receives a MIDI note, it applies the FX associated with that MIDI pitch. You can chop up your audio on the fly and do controlled delay/filter/distorion FX. The hardest thing with this plugin is exercising restraint and not overusing it.
- Uhbik by u-he: a collection of plugins that support surround sound for those of you working with multi-channel audio. My favorite plugin in the collection is Uhbik-G, which performs granular re-synthesis on the incoming audio. Also notable is Uhbik-P, which is a phaser with 42 stages - that's a lot!
- ValhallaÜberMod by ValhallaDSP: A modulated multi-delay plugin that can do everything from basic delays and chorus to lush reverbs. A one stop show for your audio-smearing needs.
- Melodyne by Celemony: "Auto-tune" is now a mainstream concept. Antares Auto-Tune has long been considered the industry standard pitch correction software, but some people consider Celemony Melodyne to be superior. Melodyne was the first type of this software that allowed for manipulating individual notes in a polyphonic audio recording, which is incredibly powerful and was a technological breakthrough at the time. And of course, Melodyne is not just for correcting pitch issues in a recording, it can easily be abused for all kinds of creative purposes.
- RX by iZotope: Comprehensive, industry-grade audio repair toolkit. I don't do much recording, so you might wonder why I would use this. I have found it's a good tool for extracting audio from a mixed track for remixing purposes. Between this and Melodyne, I can sometimes get good results extracting just the vocal part from a fully mixed song. The dereverb feature, which removes reverb from a recording, is amazing.
Dynamic Processors, EQs, and Mastering Tools
- Pro-C and Pro-MB by FabFilter: Pro-C is a solid compressor that sounds great and makes it very easy to see how your audio interacts with the compression. It's one of my go-to compressors. Pro-MB is a multiband compressor for more complex compression situations, such as when compressing a mixed drum track.
- Pro-L by FabFilter: A very good limiter that, like FabFilter's other Pro-line plugins, makes it very easy to see exactly how your audio is being processed. Simple to use but has a lot of advanced functionality when you dig into it.
- Pro-EQ by FabFilter: An equalizer that does everything I could possibly want an equalizer to do. Its beautiful interface that makes it easy to see whats going on, even with a lot of different EQs bands enabled. The mid/side features are really helpful when you want to, for example, focus your bass in the center of the mix. The biggest problem with this plugin is you have to remember to use your ears more than your eyes!
- Ozone by iZotope: A "complete mastering system" that includes pre- and post- EQ, reverb, multiband harmonic excitation, multiband dynamics (gating, compressing, expanding, limiting), multiband stereo imaging, and a volume maximizer (a specialized type of limiter). Ozone is used to apply the final polish on all my tracks.
- ARC by IK Multimedia: ARC is the Advanced Room Correction system. It uses a specialized microphone to take measurements of your room, and then processing the audio coming out of your computer to compensate for the way your room changes the sound of your audio. For example, if the size of your room causes certain frequencies to resonate and be heard more loudly, ARC can help address that so you can mix your tracks more accurately and get a good sound on other people's speakers. My apartment is a pretty hostile environment for doing audio production. I work in a square room that amplifies certain bass frequencies in a really bad way and it's not feasible for me to install bass traps because I don't have enough space. So ARC is an important tool to help me to produce a good-sounding mix.