[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Lucas Welter.]
VST plugins are a common feature in the music world and have become part and parcel of producing music. Regardless of what level you are at, whether professional or amateur, you have most likely at one point or another relied on VST plugins while working on music. Over the years numerous developers have created some astounding plugins with features that have helped ease the music making process.
In this article we learn more about VST plugins and explore the different ways that they can help boost your creativity while making music.
What Are VST Plugins?
‘VST’ stands for Virtual Studio Technology and was essentially created to mimic the different hardware equipment used in studios. The term ‘plugin’ refers to software that operates within another program. As the name suggests, you quite literally ‘plug’ it ‘in’ to something else (we’re showing ourselves out of the door for that pun).
In this case, VST plugins operate within the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of your choice whether it’s Ableton, FL Studio, Logic etc.
VST plugins have made the process of creating music so much simpler and much more accessible. In the past you would need hardware and equipment that would be virtually inaccessible for most new musicians due to the cost implications. Analogue gear will set you back a pretty penny, but VSTs are cost effective.
VST plugins come as instruments (VSTi) and also as effects (VSTfx).
How Can VST Plugins Boost your Creativity?
To describe presets in the simplest manner, these are built-in sounds that were programmed by the manufacturer and adhere to specific parameters also set by the developer. They are sound libraries that have specific characteristics.
Presets are extremely handy and helpful as you won’t have to create your sounds from scratch. Most new musicians will be unfamiliar with the sound design process and will end up getting frustrated; the same is true for a lot of seasoned musicians. Relying on presets will save you a great deal of time and mental anguish. The beauty is that most plugins allow you to tweak your presets to fit your exact needs and specifications, though this may take some practice. Alternatively you can also create your own presets from scratch as most VSTi plugins contain and ‘Empty’ bank for this function.
Not everyone can afford a new Rhodes piano or a vintage organ. In these instances, VSTs allow you to have the same sound without having to physically purchase these instruments. Most VSTs come loaded with different instrument sounds and you can even download and install specific instruments with more detailed sound libraries.
Thanks to VSTs you can now emulate the sound of a rotary organ or a Rhodes piano which would otherwise set you back by a pretty penny if you chose to purchase the hardware equipment. Another huge bonus is that VSTs work in all the different DAWs that are currently in the market.
Ease of access
When musicians get in ‘the zone’ we tend to try and get as much work done as possible in one sitting. Once you’re in your creative workflow nothing can get in the way and sometimes the smallest hurdle can throw you off your focus. Imagine you’ve spent hours in the studio working tirelessly on a song, you have a new idea but before you can execute it you have to set up your instrument, set up a mic, connect to a mixer, do a test run, make sure levels are set etc. This can take the wind out of your sails as you may feel like you’re wasting precious time and losing your momentum.
VST plugins make life easier by cutting this entire process in half. Let’s say you want to record a guitar solo at 2am in the morning but you don’t want to hook up your amp and wake up your neighbors, you can easily hook up your guitar to your computer and record using simulation amps. This not only saves time and effort, but you have greater control in your DAW to quickly go through different amp sounds at the click of a button.
Lack of expertise
Many times we turn to VST plugins in order to execute and complete certain tasks that we may not have the expertise to achieve. For example, despite being a piano player myself I am not necessarily the most gifted drummer in the world. While I could bring in a session drummer, I can instead save time and money by making use of a drum machine and tweaking the patterns to suit my needs.
Or maybe I’m a new piano player and I am struggling to compose arpeggios for my new song; I can use an arpeggiator VST to achieve this instead of toiling away with no end in sight.
VSTs therefore help you compensate when you’re lacking in a certain skill set. Though ultimately the best thing would be to take the time to perfect your skills, VSTs nevertheless are a welcome source of assistance.
Control via MIDI
My favorite thing about VSTi’s is that they can be controlled using external MIDI controllers. This gives you a lot of room in terms of creativity as you can use your MIDI controller with virtually any VST plugin in existence, regardless of whether it was free or purchased. You can pair a drum-machine with your controller, use guitar plugins, sift through millions of synth sounds etc. This is great as not every musician can draw notes directly on the piano roll and may instead prefer to play the notes.
Another massive advantage of using VSTs with your MIDI controller is that you save a tonne of money as you simply need one piece of hardware as opposed to numerous.
Although this list isn’t exhaustive, it nevertheless serves as a starting point for how VSTs can help you improve your creativity and help get you in the right zone to create music. There are literally thousands of VST plugins that exist and each one of them can help you bring something new to the table.
What are some of the ways that VST plugins have helped you boost your creative while creating music? Let us know in the comments.
As an avid piano dreamer, Lucas Welter has immersed himself in all things keyboards and music for more than 12 years. This captivating journey has inspired him to launch the PianoDreamers blog to share all that he’s learned with his fellow musicians. Lucas collaborated first-hand with many accomplished musicians and participated in numerous musical projects of note. From teaching to performance, consultation to making music, he’s been turning his piano dreams into reality for more than a decade.