Three of the best free VST plugins every up-and-coming producer needs
Here are three free VST plugins that all new music producers should have in their arsenal.
When we first started producing there were generally only a few tools you needed to get up and running but they were very expensive. You could get away with a keyboard, sampler, computer, amp, monitors, mixing desk and some external FX but this alone would set you back anywhere between £3000 – £8000 or more.
Due to this expense, most producers who were just starting out only had a few key pieces of hardware at their disposal. By limiting yourself to the bare minimum meant you spent more time learning your kit, experimenting and trying to find creative new ways of using what you had.
Fast forward 20 years, and now most small studios work predominantly inside a computer and there are plugins and effects for literally anything and everything while expensive external hardware is pretty much a thing of the past, treasured by purists for its magical warm sound.
The problem now is that there are so many VSTs to choose from and, compared to their hardware counterparts, they’re cheap as chips! This means there are thousands of different compressors, limiters, EQs, synths, reverbs, delays and mastering suites to choose from. Some expensive and some are completely free… the list is endless. The hard part is identifying which ones are right for you within your budget.
Which plugins are right for you?!
Each producer is different and every producer has issues they would like to improve upon be it the final mix down, sound design (including drum creation and bass design), composition, mastering, spacial awareness and more. Finding the right plugins can be an expensive and addictive minefield. Falling down the VST rabbit hole so to speak is common and very detrimental to creativity because you’re constantly trying and buying different plugins in the hope of finding the perfect fix.
This is why Technique Music Academy can help you. In our very first session we’ll discuss in detail what plugins each individual already has and what, using our 25 years of production experience, we think they need to achieve their goals.
90% of the time people see tutorials, or producer threads online and think “I need these plugins to make my sound right” but this, in reality, isn’t true. The truth is you only need a minimal amount of plugins to technically make a great tune and mixdown. What you need most is desire, imagination, knowledge, confidence and a small selection of the right tools to do the job so you can focus on the single most important task… catching that vibe and being creative. We are here to help.
Top three free VST plugins we recommend
There is normally a standard rule of thumb with plugins. The more expensive the plugin, the better quality it is. This, supposedly, is due to the amount of mathematical coding and development costs that are incurred to actually make the plugin what it is. Nowadays, however, this is not always the case. Plugin companies are now enticing you to give them your contact details for a free fully functioning stripped down version of their absolutely awesome plugin with the intention that, in time, you’ll opt to buy the pro versions. This means that there are now some great free options available to the up-and-coming producer on a budget. We 100% recommend these free VST plugins and use them in our courses to demonstrate the fact that, used correctly, you can get the pro sound with minimal tools and cost.
Youlean (Julijan Nikolic) is part of the Fruity Loops Alpha team and developed the Loudness meter for the KVR Developer Challenge 2016, which it won. Developed to be better AND cheaper than the high-end expensive loudness meter plugins available on the market, the Youlean plugin is superb. In fact, so much so, that we now use it instead of the Waves version we used for the last five years.
The plugin is used, primarily, to measure the loudness of your track using LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale). This form of measurement is basically like RMS but with a twist. It takes into account how we perceive loudness and it is currently the most accurate way of measuring loudness. The main difference compared to RMS is that LUFS uses filters to shape the sound before processing in a similar way to how we hear the sound.
Knowing how to use LUFS is very important in this day and age because you can measure the loudness of your track without reference and, due to the fact that all LUFS meters must satisfy the requirements set out in the ITU-R BS.1770 document, it’s industry standard. This is really helpful to monitor so you can measure how loud your track needs to be for film, Spotify, Youtube, etc or as a great guide to make sure your track is an adequate level for use by club DJs around the world.
The free plugin gives all the information you need including Short Term Max / Integrated and Momentary Max LUFS – Dynamic range & True Peak max. It looks really slick and doesn’t hog too much CPU. Definitely one of the best free plugins available today.
Why pay big money for a spectrum analyser when Voxengo Span can virtually do it all… for free?! We can’t over emphasise the importance of having a quality spectrum analyser in your arsenal of VST tools. Monitoring the individual parts of your mix with a spectrum analyser can make your life so much easier when it comes to the final mixdown.
Span is a Fast Fourier transform spectrum analyzer and, when setup correctly using the wide variety of different settings options, can monitor your stereo and mid / side levels (including the very handy mid / side solo function). It can also monitor level metering statistics, headroom estimation, clipping detection and has an easy to view correlation meter.
To cut a long story short, Span is a fantastic free plugin that provides everything an up-and-coming producer needs to help analyse their mix and get a great balanced mixdown and, with over 35,000 downloads from the Voxengo website alone, you can clearly see why it is one of our favourites.
I know we have only covered FX VST plugins in this piece but I had to mention this lovely little freebie from Izotope. We’ve been huge fans of Izotope plugins going back as far as Ozone4 (a game changer for us) and when we saw they were offering the Imager for free we had to check it out.
Born from Izotope’s outstanding Ozone 8 series, the Imager is one of the most used plugins in our arsenal. When used correctly it can really make the difference when it comes to tweaking your stereo image. We have road-tested lots of different plugins over the years, which supposedly do the same thing, but we have found they all have their pitfalls.
In our opinion, the Izotope Imager is definitely one of the best stereo plugins that widens and yet still maintains the integrity of the sound when it is collapsed back to mono. The addition of the Vectorscope with the correlation meter is also very useful.
The only slight downside is the fact that, unlike the Ozone Imager, it doesn’t have the option to split the frequencies and apply various amounts of width to each split but this can be worked around incredibly easily. The fact that it’s free makes up for this fact and we rate this very highly indeed.
The Imager is well worth the email details and will help tweaking the width of your mix a whole lot easier in the long run.
These are just a few of the free VST plugins that we recommend on our courses to help your production. If you’d like more information on how to set these tools up and how to use them to get a better mixdown of your track, please sign up to our exclusive one-to-one Basic Production course today.