"How To Use VST Plugins and Audio Units"

What Are VST Plugins and How To Use Virtual Instruments.

 

Beginners Guide To VST Plugins

What is VST?

VST, Virtual Studio Technology, is an interface standard for connecting synthesizers and effects to audio editors and recording systems. Invented and developed by Steinberg, makers of the Cubase audio recording programs; VST replaces traditional audio recording hardware with software equivalents. So instead of having to route your audio out of your computer into your hardware effects units and then back into your computer, all the routing is done internally.

 

If you have a powerful enough computer, you can do real time effects processing, utilizing either a MIDI controller or through envelope tweaks using MIDI.

 

There are 2 different types of VST plug-ins, with thousands of different varities, making it the most widely used plug-in type. The 2 main types are:

 

VST instruments – Also know as a VSTi, they take the form of synthesizers and sampler units. They can be played in real time, or also used in conjunction with MIDI for live performance. They are basically a software version of a piece of hardware. I have and use the Master Hammond B3 VST soft synth very often, which is the software version of the Hammond organ. Let me tell you, lugging the soft synth version of the B3 around in my laptop is a whole lot easier than having to carry around the hardware version!

 

VST effects – VST effects are used to process audio, like any other type of audio effect. These can also be used in real time, most effectively when coupled with an appropriate low-latency soundcard. There are VST equivalents to every type of audio effect available as hardware. I use all of the standard VST effects that come with Cubase SX, plus quite a few standalone units as well. One great VST effects bundle is the WaveLab 6 package offered by Steinberg.

 

VST instruments and effects must be used in conjunction with a VST host to be used at all. A VST host is usually a software application or a hardware device. I use Cubase SX as a host for my VST instruments and effects, and I recommend the program not just for its VST support. As a multi-track recording program that supports MIDI and VST technologies, there aren’t many other programs out there as robust and user-friendly as Cubase SX.

 

If you tell someone who doesn't know much about the subject that you make music entirely with your computer and software, there's a good chance that they'll assume your tunes are of the bleepy, synthetic variety.

 

But while it's certainly possible to make all kinds of electronic-sounding music with your Mac or PC, this is only a small part of the modern day sonic story. We don't want to bore you with a history lesson at this point, but it's important that you understand how much and how quickly computer technology has advanced.

 

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Until around ten years ago, the computer's primary role in the music production process was to sequence sounds that were produced elsewhere – in other words, it had to be used in conjunction with separate, real-world hardware. However, in the last decade, it's become possible to produce just about any type of sound you can think of entirely within the confines of your Windows or OS X-running machine.

 

This is thanks to the arrival of virtual instruments – bits of software that you can load into your computer and use to generate sounds comparable to their real-world equivalents. What's more, these can be loaded into your music production software as plug-ins, making it extremely easy to use them in your songs.


A wide variety

 

Most of the initial wave of virtual instruments comprised emulations of classic hardware synthesizers, but while these are still available, you now have a much wider selection of sounds to choose from.

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Computer hard disks are much bigger than they were – and processors much more powerful – and this has made it possible for software developers to produce stunningly realistic emulations of 'real' instruments, including drums, stringed and orchestral instruments, made up of thousands of samples.

 

What this means is that, when you hear an acoustic drum sound coming out of a computer, the chances are that what you're listening to is an actual recording of that sound rather than a digital emulation.

 

While many of these sampled instruments sound amazing, they're not always the most practical solution. Some of the largest ones can literally fill a hard drive – you may find that you need to buy another one of those at some point – and it can take quite a while for certain larger sounds to load.

 

Some developers still choose to make virtual instruments that don't contain samples, and instead generate their sounds as you play them on your MIDI keyboard. Many of these are synths, but advanced programming techniques mean that real sounds can be emulated in this way, too.

"When you hear an acoustic drum sound coming out of a computer, the chances are that what you're listening to is an actual recording of that sound rather than a digital emulation."

 

Prices of virtual instruments vary. You could pay hundreds of pounds for one plug-in, but the good news is that many can be downloaded for free (or for just a few pounds) from the internet.

 

As well as price, the other thing to consider is compatibility. Unfortunately, not all virtual instruments work on both Mac and PC, so check that your computer platform and operating system are supported before you buy anything.

 

You also need to ensure that you choose instruments that are in the correct format. On the PC side, most are supplied as VST plug-ins, and these run in the vast majority of DAWs. Mac users will also come across the VST badge, though the Audio Units (AU) standard is just as popular. Bear in mind that if you're running one of Apple's DAWs (GarageBand or Logic), any plug-ins you buy will have to be in the AU format.

 

As a computer savvy musician, if you aren’t familiar with VST technology, I suggest that you get acquainted. It will cut down on your equipment costs and potentially streamline your recording and editing processes.

 

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