Tagged home production

Great Free VST Plugins

The maxim ‘you get what you pay for’ holds true for most pro audio products, but I’ve recently been pleasantly surprised at the quality of some free VST plugins. Most useful are the free utility plugins used as loss-leaders, but there are also some really talented bedroom programmers out there.

I’ve tried out quite a few over the last few months, and these are my favourites.

Analysis tools

Some people find needle meters somehow easier to understand than the bar meters most DAWs use these days (myself included). If that’s you, PSP Vintagemeter could be the answer for you. Useable in either PPM or VU mode, it’s a nifty way of getting needles into a digital environment.

Voxengo SPANBlueCat FreqAnalyst is a fully customisable spectrum analyser that even lets you zoom in on a particular frequency range for more detailed inspection.

Voxengo’s SPAN is a great all-in-one analysis tool that gives you metering of almost any kind you could want – from standard VU and PPM to different K weighted scales, average values (RMS and crest factors) as well as a very useable spectrum analyser. The only problem is it does seem to colour the sound a little bit when switched on…

Utility plugins

BlueCat’s Gain Suite contains a number of very simple plugins that literally do what you’d expect – adjust gain. This is actually more useful than you might first think, particularly for optimising gain structures when running outboard gear as external plugins from your DAW.

Anyone interested in mid/side processing would do well to download Voxengo’s MSED. Although it’s not too difficult to manually set up a mid/side chain if you know how, this is a great time saver.

The Audiocation Phase AP1 is great for sorting out phase relationships in your mix.


Voxengo’s Tube Amp is great for adding crunch to a signal, particularly when run hot and in parallel. It’s actually surprisingly tube like as well.

The excellent Bootsy over at Variety of Sound has put together three brilliant saturation plugins: the Ferric TDS tape simulator and the Tessla SE and Tessla PRO transformer saturators. The Tessla PRO is particularly interesting as its transient aware.

What free VST plugins can you recommend? Leave your answers in the comments.

The Biggest Mistake Home Producers Make

We’re big advocates of home production. The falling cost of music technology has democratised the process of making music enormously, which can only be a good thing. However, there remains a substantial knowledge gap between most home producers and those working in ‘traditional’ facilities.

Here at Brighton Mastering, we get sent a lot of tracks that were recorded in home studios, and the biggest mistake we come across is not a lack of creativity or ideas, but not understanding the science behind music production.

Covering the Basics

One thing we’re often surprised by is a lack of understanding about the basics of recording. We have often been sent tracks that have the odd tell-tale crackle of digital clipping and have even been sent mixdowns in low quality mp3.

What this demonstrates is a fundamental lack of education about music technology. The problem is that any Apple Mac comes with a copy of Garageband that anyone can use, but without knowing what a compressor is actually doing (beyond some vague understanding of ‘punch’), or what different frequencies sound like you don’t have a hope of making a commercial sounding recording. And that doesn’t come in the manual.

Tilting at Windmills

There is a lot to be said for learning by experimentation, and that’s certainly how I got started. However, everything in music production is physics. Knowing that physics makes the whole process much more practical and less the quixotic pursuit of mythical qualities that frankly may be unattainable with what you’re working with.

Knowing the physics can actually plug a lot of the holes in the equipment you’re dealing with, as Mike Senior aptly demonstrates every month in his Mix Rescue column for Sound on Sound. Want to compress only a particular frequency range but don’t have a multiband compressor? Get out your broadband compressor, an EQ with high and low pass filters and away you go.

It may not be fun (well, depends what your outlook is) and it may not be rock ‘n’ roll. But all music technology is physics at work. Making that physics work for you is the creative bit.

Educate Yourself

Mike Senior's Mixing Secrets for the Small StudioDon’t think that you have to go on an expensive music production course to learn the science – after all, almost none of these courses existed until a few years ago, and people still made great records.

Buy a couple of books. Get a subscription to Sound on Sound. Subscribe to a few RSS feeds. If you can, get some work experience at your local studio (although these opportunities are drying up in the face of home studios).

Learning the science behind the faders is like learning scales. Sure you can write a song by ear, but it’s a lot quicker if you know which notes fit together.

What books can you recommend to other readers? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Photo credit Creativity103