VST Plugins

Best Free Pitch Shifter VST Plugins

18 Best Free Pitch Shifter VST Plugins 2022

From making a voice sound higher or lower to changing its “gender,” pitch shifters are all the rage nowadays, especially in pop music.

Chances are your DAW has a stock, built-in pitch shifter already. Of course, it’s probably a little limited in its functionality. If you’re going to be pitch shifting anyway, you’re probably going to enjoy additional functionality.

Well, you’re in luck, because in this guide we cover the best free pitch shifter VST plugins.

Best Free VST Plugins For Hip Hop

18 Best Free VST Plugins For Hip Hop 2022

If you want to make great hip-hop beats, you’ve got to have the right tools for the job. Stands to reason, right?

And if you’ve been hearing rumors that “sometimes the free stuff is just as good as the paid stuff,” well, you’re not too far off. There are some great free VST plugins out there, especially if you know where to look.

In this guide, we look at the best free VST plugins for hip hop.

Best Free Retro Synth VST Plugins

7 Best Free Retro Synth VST Plugins, For An 80s Style Sound 2022

A synthesizer, often referred to as a synth, is an instrument that plays similarly to a piano, but uses electronic technology. This hybrid allowed anyone who could play a piano to manipulate the sound using LFOs, envelopes, oscillators amongst other effects. Although synths have been around since 1955, the use of them really took off in the 1980s when the technology developed further and more artists began experimenting with them.

Recently, these analog sounds from earlier synth models have been highly sought after the emergence of synthwave and lo-fi music. Unfortunately, many of these old school synths aren’t mass produced anymore, making them expensive to get a hold of.

But never fear, thanks to the rapid advancement of digital music technology, it’s possible to acquire virtual instruments that emulate the sounds and appearance of these machines. But best of all, many of them are free! So let’s take a look at some of the best retro synth VSTs available today.

Best Free Orchestral VST Plugins

17 Best Free Orchestral VST Plugins 2022

From composition and sound design to songwriting and electronic music production, you just never know when orchestral elements might take center stage or sit nicely in the background in your various productions.

But we know that shopping for plugins can add up and trying to find the best sounds on a tight budget can be a trial by fire, even at the best of times.

That’s why we’ve compiled the best free orchestral VST plugins you can download, install, and start experimenting with today. Let’s get to that list.

Best Free 808 VST Plugins

7 Best Free 808 VST Plugins 2022

The Roland TR-808 was launched in 1980 and made an instant impact on the way people wrote music. The title of Kanye's fourth studio album, “808s & Heartbreak,” was inspired by the machine. It's also a common sound in trap, hip hop, and electronic music.

Fortunately, there are lots of VSTs that replicate the sounds musicians discovered with the old drum machine these days, so it's no longer necessary to invest in one. Even free ones! Which is what we'll be looking at in this article.

Best Free Reverb VST Plugins

22 Best Free Reverb VST Plugins 2022

Reverb is like the icing on top of every mix cake. It adds depth and richness, makes performances sound more natural, and smooths out some of the rough edges in your tracks.

At times, reverb can even be used as a creative, tone shaping effect, rhythmic pulsation tool, and more. There are many ways to use reverb that aren’t always obvious.

So, in this guide, we look at the best free reverb VST plugins that will add much-needed glue to your mixes.

What Is A VST In Music?

What Is A VST In Music? Plugins Explained

So, you’re starting to find your bearings as a budding music producer.

And if you’ve made it this far, chances are you know what a DAW is already (congratulations).

But we’re not going to lie – there’s a bit of a learning curve to producing music. And on that journey, you will need to learn about VSTs too.

So, whether you’re discovering VSTs for the first time, or you’re looking to go a little more in-depth, welcome. Let’s talk VSTs!

What Is A VST In Music? Definition

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology.

A VST describes a piece of software – namely, an audio plugin. It usually takes the form of a virtual instrument (synthesizer) or effect. These audio plugins integrate with Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), which are software applications designed with recording, editing, and mixing music in mind.

Some of the most popular virtual synthesizers include Sylenth1, Omnisphere, and Reaktor.

Some of the most popular virtual effects include EQ, compression, and reverb.

We’ll be looking at both virtual synths and effects in more detail throughout this guide.

There are both free and paid VSTs, depending on the functionality and quality of instruments and effects you’re looking for.

Why Are VSTs Important?

The process of recording, editing, mixing, and even mastering music has changed significantly with the evolution of technology.

From analog to digital recording was a significant leap all its own. But as digital recording continued to develop, it was only a matter of time before software recording would become viable. And become viable it did. Today, software recording is the most efficient and convenient recording process available (not the best, necessarily, but certainly the fastest).

And when I refer to “software recording,” I’m referring specifically to recording with computers.

Recording with computers used to be less viable because of hardware (and therefore software) limitations. As computers became more powerful, though, it was only a matter of time before the software market caught up.

And so, Digital Audio Workstations came along and fundamentally changed the paradigm around recording music for good. This doesn’t mean that DAWs made hardware (analog or digital) recording irrelevant. Rather, it proved to be perfectly complementary. Hardware and software could be used together to achieve the best results possible, and this is still true today.

But the evolution of tech seems to know no bounds. DAW software is beyond anything imagined even 10 to 20 years ago. No longer are prominent developers focused on the basics of multi-tracking, effects stacking, or MIDI sequencing. That’s child’s play by today’s standards – everyone offers that!

As DAWs continued to develop, so did virtual instruments and effects (VSTs). At first, VSTs were primitive, basic, maybe even a little crude. They worked, but they were often a pale imitation of the high-priced analog and digital gear they were supposed to be emulating.

Yet again, though, it was only a matter of time before VSTs started catching up. And today, there are both free and paid plugins that are used widely by amateurs and pros alike (Antares Auto-Tune, Valhalla Super Massive, Ozone, among many, many others).

The “best of both worlds” is generally a combination of software and hardware. It’s not unusual for professional studios to have Pro Tools or Logic Pro installed on their machines. But then they have other hardware gear like monitors, headphones, preamps, compressors, EQs, and of course things like audio interfaces, control surfaces, MIDI controllers, keyboards, guitars, and more.

That said, software based “inside the box” recording has gotten so good that whether you’re recording a singer-songwriter, band, or electronic music, you can do it all without much of a reliance on hardware. deadmau5, for example, does most of his work inside a DAW, besides the use of his modular synths (which can be a bit of a luxury for independent musicians, with each component costing $80 to $270 or more).

VST plugins are incredibly convenient, generally easy to use, and sound better today than they’ve ever sounded. Do they sound better than their hardware counterparts? In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. But it’s all a matter of what you have access to and what works for your creations.

What Are VST Instruments / Synthesizers?

Synthesizers existed before software recording. One of the most prominent examples is the Minimoog.

A synth is an electronic musical instrument that uses a variety of methods like subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis, as well as frequency modulation synthesis. The tone of a synth can be shaped using filters, envelopers, low-frequency oscillators, and the like. Synths generate audio signals on their own (while MIDI controllers do not). Synths can be played via keyboards or be controlled via sequencers.

A virtual synth or instrument describes the software equivalent. Usually, it boasts the same functionality as a hardware synth. You can play it using a MIDI controller, or you can sequence notes inside your DAW.

A virtual synth or virtual instrument basically describes the same thing, though synths are often thought of as separate instruments compared to anything else. They can produce a variety of sounds, usually categorized as leads, basses, pads, effects, and so on.

But nowadays it’s common practice to sample instruments and make them available as virtual instruments as well. That means you can find realistic sounding pianos, basses, organs, strings, drums, and a great deal more.

Most DAWs have a set of built-in virtual synths and instruments you can take advantage of. But you can also find plenty for free, and of course, paid products exist too.

VST instruments offer unprecedented flexibility, because even if you don’t have certain instrumentalists available to record their parts (e.g., string instruments or horns), you can reproduce them with surprising realism using modern VSTs. This means you can include all kinds of instruments on your music without the added time and cost of hiring musicians, booking studio time, setting up microphones, getting solid takes, and so on.

That isn’t to say instrumentalists aren’t valuable, mind you. It often depends on the style of music you’re creating, whether you can play the instruments yourself, and the budget available.

What Are VST Effects?

Effects have existed long before software recording. Some of them were achieved using rather unconventional methods (the first artificial reverb was created in a pop song by Bill Putnam Sr. using an echo room – chamber reverb).

Reverb, delay, compression, chorus, and other effects are used on tracks to create atmosphere, enhance parts, create better mixes, and more. Because of this, tracks are often recorded “dry,” in a quiet, noiseless environment. The wetness can be added in with effects later.

As with anything else, effects evolved from analog to digital hardware units, and from digital hardware consoles to software plugins.

Virtual effects were created to reproduce the sounds of hardware effects. At first, they were quite primitive and inferior, but today, virtual effects are high quality and incredibly usable.

The truth is that what’s built into your DAW is miles ahead of most of what was available to even the most prominent studio engineers in the 80s and 90s. Meaning – you can create something just as amazing, if not more so, even if you’re recording entirely from home on your own computer.

When it comes right down to it, there are basically only a few types of effects:

  • Modulation. Chorus, flanger, phaser, and tremolo.
  • Time-based. Reverb, echo, and delay.
  • Spectral. EQ and panning.
  • Dynamic. Compression and distortion.
  • Filters. Amplify, pass, or attenuate frequency ranges.

More than likely, your DAW has your bases covered, but you can add free or paid virtual effects to your library if your DAW offers third-party VST support.

Which VST Plugins Should I Have?

This is going to differ quite a bit based on the individual.

If you’re looking to build out your library now, have a look at our guide on the best free VST plugins.

Either way, here are some of the essentials and what they can help you achieve.

EQ / Equalization

Equalization plugins allow you to enhance, cut, or attenuate certain frequencies.

Higher frequencies are often boosted on vocal tracks, so they cut through the mix.

Guitar tracks are often tweaked endlessly to produce the right presence in the mix.

EQ is used everywhere, even on the master.

This always comes with the caveat that you should start with a good source. If you’re not happy with the track you recorded or how it sounds, don’t expect EQ to fix all your problems. In most cases, the best solution is to work with your mics or equipment to get a better sound and re-record.

Reverb

Virtual instruments and effects

Most beginners will identify with the term “echo” rather than reverb (which is a shortened form of reverberation).

It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re producing, you’ve got to have a nice reverb, especially if you’re starting with a dry source. It will add a nice atmosphere to your tracks.

Delay

Delay is somewhat like reverb, but it’s basically more like a controllable echo. You can have a slap-back delay (where echoes happen in rapid succession), or a longer delays where the echoed parts are further apart (if it fits the song). Of course, everything in between is achievable.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that U2’s guitarist, The Edge, owes a great deal of his sound to delay.

Chorus

Chorus, choir, choral. The easiest way to understand chorus is “multiple voices.” Whether it’s guitar, drums, or vocals, chorus can add depth to a track. If you use extreme settings, it can do some funky things too.

Phaser

Phaser represents the absolute basics of modulation effects (there’s kind of an audible “rise and fall” – you can set the speed).

You probably won’t use it for everything. Guitars and synths are the most common applications.

Compressor / Compression

A compressor evens out a signal, and it can even “squash” it. Meaning – it will boost the quieter sections and ease the louder sections. Great for uneven vocal parts.

Compressors aren’t always used for this specific purpose, mind you, as they can also add color and character to a track, and compression effects are sometimes chosen on this basis.

Limiter

A limiter can be used to bring up the level of the track (without causing clipping). Often used on masters.

Pitch Shifter

I can’t imagine too many situations where pitch shifting would be “mandatory.” I think it has been used to excess in pop and EDM.

But for more subtle effects, changing the octave of a track, or even bringing an out of tune track in tune, it can be quite handy.

Filters

A filter is like an EQ, but it’s selective and depending on the filter, you can specify the range it will amplify, cut, or attenuate.

High-pass and low-pass filters are the most common, and they are kind of like the opposite of how they sound. A high-pass filter will cut off all lower frequencies, while a low-pass filter will cut all higher frequencies.

As an example, high-pass filters are commonly applied to guitars. Removing lower frequencies gives more breathing room in the mix for bass and drums.

Pitch Correction / Autotune

Modern day, glossy pop productions generally demand perfection. Drums, bass, and synth tracks are drawn to a grid. Hooks are created deliberately, repetition in full force. And vocals? Of course, they’re autotuned.

This doesn’t mean you need to use autotune like a robotic effect (T-Pain style). Subtle adjustments can be great, and sometimes entirely necessary.

But there is certainly a time and a place for raw, dry vocals too.

Synth / Synthesizer

Chances are there is a capable synth built into your DAW already. There might even be multiple synths.

Synths are good “catch-all” instruments for rounding out a track. Whether it’s bass, leads, pads, FX, or random noises, most synths can cover quite a bit of ground.

You might not use synths in every production or every musical genre, but it’s quite unlikely that, in a longer music production career, you won’t use a synth at all (especially with the current popularity of pop and EDM).

What Is A VST In Music? Final Thoughts

VSTs are a blast. I first heard about them on a podcast, unaware that there was an entire world of free and paid VSTs I could download, install, and use on my productions. Once I discovered that, I was off to the races trying out new things in my music.

Here’s wishing you a similarly exciting and fun journey!

Best Free Arpeggiator VST Plugins

7 Best Free Arpeggiator VST Plugins 2022

A good arpeggiator can really help bring excitement and a whole new depth to your simple chord sequence. For drums, it can get you out of your comfort zone of pencilling or playing notes into the grid by creating drum beats in a whole different way.

Ever wondered if there might be any free options out there? This article will cover some of the best arpeggiators out there today. So there’s no need to wonder anymore! Only a need to try as many of these plugins as possible. They’re all good in their own way and perfect for different circumstances.

Most plugins work for both Mac and windows, but the ones that don’t will be made clear in the title (for you Mac users out there).

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