I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow music producer friend the other day. In this chat, we talked about types of plug-ins and virtual instruments that we prefer to use in our music production workflows. What we referred to in regards to "type" of plug-in or instrument were not related to categories such as dynamics, EQ, Synth or Drums, no, we discovered that we like our plug-ins and virtual instruments not be what we describe as "A History Lesson In Pro Audio Studio Gear"
I'm in my early 30's, I didn't craft my music production career in large studios surrounded by walls of 1176 compressors or large format consoles, I started at a time in 2001 when digital audio really started to flex its muscles. I respect the analog era for laying the foundations for digital audio workstations and plug-ins, I just feel as though it's time we stop getting held hostage by plug-in developers playing the "Classic Studio Gear Greatest Hits Album 1950 - 1990" on repeat.
It's Not The Emulation That Sells A Plug-in To Me
Over the last ten years, the plug-in emulation category has grown into an enormous catalogue of tools ranging console emulations, tape, tube, compressor, EQ, effect... the list in endless. All the plug-in emulations that are available today must now cover most if not all notable or classic studio gear hardware from the last 50 years or so.
Many plug-in developers describe their emulations as "Hardcore" or "As close as you are going to get to the real thing". I have fallen foul to this style of marketing so many times in the past when considering plug-in emulation purchases. I have to remind myself that I don't care for the original hardware unit that the plug-in is based on, I'm only interested in the results of the plug-in processes. There have been a few times when I've purchased a plug-in emulation based solely on the heritage of the hardware to later discover the effect or process is not to my taste. In recent years I have learned to overlook the hardware name and legacy story attached to plug-in emulations a selling points as truth be told it isn't important. All that matters is:
- Does the plug-in sound good?
- Will this plug-in be useful?
Is Plug-in Innovation A Gamble - Is Plug-in Emulation The Safer Bet?
Pro audio people in the 30-40-year-old age bracket most likely didn't come up in the music industry in studios filled with analog gear. My start was humble, a basic computer with Cubase and I suspect many other 30 somethings also started in a similar way. Plug-in developers selling us the idea that we need several plug-in emulations of vintage/classic compressors from the 1960's is like me encouraging my teenage kids to download an emulation of Nokia's Snake - classic 1990s fun. No my teenagers and millions of others seek out innovation in mobile apps such as Snapchat or whatever app makes me look a dog wearing sunglasses on social media. Mobile apps constantly innovate, there's always a new trend around the corner, this I feel isn't always the case in Pro Audio:
- Has innovation in plug-in and virtual instrument development become a rare occurrence?
- Is innovation a gamble for plug-in developers compared to emulation?
...post your comments below.
Plug-in Hardware Inspiration Over Plug-in Emulation Please
Some virtual instrument developers are releasing products that appear to take inspiration from the analog era but design new products with modern control sets and interfaces without being too emulation-centric.
The first example of a virtual instrument that comes to mind is UVI's Synth Anthology II. UVI are well known for their love of vintage synths, this is evident in some of their keyboard based instruments such as UVS-3200 and Mello - both being hardcore instrument emulations. In Synth Anthology II UVI ditched the emulation design ideology that so many Synth VIs are developed around, this being the Synth must look like the hardware and the controls set should be the same. I feel this was a very good move by UVI to take this direction with Synth Anthology II as I feel it breaks down the barriers that used to intimidate me when I used soft synth emulations.
FabFilter are very good at throwing ideologies out of the window when it comes to plug-ins. I've said many times that I believe FabFilter plug-ins are tools for the modern producer. Products such as the FabFilter Pro-C2 compressor plug-in demonstrates how inspiration can be taken from older compressor units and incorporated into modern design and workflows in plug-ins. These are the types of plug-ins and virtual instruments that myself and my music producer friend like to use in our music production workflows.
I'm not saying for one minute that there is little imagination or innovation in today's plug-in or virtual instrument market, not all all. Browse the Zynaptiq website or play with iZotope RX to remind one's self that there are plenty of plug-in developers creating new and exciting products that we can use in sound & music production. I do have one very simple request for future plug-ins and virtual instruments - Plug-in & Virtual Instruments - Enough with the history lessons, Innovate over Emulate.