Monday, January 31, 2011

My Five Desert Island Plug-ins (February 2011)

Mike Cobb asked me to post an entry about my five must-have plug-ins, which is a very difficult task for a few reasons.

For one thing, there are literally thousands of great plug-ins out there. Synths, effects, EQs... Everyone knows this drill, so filing it down to five means leaving out some really great software.

On the other hand, I'm extremely finicky about what software ends up living on my machine. More plug-ins means more maintenance, upgrades, compatibility - and if you decide to collaborate or share tracks, then you need to render what the other party doesn't have.

In the end, I just went with the facts: These truly are the plug-ins that I use regularly and know intimately.

So here goes...

Ableton Operator

Operator has made an appearance in every track I've ever made. Whether it's the deconstructed 808 cowbell from "Less Cowbell" or the distorted bass and pulsing chords from my remix of Winter Kills' "Deep Down", this is the softsynth I use more than any other.

iZotope Ozone

I've used Ozone to pre-master every one of my releases (so that I can road test them in clubs). The adaptive limiter alone is worth the price of admission - and the stereo mid-side functions are stunning.

Trivia: I was so happy with Ozone's mastering on "Deep Down" that I opted to skip label mastering and sent them the finished product to release.

FXpansion DCAM

There are a ton of great softsynths that come really close to what true analog sounds like, but DCAM - specifically Strobe - is the only one that actually nails the sound. It's so close that when I'm on the road, I miss my real analog gear just a teeny bit less.

If you're already a DCAM user, here's a link to the artist bank I did for them last year.

Celemony Melodyne

When it comes to real paradigm-shifting innovation, Celemony is right up there with Ableton. Melodyne's ability to transform audio into editable, piano-roll sequences is nothing short of astonishing. I've used it on vocals on several occasions in the past with transparent results.

Think of it as Auto-Tune for adults.

The fact that it can now process polyphonic material proves that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Native Instruments Reaktor

Make no mistake, NI's Reaktor is ab-so-lute-ly the modular synth of the digital world. It's so friggin' deep that even I don't have time to tap its resources - unless I come up with useless glitchy artifacts and say,  "Oh, I meant to do that". Maybe after I retire. Naaaaaah.

Fortunately, there are ensembles like The Finger and The Mouth and Prism that make it possible to do extraordinary things - provided you have the brains to understand it and the time to implement it.

I have neither, so I rely on a former student of mine (and synth genius in his own right), Meason Wiley, to program ensembles that push the boundaries of what's possible with audio. I'm still trying to talk him into letting me post links to them, so y'all can see how gifted he is. Maybe this post will help. Wish me luck. Seriously. The guy's a maniac.

PS: If you aren't already familiar with Meason's credentials, go here.

So, Mike, there's your answer ;)


  1. You forgot Impulse - Ableton , Pro tools - Transfuser, Logic ESX :]...can't function without those. Or some people use stylus or guru.

  2. "In the end, I just went with the facts: These truly are the plug-ins that I use regularly and know intimately."

  3. I was unfamiliar with Meason Wiley before. Thanks for linking to him. I hope he shares some ensembles. That would be awesome.

  4. You should have a stump the professor moment on your blog where people can send you a sound bite and you can show us some magic.