Every producer is looking for an edge to make their audio stand out. You want your track to shine brighter than the others in your genre, right? What’s the easiest way to do that? Figure out what plugins your favorite producers use, and buy them, of course!
In this article, I’ll explore ways to build the effects you want, rather than emptying your wallet to buy them. This approach will make you more proficient with your DAW and save you money.
I heard Michal Menert talk, and he said he was trying to use only stock Ableton plugins because each update screws up his third-party plugins. I have more reasons to try and get the sound you want with stock plugins, rather than spending all your hard-won bread on plugins too: it will make you better and more fluent with your DAW. You’ll be less reliant on that one obscure plugin if you have to mix on someone else’s console or DAW, and you’ll be able to reproduce your sound using new tools if you can build the tools you want from stock plugins.
Case in point, I’ve showed you how to build a tool that removes the reverb tail from an audio track in Logic Pro. I can build that same tool in Pro Tools, Ableton, and any DAW with routing, compression, and polarity reversal. Add another well-turned compressor and these stock plugins can hold their own against many custom proximity effect plugins. The same goes for almost any effect you want. If you’re proficient with your stock effects, you can build many of the plugins you might want to buy.
For example, want a vintage tube effect? Try a stock overdrive and a parametric EQ. Add drive and add high pass and low pass filters to get the sound you want.
Want a login turntable emulator? Grab a tape delay that has wow and flutter variables. Turn the delay time to zero, and apply high pass and low pass filters to dial in the “age” of your sound. You could also use a pitch modulating LFO, if your stock tape delay effect doesn’t have wow and flutter options.
You can even build more complex effects, like a de-esser or side-chained EQ filter, using a compressor, a polarity inverter, and a parametric EQ.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a software developer, there are some plugins you can’t build using our stock DAW plugins. Spectral filters and some other AI-driven tools are out of our reach, at least until our DAWs add these tools to their stock options. So, there are some situations where your money could be well-spent on plugins. But before you buy your next plugin, think about what it would take to build that effect in your DAW. You might save yourself some cash and learn some useful tricks along the way.