There seems to be three tiers of plug-ins: freebie/cheap ($0-$100), mid-range ($200-$500) and expense account (not-my-money). You can get by with freebie/cheap incredibly well but you’ll be hard pressed sell your music until you move up to the mid-range. And the difference in quality is a jump far greater than the jump in price.
I have a short list of mid-range plug-ins that are worth more than even their price. They just work. Once you see, use and hear these it’s impossible to turn back.
I use Sound Forge as my host for these but two of them support other formats
- Sony Pictures Noise Reduction Package
show_clip2("EasyBefore","left","Before"); show_clip2("EasyAfter","right","After");?>The Vinyl Restoration feature is worth it alone but the Noise Reduction is heart of the package. There are two modes, “capture” and “apply.” Point the plug-in at a snippet of the noise you are trying to eliminate and then apply that to the whole song or buzzing guitar part or whatever. A recent upload to the Internet Archive is the original recording of Soileau and Robin’s Easy Rider Blues. Click on the Vicent on the left for what the original sounds like. Now click on the right to hear it after a shot of Noise Reduction and Vinyl Restoration.
Did you record your piano part with tons of soul but too hot? Clipped Peak Removal actually works at getting rid of digital crackle. Other goodies abound.
Niether Sonic Foundry (who introduced the plug-in) nor Sony Pictures (how bought the product line) have upgraded this plug-in for years. Which is fine by me. (DirectX only.)
- Antares Auto-Tune
Antares let you use a completely unfettered version of Auto-Tune for 10 days so if you have a one-time job you need help with just use it. This is the same business model as your local crack dealer. Only crack is less addictive. Paying $300 for a specialized plug-in seems like a big deal (and it is) but you won’t spend better money on music software.
Here’s how I use it: I tell it what key the part is in and let it rip. One out of twenty notes will need “fine tuning.” That means I select the note in Sound Forge, hold down the key on my MIDI keyboard that I want it to tune to and hit the “apply” button.
There are more complicated, flexible features that I haven’t bothered to learn because the method prescribed above work 100% of time, in minutes (or less if you click fast), with no artifacts. Version 3 has been out of a little while and unless there’s a breaking change in the next version of Windows I may be done here. (Many formats.)
- Waves Renaissance Bundle
Waves (the company) is a bitch to work with. Their “bundles” scheme is practically impenetrable when you’re trying to figure out what you actually want/get, they are expensive, require upgrading just about every year (at nearly full price) and are constantly experimenting with Draconian protection schemes that drive you fucking nuts. Waves (the plugins) are, for the moment, still worth it. (Several of my Sonar buddies have jumped ship for packages included there, I may be shopping for an alternative soon but it’s hard to give it up.)
Look, the reverb and delay that comes with ACID and most other applications just suck. And you’ll figure this out after you hear three notes play through a Waves-level version of these effects.
To be honest I’ve had better sounding results in less clicks with their TrueVerb which comes in the hyper-expensive Gold bundle, but there’s no doubt the Renaissance version is more flexible and therefore I assume it’s my patience that falls short. (Many formats.)
- Hamster MIDI Controller
I had my doubts about this one but when I brought it home from Guitar Center I was very impressed. (I highly recommend putting in the bed of the pickup for the ride home, my cab is still having olfactory issues.)
I thought the ongoing maintenance costs could be an issue, but that’s only because it never occurred to me that I could use my lawn clippings in a MIDI environment. Just goes to show you what you pick up by just letting the GC salesman open up. I also recommend mixing up the genders so that you don’t have to get the Rodentia upgrade every few months.
You would think the output is hard to control (excreta artifacts can be issue, but like Auto-Tune you can be selective about what you clean up) but the interface is so straight-forward and the music generated is a vast improvement over what I manage to bang out with my two-fingered keyboard technique. (Many species.)
So stop chasing your tail, work a few hours overtime, dump the high-maintenance partner and plunk down.