Musicians Mantra

Few days ago I mentioned about a new gadget for my studio, few of my friends tried guessing however none came even close but before going into it, let me write an intro for non-technical people so that it helps them to understand what I am scribbling about. The goal here is to explain few concepts and create a step by step valid reasoning or justification for need of such gadgets. .When I finished the article today I realized it was about 10 pages long, hence I decided to divide the article into smaller parts based on average time spent per Blog by a Blog reader [aka ETWDO - Effective Time wasted during office hour]. I know what you are thinking! I promise, article completion is assured as I have finished the article in full. If you have been a dormant reader of my Blog please do share your thoughts, honestly such participation encourages me to write more in these topics. Alright here we go!

How many times you have heard the word software Plug-ins?

Time and time again I have “yada yada ed” about Electronic Music instruments and how they have evolved for generations, starting from a dumb electronic circuit that generated calling bell sounds to something more much complex like Software based instruments that match or mimic any natural instruments to perfection. Technology growth in the music industry is phenomenal. Today we have incredible tools that inspire musicians to produce great music. One such growth is “PLUG-INS”.

The word “Plug-in” is an important “mantra” for musicians. Assume a plug-in to be a component that does a specific task in a process chain, it can be added, updated or removed based on needs. When you order something on the Internet, your order actually travels through a pipeline, like from adding the item into shopping cart, capturing address details, validating your credit card, creating the order, and finally it ships to you. The each activity mentioned in the pipe line can be called as plug-ins that does specific predefined tasks. Or another simpler example, while entering the free way we see traffic meters in some cities [e.g.: Minneapolis, MN ] , these meters permit one or two car per green, it is a plug-in that aids smooth traffic flow. This can be turned on and off based on traffic congestion.

In music production cycle, plug-ins executes specific tasks, a “plug in” by its name, plugs itself into the main task or chain of activities. VST, DirectX, RTAS, AU are few famous plug-in technologies available today. Plug-Ins can do various tasks like providing reverb, delay, phase, sound modeling or even pitch corrections, or act as virtual instrument to play drum grooves. All the plug-In technology match each other in quality and performance, however let me jump directly to the most popular form of Plug-In called VST.

VST is an acronym for Virtual Studio Technology developed by Steinberg, makers of products like Wave Lab, Cubase, and Nuendo. VST refers to an interface standard for connecting audio synthesizer and effect plug-ins to audio editors, sequencer and hard-disk recording systems. VST allows the replacement of traditional recording studio hardware with software counterparts. Example, Today, if you need an industry standard reverb like Lexicon, you can get the VST version of Lexicon instead of the hardware version. Such Plug-ins can be chained into the audio track. They get the feed from the audio track – adds effects and sends it back. The sources is retained in the format it was recorded. Effect is just an insert over the source and it can be changed without affecting the source. VST Plug-Ins has various flavors and has their own Graphic user interface [GUI], using which users can play around with the parameters [Value Semantics that changes the behavior of input data]. Meaning you can configure or tweak the plug-in independently. The host software will not know or worry about these changes other then sending and receiving data. Like I said before there are also other interfaces like RTAS, AU and Microsoft DirectX; VST is the most popular among all because slew of powerful VST effects, instruments and synthesizers can be found on the internet. Some of them are free.

What is VST based software instrument? Let us consider Yamaha Motif ES sampler/workstation/keyboards for example. Motif comes as software & hardware bundled and housed in a big “silver” shell. It is a dedicated piece of hardware with its own control sets. Assume we pull the software from Motif ES and make it run on the PC abiding by the Virtual Studio Technology standards and protocols - this becomes VST based Software Synthesizer Plug-In. Instead of stand alone dedicated hardware, the computer midi devices triggers it, and the hard disk stores the sounds samples and its processor does the processing for you. Technically Yamaha motif is a computer in a different form; it has processors, memory and executes code. The idea here is - Why not use the PC/Mac to do the processing. I should also mention about Digi Design, [makers of Protools] as one among the pioneers in developing such concepts. Advantages of such software based instruments are, Costs can be kept considerably low to its hard ware counter parts, the reason being it does not need processors & memory to be bundled along. Once it becomes downloadable software it is now open for wide range of upgrades and possibilities. A fantastic concept and a powerful mechanism widely used today in most audio production. Be it a Blogger musician or a professional musician, they have access to tons of free and premium VST plug-ins.

However even God’s first creations came with a catch called “apple” restrictions. For these goodies to work properly there is a price to pay. Apart from the monetary aspects, there are various technical overheads like CPU cycles, memory limitation.

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Have a great weekend.