Your computer is by far the most powerful asset in your music studio, letting you record, arrange, mix and master incredible sounding productions. Here we’ll explain the types of software and sounds you can find at Gear4music to unleash the true power of your computer-based music production setup.
A digital audio workstation (DAW) is the heart of computer-based recording. It's the main piece of software used to record, edit, mix and master music.
DAWs come in many shapes and sizes to suit different skill levels and musical goals. Some DAWs are suited more to traditional band recording, while some are more suited to experimental music making and electronic music, where the DAW is treated like a musical instrument by itself.
Popular DAWs include AVID Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, PreSonus Studio One, Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio, Reason and Image Line FL Studio.
As well as allowing you to edit and mix audio, may DAWs also feature the ability to host VST plugin instruments and plugin effects. These plugins allow users to create their dream virtual studio, entirely inside the computer.
When you visit our DAW page, look for the 'Great For' tag which will help you find a DAW to suit your musical goals and background.
VST plugins are pieces of software running within software – they come in the form of virtual instruments or virtual effects.
VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology, a format originally created by Steinberg which is now an industry-standard feature of many DAWs. Virtual instruments and effects allow you to add your own choice of sounds and processors to your DAW, to complement or even improve on the built-in effects and instruments that came with it.
You can program these virtual sounds with a mouse or add a MIDI/USB keyboard to play the sounds in real time.
While many DAWs support the VST instrument standard, there are some exceptions - Pro Tools uses the AAX plugin standard (Avid Audio Expansion) which is unique to it but widely supported by plugin manufacturers, while Apple Logic and GarageBand use the AU plugin (Audio Units) standard, which is unique to them, but also widely supported.
In the days before affordable computing, the only way to get more sounds in your productions was either by recording real acoustic instruments or physical keyboards and synthesizers costing many thousands of pounds (sometimes tens of thousands).
VST plugin instruments are virtual pieces of equipment that can run inside your DAW and be controlled via MIDI. These plugins can then recreate specific 'real world' instruments such as pianos, organs, keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, bass, drums, entire sounds of the orchestra, and beyond. They allow you to access instruments that may be hard to find, expensive, or hard to record. What’s more, each virtual instrument is always perfectly tuned and played, no matter what time of day or night.
Popular VST instrument brands such as Native Instruments and Arturia have created bundled collections of their instruments, providing huge savings over the individual software cost, and providing a one-stop shop for musicians to add a massive range of sounds to their DAW in one go. Native Instruments Komplete and Arturia's V-Collection are stand-out collections you might wish to explore.
With so many VST instruments to choose from, we have curated 'Great For' and 'Character' category filters to help you filter based on your interests and goals.
At Gear4music, you can choose plugins based on application - for example whether you're looking for plugins that are simple or deep, vintage or modern (modelling a vintage piece of gear or creating something new), realistic (sounds like a real acoustic instrument), quirky, modular, or instruments that feature lots of presets (for those looking to add a wealth of sounds to their arsenal in one go).
Once you have recorded your instruments, vocals, or sequenced VST instruments, you'll want to mix them together and produce your final recording. An integral part of the mix process is effects.
There are two different families of effects. Some take the form of special effects such as reverbs, choruses, saturators, and delays. These can be used to warm up, enhance, spread, or totally transform your sounds.
Other effects are more 'corrective' in their use, such as EQs and compressors, gates and limiters. They are designed to fix problems and help knit your musical elements together, creating a smooth, unified and enjoyable mix to listen to.
There are many, many different types of effects available, and if you're new to production, you may not be familiar with what the various effect types actually do - so how do you know what you need?
For this we've curated the 'Great for' list, which will let you browse the plugin effects based on the actual results they are 'great for' achieving! For example, you can filter and reveal the effects that are great for 'adding warmth', 'reducing harshness', 'adding sparkle', 'space' or 'movement', to help you find just the tool you need, no matter what your knowledge level.
Just as with VST instruments, VST effects are also available in great-value bundle packages too, should you wish to add a whole range of effects to your toolbox and grab a saving for doing so.
Popular effects bundles include Fabfilter's Essential Bundle, combining their truly essential Pro-Q3, versatile Pro-C2 compressor and lush Pro-R reverb in one. New on the scene, Baby Audio's 'All Plugins' bundle gives you 6 inspiring effects full of vintage personality and character, adding warming 'VHS video' style effects, as well as lush reverbs and the fantastic Smooth Operator, which automatically dips harsh frequencies to smooth out problem sounds in a matter of moments.
Expansions are add-ons for your instrument plugins, giving you collections of new presets, sounds and capabilities that will quite literally expand your sound palette.
Expansions represent fantastic value, since you don't have to buy an entirely new plugin to get new sounds to play with. Synth presets can also provide a useful opportunity to reverse-engineer how professional sound designers approached programming that particular plugin, so there are lessons to learn if you look carefully - or just load up the sounds and get on with finishing songs.
Some of our favourite expansions include PreSonus Symphonic Orchestra, a fantastic-value orchestral sound expansion for users of the Studio One DAW. We also highly rate ChamberTron, a meticulously sampled collection of 40+ evocative Chamberlin tape banks (the instrument that 'inspired' the Mellotron) for GForce's wonderful M-Tron plugin.
Expansions are usually just compatible with one particular plugin, so do check carefully to ensure compatibility, or indeed make sure you pick up the main instrument as well if a particular expansion takes your fancy.
Audio editors are pieces of software for more forensic editing and treatment of sound. While they are similar to DAWs in some regards, audio editors are not commonly designed around multi-track layering. Some audio editors are not capable of loading more than one sound at once.
The upside is a more detailed focus on one particular sound, either for mastering (polishing audio to make it ready for release) or audio clean-up (fixing issues that would otherwise spoil recordings). Your cleaned-up sounds may well find their way into a DAW afterwards, but an audio editor is a useful sidekick to have, because despite our best efforts, sometimes we don't capture perfect recordings on the day.
One key feature in audio editors is the ability to make destructive edits; that is committing an effect and 'baking it in' so that you can save an altered version of the audio ready for use elsewhere.
Another key feature in several audio editors is the capability for spectral editing. This is where you can see the sound spectrum visually represented on the screen, and where you can highlight and remove parts of the audio, while leaving the rest completely untouched. This, for example, would allow you to remove the sound of a chair squeaking from a seated interview, while leaving the speech exactly as it was; something very difficult to do with 'traditional' tools such as EQs.
Lastly, a prized feature of audio editors is denoising - the ability to remove background sound, tape hiss, air conditioners, vinyl crackle and other constant audio from a recording. By training an audio editor on a moment of audio containing only the unwanted noise, you can then subtract that sound from the bits you want, cleaning up the sound and potentially saving a recording.
For an incredible-value package of all-round forensic audio clean-up tools - check out Acon Acoustica, which features spectral editing as well as great denoising, declipping, and de-reverb and other useful tools. It's an essential option for recovering those inevitable noisy recordings!
Decades ago, DJs worked exclusively with vinyl records. But with the onset of powerful laptops, DJing is now possible with just a computer and DJ controller.
Specialist DJ software adds special capabilities such as handy beat sync that helps align records automatically, as well as additional decks and effects so DJs can focus on curation and pushing the boundaries of what DJing can mean.
DJ software of course can be combined with physical MIDI controllers for a more hands-on approach, or with digital vinyl systems for companies such as Serato, allowing for special records (which contain timecode) that let you pull from an almost limitless digital 'record bag' but retaining all the physicality of vinyl DJing - or any combination thereof.
You may note with curiosity that two DAWs are listed in our DJ categories. This isn't an error but due to the fact that Ableton Live and Bitwig specifically have the ability to act as DJ software - allowing you to blend many, many tracks, in perfect sync.
These also allow for elements of music production to hybridise with DJing, for example augmenting tracks with drum loops and effects, and allowing otherwise 'undanceable' records to become part of a club set. If you love to play music, DJ software can really help your creativity run wild.
Sample Packs are collections of short recordings which can be dropped into any software or device that can take samples, and freely used as part of the music making process, without fear of violating copyright. Like expansions, sample packs are your key to new sounds.
Sample packs may be grouped into kits, based around a musical genre that the sounds might suit. They may also be based on classic drum machines, keyboard instruments, or just interesting sound effects and elements, which can form part of the 'tapestry' of your music. Since sounds can be layered, stretched, reversed, and further effected in a DAW, sample packs can be a powerful asset for writing music or enriching your arrangement, such as by layering samples to fatten up drum tracks, and so forth.
These sounds are generally always available in high-quality WAV format (44kHz/16-bit and higher), which is an uncompromised sound format that is universally compatible in software (and usable in many hardware devices too!). Sometimes you'll discover the same sample packs include pre-prepared kits for certain popular sampler instruments, such as Native Instruments Kontakt or Battery, making them ready to use 'out of the box' if you use those plugins.
Either way they are a powerful asset for making music and can be a great source of inspiration for taking your music in unexpected new directions.