We break down some of the most cost-effective ways to improve your creative process, from optimising your monitoring system to adding affordable new tools to your setup.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend a lot of money to make good music. The truth, as Thomas Cox explained in his recent Attack column, is that expensive gear doesn’t matter so much as good ideas and creativity. It’s tempting to think that spending thousands on new synths and drum machines will automatically make your music better – or that you just can’t make good music until you buy that fancy new piece of hardware – but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Nevertheless, sometimes you do need a little something to revitalise your creativity, force you down a new direction or just improve your ability to get the most out of what you already have. The great news is that there are plenty of cheap ways to do exactly that. Improving your workflow on a budget could be as simple as downloading a free piece of software, improving your studio setup or simply rethinking part of your approach. They’re not always the most glamorous options, but glamour alone never produced a great track. Join us as we run through some of the most affordable ways to revitalise and refine your creative process…
Where better to start than with the cheapest option of all? The old adage may tell us that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but the sole exception to that rule might be in the digital world. The plugin landscape is wide and varied, with much publicity given to the latest and greatest instruments and effects from the big players. Often – but not always – commercial software companies can afford to employ the best designers to create the nicest-looking interfaces, or hook up with hardware manufacturers to deliver an ‘authorised’ emulation. However, there are also some fantastic cheap (or entirely free) options. Here are some of our favourites:
Togu Audio Line (TAL) is now best known for its excellent Roland Juno-60 and SH-101 emulations, but the company began life making free plugins. The pick of the bunch are the U-NO-62 synth and TAL-CHORUS-LX effect. U-NO-62 isn’t quite as realistic as the paid emulation, but it’s still a great synth in its own right. TAL-CHORUS-LX is exactly the same as the excellent chorus in U-NO-LX. They’re must-haves for anyone into classic analogue sounds, and available for both Mac and PC.
Melda Production’s MFreeEffectsBundle is a huge package of tools and utilities in Windows and Mac VST and AU formats. The range of filters, modulation effects and dynamics tools on offer is fairly straightforward, but these effects offer a useful addition to the standard plugins found in your DAW. For PC users, the Variety Of Sound collection offers a similar collection of EQs, reverbs, tape emulation and more.
E-Phonic’s Drumatic 4 is a very affordable drum synthesis tool for Mac and PC, but if your budget’s even more limited (and you’re on a PC) then version 3 is the way to go – it’s still available as donationware.
There are now hundreds of free instruments, effects and sample packs on the market, but there’s one important thing to remember: not all of them are any good! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more plugins in your menu must be better. Remember that sometimes too much choice can be just as bad as not enough.