Does the world really need any more virtual instruments or effects?

… or do I really need any more?

So my arsenal for music production comprises

  1. NI Komplete 6 (Reaktor, Kontakt, FM8, Massive, Guitar Rig, Absynth, Battery)
  2. Ableton Live Suite (Sampler, Tension, Operator, Electric, Collision, Analog)
  3. Older NI synths (Pro-53, B4)
  4. UAD-1 plugins
  5. Xils (VCS3 emulation)
  6. Xoxos drum synth suite
  7. TRackS mastering plugs
  8. Most of the AudioDamage plugins
  9. AAS Ultra Analog
  10. Image-Line Harmless
  11. A few other free or cheap things
  12. Ableton Live 8 Suite Built-in effects

I’m not rich — a lot of these pieces of software were Not For Resale review copies, or Audiomidi ‘No Brainer’ Deals, or (in the case of the UAD-1) insane blow-out deals. Others are incremental purchases, like the Audiodamage stuff.

I actually have licenses software I don’t actually have loaded on my computer right now.  When I got to add a compressor to a track I don’t even know how many choices I have — I have 4 I use regularly — UAD-1 1176LN-SE, UAD-1 LA2A, AudioDamage Rough Rider, and the built in Ableton compressor.  If I want an analog synth sound I have 8 or 10 choices, and that’s before I go to my outboard real analog synths.

I follow the usual suspects (KVR et al) for news on new virtual synths and effects, and only rarely do I ever see anything I’m moved to investigate — even if it’s free! And I haven’t even begun to mention sample sets, and doing my own sampling, live guitar playing, location recording, and screwing around in Sound Forge doing sound design.

Which raises a couple of questions:  Given the glut of different software synths & effects available, does anyone really need to make more?  When was the last time someone came up with something that pegged the ‘Oh Wow’ meter?  Honestly, there seems to be a lack of imagination amongst the people writing audio software.  There just haven’t been very many things introduced in the last 20 years that are great leaps forward.  We’re still living in a world based around analog and analog-esque synths, digital FM, samplers, delays, flangers, compressors, reverbs, and distortion devices.  And most of the people involved in electronic music production barely make good use of those.  In fact, most of them use all those tools, and all the computing power that was unimaginable 20 years ago, to make complete shit.

And a lot of electronic producers spend big bucks essentially recreating Herbie Hancock’s studio circa 1975, only with a computer instead of multitrack analog tape.

Which leads me to an inescapable conclusion — I can’t keep up, and it’s a distraction to even try.  I have enough stuff at my disposal to make it ridiculous to ever want more, and to the extent I am an actual musician/producer, every second I waste dinking around on the tools as opposed to actually making tracks is a waste of time.  Basta!

Not that I’ll actually follow that advice. I’m already excited to see what happens next week at Winter NAMM!!!

3 Replies to “Does the world really need any more virtual instruments or effects?”

  1. I think now that powerful laptops are not only available but nearly ubiquitous (unless you have something like a netbook), there’s not a lot more that can be done in the algorithm department as far as optimization goes. As far as emulation of physical processes, at least in the realm of analog synthesis/tube emulation/whatever else, I feel like software has kind of reached a peak. Personally I feel like we’re as close as we’re going to get, and if you just have to have the real thing, you just have to spend the real money. If you want something that sounds pretty damn good but is not the real thing, there’s some software out there for you. There’s always some optimization that can be done in regards to interfaces, as all the synths I use on a regular basis have gads of options that can be something of a chore to navigate.

    I’ve been thinking the past few days that the next hurdle for computer music software and hardware isn’t simply a software problem, but is rather a step toward a better integration of software and hardware. Stuff like Automap goes a long way to making synthesizers more usable and fun for me to use, and the Launchpad (or APC40 or Monome or whatever grid-based controller you want to use) does a good job of giving you real-time feedback for things happening on the software side as well. I say that this is a hurdle only because those sorts of grid-based devices have levels of support that ranges from “excellent” to “you better know how to write software.” (okay that’s a bit of hyperbole but you understand what I mean I’m sure). In any event, I think grid-based controllers go a long way in helping people model other kinds of physical processes (like sequencing) that can’t be as easily modeled with key- or pad-based controllers. The further you get me away from my mouse the better, and those are the things I’m watching out for, not just the next ‘best’ plugin.

  2. Truth is, I have dozens of quality instruments and effects that I never really use. Having so many tools can be a proper distraction… The more instruments I have the more I find myself using just a few (mostly NI stuff like Reaktor and Kore).

    That said, some things still manage to excite me; u-he’s ACE for instance. And although I will probably barely use it (and I was convinced of this at the time of purchase) I still bought Harmless for $9.

    I guess there will always be room for something shiny and new, even if I don’t need it…

    1. I really like Harmless actually — the ‘leaky’ filter types are unique and musically useful. There’s something really appealing about the sounds, and I like tuning the timbre with the sliders at the top. And there are some very inspiring presets.

      Most of all it seems like it has a unique, usable sound, based on its unique internal architecture.

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