You probably can’t beat dubbing with a multi-track from a live band, reel-to-reel studio and assortment of hardware such as delay machine, dub siren and phasing pedal; then again not all of us have the time and resources for such things. As an amateur dubber in the modern world, many of us turn instead to the computer and the DAW.
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation – FLstudio, Reason, Cubase, Acidpro etc) uses plug-in programs called VSTs (don’t worry, no trip to the sex clinic needed, it means Virtual Studio Technology) to emulate everything from instruments to compressors to effects pedals. But if you don’t have the resources to buy the hardware equipment, who says you have the resources to splash out $500 (£320 in real money) on a Native instruments VSTs bundle?
Luckily for us botch-jobbers there are also many enthusiasts out there with some programming ability and an altruistic bent, who make freeware VSTs. For others, they give away their minor or lesser-abled VSTs in the hope of attracting customers to buy their superior VSTs. Whatever the distribution reasons, you can produce top-quality music via the DAW without having to dole out a penny.
I’ll run you through some of my favourite freeware VSTs that I use in the process of making reggae/dub, in no particular order. If you have any that you particularly enjoy using please share them below in the comments section!
The first of a few Interruptor VSTs I’m going to introduce, the Wow and Flutter module is designed to give any track you lay it on a tape-style sound.
There are two ways in which it can be used: the first is subtly, to create a richer track, with slight organic variations in tone. To achieve this, you want your coarse levels down to zero, your fine levels probably low or at zero as well, and your wow, mid and flutter not up too high either. Press dual mode and set your 2nd wows, mids and flutters at a different level. Now your track will vary ever so delicately in speed and tone, as when played on a tape. With the dual mode, you will also notice a stereo-ising effect, all of which lends depth to your track. Decide if you want the flange effect. This will unify your left and right outputs a bit, and leave your track with a thicker sound. Drop it on electronically composed melodies/drum tracks to avoid the ear-fatigue that can be produced by repetitive, identical noises. I find it also works beautifully on, for example, recorded melodica to give that old-school track-from-the-past-vibe.
The second thing you can do with the Wow n Flutter is to wang the controls about madly to create some crazy squelches and rewinds. If that’s your dubbing style. Have a fiddle with it.
PS, the test tone I haven’t found a use for… perhaps if you want to test your effect on a single tone before unleashing it on the track… anyway, a top notch VST for your collection.
In place of (or in conjunction with) tape modelling we can do a bit of vinyl modelling. There are several vinyl emulators out there, but this is my favourite free one. Again I tend to use this one subtly, taking down the the dust count and dust level to zero, distortion between 0 and 2 and gain between 0 and -2. Then I select between 70s and 80s modelling – depending on whether I’m making an old-school organic sound or sleng teng digi-dub. Drop it on the end of your master, or simply over one track such as your bass to create a woolly, warm reggae sound.
Also good for adding, a dusty old sound to your track. Turn up the dust knobs I told you to turn down in the first paragraph. Automate variations for a more authentic feel. The clever among us will automate a recurring dust peak using the top three knobs every 1.33 seconds (45rpm), or every 1.79 seconds (33.5 rpm). That should fool ’em!
This is not necessarily the best free guitar amp emulator out there, although it can produce some good ol’ guitar sounds if you mess around with it. But no. I like this VST for one reason and one reason only – the bass cab. Dropped on, for example, the (by itself) naff-sounding Boo Bass in FLstudio it gives you a pretty decent organic sounding bass. Decide on the cab size and set levels like a normal bass amp. There’s also a guitar cab, reverb, fuzz, compressor and even a tuner that you can look at utilising if the bass amp isn’t enough for ya. That’s all I’ve got to say on it really, muck about with it for your own delight.
Another Interruptor vst. This one is simple as three turny buttons and three more turny sound settings. Gives a genuine mono old school tape-style delay to whatever on earth you want to add delay to. Twiddle those knobs for squelches, crescendos and fade-outs. Robert is your mother’s brother.
I like this free little amp for my guitar tracks. Flick the switch from dirty to clean and the vst lives up to its name – sun-shining reggae skank sounds. Drop it over sampled skanks, fake guitar VSTs (such as Spicy Guitar ) or home-recorded guitar to give an old style, warm amplification to your rhythm guitar.
The first instrument vst I’m going to present to you, the excellent Aerophone does what most horn modellers cannot – sounds like a real damn trombone/trumpet etc. At least on some settings. Seriously, after using this I’ve had people asking me where I sampled the horn section from. Xoxos is a pretty excellent freeware vst producer, which is why the above link sends you to his entire page of vsts – whatever type of music you produce there are a number of interesting vsts on there for you.
Anyway, listen to this ska tune I did a while ago. Everything else sounds gashly false, but those horns sound genuine, right?
The one thing us freeware hangers-on do have to suffer from though is the occasional glitch. The Aerophone is RAM hungry I guess, and if you open up two or three together you’re going to crash and possibly permanently corrupt your music file. Least I have that problem in FLstudio. There are ways around this though. Lay down one horn track dry in a separate copy of your music file, render that track to a wave file, then repeat with another Aerophone setting until you have an entire horn section made up in its separate parts in wavs. Then add whatever effects/reverb etc you want over the wavs. When you’re done delete any copy of the Aerophone you may have in your original DAW file to conserve RAM. Again, Robbie will certainly be your parental sibling.
(Any VST that you’re having problems running a version, or multiple versions of, that is your solution right there. If necessary, render a wav of your tune-so-far and open up a new DAW file that runs just your wav and the VST. Render the VST melody to wav and then return to your original project with your wav in hand. Create each loop one at a time utilising the least RAM that you can. This is the modern version of “bouncing down” to find more tape space.)
Let’s dive right in with another instrument now that I’ve started. There are a few decent organs out there, but this one gives a nice range of genuine Hammond sounds. as you can see there’s a nice emulation of manual levers, that you can pull down or stick right up to create more choral, or singular tonal sounds, along with a decent array of buttons, including vibrato, bass and treble rotors, and everything else you could want to create a rich, textured Hammond organ sound.
The only down side to this one is it’s extended nag-screen, which spends a lot of time covering up the controls. Nevertheless, it has a fair range of presets, meaning that you can get a good sound without ever touching the settings manually, and in the moments you do get to twiddle the dials you can then ‘save preset as’ adding your twiddlings to the presets and away from that meany nag screen.
Or you could, you know, pay for the thing. It’s up to you.
Okay, back to Interruptor. It had to happen. If you haven’t already been to his page and downloaded everything on offer, then I recommend returning for this one at least. Well, it’s tough, because there are a bunch of delay VSTs on there and the one I use most is probably Bionic Delay, which I’m not even going to feature here for the sake of not repeating myself. Instead let’s look at Echomania. I don’t even know what half of these buttons and numbers mean on this VST, and I never stopped to work it out. What I do know is that if you flick those switches and spin those dials mid-echo you can produce some super dubby echoey bloopy or winding sounds. Which is just blooming brilliant for those far-out dubs which you are now going to proceed to make. This one’s a rich stereo delay with so many variables you might wet yourself.
Of course, the idea of this post is to present the financially-challenged a playing field upon which to create music that they may not have been able to have without the help of freeware/donationware. If you do have the available poundage, I would encourage you to make a donation to the VST developers who ask for it. These guys have given their time and expertise to us all, and it’s a good feeling to pay it back when you can.
Until next time, happy dubbing!