Andrew Milner
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VSTs: what are they and how do they work?

May 05, 2021

I talk a lot about VSTs and how I use them. But I think it’s time we figured out exactly what these bad boys are and how they function. And of course, a bird’s eye view on how you can use them to create a song.

So, VST is an acronym for Virtual Studio Technology. What that means is that you can use musical instruments and effects that would normally be produced by a physical device even if you don’t have that device handy. In short, you can have guitars, basses, drums, reverbs, pianos, etc. in your songs, even if you don’t own guitars, basses, drums, reverbs, pianos, etc.

You have two main VST types that you can use: effects and instruments. The effects VSTs do not produce any sound, but rather, they alter the sound of a physical instrument which you used to record a part of the song. Some examples include effects such as delay, reverb, chorus, but also amp heads and cabinets which you can use to create overdriven and distorted guitars directly on your computer.

VST instruments on the other hand can be used to create songs using something known as MIDI. MIDI tracks can be either created using songwriting software like Guitar ProTux GuitarMuseScore, etc, or by writing directly in your DAW (digital audio workstation, which is a program you use to actually record your song, like ReaperAbleton LivePro Tools, etc.).

So, what is MIDI you ask? Well, if you’ve ever played the old Doom games from the 90s, then the music you hear in those games is produced using MIDI tracks. MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is a way to represent music in the most abstract kind of way.

What I mean by that is that a MIDI file doesn’t contain music. Rather, it contains musical information, which is then interpreted by whatever program you’re using to play it back.

The musical information contained in such files refers to the note that is to be played, the speed at which it needs to be played, the instrument that is to be used when played back (which becomes a bit irrelevant in DAWs since you can use whatever instrument you desire). You also have information pertaining to the length of the note, meaning how long the note is supposed to last.

So, what VST instruments are out there? Well, a lot of them. Both free and premium. For free ones, the best I can recommend are Ample Guitar M II Lite and Ample Bass P Lite for acoustic guitars and bass guitars. You also have MT Power Drum Kit for drums, Keyzone Classic for pianos, Sonatina Orchestra for any and all orchestral songs you might like. I have actually used all of these in some previous releases and still use some of them to this day.

Of course, once you have your MIDI tracks, you can use effects on them as well. but that’s another discussion for another day.

If I have your curiosity and you want to learn more about this, I actually put out an entire book on the matter, where we learn to create a song using only our computer. More details can be found here.

Anyhow, that’s all I got for you today. I hope you enjoyed it.

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