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9 free plug-ins to get your production popping in self-isolation

These free VST plug-ins are perfect for bedroom producers

  • Louis Anderson-Rich
  • 24 March 2020

We are part of an industry that relies heavily on mass gatherings so self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine and lockdown sucks for many reasons. But if I may, amid the breaking news banners and very-real threat our scene may never look quite the same, offer a silver-lining: people just got a lot more time to make music. So whether you've finally got a clear schedule to begin learning how to produce, or you're a seasoned pro without the often eye-watering sums to purchase any of the hardware, here's nine free plug-ins, with Windows & Mac capability and varying shades of simplicity and complexity, to throw yourself into.

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PG 8X

The PG-8X is inspired by Roland's JX-8P, an analog polysynth that delivered some of the 80s' most iconic sounds but was notoriously difficult to programme. Thankfully PG-8X's interface has been based on the PG-800, a super easy to use and experiment with controller for a number of Roland synths. But not only is this VST great entirely in the box, it's patch-compatible with the hardware meaning you can use original JX-8P SysEx files, most of which are out there on the internet.

Download it here

VK-1 Viking monophonic synth

A Minimoog Voyager but for free? Yeah, thought that would get your attention. That's essentially what the VK-1 Viking Synthesizer is touting, and it does a commendable job. Consisting of three variable wave oscillators with a number of features like oscillator sync, frequency modulation, noise generation and two ladder filters making up the meat of the synth, there's plenty of room for experimentation and the ability to design some great sounds. But if you're lazy like me, the VK-1 has 228 presets to dive into which are simple to tweak to your needs.

Download it here

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Tal-Chorus-LX

Ever since Larry Heard laid his hands on a Roland Juno-60 and tapped out the bassline to 'Can You Feel It', the synthesizer has been a staple in house music circles. But the sound that elevated that sound to iconic was Heard's use of the in-built chorus. Ever since, people have been in awe of the vintage effect, which adds a signature richness to a titan of the analogue world. There have been many imitations (including a dedicated pedal) but as far as free software goes, the Tal-Chorus-LX does the original sound as much justice as any paid for plug-in. Easy to use to boot.

Download it here

Blue Cat Flanger

Firstly all of Blue Cat's stuff is great on the free VST circuit. But seeing as we've already covered a chorus plug-in with the TAL-Chorus-LX, we plumped for Blue Cat's flanger, an excellent program touting 70s and 80s style flange that really works perfectly for dance music today. Yes, the interface is simple but that doesn't mean you can't get a range of subtle effects to alien-esque vocal transformations and he dedicated spread-slider is a nice touch to utilise the stereo field. Seriously just whack this thing on a break or some hi hats and you're golden.

Download it here

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Legowelt Smackos Tape Station

Remember lo-fi house? Yeah, well the scene that exploded like a supernova in the mid-10s essentially owes its life to the man, the myth, the legend that is Legowelt. The Dutch outsider makes kicks crunch and hats sizzle with his Tape Station plug-in, a recreation of an Akai GX75D cassette deck, simulating tape speed, tape noise and a dial that just reads hot. Legowelt describes it as an "instant smacked out old school disintegrated tape sound” with “no HIFI professional abbey road boring old shovelware". You won't be disappointed.

Download it here

Voxengo SPAN

Like psytrance raves or the unreleased Bicep meme, Voxengo's SPAN will always be there, standing strong and offering up point-perfect spectrum analysis in the face of an oncoming apocalypse. So it made absolute sense to include it in this list. Obviously not the sexiest of selections in regards to the rest of the picks but when it comes to mixing down it's top of the line. Look, if you want all the super nerdy shit then head here but just know SPAN is the steady hand that will see us through this crisis.

Download it here

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Bob Perry Gate

Mainly known for the snare sound of the 80s, gates are handy for a wide variety of reasons when producing, whether it's getting rid of some unwanted noise in a sample or tightening up the reverb of an instrument. It's all about getting a clean mix. The Bob Perry Gate is one of the most intuitive gates for this with three smooth sounding algorithms available, gain reduction metering and a lush looking interface. Go forth and unleash your best Phil Collins snare!

Download it here

TAL-Reverb-2

Reverb plug ins are essentially chasing one thing: to be the most faithful recreation of a room. But in dance music? That kind of all goes out the window, as reverb gets used much more as a sound design tool. So sometimes, the less faithful the recreation, or no recreation at all, means a more interesting and playful plug in. With that in mind, TAL's Reverb-2 is an easy to use, plug in with plenty of character and the ability to really make your ambient dreams come true.

Download it here

Djinndrum

Honestly, this isn't that great BUT I'm including it here for it's kick drum sample which is just the beefiest damn thing I've heard in a long time. There are many, many LinnDrum sample packs floating around out there and Ableton even has it programmed in as a stock plug in, but the kicks always comes out a bit floppy and thin in the middle. This one on the other hand seems to sit in any mix really, really nice. Sometimes all you need is a kick, man.

Download it here

Louis Anderson-Rich is Mixmag's Digital Producer, follow him Twitter

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