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Key Takeaways

  • Vital Basic and Spitfire Audio LABS offer free options for creating various sounds easily.
  • The TDR Nova Equalizer and Rough Rider 3 Compression plugins assist in sound design, frequency control, and balancing audio levels.
  • Delve into Supermassive Reverb, Kilohearts Delay, and automation to enhance your music production with spatial effects and precise control.

Whether you want to dabble in some light music production or just want a peek under the hood, we’ll introduce you to some of the core tools of audio production and editing to help you get started.

In most songs and tracks, production follows the composition and arrangement stages of music production. This is where sounds are literally generated. Let’s start with some sound producing tools (that work in any DAW) that can enrich your music-making experiments.

Vital Basic synth plugin

Vital Basic is a great free synthesizer with a modern design that does a great job of showing you what’s going on. Look into what sound synthesis is if you’re interested in learning more about synthesizers.

If you’d like to explore its variety of sounds quickly without tutorials, stick with the multitude of presets on offer. The typing keyboard available on your DAW can let you compose weird and wonderful synth sounds of all kinds.

Spitfire Audio LABS player showing electric and bass guitars

LABS is an incredible sample library boasting a simple interface and a multitude of virtual instruments. Load up one of its instruments, and you can play it however you want on your keyboard.

From strings to percussion, to frozen tones and trumpet fields, there are lots of free sounds to try out and generate. If orchestra sounds are your thing, check out the best orchestral sample libraries.

Now, let’s get into the mixing side of music production…

TDR Nova Dynamic EQ using various filter types and the threshold function

EQs are just like volume knobs or faders. The difference is they raise or lower the volume for a specific range of frequencies instead of the whole sound. They also let you decide how small or large a range of frequencies you want to boost or cut.

EQs are principally used for three purposes: sound design (creating a cool sound effect); removing problematic frequencies; and adding frequencies you like. With a built-in spectrum analyzer, TDR Nova is a good beginner-friendly EQ plugin that can help you come to grips with how to use EQs

Roughrider compressor plugin

Without compression, you may find some words of a vocal, for example, are a little too quiet to hear; maybe others are a little too loud. When you add compression, you will get a more even-sounding audio, and you should hear it all at a consistent level.

Rough Rider 3 is a great free and easy-to-use option for trying compression. If you’re unsure what the knobs and dials do, look into how to use compression.

Ambience preset in the Valhalla Supermassive plugin

When you speak or make music in a room, sound waves will bounce around from the sound generator. The sound of these reflections or reverberations is termed reverb.

Reverb plugins like Supermassive can help you simulate the room sound of huge cathedral-like spaces, whereas no reverb on audio sounds very unnatural. Plus, Supermassive has a very simplified user interface, so you won’t be overwhelmed when using it for the first time. For both small and large reverb imitations, you can also try out Tal Reverb 4 for free.

Stereo Delay plugin in Logic Pro X

Delay plugins allow you to make repetitions of an audio signal at varying speeds. They can help you generate a larger sense of space, or expand on cool musical ideas.

Kilohearts Delay has a simple layout and doesn’t bombard you with knobs and dials, making it very beginner-friendly. Even stock DAW delay plugins are a great way to try your hand at delaying parts of your audio.

7 Automation

Region and Track Automation in Logic Pro

What happens if you only want to apply delay on a certain note or word? While you can make multiple tracks—one affected by delay, and the other unaffected—another solution is to automate your delay plugin. What this means is that you can enable and disable your delay plugin, for example, so it works in a precise manner.

Automation can be used on all audio-editing tools as well as volume faders and panning dials. Look into how to use automation for more information on this area.

8 Volume Faders and Panning Dials

Mixing window in Logic Pro

While volume faders and panning dials are less glamorous compared to the array of plugins and effects you may have, they are one of, if not the most important tools in your arsenal. One of the reasons why is that the difference between a clean mix (where you can clearly hear the diverse musical elements) and an unclear mix has mostly to do with the balance of volume levels.

In a way, a multipart mix is like having a 3D jigsaw puzzle with multiple pieces. At first, you may have many pieces stacked on top of each other and overlapping. Loud parts come to the front, quiet parts are further back, and panning gives you a horizontal axis (left and right) to work with.

Overlapping volumes and frequencies can cause clashing; here you can try your hand at better placement, or EQ and compression to slim down the size of your jigsaw pieces. Add in some reverb for a sense of space and other creative effects, and you’re well on your way along the music production path.

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