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DAW plugins explained: What are plugins? What is AU, VST, AAX?

DAW plugins explained: What are plugins? What is AU, VST, AAX?
Written by: Dexxter Clark
In this blog post I’ll take a look at plugins for the beginning music producer.
It can be overwhelming for a beginner music producer. Because there are a lot of plugins (and types of plugins) out there.
What do you need to know? What are the standards?
Coming up.

Plugins are software elements to extend the functionality of a program.
In this case the software for music production: a DAW.

Types of plugins

There are different types of plugins:
  • instrument plugins - make sound. made a video about the basics
  • effect plugins - effects like EQ or compressor
  • midi manipulation plugins - chord tools, note repeater, arpegiator

Plugin standards

The most common plugins standards are:
  • VST - Virtual Studio Technology: most famous. VST version 2 and version 3 windows + mac
  • AU - Audio Units: Mac only
  • AAX - for Pro Tools windows + mac
It depends on DAW wich plugins are supported.
Pro tools only supports AAX plugins.
Ableton and Studio One support only VST and AU
Logic doesn’t support VST and AAX, only their own AU standard.

VST misconception

A lot of music producers are talking about VSTs.
What they actually mean by VST is: plugins.
A lot of music producers are not tech savvy and just blabbing around some terms they heard somewhere.
VST is merely a standard.
You are educated now :)

More plugins = better producer

A lot of beginner music producers think that buying new plugins will make them better producers.
That is not the case.
If your music doesn’t sound good. It’s because your skills are not good enough, you don’t need to buy a new plugin.
Just make sure that your skills are top notch, then you can look for plugins.
A good producer can make good music with mediocre plugins, a mediocre music producer makes mediocre music with the best plugins.

Stock plugins

A DAW nowadays come equipped with stock plugins.
Those plugins will do just fine for the basic tasks.
But you can purchase plugins to get different sounds for example.

Kinds of plugins

What plugins are there?
  • Instrument plugins: You can think of a Sampler, a Piano or a synthesizer.
  • EQ plugins: The equalizer shapes the sound by reducing or boosting frequencies. A particular sound too harsh? Lower the frequencies a 4000 hz a couple of Db and it sounds much better.
  • Analyser: analyses the loudness of all the frequencies. An Analyzer can be separate but are mostly build into a Equaliser
  • Limiter: reduces the volume of the sound when it exceeds a certain threshold.
  • Compressor: reduces the volume of the sound when it exceeds a certain threshold.
  • De-esser: specifically targets the S and T sounds that sound harsh.
  • gate: allow or disallows a sound to pass through when certain sound volume conditions are met
  • Saturation: distort the sound, so it sounds badass.
But there a lot more plugins out there.

If you are serious about music production and want to take it to the next level,
download my free music production e-book.
Besides information about music production basics and computers for music production, the book gives also a unique perspective on the world of DJs and music producers.

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photo author dexxter clark
Dexxter Clark
Music Producer / YouTuber

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