By Justin Sanders
It’s official – computers have thoroughly democratized the act of making music. All you need to lay down some sweet melodies anymore is a laptop and a “digital audio workstation” (DAW) – also known as recording software.
What’s more, many of these DAWs, such as Pro Tools, are free to download and install. Some even come pre-installed – like Apple’s GarageBand. Even these beginner-level DAWs can be used to record high-quality music, providing all the virtual instruments and mixing components a newbie needs to be off and running. Heck, these days you can make music with nothing but your phone.
Of course, just because it’s easier than ever to start making music doesn’t mean it’s any easier to make good music. As ace film composer Jeff Morrow recently told CreativeFuture, “I don’t think it is necessary to be a good instrumentalist [to make music], but you still need to put in 10,000 hours on something to master the craft.”
So, the good news is, there is no longer any barrier to making music. The bad news is, you’re still going to have to work at it long and hard before you’re any good at it. Once you do that, and you have mastered the basics of your new hobby, you might be ready to start dabbling in some sweet music plug-ins.
WHAT ARE MUSIC PLUGINS?
Music plugins are “little extensions for audio software,” says Paul Dateh, Director of Content and Artist Relations for Polyverse Music, that “enhance the way you make music.” That means if you’ve been dropping some beats in Pro Tools, but finding the program’s available features just aren’t quite nailing the sound you’re looking for, you can slap a third-party plugin on there and take your audio possibilities to a whole new level.
Perhaps the world’s most famous plug-in is Antares Audio Technologies’ Auto-Tune – the “tool of choice,” reads the company’s website, “for the most iconic vocal effect in popular music.” Auto-Tune has several uses – including tweaking vocals to be more in tune – but its signature feature adds a glitching warble that, when in the right hands, can turn a singer’s voice into an eerily beautiful dispatch from some glimmering robot fantasia.
Polyverse is committed to helping artists expand their horizons in a similar fashion, and does so by actually partnering with seasoned musicians for each new plug-in that they make – customizing the look and feel of the offering to the specific whims of a representative artist who would actually use it. The company’s first, and still most popular plug-in, Manipulator, was created in collaboration with Infected Mushroom, an Israeli electronic duo known for their hypnotic, pulse-pounding dance grooves and beguiling vocal synthetics. Merging Infected Mushroom’s artistic feedback with Polyverse’s technical prowess resulted in a processor whose fascinating vocal transgressions are as fun to tinker with as they are to listen to.
“It’s a very intimate relationship between our development team and Infected Mushroom,” Dateh said, and the duo’s influence on products can be “as detail oriented as, ‘I wish this button were here,’ or, ‘I wish this slider were a different color.’”
But Polyverse’s partnerships with known musical acts have more benefits than simply producing incredibly intuitive plug-ins. They also connect Polyverse with each artist’s individual music community. This networking effect expands awareness of the company and the product at hand, of course, but it also makes the artist’s community feel invested in the product’s success – by way of their association with its primary creative advocate. It’s all part of what Dateh calls “lifestyle branding, making people feel like they own a part of it, like they have a personal stake.” Nurturing such loyalty doesn’t just drive sales, it helps prevent theft.
Just like in other creative fields, the fledgling music plug-in industry is not immune to piracy. It manufactures software, after all, and software is as vulnerable to illegal downloading as any film, television show, or music file. In 2016, none other than Kanye West was outed for pirating a popular plug-in called Serum. At that time, Serum cost $200 to purchase, an amount that West probably spends on breakfast without blinking an eye. It also highlighted a troubling issue: if someone of West’s financial stature was refusing to pay for plug-ins, how many other, significantly less wealthy people were doing the same thing?
Dateh doesn’t know the numbers, and they’re not readily available online, but he says, “as an industry, we’re all keeping tabs on it. From what I hear from other colleagues, they have all the data – they are tracking the piracy. No one’s going after anybody yet but I can say, if you download a plugin, they know about it. We all have ways of seeing when someone illegally downloads our product.”
Rather than punish thieves, however, Dateh is more interested in “Providing a service that is so valuable to you, you will hopefully come around and contribute to our future. If you create a passionate community, they’re going to want to support you as much as you want to support them.”
Overall, Dateh isn’t worried about piracy so much as he is excited for the future of his industry.
“I feel like there is a lot more room to grow for all of us plug-in makers,” he says. “We’re all waiting for music to cross a threshold where we transition into the next phase of computing and we go away from these traditional form factors. Whether that means more mobile or even VR, or what, music creation is going to change in the next five to ten years, maybe sooner. I don’t know what that’s going to mean, but I hope we get to be a part of it.”