Producers and engineers of all skill levels can get caught up in wanting to purchase the latest game-changing plugin. Unfortunately, many of these new tools have a tendency to break the bank. For the budget-conscious producer, we’ve identified several unorthodox ways that free plugins can add character and life to your tracks. Check out the full list below!
Camel Crusher was once a staple distortion plugin for major EDM acts, primarily to fatten basslines and lead synths. In 2015, Camel Audio was acquired by Apple, discontinuing the line of Camel products. For those who are willing to search, Camel Crusher is still available and can have wondrous effects when its distortion, filtering, and compression capabilities are applied to synth material. Take a listen to the example below – by adjusting the Mech and Tube Distortion settings and automating the filter cutoff, you can easily transform a synth in seconds.
The Tal Chorus LX, a standalone version of the chorus implemented in the larger Juno 60 emulation plugin by TAL, sounds great on just about any source. It shines on pads and synths, creating a gooey width and depth that instantly gives them a lush feel. A more uncommon use is to create width on the top of your 808s. Try creating a send, hi-passing everything up to 130 Hz with an EQ, and then place the Tal Chorus LX after it with the stereo width and the dry/wet knobs at 100%. Be judicious with this one!
OTT, or “Over The Top” Compression, is typically used on instrument sources, such as synths in massive EDM drops, or pianos that need to poke out of the mix. However, when applied subtly at the end of a direct vocal chain, OTT helps a vocal sound more front and center by lifting some high frequencies and boosting the gain a touch. This application can be a game-changer if your vocals are competing for space in the mix, and also works great on vocal chops.
Slicers on Melody Loops
Logic, Ableton, and FL Studio all come with built-in slicers (if you’re in Pro Tools, try Structure Free). These plugins allow you to slice a sample of audio into smaller pieces and trigger them in any sequence you please. If you’re a loop maker, try throwing one of your finished loops into a slicer and messing with the timing and order of your audio sample! Get creative and make a whole new loop. Oftentimes, these textures and flips are great ways to spice up different sections of your song.
Bonus tip: try pitching individual slices up and down, or duplicating certain slices and stretching them out to double their length (the popular “half-time” effect) to layer underneath your new loop.
The Dimension Expander is a standalone plugin based on the “Dimension” feature that comes standard inside Serum by Xfer Records. The plugin has two controls: a dry/wet knob and a size knob. The magic of Dimension Expander is on full display when it’s placed as an insert on an electric guitar track. With the size at 100% and the dry/wet around 33%, the plugin transforms the dry signal into one with a unique depth hard to achieve with other plugins. Hear the difference below:
Dimension Expander Guitar:
If you want more of these tips, be sure to check out this article for creative ways to use other plugins in your collection! Happy producing.
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