Producing a song with free plugins only

It’s been a while that I’m thinking about producing an entire song with just free plugins. I’m not talking about mixing and mastering only, I mean also songwriting: vst instruments, guitar and bass amp simulators, drum samples. I already did an entire mix using just free plugins, you can achieve very good results, free plugs are becoming better and better every day. Free VST instruments are improving too, but the quality is growing slower than other plugins.

Can you really produce a good quality song using just free stuff?

Of course you can, but I mean: can the outcome be “commercially acceptable“? This is something I was asking myself and finally I discovered that it’s actually possible.

Before going any further I need to point something out: to produce my song I used my laptop, my portable audio interface (a Line6 POD GX), my desktop workstation for mixing and mastering. Everything has been done with Reaper. Now, this reveals the evidence: none of this things came for free. In fact, in this case, I mean “producing song using just free stuff” provided you already have all the hardware to record your tracks and of course a DAW license. There are a lot of free ones out there but I used Reaper, which is not free but it’s very reasonably priced if you’re thinking about purchasing a license.

Let’s go straight to the point and have a listen to the song I produced, it’s a heavy metal instrumental song, lots of orchestrations and some synths/sound FX here and there. I recorded all guitars (I’m not a guitar player so you have to forgive me in advance!) and bass, everything else is free samples and virtual instruments.

It sounds pretty good to me, of course I like it (’cause I wrote it…) but I think it’s also very good from a production point of view, especially if you think that I used just free plugins and free VST instruments. This post could become a very long one, I don’t want to bore you so I’ll just list below all instruments inside this song, in future posts I’ll explain in details how I used them.

  • Drums: I used midi loops (customized here and there to song needs) from MT PowerDrumKit 2. The whole midi part has been then converted to Strike Sound Home Kit drum map, which is the durm sample library I used for the final mix. Strike Sound Home Kit is available in SFZ format, which I loaded in Sforzando (also free).
  • My Jackson C5MJ bass and my cheap SG guitar
    My Jackson C5MJ bass and my cheap SG guitar

    Guitars: I recorded everything with my cheap SG style guitar, B drop tuning. On intro and solo I used LePou Hybrit as amp head. Rhythm guitars are processed with TSE 808 pedal and Lepou Legion amp. All Guitars went through NadIr loader by Ignite Amps for cabinet simulation, I used free 1960 Rew Wire BIGBox IRs.

  • Bass: I recorded bass track with my trusty 2001 Jackson C5MJ. Effect chain is: TSE B.O.D. pedal, Ignite Amps SHB-1 amp head, “Le Chatelet” IRs. I duplicated the raw DI track and processed it also with Audio Assault Bass Grinder Free to give more bite and texture to the master bass track, layering the two tracks as needed.
  • Orchestration: lots of different instruments used for the main orchestral part, the most used library is Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra in SFZ format. I think that you can’t find anything better for free at the moment, it sounds very good, anyway if you know of any orchestral library which you think sound better than this PLEASE contact me! It would be awesome. To summarize: Violins, Violas and Horns are from Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra and I loaded all respective SFZ files in Zampler, another free sampler similar to Sforzando. Other layers for strings are kbh-strings in SF2 format loaded with DSK sf2 v2 and DSK Virtuoso. On the intro Piano part I used Versilian Studios Upright No. 1. DSK ChoirZ on choirs (you don’t say…) and last but not least Church Organ 2nd.
  • Synths and FX: Crystal synth by Green Oak and Helm synth by Matthew Tytel were used mostly on the intro part. There’s also a sample from 99sounds Rumore Cinematic Impacts libray, outstanding sounds for free in my opinion.

Everything was mixed and mastered in Reaper with free and stock plugins, but I will talk about this during the next posts. Let me know what you think about my song!

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