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I'm totally new to this whole audio production thing; I've just started playing with Ableton the past few weeks. But I'm wondering, for later on, because I always hear professionals talking about all these "plugins" and "VSTs" that they've downloaded, I'm wondering how important is that?

I mean, Ableton comes with a bunch of built-ins....how much time do people spend finding/buying other sounds and effects as opposed to working with what they already have?

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For migration to SD please Tim –  Rory Alsop Jan 27 at 16:10
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3 Answers

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It really depends on you. If your DAW (Ableton) does everything you want, then you're good to go.

VSTs come in when you want to do more. You may decide the reverb isn't quite what you want, or you'd want a vintage synth, or orchestra, or electric piano sound, or better drums beyond what comes in the package... that's the time to look at VSTs.

That's not nocking the DAW at all, those are usually packaged for general music - so the guy playing jazz is as comfortable as the guy doing dub-step. If they put everything in there, it would be massively expensive and you'd never get around to using a tenth of what you pay for.

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As someone who's somewhat experienced with DAWs, I've found that I usually start by deciding what kind of sound I want, then figuring out how to use the plug-ins I already have to make it happen. If I can't get close enough to what I wanted, then I go plug-in hunting. –  Kevin Nov 19 '13 at 5:09
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Keep in mind that if you collaborate with someone, you will both have the stock plugins for your DAW app. Use of third party plugins might require you to render the effect(s) to an audio file before sharing the project, or the other person who does not have those plugins won't hear what you hear.

As to spending time looking for plugins, some people are always on a quest for a new sound, and they collect many plugins. Some people go for the proposition that more expensive plugs are going to sound better and have more utility than the included ones. And, if you need a way to avoid actually making music, playing with new plugs will certainly help with that!

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This question has certainly been answered, but I want to contribute some of my own thoughts.

Ableton has some of the best instruments in any DAW. That is to say, their built in synths and sampler are awesome. They also provide great effects and mastering tools (I'm referring to the Suite version here, but the same also applies to a lesser degree with all versions).

Truthfully, you would most likely never need anything you couldn't find in Ableton.

That said, plugins are awesome. Here is my thinking on downloading and looking for external plugins.

  1. There is something creatively uplifting about approaching your production with new tools. They may not be better, but at the very least, there will be new knobs and dials to tweak, and you might come up with new sounds that never occurred to you before.
  2. This is also great for learning. You could learn everything you needed to know about digital audio production using just Ableton's built in plugins - however, I've found that it is often the case that I find myself understanding something that has been under my nose the whole time in a completely new way when I look at it from a different angle. There are many different ways to present digital audio information, and there are many different audio properties that are exposed in the settings depending on which plugin you are using. Looking at many different plugins also helps you learn for yourself to distinguish between inferior sound produced by inferior plugins, and this knowledge helps you hear your own music better and find sounds that lack quality.
  3. I like downloading things. It makes me happy.

You can find MANY,MANY plugins at KVRAudio.com, both free and commercial.
I'm going to make a general statement here, and I don't know if its true - it seems to me that in the digital audio software field there are more QUALITY programs (VST's etc) available for free than in any other industry.

It is much easier to find great free effects than it is to find great free instruments (with some notable exceptions), but you get to explore. Also, KVR Audio has a lot of forums where people ask useful questions. Their are more sites like it out there as well, but that is certainly the largest.

There is my thinking on some of the important value of plugins for someone - particularly a beginner - who is working with a digital audio workstation.

Mostly - you can just have fun with them, but I would not spend any significant amount of money until you really know what you are doing.

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