May 24


Useful VST Plugins For Recording & Mixing

By Keith Livingston

May 24, 2016

plugin, reaper, vst

I get a lot of questions about what plugins I use for recording. So, I popped open a song I recorded, and in this post, I'll tell you a little about every plugin I have going. Here's the song (a cover of 'Ready To Go', by Republica), so you can hear the plugins in action.

Working Inside The Box

I work 'inside the box', as they say. I live in an apartment and don't have a big console or room in which to record. Instead, I have a computer, a couple of mics, a few guitars, a DAW (it's a piece of software for recording), and some other software.

Among the other software are little programs called plugins. Plug-ins can provide processing for your recordings (there are compression plugins, for instance), effects (reverb, delay, etc.), and virtual instruments (drums, bass, synthesizers, orchestras . . .).

Is It Live, Or Is It Memorex?

Before an argument erupts about using real, live players rather than plugins or programs, let me just say this. If you think musicians should only use live players on recordings, you're on the wrong website.

This is a do-it-yourself musician website.

I live in an apartment -- with neighbors -- who have kids -- and go to work in the morning (the neighbors go to work, not the kids). I can't record drums here.

Plus, I don't have a mixer with enough inputs to record drums, nor the number of microphones required. And I don't have $400 to plop down for recording drums in a studio, every time I want to record a song. Nor do I have the dough for session players.

And we live in a world where 1,000 plays on Spotify won't even pay for a set of guitar strings. So . . .  It just ain't gonna happen. I've got to do the best I can, with what I have available. I know, wah. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox.

Here's a list of the plugins I used in this recording, and a little bit about them.


Reaper. It's the cat's meow, man. I highly recommend it. It's cheap, but is a lot more flexible and intuitive that much more expensive programs. Reaper comes with usable EQ, compression and effect plugins, so you can get started right out of the gate (if you'll pardon the pun).

Drums & Percussion

Addictive Drums 2, XLN Audio: This is a super-cool drum VST. It's real drums, hit by real drummers, and you can do a lot with it.

Miscellania II: (free) (tambourine)


EVM Bassline (free -- make sure you click on the link to download the VST, not any of the ads): This is a really useful plugin for electronic/synthetic bass sounds. When I want a real sounding rock bass, I use Prominy's SR5 Rock Bass.


ReaEQ (free EQ that comes with Reaper)

Guitar Amp Modelers (sims)

I record guitar, straight into the computer, with no amp or effects. I add the amp sound later with amp simulators.

Podfarm 2: I use Podfarm whenever I want something less stock sounding than the CLA guitars plugin.

CLA Guitars (Waves): Great for getting standard, clean, crunchy and heavy guitar sounds.


Supaphaser: I don't usually pull out the Supaphaser, but I need some weird-ass, funky effect for the breakdown. So, I dropped this puppy on the drums and bass for that section (a la Itchycoo park), and went for it.

Azurite Multivoice Chorus by Distortique (free): I needed a chorus, and this one was elected.

Stereoizer by Hbasm (free): I used this guy to widen out the acoustic guitar sound a bit.

Reaverb (free): this reverb comes with Reaper

IZotope Nectar Elements: This is a vocal processor, which does several things. Basically, you slap it on the vocal, find a preset you like, perhaps mess around with the included EQ, and you're done with the vocal sound.

PSPaudioware Lexicon PSP42: Modeled on the Lexicon PCM42.

EPICverb by Variety of Sound (free): It's epic, and it's a reverb. What else do you need to know?

Master Bus

Here are all the plugins I had on the master bus.

Limiter No6 vladg sound (free): A really nice limiter I often use on the master buss.

ReaxComp (comes with Reaper): A flexible multi-band compressor.

JS Exciter (comes with Reaper): Adds a little sizzle on top.

ReaEQ (comes with Reaper): Just took a tiny bit of muddiness out with this one.

Flux Stereo Tool (free): I tend to use tools like this to widen out the mix. I'll often use it just on the chorus of the song, but in this case, I just plopped it on the whole mix.

Voxnego Marvel GEQ (free): This is a mid-side EQ which helps consolidate the low end in the middle, while adding a little width to the high end. It tightens things up down low.

Ferric TDS (free): This is a saturation/distortion plugin that warms up the mix overall, and gives it more of an analog sound.

A couple more things . . .

I often use the Magic A/B plugin when mixing. This plugin makes it easy to switch between your mix, and other mixes, to see if yours sounds up to snuff. You can use it to call up your favorite Myron Floren mix and compare it to your mix.

That's about it.

Just so you know, each song is a little different. I might not use these same plugins in exactly this way. But, this is a decent representation of what I typically use.


Watch Useful VST Plugins For Recording & Mixing on YouTube

Keith Livingston

About the author

Keith Livingston started recording his own music in the late '70s, on a 4-track. He worked his way into live sound and studio work as an engineer -- mixing in arenas, working on projects in many major studios as a producer/engineer, and working in conjunction with an independent label.

He taught audio engineering at the Art Institute of Seattle, from 1990-1993, and in '96, contributing to authoring several college-level courses there.

He was General Manager of Радио один (Radio 1) in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Now he spends his time recording his own songs wherever he roams, and teaching others to do the same.

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