Virtual Instruments (VSTs): How & Why to Use Them

Quickly explained: there are two types of VST (Virtual Studio Technology): VST effects and VST instruments. The latter is often called VSTi. Lets focus on actual instruments for now.

vsts-image-of-mixerRecorded analogue instruments are super swell in music production, but recording and inserting these tracks can seem tedious (a longer process than just simply using virtual instruments). Main reason: you’ll actually have to be able to play your instrument and track :)
Using virtual instruments, editing will be easier, since modifying, correcting and changing a misplaced tone, the actual sound and/or the rhytm will just be a few clicks away.

Applying the sound of virtual instruments will give you access to a wide variety of sound that are hard to acquire using ‘actual’ physical instruments. This could cut big from your costs and may even save you storage space including all the other efforts to collect the instruments you deem useful in your music production.

Before actually playing and recording with a virtual instrument, you have to set up some stuff first.

  • Look for the Virtual Instruments toolbar in your DAW. It’s usually found on the Devices menu.
  • Choose a virtual instrument and click on its empty space so it will load. Do not start off with complicated instruments. We recommend you start in using a piano because it has a very simple musical scheme.
  • Many types of DAWs will give you a pop-up that asks you whether you want to create a MIDI track for this instrument. This is what music roducers usually do but since we are still tyring to set up your system, you can just refuse and click no first. Go to the project menu, add track and select MIDI.
  • This is just setting up your system so just press OK to make one MIDI track and you Daw will process the command. If you want to make multiple MIDI track, do otherwise.
  • The track will then pop up in the main project window after clicking OK. Select the track and look for the settings which are usually on the left side. You can find and modify the input and output of the track from there. The input is usually set to ‘All MIDI Inputs’ usually. For the output, select the instrument you want to use.
  • Make sure that your output just hosts one instrument for now and if it’s done, you’re already ready. If you have a virtual instrument capable of hosting multiple instruments at a time, you would have to select which channel should your MIDI track use first.
  • Enable recording by pressing the button on the MIDI track. Try playing a note on your MIDI keyboard. If the MIDI track visually reponses on your screen with its correspond note played through the speakers, then it’s working. If not, you may have pressed a note without a corresponding sampled sound. Try other notes.

vst-instrumentsThese steps looks a lot but most can be accomplished in just a few clicks. When the tracks are already set up, all you have to do next is press the record button and play the instruments you have attached to them.

You will basically do the same steps in recording audio, but this time, you just have to play on the MIDI keyboard.

After recording, modify your MIDI track to correct some slip-ups (and other minor issues). If you want to see the notes and their positions, just double click a track. The DAW will show you a typical piano-roll. Drag the front and back ends of each note to fine-tune it.

You can also Quantize to instantaneously adjust the notes that are played inaccurately. Overusing this feature makes your tracks sound robotic and stiff though. Minimize the use of this option unless really necessary so as to keep the musical quality of your tracks. At the very least, be sure to focus on what settings are set for the quantize feature.