EDM producers are likely the prime audience for free plugins. Always looking to find a new and unique sound, experimental and niche software can be great for producers to tinker with and explore without laying down cash for the privilege. VSTs let you expand the capabilities of your DAW, providing new sounds and effects, and getting them for free can be wonderful. However, there are reasons you may want to stay away from or limit your use of free plugins and stick with a lean and mean team of professionally developed and supported plugs.
1. You’re distracting yourself
You’re spending time downloading, installing, reading about, and learning the basic GUI functions of all these crazy free soft synths, but you’re no good at using any of them. Come to think of it, you’re not really good at using all the ones you already do have, and the new ones are only somewhat differently capable than what you have already. Being effective at using a small group of diverse synth units is going to help you make great music faster than fiddling with every single new synth.
2. Lack of learning materials available
Native Instruments’ Massive synth is hugely popular and you will have no problems finding help learning how to design your sounds. Whether you are looking for books in print (paper? Eww!), professional video tutorials, YouTube video tutorials, or forum discussions on using Massive, you are covered many times over. Sticking to well-known and popular tools will allow you to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge out there. Don’t worry about sounding like everyone else because you are using the same synths; learn to use your tools well and you can create unique sounds more effectively.
3. More plugins means more bugs
Does your DAW ever crash or do something funky for no reason? Sometimes this is caused by a rogue, poorly programmed plugin. Often developers of free software have less resources or patience for testing and troubleshooting their software on all popular DAW applications. These are often indie, bedroom developers that are just making something cool for themselves and their friends and only have a couple DAW applications to test with. By creating a free piece of software, they also do not have the same responsibility to their users to provide a stable product as a for-profit developer would. On some DAWs, one bad plugin will constantly cause problems, but won’t identify itself. Your DAW is acting weird or crashing, but you have no idea which of your 100+ VSTs is creating the problem. Have fun using the process of elimination – removing VST by VST from your plugin directory and booting your DAW to identify the problem plugin. Keeping your installed VSTs down to a group of the most-useful ones will keep this process simple.
4. No support
Is the synth not loading, crashing your DAW, or otherwise not working on your system? Chances are much higher a company that charges money for it’s software is going to respond to support emails.
5. Fewer patches and presets
Are you a presets guy? The most popular synths are usually paid ones with a marketing budget behind them. More people using the synth means more people sharing patches. Certain companies will sell collections of patches for the most popular synths.
6. Complications in collaborating
If you like to collaborate with someone to create tunes and like to sent project files back and forth, not just bounced audio bits, you’re going to have to make sure your partner has got every single random VST installed on his box too. Collaborating with a Mac user while you are on PC? Many free VSTs are Windows-only. Make sure you remember which ones your partner won’t be able to use before including those PC-only plugs in your project!