6 reasons not to use free vst plugins

VST logoEDM 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.

Video Tutorials

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!


  • Grea post. Agree with everything especially about learning what you have FIRST then branching out. If your DAW’s arsenal doesn’t have what you need THEN look elsewhere. When you do, SPEND a little and don’t always go with the cheapest. Get the best you can afford (don’t go in to debt) for what you want to do.

  • I had to learn all this stuff the hard way. I went through several VST binges, thinking “This will make me sound different and inspire new sounds!” All it did was clutter up my list, confuse me when looking for something in particular, and in the end it made me feel more inadequate than when I started. So I cleared the list back down to the natives and a few freebies (roughly 1%) that were actually worth my while, and went back to the drawing board. I worked on my methods of sound design and post processing, and it turns out I can make any sound I want with 3xOSC or Sytrus with some simple native effects, and so can anybody else.

    It also turns out that most of the effect plugins out there do the exact same things that the natives do. Find the ones that do something different, but don’t spend too much time on it. Whatever DAW you’re using probably has everything you need, and if your music doesn’t sound good enough yet, I can guarantee you it’s not because you need a new plugin. Learn to crawl before you try to take a dump while running at full speed.

    Now I have a huge folder full of randomly named .dll files that I can’t distinguish from one another. I think I’ll just delete them all and then reinstall the ones I can remember off the top of my head, as those are probably the only ones worth keeping. If you don’t use it, then just lose it. A carpenter doesn’t need 14 different types of hammers to hit a nail, a judge doesn’t need 10 different gavels, a producer doesn’t need 12 different types of reverb to create a sense of space. If you have 12 reverbs, narrow it down to 4; your listeners will not know the difference, a reverb is a reverb. Pick the ones that sound best (in YOUR opinion, not some know-it-all snob’s opinion!) and make it the easiest to achieve that sound. If you can’t hit a nail, a new hammer probably will not help you, only practice and dedication will do that.

    Case in point: join some Facebook Groups that are for users of your preferred DAW. You will effortlessly notice a few people that post countless links to download every VST known to man. Go listen to those people’s music. It’s crap, isn’t it? They’re so concerned about having all the tools, developing their craft becomes an afterthought! Learn from their mistakes. While they’re searching for all the best plugins, you can spend that time using the ones you already have and figuring out how to sound BETTER than the popular stuff they’re raving about. A good guitarist can play well on any beat-up piece of junk with missing strings, while an inexperienced guitarist thinks his skill is limited only by his equipment.

    It was Freddy Todd’s Q&A on the Glitch Hop Forum that woke me up, when he stated that he mostly uses WASP and other Fruity Natives to make his amazing sound. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    • Instead of deleting the files, just make a new VST folder you point your DAW at and make shortcuts for the VSTs you DO want and place them in the new folder.

Speak up! Let us know what you think.