What VSTs Do You "Definitely" Need

In the same way you can't have a band without instruments, you can't easily produce music without certain VSTs. This is going to be a general guide on the basic effects you need, especially when you are starting off learning to produce. What must be said is there is no point having hundreds of obscurely labelled VSTs since you'll never use them. Find one you like and if it does the job keep it, if not replace it. I'm going to approach this as if you haven't even done any audio processing before so the terminology will remain simple.



EQ

So in my opinion, the absolute most essential effect you could ever have is an EQ. Simply put, an EQ boosts different frequencies. Everyone has heard of bass boost, and most people see bass and treble knobs on their stereos, these are just simple EQs.

Now the EQs producers and sound techs use, tend to be a little bit more complex. Often you can choose exactly which frequency you want to alter and also how it affects the surrounding frequencies.

EQing is essential to a good mix, which is desirable to be as clean and clear as possible. EQs are the perfect tool to removing unwanted noise and rumble in a recording which would otherwise ruin it.

EQ is also perfect for bringing out sounds which are too quiet. If a voice sounds muffled, you can boost the high frequencies to make it clearer.


Now most DAWs have a stock EQ plugin, such as Reaper's ReaEQ (above) and so I recommend just using that one, Ideally it will have at least a few bands of control with either "Q" or "bandwidth" knobs.

Your ideal EQ should include:

-Multiple bands of control, 3 minimum (choose one with unlimited bands)
-Bandwidth/Q control
-Different EQ types e.g shelf, low-pass, band

If you are looking for a free one try Raz Audio's N6, it will suit your needs fine and is very simple to operate.


Reverb

Also likely available out-the-box as a stock plugin in your DAW, reverb is present in most mixes ever made.

Now I'd probably say compression is overall more important to a mix than reverb however it is a much harder effect to grasp, reverb is certainly much more understandable and so for beginners, it is best to start here.

Reverb of course is the simulation of surface reflections. Most easily compared to speaking in a cave or a cathedral, it is used to blend sounds together and give them a sense of space - do you want you epic guitar solo to sound like it was recorded in a small bedroom? No, probably not, so add a big reverb and it will sound like you are playing the halls of valhalla.

There are a few plugins which are both free and good to use, for sheer simplicity, try using EpicMStudio's Dimension Plus, with only three controls, you will have sexy reverbs in no time. 



For the more adventurous, or advanced, I highly recommend grabbing a reverb plugin with a bit more control over it's features. For this, I suggest Ambience by SmartElectronix, it has plenty of controls including an in built EQ for the reverb tail. 


With reverb, especially when you are beginning it's easy to over do. My advice is find a sweet spot and dial just a little bit back, especially if you add reverb to several tracks, it will get busy quick. 

The other thing is remove as much bass from the reverb tail itself to get a cleaner mix.

Compressors

These are the scary ones. Compressors are hard to understand, and to begin with, hard to use. Nevertheless, they are essential.

What a compressor does is turn down the loudest parts while leaving the quiet parts intact. This means the difference in volume between the loudest and quietest parts of a track are reduced and therefore easier to mix. 

Now if you are a familiar to this site, you will know I'm a big fan of Reaper and it's stock plugins. What I will say however, is every other plugin pales in front of Reaper's stock compressor ReaComp


Not only is this plugin amazing, it has the perfect amount of control for both beginners and advanced users. It is not pretty but it is functional. 

The UI is perfect for learning how compression works, and it allows you to side-chain compress your instruments to the kick. 

It also has filters on the detector inputs if you only want the low end to trigger the compression (e.g isolating the kick in a drum mix).