It’s that time of year again! Shuttling off kids to school, buying new supplies and new clothes. It seems to be getting more and more each year the things we have to do to prep. There is a certain panic that sets in when we see those Back To School displays pop up everywhere. It’s a grand tradition, and one that reminds me to glance at the tools I have for music and sound production to see if I need anything new. Or perhaps I’ve been doing without something that is essential to improving my workflow.

Gonna do a quick hitlist of some things I’ve been getting some mileage out of recently as well as include a few suggestions from the audio community at large. I guess you don’t really need a special reason to shop for this kind of thing. These are essentials. Great for those starting out with not a ton of money. Not a definitive list, but all definitely worth a look if you’re starting out or just looking to round out your toolkit.

Native Instruments: Komplete 11 

There really isn’t a better deal anywhere for this many instruments, fx, and other odds and ends to really shore up your music productions. There’s a basic  and an “ultimate” version at $600 and $1200 respectively. Either version will snag you some great orchestral, drums, synths and fx of high quality that run the gamut for whatever you can think of. They also have a free version of the Komplete engine called Kontakt Player and host a handful of  free libraries to download from the NI site. Support is limited, but it’s also free so a great way to test the waters without getting wet. One of my favorite inclusions in Komplete is Guitar Rig. It’s a pretty robust Amp Simulation with plenty of components to daisy chain, layer, and stack for some righteous guitar tones. Actually, I’m going to give it a spot of its own because…

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Pro ...because you can buy it alone. Along with creating fun amp simulations it’s a great multi-fx process you can throw on any track to create some great effects. This has been very helpful to a lot of people who may be more familiar with routing actual components to process a signal for some fun experimentation. They also offer a stripped-down, free version that can get you going in that direction.


This is a DAW, and the only one on my list. Reaper has been building some great momentum as of late as a respected, viable audio production platform. It’s forward thinking in editing and structuring has earned lots of converts. The flexibility of its workflow will allow you to make it function like your favorite DAW or create a hybrid, dream setup. If you haven’t at least tried Reaper by now, you’ll be running out of excuses soon as its adoption rate really high. With a price-tag well below its contemporaries, Reaper is worth more than a look-see.


Krush is a fun, free way to bit crush, chop, and distort your sounds. It can make instruments sound lo-fi, giving you that retro sound that all the kids think is popular… I can’t wait for NOW to be retro. I recently used Krush to turn a bunch of realistic weapon and impact sounds into lofi blips and glitches to fit the aesthetic of a pixel art-esque game. Reminds me of a simpler time when bloops and bleeps...oh dear I’ve just used “bloops and bleeps” in an article about game audio. I apologize. It won’t happen again.

Oddity 2

Another multi-instrument, but this time of a different sort. Oddity 2 is a retro/modern hybrid, taking cues from the original ARP Odyssey synth and updating it for today. The Odyssey was a pioneer of sorts for having a very bold presence. Oddity 2 keeps that punch and adds options the original never had. Pads, leads, and fun rhythmic elements keep this one a mainstay for me in my productions. It’s always very engaging to jump in and start fiddling with knobs. Oh there are buttons and switches, and faders galore that allows you to cater your sound towards any result. Some great presets included should get you inspired to concoct your own patches and really put your stamp on the mix. You should have SOMETHING like this about, so check it out.


SDRR is a saturation plug-in. This can add some thickness, or subtle movement to a thin, static track or sound effect. The idea of saturation, or even subtle distortion, is not new by any means but it can help those compositions stem from the virtual world mix better with the actual world. SDRR is a very competent and affordable saturation plug-in that attempts to do this and more. Your mileage will vary depending on both your source material and your ability to use the plug-in correctly (or incorrectly if that’s what you’re going for) and SDRR comes recommended as up to that task and more.

You know, maybe we need more reasons NOT to buy things as you can easily overload with stuff you may never use or even install.  And what about hardware? Actual, tangible things that make noise, displace air… Yeah, I should make a list of that stuff too. This was some really low-hanging fruit. Software is easy to acquire and pretty easy to use with sometimes the only barrier being money, which is a shame. Hardware...can be doubly so. It’s scary. It’s good to get recommendations from a friend, or jump on youtube and check out demos. Whole different world now and there are plenty of ways to be smart about these kind of things. THIS list however…. This list you can trust 100%.

A tool is a tool, and their usage is only as good as their user. Knowing when and how to use each tool is the most important thing. It’s good to reflect on your workflow, inspect and detect weaknesses. You might find ways to make your work easier, hopefully you will find something that will make your work better.

Tony Porter  Twitter @tporter64