If you’re into writing music the chances are you won’t have a team of world class session musicians on-tap to realise your compositions. There are loads of us out there, an army of one man operations churning out broadcast quality music for a variety of outlets. The march of technology in music has made filling in for a bass guitarist or a drummer so much easier, in fact you can even tap into a 60 piece orchestra without leaving your studio space.
Like many one man bands, we can generally turn our attention to a couple of musical instruments with a level of high confidence. However, we’re very rarely proficient enough at all of them.
The one instrument you should learn to be proficient in is the keyboard as this will typically be the interface for filling in the pieces. This article looks at my recommendation of some of brilliant software solutions out there. All recommendations listed below come in the form of plug-ins which will run on any DAW.
Missing A Drummer? Superior Drummer 3 by Toontrack. Approx £287
Recently updated to version 3, Superior Drummer is pretty much a one stop shop for all your drumming needs. The sampled quality is utterly brilliant. You can play drum parts triggered by your MIDI keyboard/Pad controller or delve into the large library of MIDI grooves pre-recorded by world class drummers from almost every conceivable genre. All MIDI grooves are fully editable.
The sounds are incredibly powerful and the sample library is HUGE. Make sure your hard drive has the available space before you start. As with all Toontrack software, everything is expandable. You can purchase more kits and more stylised grooves. Toontrack have everything covered. It’s a no brainer. Consider also Superior Drummer 3’s younger sibling EZ Drummer 2 if you’re looking to save a buck or two.
Missing A Bassist? Trilian by Spectrasonics. Approx £209
Spectrasonics are masters at sampling real instruments and then working those sounds into an interface that allows you to play them on a keyboard. Trilian is completely authentic. The amount of comments I’ve had where people have been impressed by the bass player on a tune I’ve written are numerous, little do they know!
I’m a guitarist first which means I can turn my attention to playing and recording bass but sometimes you need to nail things quickly with a quality that’s immediately out of the box. Don’t look anywhere else.
Missing A Guitarist? Session Guitarist: Electric Sunburst by Native Instruments. RRP £89.00
As of April 2018, this is a pretty new release from the music software giants Native Instruments. As a guitarist myself, I always record my own stuff but this is the first software I’ve seen that replicates various electric guitar playing styles with a high level of authenticity. Again, multiple sampled instruments in different genres and articulations. It sounds brilliant!
Session Guitarist: Strummed Acoustic 2 by Native Instruments. RRP £89.00
Similar to the Electric Sunburst product, this particular version looks at the 6 and 12 string acoustic guitar. My word, it’s bloody lovely too. Personally, I struggle with the mic and amp setup on my real acoustic guitars so this can be a huge time saver with sounds being production ready. Both Session Guitarist products from Native Instruments are best played using a MIDI keyboard.
Missing A Pianist? EZ Keys by Toontrack. Approx £115
Similar to it’s approach in Superior Drummer, Toontrack do a great job in sampling a lovely grand piano. The user can tap into piano parts which have previously been played by professionals. Again, it’s all fully editable and of course, you don’t have to restrict this to the piano sound only. You can drag the midi parts directly into your DAW and select you favourite keyboard instrument.
This is a super authentic product. I can play piano well enough, but every once in a while there might be a complicated feel I’m after and I can reach into EZ Keys and usually find a solution. If you’re missing a pianist/keyboard player, look no further.
It goes without saying that there are stacks of brilliant solutions out there to help fill that section in the song. There are literally hundreds of orchestral software libraries and more niche instruments too. Just take a look on the interweb and you’ll find what you need.
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