Learn about the most popular EDM plugins and how they can help you write, mix, and master electronic songs.
EDM is arguably one of the most difficult genres of music to produce at a commercial level. Listeners expect a certain level of production quality from EDM songs that can be difficult to achieve. Fundamentally, you need to write good music to be successful but beyond that, there are some essential production techniques and plugins that will help make your creative ideas shine. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 8 best plugins for producing EDM.
8. Soundtoys’ Decapitator
Soundtoys’ Decapitator provides subtle to extreme hardware-modeled saturation that’s perfect for beefing up EDM basses. You can turn a basic sine wave into a monstrous bass track by increasing Decapitator’s Drive knob and engaging the Punish button — this adds an extra gain boost that obliterates your low-end. Unlike other saturators, Decapitator preserves the warmth of your bass while making its midrange and top-end sound aggressive and mean.
This plugin has five different saturation models to choose from. Toggle through models to find the one that suits your bass sound the best. There’s a low cut filter, high cut filter, and tone control that allow you to shape and balance your sound. To perform parallel processing and blend some of your original signal together with the processed signal, use the convenient Mix knob.
7. Valhalla’s VintageVerb
Valhalla’s VintageVerb features 19 classic digital reverbs and 3 color modes inspired by hardware from the 1970s and 1980s. This is perhaps one of sweetest-sounding vocal reverbs around and it complements synth leads incredibly. You won’t end up with the overly-bright tonality that poorly-designed reverbs deliver. If you’re looking for an all-purpose reverb that you can add to a mixing project template, this is it.
Select from the following modes to change the sound of the perceived space that you’re trying to create: Concert Hall, Bright Hall, Plate, Room, Chamber, Random Space, Chorus Space, Ambience, Sanctuary, Dirty Hall, Dirty Plate, Smooth Plate, Smooth Room, Smooth Random, Nonlin, Chaotic Hall, Chaotic Chamber, Chaotic Neutral, and Cathedral. There’s a mode for almost every situation and mood.
6. XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color
XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color is a multi-effect plugin that allows you to add the distortion, ambiance, and warmth of vintage recording equipment to any sound. If your EDM synths have a tendency to sound bright, metallic, and thin simply insert an instant of RC-20 onto your synth track.
There are six built-in FX modules that replicate vinyl records and VHS machines, as well as add noise, wobble, and dropouts to your tracks. Apply bit reduction to add grit to your bass and drums. Use the space and chorus effects to make your synths groove, and the filtering effects to sculpt the tone of your sounds.
Each module has a handful of familiar controls that make it simple to dive right in. That being said, there’s also a sizable preset library that you can scroll through and use to instantly transform your basses, drums, synths, vocals, and FX.
5. Cableguys’ VolumeShaper
VolumeShaper by Cableguys is a utility device that allows you to control the volume of sounds over time with drawable LFOs. This plugin makes it easy to create supersaws that aggressively pump and swell over time, without the distortion associated with using a run-of-the-mill sidechain compressor.
You can set up the LFOs on an internal repetition cycle based on a note value, or sidechain trigger the LFOs using MIDI notes. It’s also possible to switch between LFO shapes using a MIDI trigger, which significantly enhances the versatility of VolumeShaper.
Use VolumeShaper to duck your bass out of the way when your kick plays, or add unique rhythms to your percussion. VolumeShaper also has a multiband mode that allows you to selectively shape the volume envelope of certain frequency ranges, allowing you to gently duck the midrange of synths when vocals play.
4. Xfer Records’ OTT
Xfer Records’ OTT is a free multiband upwards/downwards compressor that’s based on an Ableton Multiband Dynamics preset called “OTT”. It splits your audio into three ranges: low, mid, and high. Then, it applies heavy downward compression to each band, in addition to heavy upward compression.
The result is that signal above the threshold level of each band gets brough down in level, while the signal below the threshold of each band is boosted in level. You end up with an incredibly tight sound that makes the ambiance of synths more present and transients less sharp. One of the pleasant side effects of this processing is that it can increase the loudness potential of your songs.
It’s common to apply OTT to individual tracks but some artists take it a step further and apply it to their master bus.
3. FabFilter’s Pro-L 2
Many producers consider FabFilter’s Pro-L 2 the gold standard when it comes to mastering-grade limiters. It allows you dramatically squash your mixes before distortion occurs. This limiter delivers top-class true peak and loudness metering, 8 limiting algorithms, an adjustable lookahead time, versatile attack and release values, oversampling options, an assortment of dither choices, and intelligent channel linking.
To make your mixes super loud, choose the “Aggressive” style option, reduce the lookahead time, and boost the Pro-L 2’s gain. If you start the hear distortion, either back off the gain applied or turn up the lookahead time. After that, turn the output level down to -2 dB to provide sufficient headroom so that your ultra-loud song survives the transcoding process when uploaded to streaming services.
There’s a little more to maximizing loudness and formatting your music for streaming services; the following video goes over everything you need to know.
2. Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere 2
Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere 2 is an incredibly powerful synthesizer that transforms over 65 well-known hardware synthesizers into hands-on controllers. Of course, you can also use a MIDI controller to play sounds. Its hardware synth integrations are great but there’s something else that makes it stand out from other synths…
Omnisphere contains over 14,000 sounds and 58 FX units. There’s four built-in oscillators, an FX tab, an arpeggiator, a set of main controls, and an Orb tab that you can use to add randomization and modulation to your sounds.
With such a staggering number of sounds, you’d think that it would be impossible to find the sound that you’re looking for. Although, Omnisphere’s search engine is fantastic. It lets you search for sounds using attributes like category, type, genre, or author. There’s also a Sound Match feature that allows you to select a sound and pull up other sounds that are similar to it.
The barrier to entry with Omnisphere is it’s price. It costs $499 and it NEVER goes on sale. Producers who can afford it likely own but it’s no small investment.
1. Xfer Records’ Serum
Xfer Records’ Serum is without a doubt the most popular synthesizer plugin amongst EDM artists. It’s a subtractive wavetable synthesizer with a visual and workflow-oriented interface that makes creating sounds fun, as opposed to tedious. You can create, import, edit, and morph wavetables. It’s even possible to import images and turn them into wavetables.
There are two built-in oscillators, a sub module, noise module, filter module, three envelope modules, four LFO modules, four macro knobs, and a voicing section. There’s also a suite of 10 effects that you can control using envelopes and LFOs via Serum’s modulation matrix. Assigning multiple synth parameters to the same modulation source can result in synth patches that sound complex yet controlled.
Due to Serum’s popularity, there are plenty of preset packs that you can download from Splice. Many notable EDM artists sell Serum presets so you can pick apart their sound design process by investigating their synth patches. If you’re looking for a great all-round synth that specifically excels at creating EDM-style sounds, Serum is the answer.
Want to learn how to write, record, mix, and master music at home? Check out Music Production for Beginners: The Complete Ableton Course. You’ll produce three songs from start to finish and learn how to write, record, mix, and master music at home.