Interview with Daniel Kern About VST Plugins for Music Production

Today I sat down for an interview today about VSTs with Daniel Kern.  Daniel is an Austrian music producer and a big fan of electronic and digitally-made music, and that’s what I picked his knowledgeable brain about.  Enjoy!

daniel kern



YC: Daniel, you are a big fan of using VSTs in your music production, right?

DK: Yes definitely! Either to spice up the sound of recordings, or simply because its impossible to have that wide range of instruments available physically.

YC: Sounds good. Can you explain, for those who don’t know, what a VST is basically?

DK: Well, its a virtual instrument, either sample based, meaning it was made by actual recordings of sound sources, or a digital VST.  That means, it was made by starting with a sine-wave, for example.

YC: So there’s two kinds of VSTs then? Sample-based, and sine-waved based?

DK: I would say sample-based & digital. Sometimes they start off with a saw wave instead of a sine wave, for example.

YC: Ok, so VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology?

DK: Yes, as far as I remember, that’s what it stands for.

YC: What do you need in order to use a VST, in terms of gear / software?

DK: It depends on the VST, but in general you need a sequencer.  In my case, I normally use Cubase.  For VST’s from VSL, for example, you would need a more powerful computer. Which means it has to have a good processor, a lot of RAM, and, in the best case scenario, an audio interface that works as your sound card.

YC: A sequencer.  I thought that meant a keyboard…

DK: No, a sequencer like a piece of software. Cubase, Logic, Ableton, Presonus Studio One, etc.  However, a keyboard would be definitely beneficial if you don’t want to use your computer keyboard as piano-keys.  Ha!

YC:  So you need, basically, a powerful computer, an external synth of some kind, the right software. Is that it?  I’m not asking ignorant questions to play devil’s advocate. I’m actually ignorant!

DK:  Hahaha, no problem.  Well, a powerful computer would be a good start.  That said, I was once working with a crappy laptop before, so I know how it feels to have substandard equipment.  It just makes your life much easier to have a decent machine.  You don’t need an external synth, because the sound source will be the VST, but a master keyboard / midi-controller would be beneficial for playing.  And, yeah, definitely the right software.

YC:  Yeah, I got confused between synth and midi controller. I have a midi controller myself and I call it a synth. LOL!  Ok, so I get what a VST is. But where do you get yours? You mentioned VSL…what’s that?

DK:  Well I have a few prefered ones, for example VSL (Vienna Symphonic Library).  It’s an Austrian brand making, to my ears, some of the world’s best orchestral plugins – you can hear their sounds in various movies and games.  But they are kinda pricy.  The complete collection (which still leaves a few products out) is about 12000 Euro, which is already the reduced price for getting them all at once.

YC:  Wow, do you have that?

DK:  Sadly, not all of them.  My salary isn’t high enough yet, but I did get a bunch of their plugins, like different strings, brasses, and the Vienna jazz drums.

YC:  So what do you use to play these instruments? What kind of midi controller do you have?

DK:  It really depends on which VST I use, for strings and brass I mostly use my M-Audio keyboard with 49 keys.  Also, sometimes (if I’m feeling lazy), I use my 2 1/2 octave mini keyboard. If I want to play piano plugins, for example, I like to go with my Yamaha e-piano. There, I have the whole range!  It’s just guitars that I would never play via VST.  That just feels wrong. I would rather grab the guitar and record it naturally.

YC: How long have you been using VSTs?

DK:  I would say abou 10 years now, and there has been a lot happening with the technology since then.

YC:  Any major developments you could mention for the people at home? XD

DK:  Mostly, advancements have been made in regards to VST’s “playability”, and the increased options you have to modulate sounds, as well as better sound quality.  As a comparisation, you could compare the sounds of a Nintendo 64 and a Playstation 3 to get an idea for how different things are now.  Nowadays, even a lot of movie-soundtracks are VST-based, instead of hiring a whole orchestra.

YC:  So do you prefer retro style VSTs, like 8-bit, or the super high quality stuff?  Or, I should say, modern sounding VST’s like the orchestras and whatnot.

DK:  It depends on what Im working on! 

YC:  But you do both, correct?

DK:  Exactly!

YC:  Do you love all VSTs equally then?

DK:  You could say that.

YC:  Are there any you don’t like?

DK:  Well, there are so many VSTs one the market, its hard to remember. The ones I dont like, I delete instantly.  Many free VSTs lack decent sound quality, rendering them somewhat useless.  But then there are really amazing ones out lately, like Peach by Tweakbench, which is an 8-bit plugin.  I am a big fan of 8-bit VSTs and chiptune music and such.  But if you compare strings for example, I don’t like the session strings from NI nearly as much as any strings from VSL.  I actually don’t use session strings or horns from NI at all, but they have a lot of other neat instruments 🙂 The KONTAKT player in general is great, especially because it gives you the option to develop your own libraries.  So, there are a bunch of instruments available from Kontakt from different kinds of “makers”.

YC:  You mean developers?

DK:  Exactly!  Excuse my english.

YC:  That’s cool.  Do you have a favourite track you’ve done recently, or a favourite VST?

DK:  There are a few projects going on I can’t speak about at the moment, but mostly it’s games that I’m developing.  But, one of my favourite tracks I’ve worked on recently is called “The Right Foot” by The Approachables.  It was a lot of fun re-doing it in a 8-bit manner.

YC:  Yeah, that’s a good one.  What VSTs did you use on The Right Foot?  Anything special?

DK:  Mostly I was using Tweakbench’s Peach, a Kontakt Library called Bitkits, and a bunch of effects like a Cubase internal EQ, plus reverb, delays, and some wave stereo enhancers, etc.

YC: What was the funnest thing to play around with for this song?

DK: Thats a tough question, but I’d say the bass. I used a lot of EQ’s to make the sound equivalent to the real bass sound.  Second, I’d say the drums, especially the snare had this very rough sound in the original.

YC:  Cool, well we’ll have to share that with our readers / listeners when it becomes available.

DK: I hope they like it as much as I do!

YC:  We’ll see. Ok, man, thanks for the discussion, I learned a lot about VST’s today.

DK:  Thank you! Anytime again, gladly 🙂  I’m happy that I maybe could make the one or other thing a bit clearer!

YC:  I think you did. Ok, peace out!

DK:  Nice! Peace out!

Read Daniel Kern’s musical bio

Watch this video where Daniel Kern shows how to make an 8-bit retro chiptune using VST plugins.

young coconut musician

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