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The history of audio plugins

I'm old enough to remember the time when audio plugins didn't exist and I wanted to make music!

What started it all was the creation of the VST plugin format by Steinberg in 1996, but it was only in 1999 that v2.0 of the format really catch the attention of musicians around the world. With v2.0, VST plugins could receive MIDI data and instruments could be created! Amazing, isn't it?

The first VST instrument to have been released to the world is Neon, a very basic subtractive synthesizer (pictured above).

Thanks to SynthEdit, a software that allows users to create virtual effects and synthesizers in a modular environment, VST plugin creation was democratized and we saw the rise (and fall) of many developers who saw it as an opportunity to create their dream synths.

One of the first developers to really catch the attention of many musicians was Land of Cockaigne. He did some amazing plugins, my favorite one being Oberon, a classic analog polysynth with a very lush and deep sound.

Many years later, I created a free sampled version of Oberon for macOS users and for Windows users with 64-bit only plugin hosts.

Between 1999 and 2010, what I would call the golden age of plugins, VST2 was the main format, and later on, Apple decided to compete with the AU format, a totally useless addition to the field in my opinion.

At the time, there wasn't much competition and you just took what was there or bought hardware equipment. Most of the plugins available had their own sound, but they often felt sonically limited compared to what you could achieve with hardware synthesizers and racks.

Nowadays, with more powerful processors, plugins can sound as good as hardware, if not better in many cases.

Even though VST3 plugins could be created as early as 2008, it's only recently that it's become the most used format. Steinberg had to force new developers to develop VST3 by making it illegal to develop VST2 plugins unless you have a contract with them.

This contract could only be signed until October 2018. I remember that I had to print and signed a lot of documents to make sure that I could still release VST2 plugins.

In the 2010s, audio plugins became big business, something I didn't foresee during the golden age. In 2015, I created my first plugin, Thales Model I.

My expectations for its success were so low that I first considered making it free and at the last minute, I put a price tag of 10$ on it. It became a solid success and it still sells fairly well even today.

Today, the audio plugin market is rich and diverse. You can find a plugin for almost any purpose.

Having lived at a time none of this existed, I can confidently say that we live in a great age. I wouldn't want to go back for sure! :)

Have a great Friday!

PS: Get 25% Off any 2$+ plugins and sample packs by filling out the SampleScience 2022 Survey. Hint: the code coupon you'll get also works on bundles.

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