Once upon a time, musicians needed to have a fat budget for a decent studio recording (and therefore, a record label to front the bill on the onset). But even with one, many extreme metal recordings in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s still sounded like complete ass. Even insanely popular death metal bands like Cryptopsy, who have sold over half a million records, have had albums with production so shitty that I can’t hear most of the riffs. Aside from a few innovators, most audio engineers (back when it was possible to make a career out of it), simply did not know how to record and produce metal.
However the industry has changed mightily over the last 15 years or so, and in today’s music world the phrase “everybody’s an engineer” is deeply rooted in truth. Whereas high end recording software was once closely guarded and outrageously priced, the freedom of file sharing as put many high end tools in the hands of the public at no cost and without the need for professional training to use. No longer do you have to shell out $10,000 for an album that sounds like it was recorded in the prior decade, nor do you need take out a ludicrous college loan for audio engineering school. Instead, all you need to do is make a few quick downloads to successfully arm yourself for a quality recording (assuming, of course, you have done your homework in practicing your instruments and listening).
This change in landscape greatly benefits the type of music personalities we saw in Darkthrone, Burzum, and Graveland- top-tier musicians more concerned with their art and ideology than pandering to a room of idiots via live performances (yes, I know Graveland and Darkthrone both played live: it was only at microfractions of their careers). And given that lefties are regulating and policing which bands are allowed to play live shows, there’s all the more reason for defiant metal musicians and bands to forgo live performances and focus their energies on quality studio recordings. With narcissism, attention seeking, and fan expectations removed, the opportunity for quality recordings to flourish is undoubtedly more abundant.
It is an honor and privilege to present to you, the readers of this infamous site, the favorite battle-tested software and tools from a road-tested veteran who began a career in metal when freeware first became widespread some 15 years ago:
Top Metal DAW: Reaper (Cockos Inc)
Of all of the software you will find on this list, Reaper is the only one I suggest purchasing. This is because developers Cockos have an understanding of the reality of the market (you can just download everything) and therefore offer their top quality digital audio workstation (DAW) for the unmistakably fair price of $60. But regardless of the price, Reaper is the most user friendly and logicially designed interface I have ever encountered. Having tried Cool Edit Pro (which later because Adobe Audition and eventually rendered useless as a recording program), Apple Logic (decent, but somewhat annoying expansion of Garageband), Ableton Live (impractical at every level), and Pro Tools (a worthless piece of shit that never works properly despite being labeled “the industry standard” by bought and paid for journalists), I can confirm that Reaper was the easiest to pick up and the most useful in the long term. You can run a ton of plugins in real time, swap WAVs in and out with ease, and comfortably boot up almost any add on with minimal errors. I have found that things that have taken me hours with other DAW programs (blending of takes, routing, etc.) were easily done with just a few clicks in Reaper. While it doesn’t come with many great plugins, any synths, or pre settings- this can easily be compensated for with the thousands of freeware tools circulating the internet.
Top Metal Midi and Tab Program: Tabit (GTAB)
Tabit is not only a great freeware tab program: it’s an incredible tool for sequencing midi instruments if you plan on using digital drums or synth orchestration. This is due to Tabit’s ease in composing additional instruments around a guitar tab- therefore if you’re a guitarist, and you’re able to tab your guitar parts accurately, you can easily just add a drum track and compose the drums knowing they will be perfectly in sync with your guitars. This therefore is a great way to test how drum and synth parts sync and mesh with guitars before you get to playing with the drum part in the recording process. As a program Tabit is as minimalistic as it gets, but this is of great benefit to the recording musician as you can quickly punch in compositions and get them rolling. Nobody needs a fucking complex snyth bank of Guitar Pro unless you’re trying to score points getting your tabs of other people’s music on the ultimate-guitar.com site. But as a great minimalist tool for composing midi, one can do much worse than Tabit.
Editor’s Version: Tabit 2
Top Metal Drum Software: EZDrummer (Toontrack)
Like Tabit, easy drummer is quick and sweet for composing drums. Just plug in the midi from the drums you composed in Tabit, build out the kit you’re looking for, and export the drums of the song piece by piece (e.g. mute everything but the snare, export as WAV, mute everything but kick, export as wave, so on and so forth). The inability to change the time signature of the song does greatly suck, so make sure you sync up the time signature changes in Reaper after the track was already imported. Also, I don’t recommend paying for this- I found mine a torrent site that costed $1.47 for you to be able to download whatever software you want for a week. Double also: avoid the “metal” expansion packs at all cost. They are insanely limited in the drum beats available and it’s way better to just build out the blast beats in your midi program.
Editor’s Version: EZDrummer 2
Top Metal Guitar Software: Guitar Rig
Guitar Rig should unquestionably be the go to for tracking your guitars if you’re not going to mic amplifiers. It’s a user friendly plugin (and also acts as a standalone) that you can easily boot up in most modern DAWs and record a dry signal while hearing the tone live. Guitar tones are often a bitch because the best ones usually sound like shit by themselves but sound good in the mix. Therefore, having the ability to switch tones after the fact is a blessing. Furthermore, Guitar Rig 6 has a plethora of solid metal tones to serve as both a starting port or the final version. Look to the “horrible punk tone” for an authentic Darkthrone experience or the “80’s metal solo” tone for a well positioned lead guitar overdub.
Editor’s Version: Guitar Rig 6
Top Metal Guitar Tone: Mike Kyre’s MikeMetal
The best thing I’ve ever discovered randomly exploring the internet (apart from ANUS.com) is a young guitarist named Mike Kyre’s presets for Guitar Rig. These do an incredible job at capturing some of the tones from well known black and death metal artists such as Cainnibal Corpse, Death, and Dimmu Borgir. Since guitar tones require years of experience and frustration to matter, it’s better for those of us who *don’t* have audio engineering ambitions to que up a solid tone and get crushing.
The presets found in Mike Kyre’s YouTube video (above- follow to YouTube.com to get the description) may go down as my most valuable offering to this site’s musician readers.
Top Metal Synthesizer: Reason
This was the hardest call, because Kontakt 5 provides the best choir and string tones IF you have the right plugins. But if you don’t have the time to dick around the internet looking for cracked versions of Voices of the Apocalypse or Symphony String Ensemble reason has an outstanding library of strings and nearly ever snyth instrument you can imagine. While nobody needs NIN samples in their metal albums, there are a lot of awesome dark ambient, organ, and miscellaneous synth options pre-built into Reason and nicely blending into potentially savage and uncompromising metal works.
Editor’s Version: Reason 4
Top Metal Mastering Software: Izotope
Mastering is the least understood part of the music experience. Without intense technical training and really big, expensive, high quality speakers, nobody will be capable of mastering properly. This is as any metal “remaster” will show you as most metal mastering and remastering is done by incapable musicians solely based on their name. Therefore, find Izotope on Pirate Bay, use the presets for Arena Rock or Indie Rock on your master track, and stick it on all the instruments individually. And tell Satyr to shove his squashed remasters of Nemisis Divinia up his ass!
Editor’s Version: Izotope 5
The reason I suggest pirating most of the above software is because the software industry is being too unrealistic in their pricing still. Yes, you used to be able to pawn this shit off at $900- but nothing is truly indefensible against freeware these days and most consumers are too broke to choke down almost a grand while the economy is still far from recovered. When rest of the industry catches up to Reaper and starts pricing their software in the under $100 range, then it’s worth it to forgo a couple dinners out and support the spread of realism amongst these companies. Until then, spend your hard earned dollars on something more worthwhile, get a solid Tor Browser, and start borrowing the fuck out of the high quality software available on the deep web.
Tags: Audio Engineering, burzum, darkthrone, DAW, death metal, Digital Audio Workstation, EZDrummer, freeware, graveland, Guitar Rig, Izotope, mastering, metal, metal recording software, metal software, Midi, Mike Kyre, MikeMetal, one man bands, Pirate Bay, pirating, Reason, recording, remasters, software, Tabs