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Kontakt with an example virtual instrument

Top Virtual Instruments for Songwriters and Composers

Creating music in the studio requires the right tools. Unless you are a composer with unlimited resources to hire orchestras, you will need to have an excellent set of virtual instruments (VIs) for arranging and recording your scores.

There are many of these digital sound-makers available. If you asked 100 composers and songwriters about their favorites, you’d probably get almost a hundred different answers. Here are some of my most used VIs in terms of versatility and breadth of use.

Kontakt (Native Instruments)

Many of the most-used VIs have the characteristic of playing samples. All this means is that someone recorded an instrument or other sound and saved this recording in a format that the VI can play back. I’ve found Native Instruments Kontakt (part of Komplete 12 Software Suite)Native Instruments Kontakt and Komplete to be a solid sample player with an incredibly wide variety of “instruments” available for it.

Of course, just being able to play a sample (or a sample set) is not enough. These days, a VI must be able to do much more to be a go-to for composers. This is one of the places where KontaktKontakt and Komplete from Native Instruments shines. It has hundreds of functions that can be used in instruments that layer on top of the Kontakt “ecosystem”. (Kontakt libraries can also play from a free “player” version of this instrument.)

As I’ve collected and created more sample sets and libraries for Kontakt, keeping them organized has become important. Here’s a post I wrote about keeping sounds sorted. You can also learn more about my favorite piano library that plays from Kontakt.

Omnisphere (Spectrasonics)

I remember vividly what a huge splash Spectrasonics made at a NAMM show more than 10 years ago. I held off for years before I purchased it since a demo version of the initial release did not impress me. However, once I added it to my VIs, it quickly became a favorite.

Some of the sounds that impress me in Omnisphere 2 include the burning piano (the development team literally set an upright piano on fire to record these samples) and the classic predecessor named Atmosphere. Other excellent samples include Far East metals (singing bowls, chimes, bells, etc.) and almost anything with a breathy sound like the boys choir.

Not only does Omnisphere 2 come with a large selection of excellent samples, it also has boatloads of ways to morph, coerce, and subtly manipulate those initial sounds. Trying to cover all those options is too much for this overview, but reach out to me in the comments or on Twitter if you’d like to know more about this instrument.

What’s your favorite VI?

There are at least 10 more that would make my short list. If there’s interest, I’ll share more detail on the two above plus those other ten. Ping me on Twitter or in the comments here to let me know you’re interested.

It would be great to know what your favorite virtual instruments are! What instrument plugin or sample set to do you go to all the time in your musical creation projects? Please let me know in the comments.