Paying full price is for Suckers.
Ouch, that’s harsh, isn’t it? But it’s true. When it comes to music production software and hardware, just about everything software (and some hardware) goes on sale 2-3 times a year.
There are a few products that never go on sale, but those products are a minority. A small one, at that. The perpetual sale nature of the software industry makes me question what the real value of any of this is.
It used to be that gear would go on sale once or twice a year. Now, every month there’s a huge list of companies making desperate offers to get you to buy their stuff. So, if there’s always a sale on, is there really a best time of the year to shop? Yes, there still is.
When? Around Black Friday, right after US Thanksgiving. (Check before, just in case.) As an example, I bought Native Instruments’ Komplete 9 Ultimate, which usually goes for $1100, for $575 last Thanksgiving. And I bought a few other things at very steep discounts (like SynthMaster), because I am what? Cheap! (Well, cheap but impulsive when I see a really good deal for good software.)
Komplete 9 was on sale one more time after that, and that was this past summer, but the deal wasn’t as good as it was last Thanksgiving. Same for Synthmaster. It’s been on sale, but not as cheap as it was then.
Black Friday is a great time to gear up a new studio, but sometimes companies have once-a-year deals that are outside of that time, so it pays to keep an eye on things year round.
I have a few places I check on a semi-regular basis:
- On the front page of KVR Audio (or just follow them on Twitter), check the What’s New feed, and click on Deals.
- Or go to Rekkerd.org’s Deals page.
- Also, look at Rekkerd’s “Deals Archive.” That’s amazingly useful for bargain hunters like us, because companies tend to repeat the same offers at fixed intervals. (Some are regular like clockwork!)
If something has just come off of a deal, then you’re going to have to wait a while for it to come on deal again. (Unless it’s a Waves Audio plugin. I swear, they have everything on sale all the time, or so it seems. In fact, Waves has sales every weekend.)
You can also get some crazy deals at plugin resellers. The two I use the most are:
Both are totally legit, but you may have to wait a day or two to get your license codes. Plugin Discounts tends to have bigger savings, but Plugin Boutique will give you cash back in the form of a credit, which you can apply to your next purchase. Shop around!
As an example: iZotope makes StutterEdit, which is a great glitch plugin. It retails for $249. It just came off of a sale at $99 on the iZotope website, but I found it on Plugin Discounts for $88.
$88 for a $249 plugin? Yeah, I can do that.
When you do decide to start buying plugins, please go slowly. Don’t go broke buying tons of them. Buy smartly. And when you see a synth or plugin you like, make a note of it, and wait for it to come on sale. Most will, eventually.
A Few Closing Thoughts
First, when you go to pick out a DAW, make sure of a few things: does it use VSTs, or does it have its own plugin format? (Reason and ProTools use their own formats for plugins.) If you want to go cheap, stick with DAWs that use VST for now. It’s not an ideal solution, but it offers the biggest variety and the most potential cheapness.
You can hook up a VST to Reason through a VST host application, but it’s one of those things that’s kind of a kludge, and I don’t know that it’s worth the trouble. Rewire Reason into your main DAW instead.
Most VST makers will let you sell your plugins to other people. (License transfers.) Reason does not let users transfer Rack Extension licenses. You can transfer the Reason license, but not the RE license. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, keep it in mind. Read those EULAs! Rack Extensions are pretty cool from a tech point of view, and they make Reason really useful, but it’s a walled garden.
Some DAWs, like Studio One Artist edition, won’t allow the use of external plugins. Whoops! Gotta buy a more expensive version there! Studio One is a good DAW, but read the fine print. Same goes for the Studio One Vocaloid Edition. It only lets you use the Piapro Studio plugin. The rest are all Studio One only. If you don’t mind that, Studio One is an excellent starter DAW you can usually get for around $80-$90, and the full version is around $200-$300.
If you want to use Nerve and Serum in your music, you better make sure they’ll run in your DAW first! Read the developer’s website, and check for compatibility! Some plugins just don’t work with some DAWs, and you won’t know until you pay and suffer.
When it comes to copy protection, there are a few different ways companies do it– the worst in my opinion are the USB dongles, because they ruin your ability to go portable. How can I hook up gear if I have a dongle in every USB port? iLok and eLicenser are the more egregious ones. I can’t run Cubase without a dongle, so I tend to run Ableton more often. Native Instruments and Ableton both have very good copy protection, in that it’s not aggressively annoying.
It’s sad, but I tend to avoid perfectly good software if it uses iLok or eLicenser. I hate being shunted off into that kind of copy protection, especially when I’m a paying customer. (Even if I am cheap.)
This leads me to my final advice: learn how to program! I mentioned it briefly in part two, but making your own gear in Reaktor, Max For Live, Bidule, or C++ is a great way to save a ton of cash. It’s also a great way to learn more about audio and how those sounds are made.
Stay cheap, do your homework, and don’t forget to make some kickass music!