Plugin pandemic: Stop wasting money!
The plugin pandemic is real: Almost every artist, producer, and mixing- or mastering engineer owns far more plugins than he uses and thus is wasting his money. So why do we still buy into plugins, that eventually do nothing but take up space on our hard drives and clutter our plugin folders? In order to fully understand that, we need to take an honest look at ourselves, as well as the different pricing and sales strategies of audio plugin developers. Finally, we can figure out how to escape the mindless chase of a monetary fix for a skill and knowledge-based deficit. Let’s stop wasting our money!
The psychology of the “game changer”
The vast majority of engineers and artists are barely making a living off music, while the prominent engineering professionals, stars, and influencers are rather well off. We are taught and believe that quality leads to profit. What this does to unsuccessful people is often overlooked. We feel inadequate! In this vulnerable and sometimes even desperate state, it is easy to make us fall for “simple” fixes to our situation. And knowing this, plugin developers use the faces and names of the few success stories to market their products. Plugin reviews and promotions are everywhere! It’s a pandemic! And masks certainly don’t work.
Since everybody knows this, why are we still falling for it? Because, it is infinitely faster and easier to spend another 50 $ on a plugin (that will supposedly “change the game” for us) than to work hard on refining our skillset. Of course, the plugin won’t change the game. We know it. We’ve been down that road and it never did. But we don’t apply that knowledge, because the hope that there is an easy fix never dies. Still, it won’t happen! Train your ears, gain experience, and eventually it will translate into quality! Whether that quality will turn into profit, is a whole other discussion.
Pricing and sale strategies of plugin developers
There is a multitude of different pricing and sales strategies out there. The one all companies have in common is: They’re all trying to get us on their newsletters. Getting mail from them, even if we don’t open it, makes us think about them – especially when there’s a sale. But aside from establishing presence in our minds, there are also strategies that vary. I did my best to break them down into 5 basic strategies that may be combined in all shapes and forms:
- High prices
- Demos and Money Back Guarantee
There is always a sale
Yes, there is a plugin pandemic, but there most certainly also is a sales pandemic! It works. “50% off for a limited amount of time” gets things sold! Even if it’s always 50% off. Marketing is a science and marketing specialists don’t shy away from using every trick in the book to get another dollar out of you.
The promotion always suggests value, but the sale creates urgency! If the promotion got you thinking: “Maybe I’ll eventually buy it” the sale converts your thought to: “If I’ll eventually buy it anyway, may as well get it while it’s on sale”. And in order to push you over the edge, there is always a “call to action” included.
Don’t buy into this urgency! It will be on sale again and you will likely have already forgotten about the plugin because nobody actually uses it and nobody is still talking about it.
Subscriptions are – in my opinion – the devil in disguise. While rent-to-own models can be reasonable, pure subscription models usually are problematic for tools you depend on. And your dependence grows with every session you have used the plugins on. You need access to these plugins to call the sessions up and thus the developer may raise the price over time. It will be increasingly hard for you to jump off that wagon.
And what happens if you have no connection to the internet for whatever reason? Will you still be able to use your license, or will it run out? Renting is not owning. You’re paying for a right to use, which ultimately always leaves you with nothing, once you stop paying. You can’t accumulate, you can’t give it away, you can’t sell it.
My advice: Don’t do it!
High prices / value signaling
Pricing also conveys value. “You get what you pay for” is a very common mindset among consumers. While some companies prey on those who can’t afford more than 30 $ for a plugin, others define their niche differently. They try to target those, who have a bigger budget and are willing to pay higher prices for plugins in order to “set themselves apart” from the masses.
You may think this doesn’t work, but it does. Especially if there is even the slightest hint of augmented quality. Beware of this trap!
A couple of companies will try to bind us by getting us to buy into a whole ecosystem. Some (Universal Audio) enable us to use the DSP processing power of their interfaces for their plugins. Others (Softube) offer us hardware controllers (Console 1) that work with their plugins. And IK Multimedia has a community that shares presets for their amp simulation (AmpliTube) and amp capturing system (Tonex).
While I’m not against such ecosystems, one should always realize what one gets oneself into. So, if you’re buying Console 1 by Softube, you need to be aware, that in order to get the most out of it, you will need to purchase more of their plugins.
Trials and money-back guarantees
Trials are a beautiful thing – in theory. While it certainly is better to try a plugin first, instead of instantly buying it, one shouldn’t demo every plugin, just because one can. Most people demo plugins in real sessions and get attached to “the sound”. They start fooling themselves into believing the song needs it, when in reality it doesn’t. Also, they don’t want to go through the trouble of recreating the settings (and automations) with other plugins. I am “they”. And I was more inclined to buy a plugin for reasons that are not related to the value of the plugin multiple times, after demoing it.
With “money-back guarantees” it’s even worse. The money is already gone and you would have to ask for your money back. People don’t like asking for money. So in case, you want to “demo” a plugin via a “money-back guarantee”, make sure that you’re actually willing to go that extra mile in order to get it back first.
Stock plugins are the unsung heroes. Not only are they free and get the job done, but they’re also specifically designed to work seamlessly within our DAWs. This means we’ll spend less time troubleshooting compatibility issues and more time making music. Additionally, stock plugins often have a smaller footprint than third-party plugins, which can help improve the overall performance of our DAWs. Do yourself a favor and take a closer look at your stock plugins!
The only downside of using stock plugins (I can think of) occurs when you’re working with someone else that uses another DAW and thus has no access to your stock plugins. However, this issue only manifests if you’re trading sessions. One way to minimize that downside is to use sends and print the effects.
Many a mickle makes a muckle
50 $ may don’t seem like much, but they stack up. If one spends 50 $ a month on plugins – no matter whether it’s for perpetual licenses or subscriptions – that puts one back 600 $ a year. In 3 years that equals 1800 $. In my experience, many people pay 30-90 $ a month for new plugins. I know I’ve spent ~100 $ a month for quite a while. In my case, 1200 Bucks were reached within a year. Now I don’t know about you, but in retrospect, I can think of better things I could’ve bought for that money.
However, it has to be noted: We waste our money on more than just plugins! Subscription-, leasing- and renting models, but also little habits like that daily coffee you may get at Starbucks are all over the place! They drain our bank accounts and keep us from building up. Instead, we’re damned to keep paying for the right to use.
Thinking long-term helps to save up short-term
The videos are getting shorter and so is our attention span. We’re trapped living from moment to moment and we wonder why nothing changes. Fortunately, there’s a way out! Start expanding your perspective. Sit down and ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years and what you want to own by then. You’ll be surprised to notice that another compressor or saturating plugin is nowhere near the top of that list.
What my own list looks like:
- New monitor stands
- New studio desk
- Better room treatment
- Trinnov Room Optimizer
- New studio chair
- A hardware coloring pre-amp (for tracking only – I mix purely in the box)
- A hardware compressor (for tracking only)
- New studio monitors
All of those things are significantly more expensive than a plugin. But if I kept buying plugins every month, it would take me significantly longer to save up for them. In my experience, it’s the reoccurring expenses that keep us from making investments that matter.
Re-evaluate your habits and subscriptions
While some of these reoccurring expenses are unfortunately unavoidable for the majority, some are! Spotify Premium, Amazon Prime, Youtube Premium, Netflix, Twitter Blue, the Sports Channel, that Starbucks coffee, ordering take-out, going to the pub every week… feel free to add to that list, for it goes on and on…
Instead of wasting money on micro-investments – that usually hold little value in the long run -, I consider it wise to save up for macro investments that can truly make a difference. Obviously, that’s not only true for audio. In fact, you might want to invest money in real estate or stocks over trying to force your music career. It’s a harsh truth: anyone can make it, but not everyone.
If you’re a small business you might also want to check out how AI can help you work on a small budget.
In conclusion, it’s time to stop wasting money on unnecessary things – and plugins usually are. The plugin pandemic is real and expensive. Lock down your long-term goals and make a conscious effort to build up the necessary willpower in order to withstand the false promises of plugins. They will not change the game! There is a limited amount of ways to process audio and thus the differences between plugins are minimal and rather superficial.
We need to understand the psychological traps that marketing agencies use against us. Yes, it’s harder to train your ears and exercise your skills by consciously executing your craft on a regular basis, but that can actually gradually change your game!
By being mindful about our plugin purchases and usage we can save money, improve our DAWs performance and move towards bigger goals faster. Stop falling victim to the plugin pandemic! If you want to make music your business, treat it like one: Maximize income and minimize expenses.