Top 5 Plugins with Steve Darko
Steve Darko’s become a DIRTYBIRD favourite in recent years, becoming a fixture at its events and within its label catalogue. Now, the time has come for him to take his next step: a full album release.
Steve Darko ‘Midnight Swim’ LP is out now, and sonically manifests the core Dirtybird ethos of hunting down polished, cutting edge productions. Its eclectic mix of genres and styles showcase Darko’s range and aptitude in sound design, proving just how much potential he has as an artist on the rise.
Beyond his studio endeavours, Steve Darko helps the various sounds others use in their music as a software developer at iZotope. No doubt his intimate knowledge on the technical aspects of softsynths, filters, and more enhances his work as a whole. Curious to hear from a developer himself on the best tools one can use for their in-the-box producing, we had the artist list out some of his essentials.
If I were to only be able to use one plug-in in my productions it would be Ozone. It’s my go-to tool for mastering any track and it really does anything you’ll ever need to do while mastering. The difference between a good and a mediocre master is subtle, but so significant in the impact a record has when it comes out of the speakers. The bread and butter if mastering is the limiter, and Ozone’s is at the top of its class. Also, I highly recommend checking out the Low End Focus module – it can be a lifesaver for cleaning up and adding some extra punch to sub frequencies on the master bus or as a track insert on a kick or kick/sub group – definitely a secret weapon of mine.
Native Instruments TRK-01
I’ve been loving the TRK-01 for making kicks – I used it in about half of the tracks on ‘Midnight Swim’. Before discovering this I would almost always synthesize the sub-component of my kicks on one track, layer them with a sample on another track, EQ each, and run them into a bus with some compression and saturation to glue together the sound. TRK-01 streamlines the workflow to do all of these things and it includes some master bass enhancement and “booster” effects that sound amazing and work incredibly well for making massive kicks that will stomp on a club system. It also comes with a bass engine, effects and sequencers – when using all of these components you can pretty much write an entire, polished techno tune with this just plugin.
Sonnox Oxford Inflator
This plug-in has been around for a while, but I only stumbled upon it recently. It’s perfect for adding some extra body and loudness to tracks without them getting too muddy. My best guess is that there’s some multiband saturation and compression going on under the hood, but that’s kept a secret! You have two sliders to control the effect, which make it simple to dial the settings to taste.
This new intelligent reverb plug-in makes it easy to explore a variety of reverb sounds and dial in something that works well in the mix and is as subtle or dramatic as you’d like. It sounds super clean and is perfect for adding some space to a synth line or smoothing out a vocal. My favourite feature is the giant blend pad in the middle of the UI that lets you blend between three different reverb engines. Oftentimes I’ll record in the automation of moving the node in the blend pad around with the mouse to give tracks some additional movement. Another nifty feature is the Unmask functionality that compares the input signal to the wet, reverb signal and automatically generates an EQ curve to improve the clarity of the dry signal – this can make a huge difference especially when trying to keep vocal tracks intelligible, but still, sound spacey.
Xfer Records Serum
This is one of the most popular softsynths out there and my personal favourite, but for good reason. It’s an extremely versatile and well-designed synth – you can do basically everything you’ll ever need to do with a click or two right from the front page of the UI. This is crucial for working quickly and staying inspired, which can be hard to do if you’re getting lost diving into sub-menus. The oscillators and filters sound buttery and often get mistaken for some of my analog synths by friends of mine. If you’re looking for a solid all-around synth there are tons of great options out there, but I’d suggest giving Serum a try.