Creating a Song with the Output Virtual Instrument and Effects Suite

I've not yet entered the better half of my 20s and yet I'm absolutely tired of being sold to. When it comes to audio plugins in particular, I begin to get a little nauseous when I read the little quips and taglines like: "the lush, warm, and inimitable tape saturation from the golden era of recording," "the optical compression circuit that flipped music on its head," and so on and so forth.

Particularly when you order a virtual instrument that claims to do both the new and old very well, in my experience, you should get ready to be disappointed, because you'll usually receive a sad hybrid that does neither the new nor the old all that well. But Output's suite of instruments and effects plugins offer something new, something old, and everything in between.

I was able to get my hands on eight of them (unfortunately, just before the new Portal FX granular synthesis plugin was released). And it seemed to me that you could produce a whole track solely through the Output suite—so let's try it.

The first thing you hear in this track is a swell I put together in Exhale, Output's modern vocal engine. What I like most about Exhale is that, though all the samples are familiar and vocal-based, the built-in effects and different chopping parameters within are capable of creating something that, at least to these ears, sounds absolutely fresh.

I feel as though Output's instruments are largely unpredictable in their creations. After sitting with their instruments for some time, I get the sense that you can create most any sound across any of these libraries. If I was in a session and saw somebody pull up Substance, the powerful bass engine, I would have no clue if they were going for a deep bass groove, a soaring lead, or something in-between. The results are nearly endless.

To put that notion to the test, I asked myself, What would be the starkest juxtaposition to an EDM-inspired reverse vocal sound? A George Martin-esque string quartet. That is the next thing you hear in the composition. For this section I split two Analog Strings patches—a driving bass staccato sound and a slightly gentler ensemble patch—to create an energized string section. I was absolutely blown away by how well Analog Strings reinvents the classics with modern gusto. By the time the progression comes around again, we are introduced to my favorite of the Output suite: Substance.

Being a well-rounded producer in 2019 means bass, and a lot of it. I used to jump from bass sound to bass sound, never fully satisfied. From Omnisphere to Punchbox, from Live's built-in synths to UVI and beyond, most bass engines, to me, sound thin. This could be that I just can't program sounds for the life of me, or I just never clicked with any of these plugins—either is totally viable. However, from the first note of the first preset in Substance, I was well aware that my search for that bass was over.

The Substance patch that sinisterly sits beneath the string section at the 0:22 mark is something I put together, heavily inspired by the sounds and synthesis of Mike Dean—the Kanye West, Travis Scott, G.O.O.D. music producer, who, funnily enough, is the reason I initially wanted Output's Exhale library. Here, I paired a live bass patch with a dark and distorted, sub-y Moog type. I love this patch because not only would it stand out on its own as the main bass in a breakdown, but it somehow also sits beautifully behind a lush string section, filling the low-end while simultaneously complimenting the parts around and above it.

As the strings drop out, I introduce Output's Rev-X Loops via a mandolin and guitar patch with bit reduction and rotary sprinkled on top. The best way I could describe Rev-X Loops is that it's like a Mellotron... but not. It does not have any of the Mellotron sounds per se, but it does couple familiar instruments and progressions with some truly interesting coloring.

Output Substance
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Output Analog Strings
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Output Rev X-Loops
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Though I was initially uninspired by Rev-X Loops, I found it really excelled as a shading tool, filling in all the empty space without overwhelming the listener. Seeing as the patch was sounding more and more like an old-school sampler, I decided to bounce out a couple bars of the loop and, within Live, pitch the loop to key to replicate that of a vintage E-Mu box or MPC. It is characterful and fills out the highs without distracting from the Substance patch.

I needed to introduce an element as the drums dropped out, so I opted for a super haunting, organic hum sent through Exhale's built-in rotary speaker. One of my few qualms of Exhale—which could also be said about other parts the Output suite—is how incredibly noisy this patch became. I tried tweaking the gain, the rotary parameters, etc. but nothing seemed to do the trick. At the end of the day, I just moved on.

Surprisingly enough, that noise inspired the transition into the section that hits around 1:20. Disguised beneath it is the first instance of Output's Rev—in particular, the Riser bank. I love swells and, in short, the best thing that I can say about Rev is that it eliminated the need to ever dig into my sample libraries again and put a cymbal crash in reverse. Between the more than 40 rise banks and the individual tweaking capabilities, you can seemingly create enough anticipation for just about anything.

In this instance, Rev builds to these dense brass stabs courtesy of Signal, the pulse engine. Signal gives enough interesting movement and bounce that if I needed an instrument to inspire me, this would be one of the first places I'd look. Enlivened with just a little bit of in-house delay and stereo imaging, what you hear here is simple held chords. The bulk of the work is being done by Signal's A and B pulse engines to deliver the energy needed to carry this section.

Supplementing this section beneath the Signal stabs, is another Signal patch called Caffeine, a driving percussive element. By triggering one note here, I was able to get an analog-y tom drum sound and, by triggering another note on the two and four, I was able to introduce an energizing snare hit. Filling out the rest of this space is yet another rotary-fueled Exhale patch and (one of my favorites) a pair of Roland-inspired brass sounds that, surprisingly, came from Substance. Again, with all this momentum, I use Rev to build, and then fall, into an Analog Strings section.

Behind the strings is where we get our first taste of Output's only effect plugin, Movement, designed to animate your sound. I placed three different instances of Movement over three different drum loops that I pulled from Splice, and I was quickly impressed.

The drum loops were present but not overbearing and, most importantly, they were much more interesting coming out than they were going in. It's also worth noting that, for these drum loops, I just threw on some presets—I don't think I've ever worked so little with an effect plugin to get the desired result, albeit my vague desired result being "make this sound better." In short, it kept the track moving without stealing the show.

We signal the final section of this piece with a massive bass stab (reminiscent of the intro to The Weeknd's "The Hills") courtesy of Substance. Floating behind it is a couple instances of Rev's reverse instruments and, as the drums drop, we activate a couple more instances of Movement on top of them to dance around the hi-hat pattern.

Output Rev
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Output Signal
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Output Movement
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Output Analog Brass & Winds
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As everything fades out, we are introduced the final element —an Analog Brass and Winds patch that, if I can be a bit tongue-in-cheek, truly transports you to another, very cinematic, world. It's very full, it's very commanding, but it's incredibly musical, which, coincidentally, is how I feel we can summarize all that's come out of Output HQ.

I must add, though, that no plugin is perfect. I'm easy to please when it comes to built-in effects. I mean, they are built-in, and I never expect much from them. However, when I'm spoiled by the sonic quality of each Output instrument, I grew to expect a bit more control within the effects sections. Not only are a few controls limited but, in some instances, the controls that Output does provide are somewhat difficult to read and adjust. Once in a while, I had no clue how I was adjusting across each of the parameters.

Secondly (and understandably as they are large libraries), some of these instruments took a while to load. If I was in a session where things were really moving, particularly if I was producing for another artist, I could see myself avoiding the likes of Analog Strings and Analog Brass and Winds so as to not wait two to three minutes while the instrument readied itself.

Other than that, I had no qualms with the Output catalog. If you read my "3 Music Software Programs That Can Spark Your Creativity," you'll know that I like simplicity. Output, with its few flaws, packs as much complexity as I could ever ask for in simple, beautiful, and comprehensive workflows.

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