There’s a lot of debate about this topic in various forums, and I honestly see both sides of the debate as clear as day. Some stick exclusively to subscription bundles, while others are annoyed at the push toward subscriptions in general. Both have pros and cons. I covered the pros in the last article. In this one, I’ll cover some cons.
But first, I want to acknowledge that I subscribe to Slate’s All Access Pass and Kush / Sly-Fi’s plugin subscription plans. I do this in spite of the problems I’ll outline below. I do honestly think it’s a no brainer to do so, as stated in the previous article.
However, I still buy plugins, and I still use plugins that aren’t covered in those plans. And the plugins in those plans that I really feel I could absolutely NOT live without, like Slate’s Virtual Tape Machine, I own perpetual licenses for. If I’m subscribing, you might wonder why I keep my perpetual licenses.
“Redundancy:“A high degree of redundancy is built into the machinery installation”
the inclusion of extra components which are not strictly necessary to functioning, in case of failure in other components.”
Redundancy. The same reason we keep backups. If things change, and you don’t own the thing that your session is hinged on, you may be left in the dark without the thing you built your mix around. Just this week, someone in Slate Audiophiles on facebook was complaining about the removal of the S-Gear amp modeler from the Slate subscription plan. They had used it with great success on a record they were currently working on, and they now had to find a different option because that modeler is no longer part of the Slate subscription. While S-Gear is a sweet amp sim, it’s not one I really grew attached to. It’s removal isn’t a huge loss for me. But we’ve seen this before.
When Slate’s Everything Bundle came out, it included the LX480 Reverb from Relab. Over time, Slate developed the Verbsuite Classics reverb, and the partnership with Relab was ended. This makes sense, but for those who relied on the Relab LX480 being part of their workflow they now had to source a copy of the plugin elsewhere to continue working or tweak a different reverb plugin to sound similar to what they’d dialed in with the Relab LX480 plugin. True, Verbsuite has the Relab LX480 sounds inside of it, so it’s an inconvenience if nothing else.
Seeing this happen, I figured it would only be a matter of time before the next crop of 3rd party add ons to Slate’s bundle would shift. I suspected S-Gear was being left behind when I saw that Overloud was Slate’s new guitar amp modeler of choice included in the bundle, and I was right. Had I hinged a bunch of records on S-Gear, and not sourced a perpetual license of S-Gear, I’d be left in the dark. Right now I’m facing car repairs, and am saving for a down payment on a house. Paying for plugins isn’t really something I’m looking to do unless I absolutely have to.
I realized a while ago that the inclusion of 3rd party tools in subscription plans was a great value and also a great risk. Using Relab’s LX480’s reverb and Scuffham Amps’s S-Gear as examples to prove my case, they are both no longer included in the subscription bundle from Slate. If I really needed to make sure I had access to those tools in case they ever left the bundle…which did happen…It’d be in my best interest to buy those tools. Otherwise, I leave myself open to not having that badass reverb on that send in my template, or not having that badass guitar tone for the client mid-record.
Now Slate’s All Access Pass includes tools from Kilohearts, and the ANA 2 Synth. It also includes the Lustrous Plates reverb from Liquid Sonics, the Audified U73b module for VMR, and the Overloud TH-U Slate Edition amp modeling suite. Truly everything you need when coupled with Slate’s own product line. As I stated in a previous article, this really is a no-brainer. I truly believe that.
However, Lustrous Plates isn’t for sale from Slate Digital. It’s for sale from Liquid Sonics. The same is true for the Kilohearts plugins, and ANA 2. Meanwhile, TH-U Slate Edition is a stripped down version of Overloud’s TH-U, and you can buy the full version directly from Overloud. And while you can’t buy the VMR Module for the Audified U73b anywhere, you can buy the standalone plugin from Audified directly. If you want perpetual licenses of any of these tools, you need to buy them from their developer. And this is where the risk comes in.
It reminds me of early iPhones, which had Youtube app as a native part of the operating system. When Google decided it was in their best interests to go a different direction, the Youtube app was pulled from inclusion in future versions of the iPhone operating system. You could still get the Youtube app, just download it from the app store. But it wasn’t as seamless as it was before, requiring an extra step to bring back a familiar feature. Furthermore, being a completely new app, anything you may have saved in the previous app may no longer be there due to the change. The risk of 3rd party inclusion is present in many industries, you don’t have to look very hard.
This isn’t as minor as downloading a separate, albeit free, app to regain a feature you used to have natively. In this case, we’re potentially losing access to tools that help us work and be creative. If those go away, it’s not as simple as just downloading the new version of the app from a different place and carrying on. If you don’t have the license, you’ll need to shell out cash for it in order to use the same workflow as before. That’s not so easy for some in countries whose currency is worth far less than the US Dollar, or for those of us who might have limited means.
My advice. Use the subscriptions. Odds are good that any other studio you’re working from will also have the subscription plan, and that’ll make it more seamless if you’re working there as a freelancer. You’ll have the same tools as them, regardless of which DAW is being used, and your workflow will have one less thing slowing you down as a result. And even if you never work from another facility, the subscriptions give you instant access to a ton of useful tools for a super low price. A True No Brainer. I truly believe that.
But you need to future proof your plugin collection if there are any of those tools you could absolutely not live without. There’s a couple of ways to do this. The first is simple. If you absolutely find yourself using anything from any company on every mix, buy it. Period. If it’s in your template, and you use it every single time, either buy it or find a different version that you can use as a backup in case you don’t have access anymore.
Admittedly, there’s no risk of Slate’s plugins not being included in the Slate bundle. But there’s always risk that the market will shift in a way you didn’t foresee and you’ll have to tighten your belt for a bit. If you do this, and cancel your slate subscription for a while, you won’t have access to those tools that you’ve built your workflow around. That will leave you needing to reinvent how you work, and that’ll slow you down during a time when you need to be pushing fast and hard to bring in new sources of revenue.
Because of this, in spite of having been a subscriber of Slate’s since day 1, I’ve been watching for low cost perpetual licenses of the Slate products that I would absolutely not want to be without should I ever need to unsubscribe for economic reasons. This includes Virtual Tape Machines, Virtual Console Collection, and FG-X. I’m working on grabbing VMR 2.0 and the Custom EQ’s. I own Air EQ from Eiosis, which is part of the Slate Bundle, and got the Air and Earth VMR Modules because of that. But even if I didn’t, I have Air EQ to fall back on, so I’m not worried about those.
As mentioned, I’m also a Kush / Sly-Fi subscriber. I own Gold-plate outright, and am watching for Clariphonic, Kaya, REDDI, The Hammer, and the Omega Preamps. Ok, sure, the preamps are $25 each at full price. I’ll likely wait until I absolutely need those to buy them outright, because the price is already a steal. As a subscriber, I’m not hurting for access to them. But if I ever were, they’d be easy to get.
My license for S-Gear expires on July 2nd 2019. That’s 9 days from the date I’m writing this article. I can think of only one song I ever mixed using it, which is a personal favorite from a personal project. In hindsight, I’m glad I never otherwise adopted it. That’ll save me some cash and hassle. But on that one song, I’ll be going back to make sure I printed the guitar tone to the DI tracks. Had I been a heavy user, I’d be going through a lot of sessions and printing a lot of tracks to make sure I could keep my work in tact. But this is one of the many reasons the greats tell us to commit to our sounds, so really we should be committing these sounds to “tape” in our sessions during production. At the very least, commit when the mix is finished as part of your archival process. That way if you needed to open the session in 5 years, you wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you had the amp modeler. The tone would be baked in, and you could always keep the unprocessed DI recording if you wanted to change the tone later.
You can find second hand perpetual licenses of plugins on eBay, which is where I purchased VCC 1.0 and FG-X more than 5 years ago. You can also find them in facebook groups where people sell their unused plugins, or in trading groups like my own “Plugin Trading” facebook community. This group is dedicated to trading perpetual licenses using the developers rules for trading, so not everything is going to be transferrable. If a developer allows you to transfer your license to someone else, like you would when selling a plugin to someone else, then it’s allowed to be traded. If a developer doesn’t allow license transfers, it’s not allowed to be traded in the group. I have a team of moderators who strictly enforce it. In that group, I’ve picked up copies of iZotope Rx, IK Multimedia’s Arc 2 (with mic), Slate’s VTM, and a bunch of other things.
Or you can wait for steep discount sales. At the time of this writing, you can pick up Repeater for $19 instead of $99 on pluginboutique. Since it’s included in the All Access Pass, that’s a no brainer for redundancy. But since I don’t really use it, and am working on repairing my car and saving for a down payment for a house, it’s not worth snagging for me just yet. If I used it heavily, I’d be on it like white on rice, even though it’s in no danger of being removed from the Slate All Access Pass. But I may not always have access to the All Access Pass, as mentioned above.
Owning plugins has its downsides. Slate’s absolutely correct that it’s not an investment that will go up in value. You can’t sell your vintage Waves Version 3 copy of Q10. Ignoring the fact that Waves’s license transfer policies require a current update plan, which would bring your Version 3 to Version 10, I doubt you could give Version 3 away for free at this point because it’s so old and probably wouldn’t work on modern systems. Software loses value. And buying it should be limited to tools you need because of this. Here is one place where subscriptions shine. You get updates, access, and the ability to work with similar tools on multiple platforms for a bit more than you’d pay for a Netflix subscription.
But while I may be excited to get my hands on the Kilohearts plugins, I’m also watching the sales of their plugins for any that I find critical to my workflow. Anything I cannot live without will be picked up as a perpetual license when the price is right, because if it’s that valuable I need to future proof myself against losing it.
In summary, subscribing is great. But treat subscriptions as you paying for access, and be mindful of what you never want to lose access to. Have a backup plan for the pieces from the subscription plan you can’t live without, ESPECIALLY if they are from a 3rd party developer and not the company who sold you the subscription. $15 per month for 60+ plugins is an absolute NO BRAINER, as I stated in a previous article. But so is being smart about which licenses you buy.