Form, function, and the Digital Audio Workstation.

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What is more important- form or function? Does one follow the other?

As a music producer, I am guilty of harboring extreme prejudice against certain VST plugins simply because they, “look ugly” to me. I have often overlooked amazing sounding software simply because it lacks an interface that looks inviting to me.

On the other hand, I have also found plugins and software that look graphically amazing, but simply do not function in any particular musical way, or do not work altogether. When I choose which plugins I use, there is a careful balance that must be walked. Firstly, what I look for is its appearance. Is it laid out in a way that makes it easy to use and understand? Secondly, does it sound good?

Huh?

I know many of you are thinking, “Shouldn’t sound quality be your top priority? Why does  how it looks matter?” and it is reasonable to be thinking this. How the plugin sounds should come first, but it doesn’t. From my experience producing, it can be a disaster to my workflow when I have to stop and try to figure out how to do something on a confusing plugin when I could have done an almost as good job using a simpler, nicer looking plugin. If a one plugin’s design means I can get results faster, I will choose that plugin every time, even if the alternative sounds “better”.

So why is that?

At the end of the day, I can spend hours fine-tuning, making everything “perfect”, but it won’t matter if I never actually get my content finished and published. When I spend too long on a project, I will often end up scrapping it as I run out of creative energy to finish it. If a plugin is fun to use, I can get results faster, and am often more likely to finish a track. If I am not having fun with a song, I will usually scrap it. If a plugin isn’t fun to use, it can be a huge creativity killer.

In closing

I think that form and function need to work together if a developer wants the end user to actually choose to use the software they develop. This is why companies like Native Instruments and Arturia have become so commercially successful in the highly competitive audio market. They make their software fun to use.

At the end of the day, if your work is musically interesting, which plugins you choose will not matter.

What do you think? Why do you use the plugins you do?

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