Where once you bought a piece of recording software and that was it, now brands are offering all kinds of additional content, usually at a cost. Here we look at software add-ons market and what it means for you.

Extra sounds at a cost

Outside of the music world, particularly with online-based services, there is a definite shift in business models. Subscription-based services now account for a huge percentage of the media we consume. Think, for example, how old fashioned it sounds when you remember back to how video rental shops operated.

Nowadays, the thought of going somewhere to ‘borrow’ a hard copy version of the latest film seems daft. Instead, we load up our smartphone or tablet, click a few buttons and we’re away. Gamers have seen it too. With the advent of ‘season passes’ for big games or in-app purchases on your mobile gaming devices, publishers are always finding new ways to eke out extra cash from the consumer.

The same thing is happening with music software. Subscription models, or additional content packs, are now common place. You buy the initial software, be that a DAW or otherwise, and get the base software. From there, you can opt to purchase extra sound packs at a cost. These sound packs could contain new samples, presets, effects or otherwise, but the key point is they all add extra content onto the package you already own.

It seems fair enough; music is, as we know, a broad church and attempting to provide everything to everyone will result in either overly-priced base software, or unfulfilled genres. This hurts you, the producer, and means the add-on model makes better sense.

Options and examples

Producers who use add-on sounds tend to require specific things. Be that sounds from a certain genre, or samples obtained from particular instruments or equipment. A good case in point; IK Multimedia’s excellent guitar amp-sim software Amplitube has had a paid-for extra content model for a while now. In its Custom Shop application, users of the base (or free) versions of Amplitube can purchase amp models from a number of the big boys, like Orange, Fender and Mesa Boogie. The IK representations of these amps are made in conjunction with the brands themselves, so a certain level of quality can be expected.

This is a useful advancement for users who know they need the sounds from a vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb, but can’t afford the outlay of a physical model. Or they might want to audition certain sounds ahead of an actual purchase. This likely factored into the business case for the brands before they agreed to collaborate.

Another good example comes from the genre-specific add-on packs offered as part of the Native Instruments Maschine eco-system. Maschine itself comes with tonnes of included content, so they haven’t skipped in that area, however they also offer add-ons with specific sounds, samples, effects and instruments from other genres. The beauty here is how niche they can go; specific sub-genres of hip hop, electronic and EDM are all catered for.

This example is also mirrored across other brands. Ableton has a similar model, offering extra soundbanks and sample packs, while Toontrack’s excellent EZ Drummer line effectively offers entire new versions of its core service available to download quickly and easily.

At the free end of the spectrum, we are lifelong fans of the Sampleswap.org, which is a free bank of user-supplied sounds and samples. The website is well stocked with all kinds of sounds, although the quality of them can vary.


As we mentioned earlier, the subscription model is growing in prominence in all walks of life. We’ve recently seen Fender branch out into a subscription-based online lesson resource.

One which caught our eye though was a new service from Native Instruments. After the success they’ve had with the Maschine add-ons, NI clearly noticed there was a gap for a service where producers can obtain sampled audio.

Sounds.com – the result of that idea – launched last month and is promising a huge selection of curated sounds, available to download. At the moment it’s open to US customers only, with a UK launch coming soon, and it’s looking like it’ll cost similar to a Spotify account each month.

You can easily see the benefit for anyone producing a serious amount of music. Having a curated bank of high-quality sounds that you can cherry pick to your heart’s content is pretty appealing. And, in reality, it’s not a serious amount of cash they’re after each month. Time will tell if the amount of sounds on offer stacks up with the cost, but it’ll be interesting to watch how it grows.


Moaning about these new methods of distributing content is ultimately pointless. Subscription services, paid-for add-on packs etc; they’re here to stay, whether we like it or not. What is vital however is that consumers feel they are getting the level of quality they deserve, in the context of what they’ve had to pay to get it.

If Sounds.com gives producers access to huge numbers of sounds they wouldn’t have previously had access to, and the interface to get hold of them works as it should, then we can see it being of huge benefit to people. Get it wrong, and they’ll soon vote with their wallets.