Steinberg - the company that changed the audio industry by solving the problem of standardizing audio plugins via development of the VST format - can once again perform an industry-changing feat by standardizing the way those myriad plugins are organized.
Feature Request: Build a standalone Steinberg Audio Plugin Manager (APM) that acts as a liaison between plugins and host DAWs. The host applications are no longer responsible for each maintaining their own VST manager. The external manager handles all plugin scanning, identification and organization. The manager allows the user to create profiles and to easily import/export configs for rapid setup on alternate machines. The manager also allows quick activation/deactivation (similar to how font management programs activate/deactivate fonts) of plugins. This manager would support (almost) any modern DAW capable of using VST plugins, and it could even integrate jBridger functionality to make that process automated as well. The manager could support many types of plugins (AU, AAX, etc.) not just VST.
Problem the Standalone App Solves: As my VST effects and instruments collection has grown, and as I continue to work in new audio applications to supplement Cubase and WaveLab, I find that a huge amount of manual work is necessary in order to maintain a tidy, easy-to-use plugin menu in each application. This is because, in part:
- VST3 plugins and VST2 plugins install and act differently. I can organize my VST2s into folders all day long but when VST3s are introduced into a DAW alongside them, the organization is toppled.
- Renaming plugins manually sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, depending on the DAW. Some users try to use hexadecimal editors to tweak metadata to help. It’s ridiculous. A VST manager should allow a meta field for renaming within the manager DB without having to change the VST files themselves anyway.
- Even if I painstakingly organize and rename plugins into folders, different DAWs treat them differently. Some use Automap to leverage metadata put in plugins by the plugin developers (which is notoriously inconsistent and messy); others literally respect the user’s folder organization; others do a hybrid. Even going between Steinberg’s WaveLab and Cubase, for example, things are organized differently by default.
- If a user gives in to the challenge of actually using each DAW’s plugin manager to organize a burgeoning collection of plugins, there are several additional concerns: (a) The plugin managers tend to be buggy or feature-incomplete. (b) Import/export of configurations involves manually copying config files from system folders, and the files tend to corrupt easily on future imports. © From version to version, configs can break easily.
- When moving between different physical computer systems and hosts in different studios, consistency is virtually nonexistent without a lot of manual setup and frustration – time better spent getting on with your mix. So you just throw the plugins you need onto the system and resort to hunt-and-peck through menus, knowing your wasting precious time but there’s no better alternative.
So basically, going between various programs using VST2 and VST3 plugins requires a huge amount of work to achieve good plugin organization. Even trying to deal with the differences between Steinberg’s own WaveLab and Cubase is a major chore. And it’s understandable - different legacy codebases, different teams.
- Users can purchase Ultimate Plugin Manager or Auganizer (Mac/AU only), or they can try to use a more low-level solution like Kraft Familie Plugin Manager. None of these solutions really work the way users want, and they’re a bit of a hassle to mess with.
- Users can sit around wasting time trying to keep their plugins organized, fighting with various buggy plugin managers.
- Users can let their assistant do the organization. (Not affordable for non-pros.)
- Users can give up on organization altogether. (Not tenable for pros.)
- The APM could be a profit center in its own right. Just look at the forums of most DAWs to find plenty of complaints about the plugin manager of each. Once DAW users knew they could find a one-stop solution, they’d flock to it.
- You would offload responsibility from your own DAWs to organize plugins. This would reduce startup crashes and having to deal with interface issues related to plugin management in your own hosts.
- Realize that users who care about plugin organization have no good option whatsoever to keep plugin organization maintained across host applications. This is a huge functionality gap waiting to be filled. Even Steinberg’s own plugin hosts have competing visions of plugin management (Cubase with drag-and-drop folder hierarchy, WaveLab with its custom-category overrides). When users first learn how to organize in Cubase, they move to WaveLab and are confronted with an entirely different paradigm, they think, “Is this even the same company?” And then they jump to Ableton Live, etc. and have to do double or triple work just to keep plugins in order. You would save people a lot of time by inventing this one-stop-shop for plugin organization. “Organize once and re-use your work in each DAW.”
- Steinberg is the original developer of VST technology. Now you can be the original developer of the best way to keep plugins organized. This will serve the entire audio community - especially if AU, AAX, and others are supported. Users of every DAW would be inclined to use this new Steinberg tech to help manage their workflow - which would get them looking more closely at other Steinberg products.
- Look at how successful a product like jBridger is. Once people know it’s available, they flock to it. Steinberg APM could be the same way.
A response to critics: Some people say, “Just use the search feature and forget about organizing plugins.” But this doesn’t help. When you have hundreds (or thousands) of plugs (some from clients, some from organizations, etc.) and many of the plugins don’t even self-identify properly (they have mysterious names unrelated to their function, etc.) it becomes really difficult to find the correct plugin. So it’s important to be able to organize plugins into categories and methodically browse them. Search-only is not a viable solution.