Gifting for musicians is difficult at the best of times, but when you’ve got a producer type in your life it can be even more of a minefield to find the right present. One thing a producer or the recording musician pretty much always needs, however, is new software. New software inspires creativity, improves their workflow, and helps them get a better end result, making it an appropriate gift in pretty much any situation.
Software also makes a great last-minute gift, as delivery is instant. You simply hand them the details to redeem or download their gift and away they go, especially handy with the big day just around the corner and it's possible you’ve neglected to get them anything thus far.
Whilst this sounds great in practice, in theory, there’s a little more to it than that. Choosing which product is a big task if you’ve got no experience with plugins or music-related software, and that’s before you get to the process of how to gift it to them in a way that makes it feel like a proper Christmas present.
If this sounds like you right now, then you’re in the right place. We’ve been wishing our family and friends would gift us more plugins and VSTs for years, so we’ve put together this guide on the best way to go about it, right down to which retailers to look at, and even some suggestions on what to buy.
If you want more ideas we've compiled this guide to the best Christmas gifts for musicians with 49 affordable present ideas for music producers, DJs, guitar players, drummers and content creators.
What to know before purchasing
First and most importantly, you’ll need to find out what system they’re using. Do they run Windows or MacOS? Because some software may not be compatible with what they have, it’s vital that you do your best to check this out beforehand, as the last thing you want is software that is incompatible with the system they’re using. The majority of plugins will run on pretty much any system, but it's always worth reading the system requirements page of a product just to make doubly sure.
You'll also want to take into account the music they make. If they're in the EDM sphere then a synth plugin might fit the bill. Conversely, if they produce rock music they might prefer a guitar VST to help add to their sound. Researching by asking their close friends or partners is a great way to get some more information on what exactly they're doing with their music, giving you a better chance of getting something they'll genuinely enjoy.
How to gift plugins
Buying music software can be a little different from gifting other things like subscriptions or apps from the Apple or Google Play Store. While a lot of software companies outside the music sphere offer gifting options, not many music plugin companies do the same.
There are, however, various methods you can use to gift plugins this Christmas that will still make the musician in your life happy. We've listed the best options for you below, including some guidance for specific retailers ad more general options explained:
Gift a plugin at Plugin Boutique
Plugin Boutique allows you to create an account using an email address to purchase the software, and then you can give your giftee the login details and they can change that to their own email to activate their product. With an absolutely huge choice of software on offer and many great sales, this would be our top choice if you’re looking to gift software to a musician this Christmas. You can find more information on how to do it here. Plugin Boutique aways has deals running too, so your money will go much further.
Native Instruments gift card
One of the biggest software companies in the world, Native Instruments gift cards make a fantastic present for musicians, allowing your giftee to select the software they want. It's not just software either, the gift card can be used on any NI product, including loads of great hardware and expansions too.
If your giftee has mentioned wanting a new DAW this Christmas, Avid Pro Tools has select subscriptions that can be paid annually or even monthly. You’ll need to create a ‘master’ account to purchase the software, then you can select the gifting option when you checkout. Your giftee will then need to register an account to claim their software and download it. Of course, if you buy a subscription this will need to be renewed every year, or you’ll have to keep up with the monthly payments on that option. The moment you stop paying, they’ll lose access to the software.
Gift an activation code
For other companies, you’ll receive an activation code, which can be used to activate the software. However, you need to be careful here, as sometimes the email used to purchase is also required to activate the software. In this instance, it might be prudent to create a bespoke email rather than using your own email address when purchasing. We’d always recommend contacting the software company beforehand if there’s no clear instruction on how to specifically gift the item.
Use a gift card
Another option is to use gift cards from major retailers like Thomann, Sweetwater, Guitar Center, or Musician’s Friend. Many of these companies sell a wide variety of software, which makes it a great gifting option for any musician. Of course, there’s no guarantee your giftee will actually use the balance for software purchases, bt having so much choice is a gift in itself!
Certain software also comes in a physical box, usually with a USB drive or more rarely these days, a CD. This can be a great option for gifting as it gives you something physical to wrap, but of course, makes it less viable as a last-minute gift. If you’re looking for a physical option then we’d recommend checking out the major music retailers like Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and Musician's Friend.
How to present the gift
Nobody wants to send an email as a Christmas gift, but there are plenty of fun ways you can dress up your gift to make it something exciting to open on the big day. You could pop the details into a card which they can then open on Christmas. Or perhaps get a nice decorative piece of card printed with the details on it, then wrap this up in a gift box or bag. There are loads of printable gift card templates on the internet that can make things a little more exciting. We’d recommend checking out Etsy for loads of great gifting ideas.
Where to shop
Here's a selection of our favourite retailers for software, and there are some really great sales on at the moment so you can bag top plugins for less. All of these retailers have been tried and are trusted by MusicRadar team, and some also feature gifting options:
- Cable Guys: ShaperBox down to just $99
- Guitar Center: Software savings up to 35%
- IK Multimedia: 56% off Total Studio 4 Max
- Loopcloud: 2 months for $2 + freebies!
- Loopmasters: Huge 50% off sample savings
- Native Instruments: Giant Holiday Season deals
- Plugin Boutique: Unmissable software deals
- Positive Grid: Get BIAS amps and FX up to 60%
- Sweetwater: Up to $355.63 off bundles
- Waves: Plugins for just $29.99
Related buying guides
If you're stuck on what kind of plugin or software to get this Christmas, here you'll find a selection of our expert buying guides for inspiration, put together by actual musicians and producers here at MusicRadar.