If you are new to online music production and sampling, you might be finding some great instruments online that are described as “Full Kontakt Required” and “Not the Free Kontakt Player.” Perhaps you don’t know what this means, what Kontakt is, or how it works. Hopefully we can sort these things out and get you on your way to making some music.
Kontakt, made by Native Instruments, is both a plugin for your D.A.W. and a standalone piece of software that helps you to organize and use virtual instruments and to create your own samples. Samples, if you don’t know, are sounds that are recorded somewhere and then organized in a way that they can be played through your MIDI keyboard or other controller.
Taking a Look At The Interface
This is the Kontakt interface. I have it here within Apple Logic Pro, but it is also a standalone tool. You can see on the left the instruments I have installed via Native Access.
What is Native Access?
Native Access is a free download that you can use to manage your Native Instrument products and other libraries such as Kontakt virtual instruments. See here that Kontakt is Installed.
Some developers of virtual instruments pay Native Instruments a fee to have the instruments available within Native Access. See in my installation I have Evolution Texas Twang, which is built by a developer named Orange Tree Samples and another named Pedal Steel which is made by a developer named Impact Soundworks.
If we switch to the “Not Installed” tab, you can see all of the products that come bundled with Kontakt. I have limited drive space on this computer, so I will only download these sounds as I need them.
Other developers choose not to have their instruments show up in Native Access. Instead, you download their package files into a folder on your computer where Kontakt knows to look for them.
Using The Virtual Instruments
So back in the Kontakt UI I will switch to my computer’s folder structure and you can see that I have many more instruments. I can choose the Alpine Project Woodwinds which is free online, by the way, and will select the oboe.
The instrument loads in the right panel, and if you see the keyboard down below, the colored keys will tell you which keys of my MIDI controller will actually work on this instrument. Using my MIDI keyboard I play the notes that are mapped to the different notes of the oboe. Each instrument will have some settings you can change, for example here we can alter the reverb, dynamics, and legato.
We can add another instrument. Here I will add the Simple Flute, another free instrument. If I use the my midi controller I will find that I cannot hear the flute. I only still hear the oboe. That is because the flute is mapped to MIDI channel 2, and my controller is only triggering MIDI channel 1. So if I switch the flute to MIDI channel 1, then I will hear both instruments trigger simultaneously.
There are a lot more advanced configurations that we won’t get into right now, but just know that the system is very flexible and works well with various D.A.W.’s.
How Much Does Kontakt Cost?
As this post is being written in August of 2021, Kontakt 6, the current version, costs $399 USD. It’s quite a lot of money. They do sometimes have sales around Black Friday, so if you can wait until November, you might save yourself $200 or so.
It is curious that it is so expensive, but I guess there are multiple reasons why people will pay that much. First, a lot of music creators already use it and are familiar with it. Secondly it is a good tool to create your own samples. Probably most of all, there are a lot of great sounding virtual instruments that are available in this format.
There is also a huge library of sounds that are bundled with the purchase of Kontakt, including a 23 GB Kontakt Factory Library and a free lite version of Guitar Rig. You can download these into your Kontakt using Native Access.
There is a Free Version for No Full Kontakt Required
There is a free version of Kontakt named the Kontakt Player. You can also get the Kontakt Player is you download the (also free) Komplete Start bundle, that has an added 6GB of sound for you to use.
Many of the best instruments you will find online do not work on the free player, although some do. Developers have to pay Native Instruments a fee to have their virtual instruments work on the free player.
So when you see the term “Full Kontakt Required” you should just know that in order for the instrument to work, you will have to own the full version of Kontakt, not the free version.
What’s In Store for the Future?
In 2021 Native Instruments created a partnership with Izotope, a leading developer of audio plugins and hardware devices. Both companies received financing from Francisco Partners, and this alliance will surely be a powerhouse in the world of music production.
If you are interested in composing and creating music on your computer, then you should at least consider looking into Kontakt as a go-to tool. Keep an eye out for sales in November.