3 Plugins that changed everything
When we all begin this journey into recording music, we all run into the same obstacles. Which DAW to choose? Why are my mixes so flat? Which plugins do the professional studios use? I cannot reiterate that this learning process is driven by the experiences that you must encounter to become a better engineer and producer. One of the biggest hurdles I ran into was, which plugins do I use in my own mixes. There are so many companies out there that offer their own “Artist Series” or plugin packages. For years I tried different brands, setups and signal chains. I saw YouTube video after YouTube video explaining how each plugin worked so on and so forth. Below are the 3 Plugins that changed how I approached mixing.
Plugin 1: Compressors
To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what a compressor was even after doing hours upon hours of research. I still didn’t even understand what they did after a year of using them in my mixes when I first began recording for money. But as the years past, I began to see the immense impact compressors can have in a mix.
I tend to break down what compressors do into 2 categories: snap and control. I used to always wonder how my favorite songs always had the drums loud and proud in the mix with a snare and kick drum that just sliced through the guitars. As I slowly began to learn how to use a compressor, I finally understood that if you want to give any particular element that “snap” in a mix you had to use a compressor. Whether it be the snare or kick drum or in your face vocals, a compressor was the main ingredient. My go-to to this day is still the API Compressor from Waves.
Not only do compressors offer added attack and snap, if used with low ratios, compressor can act just like a volume knob very precisely controlling the highs and lows of a particular track. Compressors can help keep an individual element from getting too loud or too soft in the mix. Think of it as volume level automation without having to write any automation.
Plugin 2: EQ
I never knew how important Equalization was until I began charging money to record bands around 12 years ago. Equalization is found at every part of the recording process. From the initial recording of each instrument, to the mixing and finally the mastering phase. It everywhere in music. Most aspiring mixers and engineers, however, get Equalization wrong when they first start using it.
I very quickly learned that if you have to enter or “dial in” too much EQ for any particular instrument, you’re going to create muddy, unclear mixes. Follow the link here # to get a crash course on how to use EQ properly. I found that having an EQ that could allow you to dial in both boosts and cuts to very important frequencies, changed how my mixes began to sound. The standard EQ from Pro Tools to this day will always give me the results I need in a timely manner. There are other EQ’s that offer even more precision and control that honestly gets me excited to begin mixing a track. EQ’s are usually the first plugin I go to when I begin a mix.
Try searching for particular frequency in a mix that sound muddy to you and cutting them about 5 db. You’re going to notice your mix open up and you really haven’t done much
Plugin 3: Frequency Analyzers
With my venture into the education of Equalization came the discovery of Frequency Analyzers and wow was I blown away on the importance of understanding the frequency range. For an in-depth education on the frequency range visit here. A Frequency Analyzer basically shows you visually what is happening in your mix. It visually displays the interaction of every instrument in the mix, where each element lies on the frequency spectrum and how much energy each instrument is giving off frequency wise. Here you can visually see the imbalance of your mixes. This was the biggest eye opener when I began mixing for money 12 years ago. I began to see where I was tending to boost too much and which frequencies I was ignoring. I saw how powerful low frequencies naturally are and why they must be approached delicately. The Frequency Analyzer from Waves is probably the one plugin that is a must on every project I’m involved in. I usually put it on the master bus and will use it throughout the entirety of the recording process with a band. Pop this often-overlooked plugin on and see what you haven’t been hearing, I guarantee everything will change.
As you journey through your career as a mix engineer, you are going to be exposed to so many varieties of plugins and companies trying to sell you their software. It can definitely be very overwhelming at times. My advice to you is to try as many as you can. Look for the plugins that create that sound you are looking for. Everybody is unique and no two mix engineers are the same. Develop the sound you want and roll with it. As time passes, if you are good enough, the business will come.