Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mixing with stock plugins

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about commercial Daws (for example Cubase, Reaper, Pro Tools, Magix, Cakewalk, Studio One, Logic...) and their bundled plugins.

There are in the market a lot of third party plugins, some free and some even more expensive than the daw itself, that we can use to integrate the ones bundled in our workstation, and this is because each plugin is coded differently, and although they may have the same function (e.g. an equalizer), each processor will "colour" our signal in a different way, especially the ones created modelling a vintage hardware gear.

The topic of today is: do I really need to buy a bunch of plugins that do functions that my bundled plugins already do? Is it really necessary? 
I had the chance to give some mixing lesson to some guy, and the first thing I told them was "No, you don't really need them, unless there is a real reason. To download dozens of compressors and equalizers won't make your mix sound better, it will just make you more confused". 
The first thing a mix engineer must learn is to master the use of the simpliest tools, which all comes in bundle with any commercial daw: a single band compressor and an equalizer (which are the 2 basic tone shaping tools), and the basic effects: a reverb and a delay
We could almost say that, once we have done the recording phase and the project preparation phase properly (with a particular attention on the gain staging, track routing and panning side), the aforementioned tools may be all we need in order to make our mix really shine.

99% of the things that we may obtain with very expensive boutique plugins can be obtained with stock plugins too, and our aim should be to learn how to use properly (without using presets, possibly) the basic tools and to obtain a clean and powerful mix only with them, before looking for something else.
After we have mastered the use of the basic tools and we know exactly how every knob affects the sound, we can take a look around and see if there is on the market something that could really be useful and cannot be replaced with stock plugins (we'll discover that the essential ones are really few, for example the Fabfilter pro Q, which shows a frequency analyzer in real time pre and post eq, is something that really adds value compared to the stock daw eq).

My suggestion for a good exercise in mixing is to start recording a project only with microphones (no midi, just mono audio tracks ready to be processed), and to go through all the tutorials on this blog (about how to mix drums, guitars, bass, vocals...), using always the same basic plugins, one for each kind, bundled in our daw;
at the end of the mix we will know them much better, and will hopefully be able to obtain the best from them.

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