2021 is in full swing. My studio has been packed with new artists and long term clients paving the way for some incredible new music.
But one thing occurred to me during the busiest week I’d had for purely mixing - 3 plugins that it would seem I can’t mix without, and I strongly believe this should be the case for all mixing engineers, especially if you’re just starting out.
This article can help you focus on learning these key plugins as opposed to constantly fluttering between different options, or trying to feed the never ending GAS (commonly referred to as Gear Acquisition Syndrome!)
Let's Dive in!
Recently, my go to for this has been Smash And Grab from GetGood Drums. Without a shadow of a doubt, this plugin is great for nearly everything I’ve put in front of it. There are 2 main functions that the plugin features - Pro and Normal. For the new users or if you’re mixing to a short deadline, the Normal function is what Adam Getgood has designed it to be; the typical attack, release, and ratio settings for each one of the options on the next dial beside it, which allows you to select each one of the parts of a kit to get you the sound you want. One of the main features, and the function it’s named after is the Smash or Grab function which allows 2 options between pre-set attack, release and ratio settings which immediately allows you to gauge what sort of compression is needed depending on the mix; Control or Smack.
This compressor isn’t just great for drums however, it's wonderful in the pro settings to tailor for vocals, guitars, and anything else you throw at it. With the Beef and Air function for final adjustments to the low and high end of the source (I’m yet to find an EQ plugin that does anything similar) All round, it’s an incredible plugin!
Other options I’ve used in place of this in prior sessions is the Pawn Shop V2 Compressor from Korneff audio which works in a similar manner. There is an EQ function as mentioned above, and various options for components similar to the option between smash and grab functionality; but both sound very different to each other and have their perks depending on what type of mix you’re trying to achieve - the main thing is to have a reliable compressor that you can throw on a track and know it’s going to work every time!
A Channel EmulationThis is by far the best way to streamline your production in the long run. Channel strips have been used for decades long before plugins were even conceived. Mixing desks have become and will likely stay a staple part of mixing for now and the foreseeable future and its for good reason!
They have basically everything you could possibly need to mix a record - an EQ, a compressor, gate, and gain staging for input and output to match the volume of the original and processed signals. These vary however drastically, depending on the console you’re working on. SSL consoles have a surplus of options and each desk EQ has a variation depending on the model. Focusrite has options for a De-esser in their main console emulation available when purchasing a scarlett or clarett interface, but has an incredibly different variant of EQ compared to the SSL consoles available from companies such as Waves, Plugin Alliance and SSL themselves.
The one I've found myself using more and more though, is the recently released API 50 Channel and Bus Channel emulation from Lindell Audio. This is as far as I’m aware one of 3 emulations commonly used by the audio community, the others being Universal Audio and the lesser known SKNote plugins. Lindell have incorporated the much loved and incredibly musical 2500 Bus Compressor within this channel strip, 3 variants of the EQ section including the 550B and 560 EQ’s (my favourites for guitars) and a gate section married with input and output transformer emulations that can be pushed on the Input function to either increase the volume, or if you’re like me and just want the distortion without the increased volume, process in unity so you only increase harmonic distortion rather than raise the volume as well.
The main thing is to find one that you like best and all of the companies mentioned have their own trial periods for you to decide for yourself. You should find one you can use without hindrance or confusion, so you can best mix your tracks no matter what genre or sound the client wants.
The Addition of Depth
Last, but not least, is the addition of depth to any mix. Vocals, drums, guitars, hell, even bass to some extent (which I will cover in another blog, rest assured!) need some element of dimension added to them, to really help them settle into the mix without feeling too prominent, or too out of place. This is where reverb comes into play.
This is a one stop way to bringing your tracks to life with a single plugin of your choice depending on the needs you have for the genre you specialise in, or in my case and like many others, one that is a versatile all rounder that can be used to add a new element of texture to pretty much any mix you throw it on. Valhalla Vintage Verb is my usual go to, but Liquid Sonic’s Seventh Heaven has also been creeping into more and more of my work flow recently too. Both of these have a vast array of close and far sounding rooms, plates, halls, chambers, non-linear, and chaotic spaces that will fit into literally any mix no matter what genre density, or feel you need.
It’s so incredibly important to add this measure of space and width into your tracks. Lead guitar feels too dry and far too pokey without reverb I find, and as for drums - (spoiler alert, I’ll be talking about this in a future blog post so stay tuned), Room sound is roughly 80% of the excitement and body of your drum sound along with the overheads.. Imagine listening to a record and not hearing the tail of a snare drum, or a vocal that is dryer than the desert sands and has no stupendous reverb decay that makes the listener rewind, listen again, and shout about how insane the vocals sound?
So make sure, before you go into your next mix: pin point those key plugins, which you feel you couldn’t mix without - and if you’re not doing this yet, I strongly suggest demo’ing and trying these mentioned plugins yourselves, or finding something similar to work with. The ease of workflow alone working with reliable, workhorse plugins you know inside and out will help you achieve the sound in your clients heads, help you express your own sound, plus build upon confidence in your mixing!