I love plug-ins, I love them all, but for me there is something special with compressors. I can easily spend a whole night testing out a new plug-in and totally forget about eating and everything else.
But do we need all these plug-ins?
We really cannot skip the fact that if you got a guitar for 1000€ it would probably and hopefully sound better and be more suitable to more kinds of music then 100€ guitar. Similarly, that a more expensive microphone pre amp will sound better then the one built an the Mbox. But does a 200€ plug-in add anything more than the plug-ins that comes with your DAW?
Do we need to spend all our money on new software products?
I remember back when my interest for audio engineering started. I sat at home in my room and tried to record a Guns N Roses cover with a cheap interface and Pro Tools LE. I was told that LE stood for ‘Loser Edition’ so I always blamed my failure to make a rock cover on my ‘Loser Edition’ plug-ins that I got with Pro Tools. A friend of mine (who is a really successful songwriter now) gave me a CD with a almost 100 quality plug-ins. So I installed all of them, the temptation was too great not to. I remember I was thinking that nothing can possible stop me now from doing my kick ass Guns N Roses cover. I was wrong.
I started to do my mix, but I faced my first problem. I had to make some frequency adjustment to my kick drum. So I went to the mix-window, my plug-in folder, EQ and boom. Instead of just one EQ, there were suddenly ten EQs to choose between. I picked the first in that list and played around with it for a while, and then I tried the next one, and then the next one after that. And after spending way too much time finding the right EQ I lost interest for the track. The mix took me almost a month do to, and when I was done I was so sick of the song that I threw it away. I also removed all the plug-ins away that I got a month earlier.
Mistakes help us to learn
Hopefully we learn by our mistakes and now I am mixing for some of the biggest clients in the business with less plug-ins then I had when I started out.
I often hear people complaining that their mixes does not sound right because they cant afford the Waves Ultimate Superbundle or the UAD DSP cards. But I think if someone gave them all the best plug-ins around they may still be failing because having a different plug-in isn’t always the answer to the problem.
Spend time playing around with the plug-ins you already own, testing them out in different situations, do something unexpected to really know what your plug-in actually can do. Michael Carnes from Exponential Audio said this in a recent article “The best thing you can do is play with a piece of gear like it’s the only thing you’ve got”
A 200€ compressor won’t sound any better than compressor supplied with your DAW if you don’t understand how to use it correctly.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that you should stop buying plug-ins. My suggestion is to learn all your gear really well before reaching out for something new. Maybe you are not in need of the new super cool IR-Verb, maybe you could achieve the same results with a plug-in you already got? A lot of top tracks have been mixed using Dverb, stock EQ and Avid compressors.
As a suggestion when thinking about investing in extra plug-ins:
- One workhorse: This should be a EQ that is fast, simple, clean sounding and CPU-friendly.
- One precision EQ: This EQ should be able to do high Q-values without any artifacts.
- Two characteristics: You should have at least two EQs with character maybe with some nice analog warmth and color.
- One workhorse: A compressor that you really can rely on. Same principal here as for the workhorse EQ. Clean sounding and CPU-friendly. Should be able to set really fast attack and release values.
- Two characteristic: Compressors with character. Maybe one more aggressive sounding and one that’s more soft.
I guess my punch line is: Don’t be tempted to use cracks, they won’t solve your mix problems. Spend your money wisely on plug-ins that you need.