Digital vs. Analog? Tube vs. Solid State? Pro Tools 11 vs. 2018? Everyone has a preference. But when it comes to using effects plug-ins in a Pro Tools session, there's no doubt that instancing plug-ins in parallel is far better than putting them directly on the audio track. As Woody Brown would say, it's like night and south. What's special about doing it this way? Apart from being able to share effects from many source tracks, instancing plug-ins in parallel buy you at least five solid advantages over those instanced directly on the track.
The Need For S.P.E.A.D.
The SPEAD acronym is an excellent way to remember the advantages of using effects in parallel.
S - Stems. If you create stems when mixing (which you should), using effects in parallel gives you a way to separately archive your effects and source track(s). This could save you time on a recall when the notes say: "less reverb on the vocal." Simply bump the effects stem fader down 1 dB and re-bounce the mix without ever opening the original session.
P – Panning. When effects are instanced on a track, you can't separately pan your effects and source. For example, if your guitar is panned at 2 o'clock, but you want your delay at 10 o'clock, having parallel effects makes it easy – when plug-ins are instanced on audio the track the plug-in pan is married to the track pan, you only get one choice.
E – EQ. Brightening the source before it hits your reverb or delay is a great way to get a track to pop in the mix without EQ'ing the original track. For example, if you love the sound of your snare in the mix but your reverb is sounding muddy, instancing an EQ or HPF before the effect plug-in on your parallel track will take out the mud without altering the tone of the snare on the source track. If you put the EQ plug-in before, or after the serial effect on your audio track, you're brightening everything.
A – Automation. Dynamic effects engage the listener by enhancing the complexity of the image. For example, depending on the style and type of music, slightly reducing the reverb tails when they're exposed makes other parts of the track breathe through the ambience. When your effects are in parallel, this easy to do by automating your effects return fader.
D – Double-dipping. This means adding an effect to your effect and not your source, which can only be done if the effects plug-in is instanced separately from the audio track. For example, using a stereo widener after a reverb, even if it's in select parts of the song will change the presence and dynamic perception of an instrument in a subtle way. If you used the widener on the source track and effect, the results are not the same and harder to control.
Watch this free tutorial to see these tips in action.