There’s no magical piece of audio equipment that works the same way for every situation 100% of the time. It just doesn’t exist. And you can take that further by saying that there’s no approach to recording and mixing audio that works 100% of the time. You have to be willing to try different things. And you have to work very hard to kill your preconceived notions that a certain piece of gear is going to be “the one.”
I have noticed that there is some gear that works out most of the time. I call it my 85% gear pile. It’s taken me 15 years to really refine what’s in my 85% pile but I gotta say, it really works. 85% of the time the stuff in this pile gets the job done well for whatever record I’m working on.
Ever had GAS?
I know I sure have. Gear aquisition syndrome is a motherfucker too. Talk about a never ending black hole of money spending.
… And I’ve definitely spent too much money on gear.
Those of you who have had GAS surely know about it’s ugly cousin PAS, Plugin acquisition syndrome. I’ve suffered from that one as well.
… And again, I have to admit… I own lots and lots of plugins.
There was a point in time when I bought them pretty compulsively. Eventually I realized that no matter what shiny new plugin I acquired, my mixes didn’t improve too much. And beyond that, I found that I ended up reverting to my trusty plugins that I knew inside and out almost exclusively.
That’s why I’m an advocate of picking a few tools that you love, and mastering the hell out of them. Knowing a few plugins inside and out will get you closer to your goals than just having a bunch to choose from.
Quality over quantity my friends. Quality over quantity.
So here they are, my 85% pile of plugins:
1. MDW HIGH RESOLUTION EQ – It’s very hard to mix metal music, or let alone any style of music without some sort of ultra precise EQ. I like this one because it can go as surgical as I want it to, but it manages to sound musical throughout. Plus, unlike many plugin EQs, this one doesn’t seem to sound bad when boosting. For the most part I like plugins that are very CPU friendly and this one fits the bill. I can have tens of instances of this loaded and it never seems to hurt how the computer runs. Last but not least, you can isolate frequency bands when going for those super targeted cuts.
2. WAVES SSL G CHANNEL – There’s a few different versions of this plugin. UAD also makes a very nice one, but they sound completely different. People will argue that the UAD version sounds better, but for some reason I find myself using the Waves version more often. To me they’re like apples and oranges. They look the same, but they certainly don’t sound the same. I would call the EQ on this the exact opposite of the MDW. It’s hard to get super precise with it, but when you’re going for wider and more general EQ changes this plugin is great. It produces a very musical result, especially when boosting. The gate and compressor are also super useful. If you were to limit me to only having one plugin on a record, I could probably mix the entire thing with just this plugin. Also, like the MDW, load up tens of instances of this one and you won’t feel your computer lagging.
3. WAVES L1 ULTRAMAXIMIZER – Sometimes you just need zero dynamics on a certain source. There’s lots of limiters out there, but there’s something special about the dirt this one imparts upon a signal. Vocals, guitars, bass, drums, synth, you name it, this plugin can be useful on any of them. When I need something to just punch right through a mix aggressively, this is usually my first go-to.
4. SOUNDTOYS ECHOBOY – Disclaimer, the other delay plugin that I truly love isn’t made anymore. It’s called Line 6 Echo Farm and it did everything that EchoBoy won’t. Together they were my digital delay solution to every time based effect problem. That said, EchoBoy is a fantastic delay. There’s almost no parameter you can’t mess with. Every type of delay you would want is on there from single, dual, ping pong, and programmable. But beyond that there’s super detailed “feel” controls that really enable you to get your delays into just the right pocket. Over by the bottom right ,where you see that it says “style,” there’s a bunch of different tone options. Like analog, space echo, and many many more. Between all these controls, if you can’t get what you’re looking for, (and you don’t have Echo Farm), it probably can’t be done with just a plugin. Oh, and it looks like there’s lots of knobs, but this is a very intuitive plugin. It has a very easy learning curve which means that the time between installation and musical results will be very short.
Be sure to check back next week for Part 2 of my desert island plugins.
If you liked this and want to learn more from me you can check out my podcast here: www.jsfpodcast.com. I host it with Joey Sturgis and Joel Wanasek. We talk about recording, mixing, mastering, and music career advice. Plus we have lots of cool guests like Kurt Ballou, Alan Douches, and Andrew Wade.
If you’re in the Tri State area and want to learn from me in person I’m giving a recording bootcamp September 24-27 with Joey Sturgis and Jesse Cannon. Get ready to have your audio life changed! Click here for more info – www.unstoppablerecordingmachine.com.
– Eyal Levi