What Plug-In?

As I was cruising different forums this morning, it was pretty apparent that some people had gotten a bit of money for the holidays, and were looking to do some shopping.  I found it kind of funny though that so many people were looking to plug-ins to solve all of their music writing dilemmas.  Certainly some plug-ins are better than others for different tasks, and some have a sound we tend to prefer compared to others.  But what struck me was how many people were assuming that there was some magical plug-in that would instantly solve what in reality were nothing but simple audio engineering issues.

Some examples:

– What plug-in do I need to spread sounds around in the stereo field?

Instead of relying on a plug-in on your master channel, or applied during mastering, just use the pan control on each track in the DAW to spread sounds out.  This gives you greater control over which sounds are placed where, and can sound much more natural than some of the stereo “widener” plug-ins.  Additionally, by placing different instruments this way, you also free up room in your mixdown for all the sounds to be heard clearly.

Keep in mind that most of these widener plug-ins work by using phase-shifts or short delays to create a Haas effect.  So while it might sound good in headphones, you can run into issues on mono systems and other playback environments.  One of the most common things I find myself adjusting in mastering is compensating for when people overdo these types of effects, leaving the center of the stereo field with a big gaping hole where the main instruments should be.  If you do use plug-ins like this, you only need a little to achieve a lot.


– I just got some top-notch drum sample packs from “Producers X,Y,Z”, what plug-in do I need to make them work in my mixdown?

One of the great things about buying a well-produced set of samples, is that most of the time all of the processing has already been done for you!  More often than not those drum sounds were already compressed and EQ’d to sit well in a mix.  You’re paying not just for the source samples themselves, but also the preparation that went into them.

It’s a classic case of people who by default start to apply processing to sounds, without first perceiving a real need for it.  So try your new sounds in a song without applying any EQ or Compression to them, I bet you’ll be surprised at how good they sound as is.


– I heard a producer with 20 years more experience than me do a live set over the weekend, and his tracks sounded so much better than mine.  What plug-in should I put on my master channel to fix this?

While the performer you heard might have some type of processing applied on the master out of their set, it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s no magic “make me sound better” plug-in (or hardware box).  The artist sounds better than you because they ARE better than you most likely.  They have years more experience, a studio full of hand-picked gear that suits THEIR needs (and might not fit YOURS).  Not to be a downer, but it’s usually a bit unrealistic to expect you’ll sound as good as professional with decades of experience when you’ve only been doing this for a year or two.

So instead of approaching the situation looking for a magic solution that will solve all your problems, look at it instead as a goal post to reach, a milestone to set and achieve in the future.  Try and find other sets online by the same artist, and compare your productions or live sets to theirs.  Analyze the specific differences, and try to identify areas in your own productions that you need to work to improve on.  Break it down so you can approach it one piece at a time, instead of trying to to improve everything all at once.  Baby steps, as they say.  And keep your chin up, we’ve all been there in the past.  🙂


– Every time I try and spread cold butter on my toast, all I do is break into the bread instead of leaving a thin layer of butter.  What plug-in will fix this for me?

Vintage Warmer, obviously  🙂

Apologies to anyone if some of those look familiar, not trying to call anybody out, just using some random examples to make the point.  In a lot of ways I can understand people looking at their problems this way, after all in the last couple of years there’s been some amazing plug-ins released that have really changed what we think is possible in terms of audio processing (Melodyne anyone?).

But sometimes it’s worth stepping back and getting a little old-school when it comes to looking at a problem too.  You might be surprised to realize you already have the tools and the means to solve an issue you’ve run into, and at the same time you might save some money for something you really have a need for.

Just for fun though, reply in the comments with what you would consider your favorite plug-in and why.  You have to pick only ONE though, no putting a list or multiple options.


Well, this will likely be the last blog post I do before the end of the year, unless I suddenly get inspired in the next couple of days (and considering my Octatrack just got dropped off by UPS minutes ago, fat chance).  I just want to once again thank everyone who’s followed my ramblings over the last year, shared the blog with their friends, or left some insightful comments of their own.  I’ve got a lot of new ideas for the coming year, so be sure to check back often.

Special thanks to those of you who were kind enough to donate a couple bucks last week too. It helps a lot, so you have my sincere appreciation.

Now, who else is looking forward to a killer 2012?

14 Replies to “What Plug-In?”

  1. LOL@ Vintage Warmer. 😀

    My favorite plugin…man that’s tough. For plugins that make sounds, gotta go with Arturia’s CS-80V. For plugins that shape sounds, much tougher. Timeless2, Waves’ SSL Channel Strip, PSP’s Mixpressor get a lot of use.

  2. Fabfilter Pro-Q… as really, a little Eq goes a long way to fixing a lot of issues.
    I just love the interface (and analyzer) and flexibility. No coloration (Afaik).. so its just easy spread butter on anything.

  3. Favorite plugin over the past couple of months is “TT Dynamic Range Meter”. This free plugin has tremendously helped me learn to make better mixdown and home-made mastering of my own stuff, even though the plugin doesn’t do anything to the sound, just gives a reading on how I’m doing my job mixing down parts, and the ultimate goal is to produce something that sounds “alive”.

  4. Well my favorite plug-in would have to be Reaktor but if that doesn’t count 😉 I’d have to choose Melodyne. I’m only new to it but it’s absolutely incredible

  5. Really interested to hear what you make of the Octatrack, especially as I sold mine and bought Maschine… and have just purchased it again!
    Fav plug-in, if I’m honest probably Logic’s EQ.

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