The following article was taken
from a seminar my studio partner Bryan Martin
and I gave at our mastering studio, Sonosphere,
here in Montreal this October. I wish you all could have been there but here’s a
couple things we’ve learned about the design of most plug-ins.
1) Plug-ins may start out as audio engineering design idea but are written by computer engineers.
2) Most all plug-ins are using the same programming tools on a SHARC chip to execute their program. As you know, the picture (GUI) may vary from one manufacturer to the next.
3) Many plug-ins introduce phase enhancement because it takes very little CPU and it can make things seem bigger and better (on it’s own)
These may seem like small design points but they do point to important use guidelines and precautions to keep in mind as you’re mixing. I’m not saying plug-ins are bad at all. I just want to share with you a couple rules we’ve developed to optimize your use of plug-ins to create the best possible mix. I know that in the mix world, plug-ins have become a reality.
- Use as few plug-ins as possible and never use two plug-ins for the same thing. If you have a bad track that sounds like dog do-do, re-record and get it right this time. You can always learn something by admitting a mistake. Using plug-ins cuts down on CPU and that’s where you start losing your LSB. (Least significant bit) which can affect things like stereo image, details, bass and high end.
- Don’t mix and match your plug-ins from different manufacturers. It’s like mixing meds! The results will make your track sound like it’s swimming in pea soup.
- Don’t use plug-ins on your mix bus. Using plug-ins on your mix-bus is only going to cheapen your audio. If you have a great clean analog compressor or eq – it’s fine but for the most part anything you use on your mix bus should be left to the mastering engineer who has better tools for that.
Keep an eye on your CPU, and always use a phase scope when mixing. And if you can’t pinpoint the high hat in your mix, or if everything kind of sounds like it’s in the great big center? (Slightly left, slightly right…) Then you’ve gone too far with the plug-ins! Just start over 🙂
In mastering, we don’t use plug-ins or soundcards for processing. We’ve found that when you have the volume and complexity of a full mix, plug-ins just can’t do the work of dedicated hardware boxes and great converters. If you want to hear the difference, send me a track. Visit ACMastering.com.