In the early days, like most novice (bedroom) producers, having little understanding or experience with the principles of gain staging, isolation or quality audio signal paths, I admit that my tunes sounded bad! I found power in the plug-ins that I could apply to my tracks and I frivolously applied filters and effects, (like a kid with too many crayon colors) making everything sound unnatural, different, and somehow to my ear at the time, cooler than what I started with. I was over compensating, washing out the intrinsic tone characteristics of the instruments, and making my tracks sound like total garbage. When used appropriately, effects can be hugely useful to correct problems or add drama, but as we grow our chops, we learn that less is usually more. We have to be mindful of the sonic picture we’re painting for our listeners.
3 Plug-ins That (when applied with taste) Won’t Trash Your Tracks
Here’s my theory on minimalist home production…when it comes to creating great sounding records, whether you’re working on your own or with a band or collaborator, the first things your critical listeners will key in on are the overall loudness/presence, the vocals, and the drums. Hone your songwriting and production craft first. Then, try these plug-ins to get you the rest of the way there.
For the Final Touch: A quality, mastering compressor is the icing on the cake for any production. The best out there: the L1-L3 line of maximizers from Waves. These little guys are SO transparent in comparison to others that I’ve heard, are downright simple to use, and they have long been a staple on recording sessions in top-level studios. On the same note of simplicity, but for a few other offerings from Waves, I’d also recommend any of the signature series bundles. They won’t break the bank, have minimalistic controls, and are modeled after hardware effects chains that top mix pros use in the studio.
Toontrack’s EZ Drummer 2
For the Creative Process: If you don’t happen to be a drummer, I would suggest either this or FXpansion’s BFD for creating quality drum tracks for your music projects. The latter allows for a lot more control and programmability, but you just can’t beat EZ for making drum tracks just that. The Song Creator mode makes it a blast to create patterns for an entire song in no time and with an extensive line of expansions for any style you’ll likely find creating great rhythm tracks for your tunes an inspirational process. In terms of the instrumental elements you’ll use in your productions, nothing will identify you as an amateur more than having cheesy drum sounds or overly loose rhythm performances.
For the Corrective Approach: I know – you’re shaking your head. Autotune’s sort of gotten a bad rap among purists, but here’s the deal – these days nearly every commercial artist uses it in the studio, no matter how talented they are. It’s not just for getting that over-the-top vocoder effect though; most producers use it to do more subtle corrections. If you’re not the world’s greatest singer, you’ll find it much less frustrating to play front man on your tracks and you’ll be knocking out harmonic good vibes like The Beach Boys in no time. It’s definitely a time-saver, which will keep you inspired and will give your vocal productions that pro-level polish.
Next time we’ll finish the series by looking have a look at 3 Gear Investments For Your Studio That Will Help Preserve The Magic