The Case For Fewer Plugins

| Mixing, Plugins, Tips

I have a theory: one huge reason so many home and project studio mixes sound amateur is because the mixers are using too many plugins. Sound like a bizarre correlation? Well if you’ve read my free eBook then you may have a hint as to why I believe this is the case.

Time Wasted Chasing Tails

Many young mixers have grown up using a DAW (digital audio workstation). They have access to all the bundled plugins, plus have been told by the many magazines and web forums available that they “need” some “better” third party plugins if they really want great mixes. So the average mixer buys a bundle of two from some respecatable companies and then they try to get to work; shiny new plugins in hand.

The problem arises when it comes to do things like EQ or compress. Which EQ plugin should you use? The few that are bundled? The third party ones? The same goes with compressors. Which one is best for which type of track? These questions are really as pointless to the average user as a hamster running in a wheel. You’re asking the wrong questions. You should instead be focused on learning how to use these tools to mix, not which one to mix with.

The Better Approach

If you’re going to be honest with yourself, you need to answer this question: Do you care more about using cool new plugins or getting a great mix? If a great mix (fast) is what you’re after, then I suggest the following: pick one EQ, one compressor, one delay, and one reverb and then get to mixing. Learn those four plugins like the back of your hand. Play around with the presets, experiment with different settings on different tracks. Save your very own custom presets as well.

What you’ll start to find is you will gain confidence with the plugins, knowing their sound, and your mixes will come together much more quickly. This type of mentality, just as in the case for fewer tracks and fewer mics, helps to shift your thinking (and time) away from pointless minutia and instead towards making great music. And after all, isn’t that why you got into this in the first place?

Different Isn’t Necessarily Better

One final thought before I let you get back to mixing. Don’t knock the built in plugins that came bundled with your DAW. Just like a good mixing console already has built in EQs and compressors in every channel, your digital audio workstation will ship with at least one quality EQ and compressor. Before you run out to buy something different just because someone else uses it, use the crud out of your built in plugs. They usually sound just as good as any third party plug out there. Different maybe, but just as good.


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6 Responses to “The Case For Fewer Plugins”

  1. Toth

    This is a great post and very timely for me. I just cleaned up a track last week. I had lots of plug-ins running on the tracks and was parallel processing just about every track, because I saw the technique on your blog. I had EQs before and after the compressors… It was a mess and even hard to navigate to figure out what is doing what. Needless to say it sounds MUCH better after the cleanup!

  2. Julian

    ’tis a slippery slope when we see some of the great mixing techniques on these handy sites — you get obsessed with trying out the mixing technique or method and next thing you know you’ve got SSL plugs on every track. That kind of happened to me when I bought the SSL console pack. I threw SSLEQ on every audio track & aux in my template — and I did this before spending more time meditating on developing a good sweeping/narrow band EQ auditioning skill. So I took my template (which is, yes sadly, replete with inactive track types separated by role — another time-drain I did when watched a templating vid — though this template has saved me some time) and put the default DAW plugs on it and practiced mixing that way only. Then later came using the SSL EQs, and sometimes yes SSLCOMP on the submix bus. But my template always starts out with just default plugs and I get right to work that way.
    Great post Graham, very useful.

  3. Tomas


    Yes I absolutely agree. Masterize some basic tools is better way, then accidental use tons of plugins. Plugins shiping with today DAW are gut enough. I use Cubase 5 with UAD and TC Electronic plugins cards. After some time I realised, that too much choices is not help, it only decelerate my work. After it, today I use only some plugins from cards and I went back to some Cubase plugins. Only one exception for third party plugins which runs on their cards – your computer has more calculate power for other tasks…

  4. Ian Hudson

    I use reaper and only used the stock plugins for about a year…..I had to learn how to use them. I really had no clue! BUT, I recently bought a waves renaissance pak as a “I wonder if this will make a diff” test, and it changed everything. They really do sound much better, and I can get the sounds I want WAY faster. Mainly because some of them have fewer controls, so that makes it even easier.

    Learning on the stock plugins helped me get there though, and I pretty much only use the Waves stuff now… I do keep it simple. one EQ, one comp, etc etc……and I’m not gonna buy any more ­čÖé I have what I need.

    All that being said, the learning from this site and others is what makes the most difference…… I’d be wasting my $$$$$$ without that.

  5. Jimyoyo

    If you operate from a standpoint that your raw tracks are all well recorded, I agree. Since most DAW hobbyists are recording under less than optimal conditions, then those plugs are your salvation, and i advise folks to load ’em up. I have 12 different compressor plugs, because they each work in a manner apart from the others: the 670 adds tonal colors that the 1176 does not, and vice versa.

  6. gprok1

    So true, i keep saying this everyday to all my students, we use Logic, just learn what you’ve got 300%. Easy stuff, i’v been through all that, spending more times looking for a certain plugs and finally realizing at the end of the day that i have make 4 mesures…………learn what you allready have and sound better!



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