Announcer: This is the MixCoach podcast, episode 74.[Music plays]
Male: On this episode of the MixCoach podcast, we’re going to talk about what is important when selecting what tools are essential to you.
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Jon: All right, Kev. This week I wanted to ask you, whenever you’re picking a new plugin, what’s important to you, what would it take to make that new plugin essential to you? What would that be; what would that look like?
Kevin: [Laughs] Oh man.
Jon: So how do you go about trying out a new one?
Kevin: You know, that’s a great question, Jon. I’ve never even thought about this really. Let me say this, for someone who’s been mixing as long as I’ve been mixing, sometimes you don’t pick plugins just because you need plugins. Sometimes you pick new plugins just because you want to make things a little interesting. You know, that doesn’t happen that much.
Jon: I mean there’s so many plugins on the market. There’s just so many to choose from even just stock plugins or anything. I was just curious as to what your take on that was, and I guess that’s really interesting is that, “Hey, I’m going to go about this mix, and I need or I want to try something new, or just a new flavor or just a new thing to help me out.”
Kevin: Yeah. Well the last time I did this, I was trying to choose between the universal audios 88 and Neev [SP] channel, and their vision. I tried the Neve first, so I used it on a mix that I was doing at the time, and consciously I was thinking, “This is going to expire, so I’m going to either need to print this or be able to replace it.” I was looking for something that was just hands down better than what I had already. I didn’t feel like that was that much better than the SSL that I use. It had maybe a slightly different quality and it compressed slightly different but I don’t know. As we’ve talked about on some of the previous podcasts before, I don’t think having a huge box of plugins to go to is necessarily good when you’re trying to get a mix done. Because you can tend to get into this analyzation mode and you have analysis paralysis, where you won’t commit anything because you’ve got too many choices you could make and you’re afraid you’re going to make the wrong choice.
Jon: And I’ve even, on the opposite of that sometimes whenever you’re mixing with a new plugin you can just think because it’s new it’s better, or because it’s new you’re going to hit it harder and it’s a compressor for instance. If it’s new you’re like, “I really want to get the tone of this,” and then by the end of it you don’t really know what to compare it to because you’re not using the same work flow you’ve used in the past, that sort of thing. That can be a factor as well, is that new is always better.
Kevin: Yeah, and you have to be cautious about that because that can really cost you a lot of money.
Kevin: I’m thinking back to how do I know if it’s essential, and I’ll have to go back a few years when I first started using the SSL. I had done a mix already, and here’s the bottom line. If my wife can tell there’s a difference, and she says it’s better, then it’s essential. I wouldn’t have let her hear the mix before and after unless it made that much of a difference, and it was an obvious difference. But the time I started using the SSL plugin, I just put it across the channel, and this was before I had the instant awesome preset that I kind of go to. I just filter it a little bit, and I used that auto makeup game on the SSL that just makes everything stand up in the mix, and I let her hear the first mix I did, and then the second mix did with the SSL. It was like, “Oh yeah, that’s awesome. Oh yeah.” That was how I kind of decided that was the one.
Jon: There was something you mentioned a while back about you had heard that base writer was good for a super dynamic base or something, but you really didn’t use it and didn’t have a need to use it so you kind of logged that information away, and then finally whenever something came up, and it was like, “Man that base has really got a dynamic, how do I even this out?” And you reached for Base Writer, and in that situation, it became worth it to you, to make it essential for that particular mix.
Kevin: Yeah, and it just so happened that it was on sale that week, I think. [Laughs] I think it was less…
Jon: You were like, “Hey, I’ll try this.”
Kevin: I think I’ll try this, it’s worth trying. And even if I don’t, you know, I don’t know if it was a trial; I don’t think there was a trial. I just bought it because I had used Vocal Writer to know that it’s pretty close, and Base Writer is supposed to be better; the Base Writer plugin would be a little easier to use than vocal.
Jon: Just because it’s a little bit more consistent.
Kevin: Well, the problem I was having with the base at that time was, when you’re doing an acoustic base, if you don’t like it just right, if you mike any acoustic instrument too close…
Jon: That’s right.
Kevin: It will have hot spots, basically. Some notes will sing out really loud…
Kevin: Some notes will disappear. That’s the problem I was having, is like the G string on the base was really low or normal, I guess. And then the D string was just really loud.
Kevin: And no compressor, and I think, we talked about the 88, the Neev 88, that’s when I was trying this. So the Neev 88 wasn’t doing it for me. The vision, the API vision was okay, but it still wasn’t getting it for me, and I thought there surely, and I tried about eight of the things to make it feel right. It never did.
Kevin: Not without making it sound messed with or compressed, because it was bluegrass so it was a timeless form of music. I didn’t want it to sound like, “Oh that’s back when compressing a base like crazy was in style. It must have been the 2010s,” or whatever.
Kevin: I didn’t want to do that so what I did was, surely there’s a plugin that will actually write it before it gets to the compressor.
Kevin: And that’s what I did. I used the Base Writer plugin just before the API vision plugin. So the vision wasn’t carrying the whole load of keeping the signal down. It was the base writer, which is actually pulling down on the fader.
Kevin: I felt like that was an essential plugin for me, especially at that time. I haven’t used it since, and I may only use it two or three times, but there’s a set of plugins like that, like the Isotope Arcs 3. I hardly ever use it, but when I need that plugin…
Jon: You need that plugin.
Kevin: There’s no other plugin that will do. So, that’s kind of how I decide if it’s essential. Like you said, I’ll store it away in my database of like, “oh that’s really cool, what that’ll do.” I will buy that plugin when I need to.
Jon: Yeah, definitely.
Kevin: So that’s kind of how I decide to do it.
Jon: Yeah, and I think all of this kind of comes down to knowing why you’re using a certain plugin, because if you’re just strapping on a Base Writer on every base and every situation, that’s probably not the way to go about it, but if you have a reason why, “hey I need this base right on this particular song.” Putting it on there, then that’s a good plugin to use then.
Jon: There’s one other thing that I wanted to mention before we get off of the idea of essential plugins, and that was: mixing being similar to art or to painting, and it’s whenever you…
Jon: So it’s whenever you are working on a mix. For instance, a lot of times you buy a bunch of plugins like people will buy a ton of plugins thinking, “hey this is what the pros use,” and then whenever they don’t turn out the way that the pros mixes turn out, it’s as if you bought some oil paints and said, “Well why didn’t that turn out like the Sistine Chapel?”
Jon: “Why didn’t that end up like the Sistine Chapel? I have the paint.”
Jon: Buying the plugins, the plugin being the paint, a lot of times.
Kevin: Well, you know it kind of applies to what we talked about in this podcast, and I think a couple of podcasts ago, or last podcast, or something like that. Where I talked about, it’s not really the kind of tools that the mechanic uses; it’s how he uses the tools. When you buy plugins that everyone else uses, that just happens to be the kind of tool they use, but how they’re using the tool and why they’re using the tool is really what you need to analyze. I’m an advocate of having your paint by numbers set, but make it yours. This is the set of numbers or the set of tools that I use. Don’t necessarily copy somebody else’s plugins just because they use them. These plugins that we’re talking about are what we consider essential to us. I’m trying to think of the name of the plugins the green. People use them, I can’t think of them.
Jon: I can’t think of the name right now.
Kevin: Because I don’t use them. I have been real reluctant to even use them, because I don’t want a whole new set of tools in my toolbox at all, that I won’t know what to do with, I guess. I’m kind of limiting myself, too.
Jon: Well, also whenever you get a great sound out of something, you can get a great sound out of one of your set of plugins, and somebody who uses a completely different set; they’ll get a great sound out of those as well. So it’s not really, like you said, the pay to win or something like that, where you buy plugins in order to get a great mix. It’s not really a one to one exchange there. It’s more of, “hey, you got to know how to use this, and you got to learn to put in the work to figure out what your work flow looks like.”
Kevin: Yeah. I’m all about; I’ll leave it at this. It’s all about ears over gear. I know that’s a rhyming thing I guess, but I’m a big believer in that you should develop your ears before you go and invest a lot of money in gears because my friend and mentor, Kevin McMahon, has told me this when I first got to town. I think somebody else told him this. He said, “A good recording engineer can make a wall and sack sound good.” I didn’t even know what a wall and sack, and that was before I could go and Wikipedia, but go check it out. Maybe we should put a link to the show notes under here what a wall and sack is. It was a not so good recorder, I think. It was just a base priced recorder that really didn’t sound that good. I think a good engineer who really has the ears developed over the gears can even make stock plugins sound like they should.
Announcer: Thanks for listening. This has been the MixCoach podcast, the podcast dedicated to making your next recording your best recording. For more tips, tutorials, and even a free course, be sure and visit us at MixCoach.com.