Trent from Indiana sent me a great question via the Ask Joe form. Let’s take a look at it:

Joe – I’m new to Pro Tools.  I have simple tracks that I just want to get down onto disc.  I have acoustic guitar, vocals, and might add mandolin or some more guitar parts.  I don’t want to color my tracks too much with the cheap plug-ins that came with my Pro Tools LE.  I’m wondering what you think is the best way to get these onto a disc without it being just a rough mix?  Hope I’m making sense.  Thanks.

A Common Assumption

Trent gives us an example of a common assumption in the home recording world. Most people believe that the plug-ins that come with your recording software are inferior by default. I would challenge this a bit.

If you assume that you can’t get a good sound out of the stock Digi (or Logic, Cubase, Sonar, etc.) plug-ins, then you might be shooting yourself in the foot. In my mind, it’s just another example of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and it can lead to waiting around for months or even years, putting off making any music while you save up and buy the “perfect” studio setup.

The truth of the matter is an amazing engineer can sit down with a basic Pro Tools LE system and get an great-sounding mix with just the stock plug-ins.

Using High-End Gear

Yesterday I was listening to the latest Home Recording Show Podcast. It’s a great roundtable discussion with all the big names in the home recording podcasting world. Go download the show as soon as you finish reading this. 🙂

About halfway through the discussion, everyone weighed in on their thoughts on using cheap gear. They conceded that a great engineer could still get a good sound with cheap equipment. However, they emphasized that using high-end, quality audio equipment makes a big difference. I totally agree.

Okay, you may think I’m contradicting myself, but I’m not. To assume that you can’t possibly get a good sound with cheap gear is naive. On the flip-side, to assume that you can only get a good sound with high-end expensive gear is also short-sighted.

We need to take a balanced approach.

Balance

You may notice that I wrote that an amazing engineer would create a great-sounding mix on a basic LE system. However, if he had access to high-end outboard gear and top-notch plug-ins, he would create a phenomenal-sounding mix.

The gear you use does make a difference. The point I’m trying to make is this – the gear is important, but the person using the gear is equally important.

Take the tools you have at your disposal and get the best sound you can. If you can afford upgrading to nicer plug-ins, etc., then do so, but don’t assume you can’t get a good sound without them.

So to answer your question, Trent, I don’t think the stock Digidesign plug-ins are going to “color” your sound. And they’re certainly not going to hurt your sound. You can produce a great-sounding demo with them. My brother-in-law mixed an entire album using only Digidesign plug-ins, and it turned out great.

So I would suggest using your ears and dialing in those EQ and compressor plug-ins. Cut out offending frequencies. Compress as needed. You may find that your microphones may need to be upgraded before your plug-in package.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

[Photo by laurakgibbs]

  • Blizzard

    I have Pro Tools 7 LE and my stock plug ins was working and then I qent to mix and nothing happen. What do I have to do to make them work again?

    • Sorry Blizzard, you’ll have to check with Avid.

  • -L

    Im one of those experienced engineers.. I own huge gear and have a major facility.. I have a 60 input Amek Media 51 and find is less and less needed.. I can do a major project in the box and it’s just fine and I get aproval faster..it’s just what they want to hear.. I do have HD but anyone can get ProTools 10 and your basically ready to go..

    -L

  • Rob

    Some of the defaults are good, and others not so much.

    I was actually just thinking about this the other day. I’d rather have a mediocre engineer with superior equipment than the other way around. Of course I’d most want Bob Rock with all of his gear.

    I just purchased a Roadster and my mixes went from Schmoe to semi-Pro. I was using Izotope before, and it didn’t matter what settings I had on that thing, it was never going to sound pro.

  • Tom

    Joe,

    Your website has been enormously helpful. I have a couple quick questions:

    I’m working with Pro Tools 8 LE. I recently saw a video tutorial on instrument plug-ins, and I noticed the user had more instruments in the drop down menu than I have. I only have 10 – is that the stock amount?

    Every time I open the program, I get a list of plugins that it tells me are unauthorized: cosmonaut voice, 2 by joe meek, and 4 by moogerfooger. Then, a “move unauthorized plug-ins” dialog. Is there a way to avoid all of this? I try to move them to the “unused plugins” folder, but it won’t let me. Thanks,

    Tom

    • First off, thanks!

      Digi includes a certain number of instruments, but there are hundreds out there you can purchase.

      To remove the plug-ins, you have to go find them in the plug-in folder and delete them.

  • Ryan

    Im surprised to see that nobody has mentioned processing limitations in regards to plug-ins. In my opinion the Digi plug-ins are great because of the quality of the sound and the fact that I can slap on an EQ, compressor, etc. on pretty much everything and have plenty of processing power left over for whatever else I need without having to “settle” on a sound because my setup cant handle more DSP hungry plug-ins.

  • cboyer1951

    Well, on the other hand… I had the opportunity to use some Waves effects. I had brought a song of my own. For a lunch time I was alone with my song tracks in Pro Tools. Starting from scratch, I began using different eq’s and maximizers. See, the thing is, sure with many more years of experience I will learn to use my stock Le fx, but I never have come close to what the Waves plugins did for my music tracks. They jumped right out and framed as perfect sounding tracks… just by licking on different presets. And I used to own Cubase 5 and did this with their presets also, lame compared to Le, but even more lame compared to the Waves plugins. The developers have put some serious time and experience into those presets from what I can tell, and that ‘does’ make the difference for we home recorders, song writers. So, first off I’m going to save for a Waves eq, then a maximizer.
    The discussion makes sense, but not for all of us who will not be putting in the practice enough to make the difference for at least 5 to 7 years more down the road. I guess paying someone else to mix and master is a viable option, but it’s fun to do it yourself, when the presets place the track in such a professional framework. Just my beginner’s 2 cents.

    • Good point. Nicer plug-ins CAN make it easier.

  • Jamee Orcino

    I agree with Joe. It does’nt always have to be in the gear, but with who’s using it. In my country musicians and engineers have a saying: It’s not the bow and arrow that hits the mark, but the
    Indian who uses it.

    • So true. Although, having a really nice bow and arrow makes it easier to hit the mark. 😉

      • Jamee Orcino

        Haha yes that is so true Joe.
        We always have to make the best of whats around.
        And thanks for this fantastic site.
        I’m constantly learning a lot.

        • You’re most welcome, Jamee. Thanks for commenting!!

  • Dan

    My go-to EQ is the default Pro Tools unit, and I tend to use the PT plugins on every project. They are perfectly capable, and there's also the added benefit that if you want to transfer the project to a friend's computer, they are guaranteed to have exactly the same plugins!

    • This is a great point. If you're moving around from studio to studio, using
      the Digi plug-ins will make your life a lot easier. I've AB'd the Digi EQ
      with several different Waves EQ's. There are subtle differences, but it
      stands up fairly well.

  • I have to agree also. The stock plug-ins in Logic are amazing. I wouldn't use them for anything like mastering, but for basic mixing, I don't see the point of spending money on anything else.

  • Sparqee

    The stock plugins that come with Cubase 5 were a big leap up from those in Cubase 3. Personally I think that the quality of your plugins is the least important thing. Song writing, performance, recording chain, acoustics, arranging & mixing skills are all *way* more important to the final results than plugins. I think a big part of plugin-mania is driven by those that are constantly trying to “fix” or drastically “improve” a ho-hum recording. It ain't gonna happen.

  • Thanks for the Home Recording Show shout-out Joe.

  • DirtyDingo

    Since we're talking about plug ins, i have a question regarding the removal of plug ins from my computer. i downloaded some upgrades from Digidesign and they have expired. I wish to remove the plug ins, however, i only want three removed. the others all still work that came w/ the bundle. how does one remove single plugins that came in a bundle? if i go to Add/Remove Programs, it removes the whole bundle. I just want three of the bundle removed.

    • DirtyDingo

      Never mind, i found the answer on Digi's website.

  • Trent

    Thanks for the response. I'll let you know how it turns out.

  • I totally agree with Joe. Also important to know is that high end gear is like a Formula One car; you won't know how to control it and it will be wasted on you unless you have some hard earned experience. That said, if you only purchase one extra plug in for Digi, get Izotope Ozone 4. It's not high-end in the way, say, Manley outboard gear is, but in my limited experience there is no faster, more effective way to make a mix sound a bit better.

  • 100% agree. Particularly with Pro Tools 8 – the array of plug-ins that come standard is staggering – guitar/bass modeling with Eleven LE, plenty of great piano/synth sounds – eq, compression, limiting – even BFD Lite for drums. You really don't need anything else (other than recording/mixing skills) to create great recordings. Better gear/plugins can add that extra sparkle but you'll never get there without the practice.

    • Bill

      Am I missing something? The Eleven LE I have on only comes with maybe 5 different sounds (none of which are very pleasant on the ears IMO), the compression is pretty weak, and over-all I’m finding I can’t do much with what comes on Pro Tools 8. I’m saving to buy some plugins because everything I record sounds like garbage. Sure, it’s a recording, I can listen to my music.. but so far I’ve acheived better sounding recordings from a $300 digital 8 track recorder and a few SM58’s hung up randomly around the room. I’m feeling thoroughly disappointed with everything on do on here. Using the same equipment, I’ve gotten better sounding recordings from garage band with no sound modifications at all. Maybe the acoustics were coincidentally much better for the GB recordings? Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

  • fellard123

    Yeh, I third that, I think Digidesign have given us some great plug in's on the LE Systems.

  • I'll second that Joe. It's never about your gear, only about your ears and the mind between them.

    • Says the guy that skipped buying entry level gear. 😉

      Good gear makes your work easier, it doesn't guarantee a quality result, but doesn't get in the way of it either.

      In the case of the Stock digi plugs, there's nothing wrong with them. I use them everyday. I'd much rather use cheap plugins than cheap hardware.

  • wilbury69

    I agree with you on the plugins that come with Pro Tools they are pretty good in my opinion. I started with Cool Edit Pro and the FX that came with that made really good sounding recordings. My thoughts are that as a carpenter you have to make and create with the tools you have on hand.You can checkout airusersblog.com where you can learn some tips and tricks using the plugins that come with Pro Tools. There are 100 videos plus links to free patches that you can use in structure. Pretty cool check it out if you haven't checked it out before. Wayne

  • I agree Joe. I think people need to prove to themselves that they can mix with the stock plugins before they assume they need to shell out more money for 3rd party plugs. Learn the art before you sink too much money into the gear.

    I mentioned that as one of my new year’s “Revolutions”. It might encourage some of your readers!

    http://therecordingrevolution.com/2009/12/29/your-new-years-revolution/

    • At the same time, though. We need to be careful not to downplay the
      sonic benefit of higher-end equipment.

      • Of course…I don't think people have problems comprehending that. Typically you get what you pay for. I just happen to think that's not always the case in audio, you can get a lot more than what you pay for.

        And more importantly, the focus for up and coming producers should be on learning the craft, not just spending a ton of money. It's just a mental shift away from what you call Gear Acquisition Syndrome!