Got an email from one of my new Understanding EQ customers.

Anthony, who started out with recording on mostly all-analog setup, is now getting his feet wet in the digital world. He writes:

“Everything seems to be made way more complicated than needed, plus hundreds of plugins. I spend more time messing about with the software than getting any music done!”

Here was my response, which I thought would be handy to share with you today:

I feel your pain. The best thing you can do is limit your options.
Rather than 100 plugins, find yourself ONE of each of these:

  • EQ
  • Compressor
  • Reverb
  • Delay

Get REALLY good at those, and you will

a. have more fun and

b. not get bogged down with all the software options.

If I could add anything else to that list, I’d throw in a limiter and maybe a good distortion plugin.

But to be completely honest, most of my mixes use only those 4 plugins, over and over and over… πŸ™‚

So, there you have it. If you CAN’T get great mixes with only those four plugins, something else is wrong.

And if you need a good place to start, I’d recommend joining Anthony and hundreds of others who have watched my Understanding EQ training videos.

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

  • i agree. i use 2% of my plugins 98% of the time. i have one go to eq. one go to compresser this one: if i ever have more then 3 plugins on a track i usually need to re-think things. πŸ˜€

  • Simone

    Joe, great article, as usual!! πŸ™‚

    As engineer and as customer I just can suggest to follow this advice: a mix has to sound amazing with this 4 instruments. If not, probably there are other things lacking (experience, performance, recirding…).

    I also love saturation plugin as a “naive” EQ/Comp all together πŸ™‚
    (I use Toneboosters TB Ferox, simply amazing!)

    Simo πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Simo! I haven’t jumped on the saturation bandwagon, except at my preamp. πŸ˜‰

  • I absolutely agree. There are a few other plugins (stereo width manipulation, saturation, vocal tuning, modulated delay for a phasing/flanging effect) that I’ll use occasionally but, if you know how to properly use the four mentioned in the article, as well as the basics of setting up an interesting stereo image, you pretty much have your mix tools.

    That being said, I do have multiple compressor and EQ plugins that I use. I’ll pick one over another because the UI might be easier to use in a given situation or I like one of the plugin’s presets for a starting point – but even then I usually go to maybe two of these most of the time.

    But as far as plugins go, I have dozens, even if I never use them. Why not? There are a lot of free VSTs out there and disk space is cheap these days. But I do organize them so that the ones that I normally use are in their own “high use” category and, as such, are easy for me to find. And I categorize all of them as to function, too – all of my reverbs are in one category, all of my EQ’s in another, etc.

    One thing the DAW manufacturers could do to make things easier would be to keep a “Recently Used” list of plugins easily accessible in their UI for adding an effect to a channel (and, of course, now I’ll be told that every DAW manufacturer already has this). Ninety percent of the time, it’s some plugin from the last ten I’ve used that I’ll want to use again.

    • You’re right that there are plenty of free plugins, but I think most people would get LESS done with MORE plugins to choose from. πŸ™‚

    • reaper has a fav list of plugins in the ui. in fact you can make all kinds of groups if you like and search any of them. i just have about 10 in a fav folder in the plugin ui. super easy to use. way better then some daws that make you navigate huge lists. you can also set up tracks to appear with default plugs (eq) that are disabled. since most tracks will get some eq i find this handy. reaper is slowly winning me over from my other daw samplitude pro.

      • Yeah, Pro Tools lets you pick a couple favorites, but a full folder would be nice. πŸ™‚

  • edoquebec

    I totally agree! I have produced my 3 last songs with only 4 stock and basic plugins from Logic Pro 8 (EQ, Reverb, Compressor and Amp simulation).Β 

    You know what?Β 
    This is my best production and the simple one.

    Basic set up recording, effective and one day recording session, basic and “no whining” editing and mixing, simple mastering.
    Following Joe advice is really push
    Next time, I will use only this 4 plugins again, and the day I will mastered Β them, I will begin to use other fancy plugins πŸ˜€

  • Ben

    And while you’re at it, you might as well pick the stock plugins. Β In Sonar X1 I’m sticking to the compressor/EQ built into Pro Channel, and using Sonitus FX for reverb and delay. Β I’m getting more out of the money I put into the DAW and saving money by not buying extra plugs in the process. Β 

    All the PT people seem to dig the Digirack plugs. Studio One Free has all 4 of those effects, and my guess is that so do Logic and Cubase and whatever else.

    • I’ve never found a stock plugin that didn’t sound adequate. πŸ™‚