Lessons From The Old Days – Getting Great Sound With Plug-Ins

So you’ve got plug-ins – and lots of them! You can even pull up the same plug-in on every single track! That’s pretty awesome, right?

Believe it or not, you might be missing out by using all those plug-ins! Let’s take a trip in the DeLorean back to a time long, long ago…

Well, not that long. Just about thirty years or so.

Back in the day, let’s say you wanted to use a compressor. You were working in an awesome facility that had – get this – FOUR LA-2As! AMAZING!

You decide that you need to compress the bass, vocal, snare, background vocals, and overall drums in stereo. So you start planning out how you’re going to do this. Here’s the problem – to do this with individual compressors, you would need a total of six compressors. This multi-million dollar facility only has four outboard compressors.

Yes, you could use an onboard, or maybe an 1176, but you really like the LA-2A’s here and need it for your sound. Plus the four 1176s are being used on Kick, Guitars, Keys, and Room mics.

So you’re forced to make some decisions. Ultimately, you end up summing down in order to compress all of the elements you want to. You decide to compress the overall drums, snare, and bass with two of the compressors and the vocal and background vocals with the other two, also in stereo. In order to get your levels right, you make sure you send the right amount to the compressor and work hard to make it all sound good.

Success – you’ve got everything compressed and sounding tight. Let’s just ahead thirty years and see how you might handle this situation in your DAW.

You load a plug-in. Then Alt-Drag it to copy it. Done.

Wow! That sounds great! Way easier! But what are you missing?

You’re missing the sound of things being compressed together! And this is where the magic can happen with compression!

A wall of smooth background vocals sounds thin without compression, but by sending them all through the same compressor, you instantly glue them together.

So try this out on your mixes – decide what you can compress together and give it a go. You’ll be surprised at how smooth and glued together your mix becomes.

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