One Plugin for Every Tracking Session

Tracking sessions can be awkward.  Especially vocal tracking sessions.  For bands, sometimes the only way to make everyone’s schedules align is to send the vocalist into the booth right after you finish tracking guitars.  (My normal flow is as follows: scratch guitars & tempo mapping, drums, real guitars, bass, keys/etc, and finally vocals.)

I’ve noticed a pattern emerge when comparing projects where I get to edit and mix all of the instruments first before tracking vocals against projects where the vocals are tracked right after the instruments, before editing and mixing.  The pattern is this:  All of the best vocal performances are projects where everything else is editing and mixed before vocal tracking.

It makes sense that this would be the pattern.  The instrumental tracks after editing and mixing are a much tighter and continuous sound.  Without editing and mixing, the instrumental tracks are often overly-dynamic, and will lack the feeling of all the instruments hitting at the same time.

When it is up to me, I will always try to give myself time to edit and mix before tracking vocals.  Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world, so I don’t always get to do this.

I have, however, found one plugin that eliminates the majority of this problem for me.  JST Clip by Joey Sturgis.JST Clip

JST Clip is an all-around volume-leveling wizard.  It can replace at least three plugins alone, and to recreate perfectly recreate everything it does with a knob and a switch, it took five other plugins for me.

Though the term “clipper” may not be the most specific way to describe what a dynamics processor actually does, this plugin does more than I expected for the $30 price tag.  “Clipping” is essentially getting the volume as loud as possible, without actually clipping.  To my ear it sounds like JST Clip uses a combination of compression and peak limiting, where in the limiting part of the process, saturation is introduced to the track.

In my less than ideal tracking sessions, I’ve started sending my entire instrument mix through a single stereo buss with JST Clip inserted on the track.  By just turning it’s main control clockwise, the entire instrument mix gets much tighter, and if I need some extra punch in the vocalists headphones, the 2x switch hits it twice as hard.  Occasionally I’ll insert an IR reverb of a giant room at about 15% wet before JST Clip to give the instrument track that extra bit of space that makes vocals sit much more forward.

Outside of tracking sessions, JST Clip is a very powerful mastering and leveling plugin.  To date I haven’t found a single plugin that will get the output of a track in Pro Tools as loud as JST Clip can.  Some compressors followed by brickwall-limiters come close, but Sturgis’ clipper is still louder.

Whether you’re tracking, mixing, or mastering, you will find times that JST Clip will do everything you need, more quickly than the rest of your current tools.  For a $30 plugin, it’s definitely worth every penny.  Check out the clipper and some of his other plugins in his web store here.


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