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Should You Use Stock Plugins as Much as Possible?

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Alright, so we’re back here with another FAQ Friday! So what have we got? First one. If mixing the box gives great sounds, why do these big studios and producers have so much equipment?

Look, it’s really as simple as this these days. It’s all about workflow. I do believe essentially, recording defines the mixing. If I am getting a whole bunch of virtual instruments and DIs, then I’m doing a heck of a lot of work in the mix. I’m putting amp simulations on DIs, I’m sitting there shaping the sounds of these virtual instruments, etcetera etcetera.

If, however, you have a decent amount of outboard, and you maybe have a variety of mic pres and compressors, and most importantly, microphones with different flavors and different sort of sonic characteristics, the mixing process can be a lot less work. Either way, there’s reasons for and against hardware. The pros for hardware are ultimately the variety of sounds getting into the box.

When it comes to mixing, the main pro for hardware is not summing, it’s not a console, even though this has dynamics, compression, expander, an EQ… It’s not — that actually isn’t the pro of the console, the pro of the console is the workflow. Is it the way that you work? Do you like to sit in front of a console between a pair of speakers and move faders? Is it a tactile experience? Do you like to lean forward and boost and cut some high end?

If that’s what you want, that’s why people I know like myself still love consoles. We like to mix on a console because we like that experience. The tactile experience of using an SSL, or a Neve, or an API.

But can you mix in the box? Heck yes. Look at the most successful, really really busy in the box mixers. Mark Endert. Busy as heck. No time off. Guy’s mixing every day. One of the best mixers in the world. And look at Neil Avron. The 21 Pilots record. It is a masterpiece of mixing. All completely mixed in the box.

So there’s guys that are so busy making records, and they’re mixing in the box. They’re doing fully recallable sessions. Just snap, up it comes, tweak a couple of things, save it, off you go. I mean, the beauty of being able to mix in the box is unbelievable.

Do I need to completely mix the whole band before tracking vocals, or just a rough mix so the singer can have that as a backing track, and then mix everything?

I really like that question, that’s really cool. Um… No. I wouldn’t ever mix a song as an instrumental without knowing that a vocal is about to happen, because if I start pushing everything forward — like I’ve got twenty instruments going at once. You know, various drums elements, bass, guitars, keys, whatever it might be. If they’re all like, loud and proud, and just slamming up front, where’s my vocal going to sit? I’m going to have to start carving stuff out to make it fit into the track.

I don’t want that. I want my mix to be around my vocal. I want it to compliment my vocal, so I wouldn’t personally take the time to mix a loud, slamming instrumental track, and then have the singer sing over it. However, it is really, really important that you have an excellent headphone mix.

When you have a singer in that room, or sitting beside you, however you’re doing it, they need a really, really good mix to work from.

So you shouldn’t necessarily be doing a mix as such, but you should be doing a rough mix that sounds inspiring. Things have a blend, they have effects if they want effects. If they want reverbs and delays, give them reverbs and delays. Somebody recently said that the producer that was working — they were working with that they couldn’t use reverb or delay, because it would affect the way they sing.

Absolute hogwash. The biggest load of balogna I’ve ever heard. Whatever the singer needs to feel comfortable, that is our job as a producer and an engineer is to inspire our singers. If they want to be inside of the Sistine Chapel while they’re singing, let them do it. If that’s what they want to hear, that’s what they want to hear. You’d be surprised. I’ve had all kinds of variations. I’ve had — I’ve muted all the instruments in a mix and only left the acoustic guitar and had the singer sing to that, and then unmute the band.

I’ve had the opposite. I’ve had heavy, heavy guitars going hell, [imitates guitars] huge, heavy guitars. Then the final mix, we’ve gone down to acoustic and one electric.

It’s all about what does the singer need to inspire? A great headphone mix is the number one most important thing.

Do you experiment in every record you mix, or just follow your standard style of mixing?

Absolutely experiment every single time. I mean, if I had a template that works — we have a template in as much as the kick comes out of channel one, the snare comes out of channel two, the toms three and four, overheads five and six, rooms seven and eight, you get the point. Then if there’s any samples, they come out a pair of channels down here, and if there’s percussion it comes out — the point is that yes, we do have like, I’m used to reaching over and moving the kick, and moving the snare. There’s no reason for me to output things in different places. The way we mix in a hybrid fashion, we can have a template that dictates where the instruments send, and they’re always coming out the same channels on the console, because I want to lean over and know where the acoustic guitars are. But does that mean I don’t change EQ and compression on there? Of course I do.

Do I change EQ and compression in there? Of course I do. Do I start off with a setting on the console that’s like a good starting point? Of course. I’d be foolish not to. I don’t have to always go in and go, I don’t want to zero out my kick drum to just boost 60Hz. You know, I know that’s a good starting point, so there’s nothing wrong with having 60Hz already boosted. Is it going to be too much? Maybe. Do I need more? Maybe.

But the point is like, there’s a certain amount of template, but only in the logical sense of it. Like, time saving. A template is there to save you time. That is the reality of why we have a template. It’s not there to go, “This is the only way we mix a song.”


I don’t know if that could ever really work. I do know with some of the bigger mixers like Chris, like CLA, they do have things coming out of the console in a similar way. They have a lot of compression, EQ and stuff going on externally, but I still see them going in there and moving things around. There’s only so much you can do. A song is a song. Every song has a different journey and will take you in a different way, will make you do different things.

The bass guitar sound on Ace’s was dramatically different from what it was on Rick’s. On Ace’s, it’s more aggressive, it’s more SVT overload. We had that energy on Rick’s as well, but not as crazy as we’re doing on Ace’s. So it’s a different sound. It’s a different bass going through a different amp. It needs different EQ points.

So it’s very difficult to really say a one size fits all, and that kind of idea will never work.

I really hope your five quick tip series isn’t coming to an end any time soon. Not a question, but maybe you can confirm that these will be around for awhile?

I do like this idea. I do like the five quick tips. The one we — the one we did recently about automation was interesting, because we were automating effects. I find that automation falls into very clear kind of delineated points. I mean, essentially like, generic automation like turn up things in choruses, bring up more reverb in choruses, bring up more effects on vocals in choruses where it gets denser. Louder kick, louder snare.

These are all very obvious things. Automation points. But then, automating effects so they come and go is a lot more exciting. But, as I’m going on now, these five quick tips, we’re going to get pretty esoteric. You know, we’ve done compression, we’ve done EQ, we’ve done delays, we’ve done reverbs, we’ve done master buss. It’s going to start getting pretty esoteric, but I don’t want it to end any time soon. It is a fun thing to do.

But if within that five tips, we can also do — there’s other things we can do to do with mixing, but thank you, I’m really glad you enjoyed the series, we really enjoy doing it.

Warren, why do you say to use stock plugins as much as possible?

Many, many stock plugins, at least the ones I use, which are the delays, the compressor, the EQ, the de-esser, the reverb in AVID’s reverb, the plate setting is a fantastic sounding plate. It’s kind of a secret weapon of — do you know how many people I’ve known that when they’re using Pro Tools like the plate? The stock plate?

It’s really popular. And if you’re using sidechain compression on it, it can get even better still. It’s — I think the reason why I try to push using stock plugins at all time is because I love — heck, I love — I love McDSP, I love Waves, I love Slate, I love EchoBoy, SoundToys, I mean, the list is endless. There’s so many incredible plugins out there, and I’m just scraping the surface. I’m getting to learn new ones all the time. The Sonnox, the Oxford plugins. We just used those the other day for the first time. Those are fantastic.

We’re going to be using some brainworx — there’s so much incredible stuff coming out. However, my job is to help you, and mentor you in as best a possible way I can. I’m not an expert, I’m not one of the channels going, “You’re doing it wrong!” That’s not my job. I’m not telling you a bunch of balogna because I’m looking at the waveforms and saying, “Look, it’s out of phase.”

That’s a bunch of balogna, we all know. What’s it sound like? Don’t look at the music. So given all that in mind, I feel it is my responsibility to encourage you, not to tell you off. Because I make mistakes every single day of my life. Every single day — I’ve done videos where I’ve made mistakes. God, there’s so many of them I’ve made mistakes, and I will joke about it, and I will wear it, and I won’t — I don’t — it doesn’t bother me, because that’s how people grow. We make mistakes.

We even make mistakes by thinking that we’re engaging a plugin or something, and we’re not. All kinds of silliness happens. Forgetting to sidechain a compressor, I did that the other day in the video. There’s all kinds of mistakes. So what is my point? [laughs] Nice long one, isn’t it? My point is, I push stock plugins at first, because I want you to be making music.

As much as I love the Waves R Vox, for instance, or the MV2. I mean, there’s two of my favorite plugins ever. Great plugins. Everybody I know uses those plugins. The R Bass. EchoBoy. I don’t want to leave out plugins. McDSP Filter Pack. I mean, Slate’s plugins. All of these different plugins.

As much as I love them, that’s stage two of the masterplan. Stage one of the masterplan is get you making music. Get you opening up your DAW, get you opening up using stock plugins, and as you start getting excited and you start creating great music, then you can start looking to these guys, these wonderful companies that make incredibly affordable products, because they are so affordable now. So incredible.

So — oh, you can’t miss out, like MJUC the Klanghelm. $27. An incredible compressor. Everybody I’ve told about it has it. I now go to my friend’s studios, just the other day, MJUC plugin. It’s $27. But the point is like, that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a way to get you going and to encourage you, hence, start mixing with stock plugins, don’t listen to anybody, all of the experts telling you you’re doing it wrong, the ones that are like, “Look at the wave.” Don’t. Just listen. Make great music.

If it means that you’re bussing it to five different directions and it’s coming backwards, forwards, sideways, or whatever, but it comes up sounding absolutely amazing, then that is all that matters.

Obviously, you want to learn your skills of your trade, but don’t — you know, I can only encourage you to try and surround yourself with positive people that are uplifting and want you to succeed, which is what we do here. Really want to help you succeed.

Have a marvelous time recording and mixing. As ever, please leave comments and questions below. I love this one. These FAQ Fridays always get us tons of great commentary. So thank you ever so much for watching, you’re marvelous, go to, sign up for the email list, get a whole bunch of free goodies, and of course, subscribe, or hit the notification bell. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing!


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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