Celebrating the Power of Stock Plugins
This tutorial right here is going to be about stock plug-ins. Now, I get a good number of messages that go something to the tune of, “Hey, Matt. Do you think with enough practice and skill and knowledge, I could create professional, high-end commercial results with only stock plug-ins?” My response is, “Well, I believe that you can.” Now, would it be easy? No, I don’t think so. There is a reason why there are very expensive, high-end EQs in the digital world. There’s a reason why I’ve purchased them. It’s because right off the bat, they tend to sound better.
But, it’s splitting hairs. It’s not like there’s a humongous difference between the moderns stock DAW plug-in and the high-end Hoser XT or FabFilter Pro-Q; the things that I tend to use on a day-to-day basis. I think that if I was limited to just the stock plug-ins, I could still get very good results.
Now, this is going to be aimed at Pro Tools users, so I’m sorry to you guys who are using Fruity Loops, and Logic, and Cubase. Most of the times, I am doing universal concepts. This one, I think that you can watch what I do and you can learn from it, but if you don’t have Pro Tools, you’re going to have to try and figure out some different ways of doing things within your own DAW platform.
That said, Studio One, Reaper, all the ones I mentioned before, these are great programs. They have a lot of really cool stock plug-ins, so take the time to explore them and learn what they can do. There’s probably some stuff that I can’t do as a Pro Tools user, so check it out.
Also, forgive the fact that I just totally slurred the words Pro Tools user. That’s hard to say.
Okay, anyway. Here’s a common situation that I’ll run into. I’ll get a vocal that was recorded in – not a bad studio by any stretch, but not a really high-end studio, so the vocals will oftentimes be recorded on microphones that are like, one of the Blue microphones, or a C414, or something that is very budget friendly, and produces very good results, but isn’t quite what an M49, or a U67, or a C800G would normally give you.
So, this is one of those examples.
So, this vocal has some obvious issues with it. One being that it’s a very boxy sound. It was clearly recorded in a small room that has some mid-rangey reflections bouncing around.
But let’s ignore that for a second. The other issue is that it doesn’t have a harmonic richness that we would expect from, say, something like one of the vintage Neumanns, or one of the high end Sonys or something to that extent. So how can we get ourselves a little bit closer to that? Well, the stock Lo-Fi, believe it or not, in Pro Tools is really good for that. I have just a default setting where I’ve turned the distortion to 0.2, and I’ve turned the saturation to 0.1, and I then put a trim plug-in right afterwards to kind of level match it, and we get from here…
So, if you’re not used to hearing and listening for a really high-end capture, the difference there might allude you a little bit, because it’s very subtle. But, if you’re used to putting up really high-end microphones going through a really nice console or nice preamps, and you know, compression or things like that, you’re used to hearing a harmonic richness that is not there when I take this off.
So, when I go to EQ this and really get it to formulate inside the mix, I’m going to ultimately end up with a much more polished sound, because a lot of that polish is actually the distortion. The really healthy, fun distortion that we get at the microphone, at the console, at the preamp, at the compressor, etcetera.
Okay, so now let’s take a look at something fun that I’ve been doing for this record. I have this bass line, and I haven’t totally balanced the basses yet. There’s like, five bass components, but here’s one that I really like.
Now, one thing that bothers me is that it feels very digital. It feels very middy. It has, I think, as far as a digital playing goes, it sounds more life-like than most. It doesn’t sound like straight block kind of setting, but it doesn’t sound like a real bass, and I don’t think it was.
The other thing is that the actual bass line sort of gave me this kind of Daft Punk-y sort of feel, and I wanted to bring out the funk kind of flavor to it, so I’m using the stock Vintage Filter, and I go from here…
And the way I’m doing that is I’m setting the cut-off to about middle-C, I’ve got the steepest low-pass on, and a little bit of this fat knob, which I find gives it a nice flavor. It’s sort of like a distortion/compression/saturation thing all sort of mixed together.
Then I have an envelope follower here, with the depth turned all the way up, and the attack pretty quick. That’s giving me that sort of auto-wah kind of feel to it. But you could also use a pedal kind of emulation to kind of – anything that says auto-wah on it, you’re going to be able to get something that’s kind of similar, maybe staple an EQ to it.
[bass plays before/after Vintage Filter]
And as I go through the mix, I’ll figure out the way to best set that bass forward in the overall record.
Alright, I’m going to show you one more, because I think this just goes to show how good stock plug-ins can really be.
So, that’s a synth Rhodes, and I wanted it to sound a) more like a real Rhodes, and b) just have a little bit more body in general, and c), I wanted it to get a little bit out of the lower range, and more toward the mid-range.
So, I’m going to throw on this Channel Strip EQ real quick, and we get from…
[Rhodes plays before/ after Channel Strip]
One more time.
[Rhodes plays before/after Channel Strip]
I think that sounds really nice, actually. I don’t think that a higher end EQ would be necessary for that. I don’t think I’d necessarily get better results, and what I’m doing is taking off a couple dB of the low end, and I’m adding a couple of dB around 500Hz, and it’s giving me just that extra bit of body and center that I would want to hear from this sort of sound, and where it sits in the arrangement, it’s also kind of perfect for that as well.
Now, the other thing I’d like is I’d like the Rhodes to have a wider feel. Right now, it’s wide, but it’s sort of still kind of centered overall. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to add in just the stock reverb with a concert hall setting, only about 14% on the wet-to-dry ratio, and it’s mostly early reflections with the In Width and Out Width turned up, and here is the before and after on that.
[Rhodes plays before/after reverb]
One more time.
And actually, in our AVID stock plug-ins, or our Digidesign stock plug-ins, I believe there’s actually a stereo width enhancer, and if I wanted to just crank it a little bit…
[Rhodes plays with Stereo Width]
[Rhodes plays, sans Stereo Width]
[Rhodes plays, with Stereo Width]
Now, all of these are subtle differences, but if I take them all off…
…And then add them on.
[Rhodes plays, with effects]
You get this nice full, big sound, and it’s going to sit really well in the mix, and give everything a great flavor.
Alright, I have to actually mix this record now, so I’m going to get off of this recording, and I hope that you guys learned something.
More importantly than learning, I hope that I’m encouraging you guys to go into your stock plug-ins and not feel limited by your resources. Explore them and see what you actually have at your finger tips. You might be surprised.