Can You Mix With Stock Plug-ins?
“What five plug-ins would you recommend for someone on a tight budget? I need an EQ, a compressor, reverb, delay, and saturation”
If you have a similar question, it’s an easy answer.
Just use the stock plug-ins in your DAW.
Why Mix With Stock Plug-ins?
We can debate which plug-ins are the best all day long, and we’d both be wrong. Besides, the argument is irrelevant.
When it comes to stock plug-ins, most EQs and compressors are very comparable. They all do the trick.
Some fancier, premium plug-ins might have slightly different modeling, but when you’re starting out, the stock plug-ins in your DAW will work fine.
If you don’t know how to use the standard plug-ins in your DAW, splurging on fancy premium plug-ins will accomplish very little. It’ll largely be a waste of money because you won’t have the knowledge to make the most of your new toys.
Will that fancy SSL channel strip have a particular vibe? Sure.
Will the Shadow Hills mastering compressor add some secret sheen you can’t really put your finger on? Yes.
But that’s the point. You can’t put your finger on it because you don’t know what it’s doing.
That’s why your best friends are your stock plug-ins when you’re starting out. Don’t underestimate their potential.
Plug-ins Aren’t the Important Thing
A great mix happens long before you start slapping plug-ins on tracks because it is only as good as its ingredients. Plug-ins, whether they’re stock plug-ins or expensive third-party software, only shape the sound of what’s already there. If the tracks all sound like garbage, all you’ll do is shape it into nicer-sounding trash.
So don’t worry too much about needing mystical plug-ins that make magical mixes. The music should sound good without any plug-ins to begin with.
So stick to the 20% of the production process that generates 80% of the results and focus on making the best music and capturing the greatest performance through your available gear.
Only after that do the plug-ins really matter.
You don’t necessarily need all the latest fancy plugins to produce great music. I strongly recommend that you
Master your stock plugins before anything else. Whether you’re using Pro Tools, Logic, Studio One, Cubase, or Reaper et al, they all have the stock plug-ins you need to make good mixes. Mastering your stock plug-ins will make you a more proficient home studio musician who doesn’t need a mixing engineer whenever you want to release a song.
Use my book while you’re mixing to understand what they’re doing. Then, when you’re confident with your abilities, knock yourself out with premium plug-ins if you want
Chances are, you’ll be happy with what you’ve been using and you’ll only get the plug-ins that do something unique and innovative (Cough Soothe Cough)…
Does the Audio Software Make You a Pro?
A lot of musicians think that having Pro-Tools is what makes a recording studio professional. Similarly, many people think you need all the newest and shiniest plug-ins to make better mixes.
A recording studio is professional when the person running it knows what they’re doing. It’s professional when the music coming out of it sounds professional, regardless of whether it was made in a bedroom or a commercial facility. Like I say in Step By Step Mixing, “It’s not the software you’re using that makes your mix good; it’s your knowledge of mixing and your skills that make for a great mix.”
The same goes for the plug-ins you use.
My Favorite Stock Plug-ins in Logic Pro
That said, I use Logic Pro X, and I love it. However, I’ve also used Pro-Tools and Cubase in the past and it’s important to stress that no DAW is better than another one. Similarly, many of the stock plug-ins in every DAW are comparable.
However, I couldn’t write about stock plug-ins without mentioning some of my favorite ones in Logic Pro.
The MVP of all the plug-ins in Logic Pro has to be the compressor. It’s awesome because it’s so versatile and allows you to experiment and discover different sonic possibilities. You can simulate the characteristics of classic compressors like the 1176, Focusrite Red, or LA-2A, all within Logic. Moreover, Logic’s compressors often provide additional functionality beyond their analog counterparts, helping you further shape your sounds.
The Logic Stock EQ also shines in its own right. I often employ it for minor adjustments, such as filtering, gentle boosts or cuts, and when I need a simple tool that’s readily available on the channel. Logic’s interface makes it easy to double-click to add the EQ, so it often finds itself in my sessions because it’s so simple to add.
The stock Tape Delay in Logic is very simple and one of my go-to delays because it’s just a simple tool that does the job it needs to do. Sometimes that’s all you want. You don’t need all the bells and whistles of something like Timeless from Fabfilter if you just need to make a simple slap-back echo or a guitar delay.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add the amp simulators in Logic because I’ve often found myself in the zone tweaking the tone of both the guitar amp and the bass amp sims, along with the pedalboard, to get cool and creative sounds.
The only thing I don’t think Logic Pro has is a good saturation plug-in. Luckily, there are plenty of great free saturation plugins out there that you can download.
Mixing With Stock Plug-ins Makes You Creative
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. If you learn to use your stock plug-ins, you might fall in love with them. When you know how to use something so intuitively, it becomes easier to be creative.
At that point, you’re spending your studio time creating, producing, and mixing instead of browsing through your plug-in folder. That’s a much better use of your time because you’ll actually have something to show for it.
In conclusion, stock plugins are powerful tools in your home studio. Every DAW has everything you need, and by mastering what you got, you’ll make better mixes.
Don’t be in a rush to acquire every new plugin on the market; instead, start with what you have and explore its full potential.
I hope that helps,
Of course, the only plug-in I’m contractually obligated to tell you about is my Audio Issues EQ plug-in.
NOT because it’s necessarily better than other EQs, although some people don’t use anything else.
But because it teaches you how to EQ WHILE you’re using it. That’s the real reason my students love it so much.
So if you want to use EQ to make better mixes, get the Audio Issues EQ plug-in for free with EQ Strategies – Your Ultimate Guide to EQ here.
Keeping Track, Music Mixing