In today’s world of unlimited plug-ins, losing focus in a mix is easier than ever.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably uttered this phrase to yourself once or twice: “If I only had that vintage compressor plug-in, my mix would sound so much better.”

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that your mixes would sound better if you had more plug-ins to choose from. And even though they certainly can make a difference in how your mix sounds, it’s not necessarily the key to success.

Of course, it can be fun to try a bunch of new plug-ins on your mixes. And sometimes hearing something different can be refreshing and inspiring. But the truth is that having 500 plug-ins to choose from every time you sit down to mix isn’t necessarily the best system.

Historically Speaking…

Thinking back to recording studios pre 1990, you basically had whatever tools were in the studio. This made engineers think creatively about how they wanted to use those tools, and resulted in some incredible sounding records.

So how can you think in a similar way in today’s modern studio? Limit your plug-ins.

This doesn’t have to mean that you uninstall all of those precious plugs that you use once in a while. But it does mean that you should have one or two go-to plug-ins for each type of processing.

By doing this, you will avoid the distraction of having hundreds of plug-ins to choose from. You will also get to learn the ins and outs of your go-to plug-ins and figure out how to make them sound great.

My Go-To Plug-ins

Here is an example list of my go-to plug-ins. I like to use an EQ, Compressor, Delay, DeEsser, Reverb, and Channel Strip.

EQ

A good EQ is essential for any mixer. I have a couple of plug-ins that I reach for. For a good clean, uncolored parametric EQ, I like the Waves REQ6. This plug-in has an easy to use interface and gets the job done.

For a colored, vintage sounding EQ, I like to use the Slate Digital VMR. The Neve and SSL models are great and offer a very realistic sounding replica of these classic EQs.

Compressor

For a compressor, I really like the Native Instruments Supercharger GT. This is a very versatile plug-in that has a nice range of character. The Bright setting goes great with vocals, and the Warm and Fat settings are perfect for guitars, pianos, and drums.

Delay

Another amazing Native Instruments plug-in is the new Replika XT delay. This thing can do pretty much anything you want it to. I even use it as a reverb sometimes in the “Diffusion” setting.

DeEsser

A good deesser is essential for modern mixes that have vocals. I like the Waves DeEsser. It’s simple and lets me dial it in quickly.

Reverb

My go-to reverb is usually Waves TrueVerb as I find it to have a very natural sound. I also like to use convolution reverbs from time to time, and even the Space Designer in Logic sounds amazing.

Channel Strip

A good channel strip such as iZotope’s Neutron is an invaluable tool. For a lot of tracks, I like to just load a single plug-in and use the built in EQ, Compression, Exciting, and Transient Shaper tools to shape the sound. The benefit of using a Channel Strip is that it simplifies your process for certain purposes and allows you to have a “global control” on your mixes.

I generally like to use these on my busses – vocal bus, guitar bus, synth bus, drum bus, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I use a bunch of other plug-ins on a regular basis as well. Things like Waves Vocal Rider, Waves Bass Rider, iZotope Ozone, Slate Virtual Tape Machine, and Native Instruments Transient Master. These are plug-ins that I use on most mixes, and they’ve all got a very unique purpose.

So What Should I Do?

Here’s what I recommend you try: find your own go-to plug-ins. Give it a shot. Pull up a mix and really learn those plug-ins.

Once you’ve done this and tried it out a bit, start to add in a few more plug-ins. You’ll find that your mixing process goes smoother and results in a better mix when you really know your plug-ins.