This topic is covered by a lot of people and I think over complicated to the point where reading articles and watching YouTube tutorials has the reverse effect. Sometimes things are much more simple then they appear to be. In this reading I will break down quickly what each FX is doing and why you would use it in a mix or mastering session. Being creative and all that does not apply here really, however, think about this.. being creative with FX channels you don’t understand will cause more harm than good. One thing I noticed that all of the great mix/mastering engineers have in common is that they all are very deliberate with their moves. I will order these as they should be inserted into an FX channel.
Also, I’ll be adding my favorite plugins from these topics at the end of the article.
1. GAIN STAGE
Step 1: Turn the gain down on your channel before adding FX to get some headroom. (Logic = “Gain Plugin”) (Studio One = “Mix Tool Plugin) (FL Studio = ” Balance Plugin”) you get the point!
Step 2: Add some cool FX plugin after the gain is set correctly.
Step 3: Check the output volume after the FX to make sure it’s not blasting you into distortion. If the FX plugin your using doesn’t have an output control, add another gain plugin from step 1 and adjust volume that way.
Equalizers are really powerful tools like Zeus lightning, which means you need to really understand how and why to wield this beast! If the balance of your track is out of wack, too much bass, too little high end, too much mid etc EQ can be a quick fix. If you are making any cuts or boosts on a mix bus or master bus, you’re probably better off fixing whatever individual track needs to be re-balanced in the mixing or recording stage. If something is not sitting in the mix correctly because its being overshadowed by other instruments then EQ is great way to balance and make some room for everything, but its not the only way. Choose wisely. minimal EQ for any situation that is not utility is my suggestion.
(by utility I mean cut all noise below 20hz because we cant hear it anyway)
What is it?? Basically what a compressor does is level out an audio signal. If you have a recording where some parts are extremely loud peaks and others are so quiet and you feel like there could be more consistency in the recording or certain notes or phrases are jumping out of a mix (not in a good way) , compression is your best friend. If you have a really colorful beautiful tone and consistent recording already, you probably 90% of the time don’t need compression. Most vocal recordings are really dynamic & require compression. Listen to any new hip hop artist of pop artist.. they are drowning in compression. I would describe their vocals in word as “Consistent” but they are using really high end compressors which are extremely well suited for an artist, they might have a 20:1 ratio with -30db Threshold… the Tube-Tech CL1B , Manley Labs type are gold! you name it it! Only use it when needed!
4. REVERB / DELAY
Verbs and delay basically change the size and shape of the room you want the listener to be in. or the sound in the mix you want to effect! Lets say something is jumping out of the mix like crazy, but its a consistent recording no peaks so it doesn’t need to be more squashed by compression, adding a little reverb and delay can move a sound backward or forward in the mix, not left or right, literally front to back. These types of FX need to be experimented with to get right, the concepts behind how they work are really complex and thats kind of what you get when you add them to a channel. A Really great reverb can bring an instrument or vocalist to LIFE! I will leave some plugins I know that have this capability below!
5. EXTRAS ( Saturation, Exciters Etc.)
All of these type of plugins, Filters, Modulators, Doublers, AutoPan, can add some cool vibes to your music and are worth throwing into the mix to see if they work for the song. This is one of the misconceptions about mixing, you can throw an exciter on a triangle and see what it does.. The point I am trying to make with this article is that all of the plugins you see and use, or hardware FX outboard for that matter modulate audio very specifically and if you understand what they are doing to your signals you can harness the ultimate power! You will start making deliberate moves in conjunction with other plugins for specific reasons! I will give you one example.
Lets say you have a 808 that has a kick attached at the beginning. That kick is way overloading the signal and coming out of the mix, but the tail is soft and low. so you think OK high peaks let me level this out with a compressor.. YES that is true, however, if you push that boosted kick drum into the compressor it will start reacting immediately as soon as that kick comes through, what you want to do is level that gain out first and then compress so drop some of that kick freq with an EQ before compressing so the whole overall signal gets leveled out vs just the kick portion.
Here’s another thought for this information: None of these processing should take you more than the time it took to read the paragraph about it, If you find yourself going back and fourth between EQ settings or compressor settings its probably not whats needed on that channel. It could be the arrangement or type of instrument used for that piece. Think outside the box, but most importantly have fun! having fun makes your mix 10% better by default.
Links to Great plugins for each section.