Music Production: My Go-To Software/Plugins: Part 2

If you haven’t read part one yet, check my profile and check it out. This is a continuation of that article.

Alright, last time we talked about plugins I use for production, now we get into the fun stuff.

I get this question a lot: “Can I use stock plugins to mix my music?”. Simple answer is yes. I’ll do an article addressing that another day, but the simple answer is yes. Don’t be tempted into buying these tools just cause I use them. With enough practice and experience you can use stock tools and get a brilliant mixdown. Mixing is very much about the skill of the engineer and much less about the tools they use.

First off, I like to divide plugins into two separate categories. One is “time-saving” tools, and the other are “character” tools. I’m sure it’s easy to infer why I call them that, so I’ll skip the explanation and cover my most-used “time-saving” tools first.

Soothe by Oeksound

Soothe by Oeksound

If you don’t know what resonant frequencies are, it’s definitely a topic worth looking into. It’s a tad bit of a controversial topic so I won’t explain it too much here, but I’ve found that in a digital world with virtual instruments, a lot of samples end up too bright and pokey. As such, I always try to tame them with a tape emulation plugin, or with Soothe. Be aware, Soothe is pretty heavy on the CPU, so it’s usually a tool only used during later stages of mixdown.

Vocal Rider by Waves

Waves Vocal Rider

It’s actually a pretty straightforward plugin. Set it to write mode and tell it how dynamic you want your vocal to be. It’s a volume automator with some wicked handy features that I use on every vocal mix. Saves a ton of time if you’re not getting the results you want from you compressors.

Nectar 3 by Izotope

Izotope Nectar 3

I also have Neutron but don’t use it nearly as much as I use Nectar. It’s super quick and easy to get a starting vocal sound, and if you work like I do and always start from a vocal recording, it’s nice to get the vocal sounding decent before you start working on everything else. It’s definitely not perfect, but it comes in handy all the time.

Waves Tune by Waves

Waves Waves Tune

It’s an autotune plugin. Simple as that. As an engineer, you’ll realize pretty quickly that even your favorite artists usually aren’t very good at staying on pitch. Waves Tune sounds very natural to my ear and tends to get pretty close on initial scan. It has its quirks, but I’ve gotten used to it over the years and use it for all my tuning needs.

SPL Transient Designer Plus by Brainworx/SPL

SPL Transient Designer by Brainworx/SPL

If you haven’t used a transient designer before, they’re pretty awesome. If a sound has too much tail, a little decrease on the sustain tightens it right up. Not enough punch? A little magic with the attack knob and it cuts through the mix like a knife. SPL is my designer of choice, but there are plenty of other options that sound great.

Pro-MB by Fabfilter

Fabfilter Pro-MB

Bit of a one-trick pony for my purposes, but it’s a better de-esser than many commercial de-essers I’ve tried.

Sonarworks Reference 4

Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition

Room tuning is important. I have a very imperfect room and it needs all the help it can get. Sonarworks is the answer. If your mixes aren’t translating properly, definitely look into a tuning program like Sonarworks.

ALRIGHT, now for the really fun stuff. Those are all the tools I use on every mix purely to help save time, but these are the ones I use to make the magic happen. Disclaimer: These change all the time, so don’t be surprised if I decide to change my mind about all these in the near future.

J37 Tape by Waves

Waves J37 Tape Machine

Tape emulations are magic and do wonders to just about every sound. I could talk about what they do and why, but it’s much better for you to download a demo and try it out. Of the ones I’ve tried, J37 has become my favorite, but that’s likely to change over time.

Decapitator by Soundtoys

Soundtoys Decapitator

I love saturation. And Decapitator does it absolutely brilliantly. It shouldn’t be too hard to understand why it has become an industry standard once you try it, so give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

SSL 4000 E by Brainworx

Brainworx SSL 4000 E

If you haven’t tried any Brainworx stuff, you’re missing out. I’ve never been a fan of UAD, mostly because they have a high financial barrier of entry and will eat up your wallet really quickly, but Brainworx’s plugins are right up there, if not better. Oh yeah, and much cheaper. I subscribe to the Plugin-Alliance Mega-Bundle and it’s probably one of the best deals around, imo. All that said, of their plugins, their SSL 4000 emulations knock it out of the park. I tend to switch back and forth between it and the Lindell 80, but it always ends up somewhere on my mixes.

CamelCrusher by CamelAudio

Camel Crusher VST

An oldie but a goodie. And also free. It’s a one trick pony, but man is it magic. British clean preset, tweak the mix knob. Taught to me by a great dubstep engineer, and now it ends up on every mix. Just try it, trust me.

bx_townhouse Buss Compressor

Brainworx Townhouse Buss Compressor

Yeah, I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for SSL gear. There’s a reason most of your favorite records were mixed on an SSL board. This is my go-to stereo bus compressor. I’m also a top-down mix engineer, so it’s basically a necessity that it ends up on every mix. And as far as SSL bus compressor emulations go, this one is definitely my favorite. Try it out, you won’t regret it.

Pro Q-3 by Fabfilter

Fabfilter Pro Q 3

Can’t have a real list without a few Fabfilter plugs. Expensive, but awesome. Not really as much a character piece as it is just a workhorse, but I thought I’d at least give it some credit. Lightweight, powerful, and beautiful UI.

bx_opto by Brainworx

Brainworx Opto

Honestly, I don’t use that much compression. Since most of my production work is done with samples and virtual instruments, most of the sounds are already pretty controlled. A little saturation usually does the job and I call it good. But when I do need it, bx_opto is usually the first one I try. Easy to use and sounds awesome. I have a couple other LA2A emulations, but this one gets used most consistently.

CLA-76 by Waves

CLA 76 Plugin

And of course, an 1176 emulation. I’ve heard the UAD one is a lot better, but this is the one I have. Best part is the presets, though. Really solid presets all around, and I can always find something that will work. Same as before, I don’t typically use compression, but when I need it and the bx_opto isn’t cutting it, then 76 will usually pick up the slack. Don’t be too surprised if you see a few hardware units sitting in my studio one day. They’re awesome units and sound brilliant.

All that said, I actually have a few more favorite saturation plugins I use. Each one has its own unique flavor, so I tend to mix it up pretty often. For the purposes of this list, I only mentioned a couple, but I’ll do another article talking about saturation exclusively. In the meantime, most of the plugs I’ve mentioned have demos and are definitely worth a try. There are lots of other plugins I use, but these ones tend to get used the most. And as I said before, this will probably change pretty drastically over the next few months. Check back later and I’ll make sure to update you when I start using something new.

As many of you know, these articles are written as part of a “brain dump” recommended by an article I read. I’ve found them very helpful, but they often contain incorrect, vague, and misleading info, since they’re written in a short period shortly after I wake up. I find them very therapeutic, but I openly admit there isn’t a ton of cognitive thought or editing going into them. Keep that in mind. And most of all, remember that there are no rules in music. These are my recommendations, but it’s your responsibility to review, ponder, act, and discover for yourself. Good luck, have fun.

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Danny Demosi

Music producer, mix engineer, and songwriter from Salt Lake City, Utah.