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The perils of too many choices with plug ins Audio Interfaces
Old 28th November 2017
  #1
Gear Maniac
The perils of too many choices with plug ins

I'm on this quest to get a new converter/mic pre set up and had my mind set on things like Prism Atlas. Just pure high end mic pre/converter combo. A friend who I hadn't talked to in a while stopped over to my studio today, a really talented engineer, producer and he said, "Dude you've got to get the UA Apollo stuff".

He invited me over to see his studio and show me the UA stuff. He was showing me the API plug in, the Neve plug, the Forsythe compressor, some great plate reverb plug in that Pink Floyd used. I can't deny that the sounds he was showing me were fantastic. For example the difference between the raw mix and the mix with the Studer tape emulation plug in was night and day.

My worry though is having too many choices to pick from, all the time it takes to learn how to use those plug ins, tweaking them, vs the time I should be spending on songwriting, arranging and lyric writing. Another words I just want to have really top notch source material, great mic into great mic pre into great converter and then do a basic mix with standard EQ, add reverb a little compression and be done with it.

Do any producers here feel like their work is suffering or their creativity is stifled with all these plug ins?
Old 28th November 2017
  #2
The same could be said for microphone placement choices. Without changing the microphone, cable, pre, converter or anything else besides the microphone's position, you can get a world of different sounds.

This is where the art of engineering comes into play. After you try everything for a while, you learn what works and doesnt, on top of knowing how to achieve a soun the first time you envision it.
Old 28th November 2017
  #3
Gear Maniac
Was thinking about that last night... Everything in engineering/production is about learning a piece of gear and how it alters the sound. So I guess my original post sounds lost. When I approached my friend about the metamorphosis of my studio and wanting to move on from "all in one" boxes to top shelf conversion, top shelf mic pres to see if I could improve my mixes he simply said, "Get the UA Apollo stuff". He thinks the plug ins and emulation can trump the mic pres and conversion as long as what you have for the front end is competent. And for him the UA Apollo conversion and mic pres are good enough. Obviously we both agree that competent mics are the most important. He just didn't think wise money was spent on top shelf stuff.

I guess I just figured less work would be needed if the initial signal is better. Maybe less choices on sound tweaking would open up creativity more...
Old 28th November 2017
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by markchatwin View Post
I guess I just figured less work would be needed if the initial signal is better. Maybe less choices on sound tweaking would open up creativity more...
Regarding fewer choices......a few years ago when I went to PT11 I decided to stay with the stock Digi plugs for a while as an experiment to see how that affected my stuff. I am still just using those stock plugs.....an EQ, a compressor and a limiter....stock delays...nothing fancy. That works for me as I am just recording....me.

Regarding the quality in premise.......just last week I replaced the tube in my Peluso with a NOS gem that cost more than my first real microphone. The difference was nothing short of remarkable. The vocals on my most recent track needed way less processing (EQ/compression) to get me smiling.
Old 28th November 2017
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by markchatwin View Post
I'm on this quest to get a new converter/mic pre set up and had my mind set on things like Prism Atlas. Just pure high end mic pre/converter combo. A friend who I hadn't talked to in a while stopped over to my studio today, a really talented engineer, producer and he said, "Dude you've got to get the UA Apollo stuff".

He invited me over to see his studio and show me the UA stuff. He was showing me the API plug in, the Neve plug, the Forsythe compressor, some great plate reverb plug in that Pink Floyd used. I can't deny that the sounds he was showing me were fantastic. For example the difference between the raw mix and the mix with the Studer tape emulation plug in was night and day.

My worry though is having too many choices to pick from, all the time it takes to learn how to use those plug ins, tweaking them, vs the time I should be spending on songwriting, arranging and lyric writing. Another words I just want to have really top notch source material, great mic into great mic pre into great converter and then do a basic mix with standard EQ, add reverb a little compression and be done with it.

Do any producers here feel like their work is suffering or their creativity is stifled with all these plug ins?

Making records is all about embracing your limitations. Though, #abundance is never a bad thing. When its utilized properly. Skills will make you keen to this sort of problem. And they will allow you to pick and choose what you need to make records. Over-using and Abusing all this gear is the latest trend. People act as though this stuff is like a Mircowave, trying to push the Nuclear Package of Synthetic Snot, button.

Takes longer to make real food.

"Start where you are,
use what you have,
do what you can" -Arthur Ashe
Old 28th November 2017
  #6
reminds me of the rack years when units went to dsp and all of a sudden there were 300 reverbs, 289 distortions, 500 delays...etc....
then a person can have a flashback to the B&W EMI photos of the Beatles or Berry and his Motown room and gear....

plugs are at least more colorful and visually appealing than those little tiny green LCD screens on rackmount gear.

but too much and too many is one reason someone said they liked the LA2A, 2 knobs.
Old 28th November 2017
  #7
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by markchatwin View Post
I'm on this quest to get a new converter/mic pre set up and had my mind set on things like Prism Atlas. Just pure high end mic pre/converter combo. A friend who I hadn't talked to in a while stopped over to my studio today, a really talented engineer, producer and he said, "Dude you've got to get the UA Apollo stuff".

He invited me over to see his studio and show me the UA stuff. He was showing me the API plug in, the Neve plug, the Forsythe compressor, some great plate reverb plug in that Pink Floyd used. I can't deny that the sounds he was showing me were fantastic. For example the difference between the raw mix and the mix with the Studer tape emulation plug in was night and day.

My worry though is having too many choices to pick from, all the time it takes to learn how to use those plug ins, tweaking them, vs the time I should be spending on songwriting, arranging and lyric writing. Another words I just want to have really top notch source material, great mic into great mic pre into great converter and then do a basic mix with standard EQ, add reverb a little compression and be done with it.

Do any producers here feel like their work is suffering or their creativity is stifled with all these plug ins?
Is your friend also a songwriter?
if not..then you can understand him to saying this to you.
Listen to your own intuition. If you need to serve the song by reducing choices, then thats the way to go.
Old 29th November 2017
  #8
Gear Guru
 
Drumsound's Avatar
I don't think there's anything wrong with you initial idea of getting a good sounding chain and focusing on what you're recording. If something you work on needs a more intense mix, you might have your friend mix it, if he is a professional.
Old 29th November 2017
  #9
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by markchatwin View Post
....
My worry though is having too many choices to pick from, all the time it takes to learn how to use those plug ins, tweaking them, vs the time I should be spending on songwriting, arranging and lyric writing. ... Do any producers here feel like their work is suffering or their creativity is stifled with all these plug ins?
If your "creativity" is suffering, maybe it's because your creativity should be centered on the areas of songwriting, arranging and lyric writing and you are diluting your efforts by adding in these other tasks of mixing and tweaking and just learning this whole new Craft. It's not the plug-ins themselves. Mixing is just as hard to get good at as playing an instrument, as writing songs, as singing, as arranging. Are you a 'producer' or are you an 'artist'? Answering that question honestly will help you decide how much effort to put into "all those plug-ins" and all the stuff that comes along with them.

When engineers talk about "too many choices" in plug-ins , they usually mean they have 10 EQs when one will do. 10 compressors when one will do. 10 reverbs when one or two will do. Overkill. But even if you have only one example each of EQ, compressor, gate, reverb , tape sim, etc etc you still must learn how to use each type of plug-in. This learning (and doing!) will obviously take time away from songwriting, arranging and lyric writing

Having multiples of each kind if plug is an 'engineering' thing. Just like having multiple electric guitars is a 'guitarist' thing. But even if a guitarist limits himself to one guitar, learning how to play it well still takes the same effort. If he has a Strat, a Tele and a PRS, that will not "stifle" his guitar-playing. If he also has a woodworking shop, a photography darkroom, a metalworking forge, and a recording studio, that might divert resources away from the guitar playing.

Quote:
...I just want to have really top notch source material, great mic into great mic pre into great converter and then do a basic mix with standard EQ, add reverb a little compression and be done with it.
I think this is good, you can be "done with it" in the sense of done with your part of it. If you want your final product to be competitive, you may indeed want to have it Capital-M Mixed with all those sexy effects by someone who really knows how to use them. But where is the law that says that someone has to be you? I would say at least half of my regular mix clients do most or all of their own tracking before bringing it to me for the mix. They don't need any plug-ins, because they are just tracking, not mixing.

Consider focusing only on tracking. Take any money you would have spent on plug-ins and put it only towards instruments, mics, preamps, and treatments Put the time you would have spent learning how to use those plugs back into songwriting and performing. Then send your top-notch source tracks to an engineer (like your friend?) and let him worry about keeping up with the "latest" compressors, eqs, reverbs, tape sims and how to put them all together.

Of course you should do what you enjoy and feel makes sense. But the unease you are feeling about this might be a valuable warning sign. Choose a path through life that does not spread your efforts too thin.
Old 29th November 2017
  #10
Lives for gear
Everybody works differently. It sounds like you know yourself pretty well so you should trust your instincts. For some, variety can be inspirational. When I pick up a new instrument or even use a different eq or something, I feel the joy of discovery and am often inspired to create something. That something can then serve as the seed for something larger or be a dead end that ends up in the junk bin. But that's the way I like to work. I also enjoy learning how new tools work (and really when you have experience with a variety of tools then you start to pick up on patterns and learning new ones isn't such a chore). And again, I find that process of learning something new inspirational, whether it's finding the sweet spot on a new compressor or learning a new scale. But like I said everybody works and thinks differently.
Old 29th November 2017
  #11
Gear Maniac
Great posts above. I consider myself a songwriter first followed by keyboard player followed by arranger/producer and lastly engineering. My bread and butter is vocal instruction. I really enjoy recording and mixing songs for my clients who are largely vocal students who become artists doing "one offs" for YouTube or friends and family. Regularly I'll write songs for them or record them doing covers. My biggest joy is writing a song and recording it for myself as an artist with bigger aspirations of selling it to other artists. I lean to the country market and pop market. What follows is the spark of this thread I started.

So recently I decided to replace my KRKV8's (circa early 2000's) and I got these sweet Amphion Two18's and they needed an amplifier. A local company, Benchmark, allowed me to demo their AHB2 power amp. Right away upon hearing the rig I decided to write a groove with the goal of just using basic raw sounds from around my studio. Acoustic guitar, real bass through my REDDI DI box, vocals on my best mic, some Fender Strat and a couple solos from the organ and piano sounds in Logic. No effects except a little Space Designer verb on the vocals. I use this Metric Halo 2882 8in and 8out as my mic pre and converter. Not happy with everything I was getting and a little noise from the MH preamps I re-recorded all the tracks with a superior mic pre/converter, the Sound Designs USB Pre2. BAM my groove came alive. Just the raw groove mixed out was one of the best things I have recorded. I had become accustomed to the sound of that mix. Then I decided to use the Logic mastering plug in on the stereo out and though louder, brighter and punchier I missed the old raw sound. So at this point I was down on plug ins because the raw sound from quality instruments and mics and those Amphions was the best for my ears.

Flash forward a week later... Michael Siau from Benchmark brought over their newish DAC3 to my studio and yet again I was blown away by the improvement a quality piece of gear added to my mix. And this was just for listening purposes. The mix was the same raw mix but on a converter superior to the USB Pre2. I recorded a few more grooves over the next week and I realized recording was becoming more fun doing it this more "raw" way on top end gear.

So I was all set to get like a Prism Atlas or Apogee Symphony MKII or the like. I figured, within reason, that I should get a good quality mic pre/converter to try and equal or surpass the USBPre2 and come close to the Benchmark DAC. Then my friend swore by the UA stuff. I went to his house and got a quick demo of it. Heard the tape emulation, heard the API plug in, etc. I also saw how much tweaking he was doing to enhance the sound. I also heard the "color" the Studer tape emulation added. And yes it seemed better than his source tracks but it was clearly a "color". Then I questioned in my head, "Was the mic pre used on the UA Apollo Twin he was using good enough"? When he turned up the output (no source material) on the Twin into the speakers I heard the same "noise" I get with my MH2882. There was virtually no noise with the Benchmark DAC3.

So all this sums up for me that I want to start with a top notch converter mic pre, I need x8 ins and outs, and I want to mix in a more raw way. I thought about going the "plain killer converter and adding mic pres along the way route" but I'm convinced I'd end up in debt with 8 seriously expensive mic pres and Mercedes Benz converters.

We do have a killer guy in town that will mix, master etc. at our local top notch recording studio. SO that point is well taken.
Old 29th November 2017
  #12
Lives for gear
 
TurboJets's Avatar
IME you will narrow down your choices anyway to a select few plugs that you really like. When I had a UA system I really liked the plugs but ended up mostly using the Stillwell Audio stuff instead.

Choices are awesome so embrace them. You will find your own faves.
Old 29th November 2017
  #13
Lives for gear
See my “theory on why OTB/Analog sounds better” and basically I’ve found the same thing: limitations created better mixes, regardless of digital or analog, OTB vs. ITB.

The difference is that in the physical world, you only have some many inserts/busses/hardware choices to make, so instead you’re forced to focus on what’s actually happening in the mix (active listening) vs. looking for The Next One in your endless list of plugins (installed or filling up your inbox with crystal blue Black Friday persuasions).
Old 29th November 2017
  #14
Gear Maniac
 

Do you use the same chords and rhythms for every song?
Do you use the same mics and placements for every recording?
Do you stick with one genre or style of music?

Personally I like the variety. It can be overwhelming and the hardest part is usually making the decision that 'it's done'.
You will find a lot of plugins are not offering that much difference. Find 4 of each (EQ, reverb, comp, saturation,etc...) that you like and really work with them. Learn what they do and how they are doing it. Once you get that down pretty well trying out other plugins will go much quicker in the "what can this do" department.
Old 29th November 2017
  #15
Lives for gear
 
PdotDdot's Avatar
So many ways to respond. First, a pro would be able to make a great sounding and selling product with the right tunes and performances well recorded regardless of the plugins or other gear. That says a lot about skill, the tune and the players. If you do not have those elements available then getting things to sound great is going to be more of a challenge - as in, no matter how much you polish something, it is still just what it is.

I love the UA plugins and that is all I use. I have a nice set but certainly have not gone over board buying new ones - probably to their dismay. I don't need all of their compressors to make something better. I need one. Two or three provide coloration options.

Having a good mic and chain for live recording is a must if you want to get good at this stuff and capture the performances as well as you can so probably focus there first. Beyond that, it really is a matter of preference and dare I say it, budget.

This was probably not a helpful post so for that I apologize.
Old 29th November 2017
  #16
Gear Addict
 

Besides gentle reverb, I've found that my stuff (acoustic music) sounds noticeably better with NO PLUGINS!

Sounds like you feel the same way.
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