Music Plugin Essentials

Mixing, mastering, & recording plugin essentials

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I know that this post will be of interest to some of my readers. Frequently I am asked on social networks about my favorite plugins for recording and producing music. (To skip straight to the list of plugins, click this sentence.)

Furthermore, while creating Songs of Love (for the foundation of that same name), I’ve had to streamline my recording setup. Knowing which audio tools I need to use repeatedly on these projects allows me to create templates. Then, I can focus on the music-making.

So, here goes. For each of the areas of interest — master track, individual track/bus (mixing), and vocal tracks — I’ll provide a few highlights of the pros and cons of my favorite plugin essentials. If you’d like to see a full review of one or more of these, please leave a comment here or .

Mastering

Though I often use other plugins to check my results, my main ozone pluginmastering plugin is iZotope Ozone 8. Not only does it provide a handy bundle of mastering tools, but version 8 has the added feature of “suggested settings” via detection of the actual audio in the current project.

Pros

  • suggested settings feature including adherence to industry level/loudness practices
  • a single plugin provides EQ (including dynamic EQ), dynamics (compression/limiting), imaging, and more

Cons

  • a wide range of latency, but always some — big results come at a high cost in this case
  • certain settings produce high latency (requiring automatic or manual compensation depending on your DAW)

During final checks, I test the final mixchecker pluginmaster with Audified MixChecker. Though some real-world checks of your mix are important, MixChecker has reduced the number of these (outside of my studio) to almost nil. Check out their great behind-the-scenes story to learn how they created this helpful software.

Pros

  • provides an excellent cross-section of possible playback settings (e.g., phone, laptop, television, etc.)
  • reduces number of times the master has to be sent out for playing on other units prior to the final cut
  • doubles as a lo-fi insert

Cons

  • no spectral analysis or display, so if you want this you’ll need another plugin

Mixing Tracks

Tops among my individual track (versus master track) vitamin pluginplugins is Waves Vitamin. I’ve found Vitamin to be an excellent way to keep tracks from sonically interfering with each other. For example, it’s a great way to keep a kick drum from getting in the way of a bass line. Initially, I thought the iZotope Neutron 2 (due to its automatic detection similar to the one in Ozone) would replace Vitamin. However, the latency in Neutron proved to be too much in large projects.

Pros

  • useful templates and guide videos for getting started
  • zero latency
  • easy to customize and adjust

Cons

  • comparison with other instances of Vitamin is purely manual
  • each instance must be checked for internal clipping

Mixing Buss

In terms of bus/aux plugins, my go-to reverb continues to be Waves IR-L Convolution Reverb. I know there are newer options in this “space”. However, I’m so familiar with IR-L and have collected so many convolutions for it that I can’t justify making the switch.

For the delay bus, my favorite (by far!) is SoundToys EchoBoy. Besides a fun and excellent set of sample programs, this delay has such superb features that I can easily overlook its small bit of latency.

I’ve tried dozens of modulation (chorus, flanger, etc.) effects on my chorus aux bus. Stay tuned because none of them have become the best or only one in my toolbox.

Vocals

butch vig pluginFinally, I’ll give a special mention to the vocal tracks. Though I certainly use a variety of methods for optimizing vocals, these three Waves plugins continue to be at the top of my audio toolbox: Butch Vig VocalsCLA Vocals, and Maserati VX1.

Butch Vig Vocals Pros

  • customized specifically for singing tracks
  • zero latency
  • transparent effects

Butch Vig Vocals Cons

  • occasionally difficult to keep from clipping internally
  • no limiter, reverb, or delay
  • screen layout is inefficient and sometimes cumbersome

CLA Vocals Proscla plugin

  • customized specifically for singing tracks
  • includes custom reverb and delay
  • straightforward interface

CLA Vocals Cons

  • small latency
  • some self-noise (which seems really odd for a digital plugin)
  • certain (non-EQ) effects add color
  • no limiter

Maserati VX1 Pros

  • customized specifically for singing tracksvx1 plugin
  • includes custom reverb and delay
  • straightforward interface
  • templates provide useful starting points for customizing the plugin to your vocal tracks

Maserati VX1 Cons

  • small latency
  • some self-noise (which seems really odd for a digital plugin)

Once again, please leave a comment here or  if you’d like to see a full review of any of these plugins.

Essential Recording Plugins

Plugin UseName (pros/cons link)Manufacturer
Overall MasteringOzoneiZotope
Checking PlaybackMixCheckerAudified
ReverbIR-L Convolution ReverbWaves
DelayEchoBoySoundToys
Track MixingVitaminWaves
VocalsButch Vig VocalsWaves
VocalsCLA VocalsWaves
VocalsMaserati VX1Waves
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