There are dozens of benefits to simplifying the plugins you’re using in your recording and mixing sessions. For starters, each and every plugin you load is eating away at your computer’s processing power. Your CPU and RAM are both constantly under pressure when your DAW is running and even overpowered machines with Turbo boosts and tons of RAM will start to see the strain the more complex things get.
Beyond the technical limitations, having too many plugins in your session can start to make things hard to track down. Complex routing can be necessary at times, but there’s a point where it becomes a hindrance to your workflow (and the workflow of others if you’re passing your session off to a mixer or collaborating with someone on the session).
Here are a few housekeeping tips to keep your DAW running smoothly and ways to get the most out of your session with half as many plugins as you’re using today.
Print Your Instruments
Flexibility is a great thing to have in the studio and something engineers and mixers would’ve killed for before digital mixing became widely accessible. Being able to go back and change small pieces of your mix without recalling an entire session on a console and other hardware was absolutely a game-changer, but it doesn’t mean it’s necessary to avoid committing to everything.
Certain parts of your session will benefit from a print down before they move into the mixing stage. The most obvious ones being your virtual instruments.
Virtual instruments are notorious for eating up your system resources, so if you’ve got a drum sampler, synth pads, programmed bass, and other production sounds all running on their own instrument tracks, consider committing them to audio tracks before proceeding. This alone can clear up more than half of your RAM depending on how many instances you’re running of these plugins.
By committing your virtual instruments, you’re also “locking in” those performances. Have you ever played back a song and had an arpeggiator sound different on the second loop than the first? This is because some of these instruments are running independently of the session – it’s why you can pick up a flange or chorus effect at a different spot each time you hit play, changing the sound completely.
While it might take a couple of tries to get the take you like best, you don’t have to worry about these issues affecting you during the mix where it becomes increasingly frustrating to have things like that moving around. Once you’re done, disable/hide the instrument track. It’ll still be there if you need to go back to it, but it won’t be taking up any of your processing.
Commit To Your Tones
While modern virtual guitar rigs like our Toneforge models have been optimized to use as little processing as possible while getting great amp tones, they’re also prime candidates for printing down and disabling once you’re satisfied with the tone you’re getting. For tracking engineers, this is actually the best way to make sure the tone you worked hard to achieve during the tracking session makes it to the final mix.
I think many of us enjoy the idea of being able to go back and change an amp’s settings well into the mix, but in practice this rarely happens. Getting good tones upfront is key – if you don’t take shortcuts that rely on your ability to dial things in during mixing, you’ll be happier with the tone from the recording session.
Record as if it’s a live amp and you’ve got one shot with it. If you need to tweak your sound after printing and can’t do it with your standard mix plugins, you can take the same hide/disable approach you’re taking with your virtual instruments and recall that DI track with the virtual guitar rig on it later.
Use Better Plugins
This one might sound like a no-brainer, but better, more flexible plugins mean you don’t have to use as many of them. Tools like Gain Reduction 2 have crammed so many great vocal production options into them, mixers like Anthony DiGiacomo are cutting their vocal chains in half and getting the same or better results:
By eliminating the need for separate compressors, de-essers & saturation plugins, you can work more efficiently to mix vocals with half the chain you’re probably using today.
Getting Better Results Across The Board
Having a deeper understanding of how all of your instruments interact with each other within the frequency spectrum is one of the best ways to shift your focus from small details that few people will notice to making mix decisions that get you better results in a big way. If you’d like to start mixing more intuitively, check out the JST VIP section of the site where members get access to all kinds of courses, eBooks & other resources geared toward achieving better mixes!