In the modern world of digital recording, it might come as a bit of a shock to some producers and engineers that anything should be “shared” in their favorite DAW. With ever-growing track counts, constant improvements to CPU/RAM specs, and software that’s always evolving to take advantage of new hardware, what’s the point?
Today though, we’re going to look at sharing plugins across multiple tracks from both a practical application perspective and as a creative tool that forces you to work differently with your music.
Done right, shared plugins work to create glue within your mixes. It’s not always in the same way that bus compression works (though that’s a great example). Sometimes it’s little more than a workflow thing.
Let’s dive right into how narrowing your options opens new creative directions you might not otherwise be able to go in.
Narrowing Scope Because of Limits
While many DAWs today only limit their track count by the constraints of your computer hardware, there are still plenty of examples where you pay for a certain level of functionality. If your DAW has a limit to the number of tracks you can have in each session, capping your plugins and reflowing your process to use them more efficiently is a great way to hack a bit more functionality out of your setup.
Most often, this manifests itself in aux tracks where they can be used like more traditional sends on a hardware mixer. Mixers and engineers may choose to load a handful of reverbs or delays on these aux tracks and route sends from one or more audio tracks to them. By working in this way, you’re only using a single instance of a certain delay or reverb across all your instrumentation instead of working by group or narrowing your scope too far and applying time-based effects on a track-by-track basis.
If you want to try this out in your next session, use these 4 aux tracks as your starting point:
- 1 Long Reverb (Hall)
- 1 Medium Reverb (Room)
- 1 Short Reverb (Slapback)
- 1 Delay
You can route as much or as little to each aux track as you’d like, but I think you’ll find you get a lot of mileage out of just four plugins where most would traditionally use a dozen or more instances of these plugins.
The Creative Decision to Simplify
Using the exercise above (or similar exercises), many of today’s engineers and producers looking for a way to clean up their workflow have found solace in these types of strategies. By sharing plugins across multiple tracks, you’re forced to work in a way that supports the mix. This is radically different from the usual methods where we’re so parameterized, we can adjust anything we hear in a split second.
Sure – we preach to each other that we need to create balance as we work, but those who can offset any mistake by loading another plugin or adjusting an individual track are less likely to work efficiently. They’re always chasing the “next adjustment” that will make the session sound better.
Simplifying a workflow by sharing plugins takes so many decision points out of the equation that many mixers and engineers find themselves completing work in a fraction of the time. When you don’t have to go menu diving to find a specific sound, it can set you free.
Shared Plugins for Everyone
The decision to share plugins doesn’t need to be a binary move – you can simplify without sacrificing. Most engineers try to simplify their sessions with bus processing as I mentioned just a minute ago. With bus processing, tools like compression and limiting can be applied to entire groups of instruments. This ties their dynamics together and helps everything feel like it’s in the same room sonically.
By starting with plugins that were designed to be shared across multiple tracks, such as our Bus Glue series, you tend to get better, streamlined controls that make the whole process that much more intuitive.
Engineers and producers are going to hit a breaking point in the future where track counts are no longer a limitation no matter what software they’re using. While that sounds exciting, it can also spell the end for those who think that adding more and more to their sessions is what’s ultimately going to make it sound better.
If you’re interested in learning how to pick the right sounds rather than the most sounds, our Toneforge Bootcamp course is likely right up your alley. In it, we teach you how to tone match any guitar tone you hear with ease, but also how to be selective about the sounds you’re bringing into your mixes.