Let me start by saying this – there are very few plugins in this world that I think are absolutely useless. Many engineers use plugins that I’m not a fan of, but that just means they’re finding value in it that I’m not. Similarly, I’ve had people say they don’t like the way something of mine sounds. I’m completely fine with that.
Plugins are kind of like TV channels or even music genres – you find the ones you like and you stick with them. I have go-to plugins that I’ve been using for years that get mixed in with brand new plugins that I’ve just discovered. They’re all colors on my creative palette when I’m working on a mix.
But if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that NOBODY needs to be paying thousands of dollars for a plugin bundle that they’re probably never going to use. Put your money into something more useful for your studio and focus on plugins that get you exactly what you need.
Stock Plugin Options
When it comes to mixing music, you’ve got plenty of stock plugins at your disposal right within your DAW. Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper… The list goes on and on but they all have stock plugins available for most any use. I don’t know a single professional mixer out there that can’t get a great sounding mix with just the processors that come stock in their DAW of choice.
These plugins often include things like gates, compressors & EQs for dynamic processing and reverb and delay for time based effects. Depending on the DAW, you’ll also get some software synths, channel strips and a few other goodies right in the box. The stock plugins alone are often worth as much as the DAW costs if you were to find a comparable bundle elsewhere.
For beginners, stock plugins also provide the opportunity to learn how these processors work before expanding into different variations. A stock EQ is rarely going to model the inconsistencies and harmonic variations of an SSL, API, or Neve EQ – it’s going to sound clean and transparent. This is by design – a basic EQ means what you put in for settings is exactly what you get out. No non-linearity to color your sound.
Over time, you’ll develop a preference as you learn these tools and you’ll want to start experimenting with new options. That’s completely fine, but it doesn’t mean you need to bankrupt yourself buying an entire universe of plugins that you’ll never use.
Trying New Plugins
If you’re going to start getting outside of your stock DAW setup, start with something that’s missing from your collection today. Add functionality before you start adding variations of existing processors. For many, this means adding something like a spatial widener to their collection, expanding on the control they’re already getting through panning.
Others might gravitate toward multi-band processors as their first choice. This is a great option once you’ve gotten a general understanding of how changing the dynamics of certain frequency ranges independently can change to overall sound of your source. This becomes immediately apparent on instruments that are transient-heavy like drums or require a two-part approach like bass.
Finally, you might have a particular sound that you’re after and there’s a specific plugin out there that can help you get it. This is the driving factor behind most artist series plugins, which tend to be some of the most colorful options used on a regular basis. Moving past emulations of real-life hardware, plugins like Gain Reduction Deluxe model my complete vocal processing chain in one, easy-to-use plugin. I can’t even begin to tell you the hours it saves me in every mix.
If you’ve ever got a guitar tone that you’re after that a plugin can help you achieve faster, that to me is a great purchase. Saving yourself time and effort when crafting a sound you want is exactly what you should expect from your non-stock plugins.
When It’s Okay To Bundle
Not all bundles are bad, but I think they’re widely misinterpreted by audio professionals and marketed in a way that doesn’t make sense. A bundle only becomes valuable when it contains the plugins you want at a price less than you’d pay to purchase them individually. If you’re paying for stuff you don’t want or need, what value are you really getting?
This is the reason smaller, customized bundles are the way to go. If you want a new set of dynamic processors, go with something that’s built to include compressors, limiters & transient processors. If you’d rather expand your time-based processor collection, pick something that’s got delays & other effects.
Just don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting a great deal on 150+ plugins if you’re only interesting in 10 of them. Find the smallest possible bundle that includes everything you need and put that money to better use elsewhere.
Learning Your New Plugins
Once you’ve found the right plugins for you, you need to know what to do with them. Join hundreds of other JST plugin users in the JST VIP section of our site to access exclusive, members-only content. Learn how to use your plugins and get the sound that you’ve got in your head using stock & non-stock processors.