Tool #32: Use Plugins Wisely

Lately I have been using Logic more because I have been doing a bit of incidental and film trailer work.  Logic, like all other major DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), offers a breadth of tools to maximize possibilities and enable the user to create precisely fine-tuned sounds.  However, all of this possibility can lead to overuse.

One essential feature of Logic is the amount of plugins (digital signal processors); there are plugins for reverberation, compression, filters, modulation, and many other sound-shaping effects.  The trouble is that one is often tempted to use too many of them for many reasons, ranging from the fact that “they’re there, so I might as well use them” to “I’ve never used them before” to “everything has to have reverb”.  As you can guess, most of these reasons are pretty simplistic, and the result is a sound that is over-saturated with effects.  While it’s good to use them to refine your sounds, the key principle is to get the sounds.  So, to avoid overuse, my advice is to set goals about what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to achieve that accomplishment in sound.  These don’t have to be written, of course, and can be on the fly or established in pre-composition.

Here are some basic examples:

  1. I want all my instruments to sound like they’re located in the same space.
  2. I want to create ethereal sounds.
  3. I want to create focused, rich sounds.
  4. I want to create loud and punchy sounds.
  5. I want to make a track sound muted.

Here are some examples of ways to achieve these goals:

  1. Firstly, group the tracks that need to sound like their in the same space together (using the groups function).  Make sure they all have the “Send _” checkbox checked (_ can be 1, 2, 3, etc.).  Then, allow them to be sent to Bus _ (1, 2, 3, etc.), and set Bus _ up with a reverb plugin.  When groups are enabled (remember that the group clutch key is Command+G), drag the send meter up and down (the small dial near the Bus routing on the channel strip) and all of the tracks will experience the same send level of reverb.  You can refine this by hitting Group Clutch (Command+G) and changing each track’s individual send levels slightly if some of them react differently to the reverb.
  2. Use modulation/phasing plugins, usually one at a time.  Examples include chorus, flanger, phaser, etc.
  3. Use compression to tighten up the overall feel of the sound and raise the lows and compress the highs to create more focus.
  4. This is a trick I love to do: send the track through a guitar amplifier plugin.   This creates a louder, more brassy sound that can sound aggressive, especially when a little extra gain or distortion is added.
  5. Use the Channel EQ plugin, and double-click the graph icon to use it.  Click the “Analyzer” button for the waveform of the sound’s frequencies to display while the project plays.  This is a great way to find where the sound’s is located in the frequency spectrum and to affect it by clicking in the graph.  In the graph you can change the amount of increase/decrease of the sound, and the Q of the curve–the sharpness or flatness of the curve, which allows specific frequency focuses or  to be affected.  To make a sound more muted, in general I lower the high and high-middle end to take away the partials, and reduce the strongest areas of its tone to eliminate its usual/characteristic tone.

It doesn’t often take many plugins to create the effect for which you’re aiming.  Try being lean, and see if the leanness can accomplish your sonic goals.  That way, you can always add plugins and not  have to worry about inadvertently creating an overwhelming stew of effects that sounds random and pointless.

Thanks for reading,


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