Hacks to Make Every Session Easier

Hi, and welcome to our final week on this month’s focus for Studio Hacks. I hope you’ve all been enjoying the summer months this year, I know mine have been stuffed with bands and sessions galore, which is in part, what inspired today's selection of hacks! 

It occurred to me that there were a lot of things I almost do now without thinking about when starting to set up a session, or if I’m midway through a session and it calls for a certain sound, then I almost always have something tucked up my sleeve in preparation. So, today, I want to break that down, from start to finish, and more importantly, show you why these particular hacks have become a subconscious thought process at this point.

Let’s dive in!


I know a lot of people don’t like presets, and they have in the past gotten a lot of bad press, but they are still to this day one of the best ways to get closer to the point in the mix you’re aiming for, quickly and seamlessly. It honestly took me a while to allow myself to start using presets again, but it dawned on me that each time I was using a channelstrip, or a reverb plugin for example; I’d always be tweaking the settings each time I sat down to mix because I just wasn’t ever getting close to what I actually thought I wanted. 

So, in the end I started from the beginning (again) and worked from the ground upwards - I think I was working on guitars on this occasion if I remember correctly. I’d just installed the new Architype: Nolly plugin from Neural DSP, and I’ve always trusted his ears, so I thought ‘why not?’ and opened up to one of the presets they came ready with the plugin. It was perfect. It was so perfect, that I wasn’t sure I even needed anything else in the chain, but I soon realized that there was some high and low passing it could deal with, and a little multiband compression, and so on; but the fact remained that it was minimal adjustments that all started by just trusting in the plugin developers and the producers presets that allowed me to speed run my guitar tones that day!

I can't express enough just how many great starting points there are within this one plugin!

So, after doing those minor adjustments, I was a little worried that unless I wrote it down somewhere, or reminded myself what the preset was called, I might forget - and even worse, I was worried I may forget the other processing I’d done in the chain. However, the great thing about plugins is that they don’t just allow the people developing them to make and save presets; so, that’s exactly what I did. And then I started making more for other scenarios that had already been mixed in on other instruments using similar or the same plugins, like the multiband compression I mentioned earlier, or the gating and basic EQ on a channelstrip plugin for the Toms. Soon, after making the habit in each session to recognize I liked the changes I’d made to a basic starting preset from the developers, I’d make sure to save my own version of it so I had a new starting point to work from next time instead, based on my ears.

The SSL Channelstrip from Waves Plugins has been a staple for many producers over the years for many reasons, but their plethora of presets from Grammy winners is definitely one of them.

Chains and Templates

Expanding further from the concept of presets, you can take this idea into a totally different realm in a couple of different ways in the form of preset chains and preset templates. Let’s start with chains as they invariably will make up your templates for the most part. Above, I mentioned that I was worried about losing the presets or forgetting what I had done in the previous session, so to avoid that I made presets instead; well, having those presets as your ‘own’ starting point rather than stock presets is always going to help, however, what I sometimes find even more valuable is to have an entire chain of plugins with they’re processing or presets already selected, within one chain that I can load up instead. 

This is especially helpful when you’re working from song to song, and maybe don’t know what to expect quite yet due to the artist not having great demos or preparation, and so instruments or the sounds of them are being given to you at a moments notice, and you need to work fast in order to keep the session flowing (we’ve all been there I’m sure); having these chains premade and ready to go at the most basic point allows you to not only vet the idea the artist has, or perhaps get closer to the sound in their head if they’re unsure how to describe it, but gather information about the bigger picture and scope of the overall song much faster, which in my case gets my brain in the best creative headspace! 

Within my DAW of choice, Reaper, you can add FX Chains that you save from the Add FX menu used for looking up your plugins list - how easy is that?!

Once you’ve gotten used to chains, then you can start adding more and more of them at a time into templates. Now, remember, the process so far has been: 

  • Find a preset that works for you and then save your own once you’re happy with it as your own starting point. 
  • Once you’ve done that for the plugins in the processing chain, save that chain so you have an even greater starting point to work from. 

After you’ve done that for say, an entire bus of instruments such as all the drums, then you can start to save that entire group of tracks as a template from which to start the entire session from. I can not explain how insanely helpful this is when you’re in the first sessions with a new artist, and you’re discussing the sound the band wants for each group of instruments; better yet, how much more helpful it is once you’ve already worked on one record for that band in the past, and you can save the basic mix of each group of instruments as a starting point for the next record. 

I’ve made sure to create various templates for all sorts of instruments and timbres for as many basic ways for that group of instruments to sound like. This could be all sorts of different variables as well, everything from clean to crunch, to high gain guitar tones with the usual suspects as tracks like hard panned left and right guitars, lead guitar tones in a basic setting, perhaps a mono overdub guitar track as well - all the way to template mixes premade for various drum sample packs or sample settings within those packs, so you’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as the band sets into the studio. 

Hopefully, these tips will help you not just become more confident in trusting your own instincts on what sounds good and committing it to a preset for yourself, but in turn allow you to start speed mixing as you record so the band can always have a sense of the finished version while in the studio during the recording sessions. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts too, so don’t forget to email me at Harri@jzmic.com or reach out within the community!