Using Less to Achieve More

It’s 2023! After a successful, albeit somewhat arduous return to normality for many of us throughout last year, things seem like they will stay somewhat normal for now. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, then you’ll know that a new month means a new topic; and with it being the start of the year, I wanted to focus this month on Working Efficiently

There were so many times that I saw friends, or clients, doing way more tasks than needed and trying to outsmart the problems they faced, even though the problems weren’t overly complicated in the first place. So, to kick us off today, we’re going to take a look at how you can use less tools more effectively to do the same amount of heavy lifting. 

Let’s dive in! 

One Tool to Rule Them All

It’s a very common marketing rehash statement to suggest that one plugin will dramatically change the sound of your end product, or that it’s some sort of secret elixir to access the forbidden fruits of the perfect guitar tone - that’s not what this is, and in fact I’m here to tell you that it’ll never be the case. In fact, what I’m suggesting is that there is one format of plugin that has all the basic elements of what you will need in order to achieve a successful mix, which eliminates the hassle of 5 or 6 separate plugins all creating a strain on your computer. 

The more plugins you try to use, the more you strain the processing power of your system, which is actually the reason I stumbled upon this discovery myself. Channelstrip plugins aren’t a new concept, in fact they were some of the first plugins conceived by developers due to the inherent workflow associated with them from major producers all over the world, as they had worked on the real thing for years in most cases. The design of a mixing desk’s ergonomics is simple: start at the top with your gain control, work your way down through the EQ and Compression, Pan controls, any busses or sends you’d like this track to go to, and finally the fader to balance the volume in the mix. 

Even on the newer SSL Desks, all models have followed the same formula towards the workflow of using a console.

This exact concept has been replicated in the digital domain for a reason, and once you get into the habit of using a channelstrip and working through the plugin like you would work your way down a channel on a desk, you’ll start to see the benefit of this workflow very quickly. There’s a lot of different sounding desks, different abilities on different desks, and widely different types of EQ and Compression on each desk, which is why I implore you to have a couple of options (I usually reach for the API, Neve, or SSL style for basically anything I need). The less ability the desk you choose has, the more it’ll force you to work smart, not hard, in order to achieve what you’re after - for me, when starting to learn this way of working, I spent a month only using the Neve styled 80 channelstrip from Lindell Audio which helped me hone in on exactly the right takes, the right microphone choices and the right positioning, which meant I didn’t have to rely on the EQ to tone shape the drum mix or the guitars and vocals; we just tried to get it right at the source instead. 

The main two channelstrips from Lindell Audio that I use to speed up my workflow and instil efficiency in my mixing.

Plugins That Break The Mould

There are a few mixing problems that only a handful of channelstrips will have the ability to tackle within their workflow, such as Deessing or multiband compression. However, this can also be achieved by just one or two plugins - no more than that. For both Deessing and taking a specific section of the frequency spectrum that’s causing issues and calls for some work to tame it, you could use a Dynamic EQ such as the Fabfilter ProQ-3 or multiband compression such as the Pro-MB to do both jobs at the same time, achieving the same result as using a dedicated Deesser and a dedicated Multiband compression plugin on top of that too. 

Fabfilter's Pro-Q3 is my one-stop-shop for almost all my multiband compression, deessing, and further EQ finetuning needs within a mix.

Unless there is a mix that calls for some drastic work that perhaps I haven’t had a hand in working on the recording of, but I’ve been hired to mix, then I will always try to keep plugins specialized in things such as restoration, or what I like to call artisanal plugins like saturation or colouring plugins, to an absolute minimum from track to track. There’s times that this mould is broken like the above example, but unless you’re trying to achieve a very specific result, then do what you can with the least amount of of tools possible and then re-evaluated the mix; if it still calls for extras like saturation, further gating or maybe reverb and delay, etc. then you now have more CPU power to run intensive power hungry plugins without risk to the overall mix (within moderation of course). 

A Couple Of Philosophical Thoughts

I wanted to end this blog today unlike most that I write, mainly as it’s the first of the year, and on top of that a lot of you reached out to me last year with some lovely words and compliments about how my writing has helped - so I’d like to continue doing that by giving you all some food for thought! 

There’s 2 main rules I try to live by each day, and when I’m planning out my mixing tasks, writing tasks, or any other work I think about this first rule: the 80-20 Rule. The idea behind the rule is that, if you can help it, 80% of your work should equate to 20% of your time for that day - which sounds outlandish to suggest that it could be done, but that is not the point of the rule. The point of the rule is that it’s meant to make you re-evaluate how you complete your daily tasks to free up as much time for yourself as you can do; hence the idea of working efficiently with channelstrips in a mix is a game changer when you practice it! 

The second rule is the 90/90/1 rule, which is actually a newer one for me as well so I’ve not perfected it yet. But the idea behind it, is that for the next 90 days, the first 90 minutes of each day should be focused on your top priority. For me, that’s usually as simple as planning out the rest of the day, refocusing my mind on my to-do lists, and almost meditating on the thoughts I’ve left the previous day on to try and figure out how to solve any problems that have been looming in my mind. This is a great way to start my day, but it doesn’t have to be the same for you - your 90 minutes could involve spending time practicing an instrument, working out, spending time with family; you get the idea! 

This year is about you, and the goals you want to achieve - and I’m going to do my best to help if I can. Let me know as always if you have any thoughts or tips that you think are interesting - I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Until next week, stay creative.