Bare Essentials?

I was just listening to a mixing nerdcast today, and they were discussing plugin essentials - the basic plugin types that are needed to produce a quality mix in just about any genre… It got me thinking… Provided the source material is up to scratch, here are the basic plugin types I feel I need to get a decent mix happening in a timely manner:

  • EQ
  • Compression
  • Delay
  • Reverb
  • Gate
  • Limiter
  • Saturation

If the material needs post production tweaks to bring it up to scratch, I would add Pitch & Triggering to that list, but for me, that pretty much covers the bare essentials… what about you?


I can usually live without a gate, but that’s mostly because I don’t mind taking a little time in editing. If this were my living though, I’d probably utilize gates more.

My list would be the same, except for the gate, I hardly ever use gates. So I’d trade the gate for a de esser. What was the mixing nerdcast by the way?

Hmmm, I’d forgotten about saturation… duh… what is your favourite plug for this Andrew?
SPAN is one of my critical plugs but I guess that’s covered by EQ.

For me, EQ is THE most useful and necessary of all the plugins. Delay and reverb are important too.

Compression is something that I find most useful on the snare drum, but I’m still trying to find my way around them. Typically I try to bring out the “snap”, the "attack of the snare.

Guitar emulation plugins have me kind of excited too. I hate amps and mics / mic stands/ chords getting in my way. If I could find a great guitar emulation I would be very happy…And drum replacement software too…Recording acoustic drums is a real hassle in a home environment where space is limited.

Oh man, I LOVE real amps and drums. I despise the fake stuff.

I try like hell to use as few plugs as possible. I guess I prefer to spend more time with the engineering/tracking side of things than I do shuffling through plug-ins trying to polish a turd in the mix.

Yeah, if you’re mainly dealing with virtual drums, then gates are probably unnecessary. For a live kit though, I really need to gate the kick and snare to get what I want - with toms I usually mute silence between hits by hand.

Good point! De-essers are handy - although I often find that using tape simulation on vocals obviates the need to use one. Still, handy for BVs

For subtle saturation, I use Slate VCC & VTM. For more outright crunch, I like Trash 2 & the Transamp model in Guitar Rig.

Span is always on my master - a very handy tool.

Try using slower attack and fairly fast release times. Pull the threshold way down low and exaggerate the effect to get a feel for how the compressor reacts to changing attack and release times. Compressors can be fun!

Yeah, limited studio space and close neighbours are tricky to deal with if you want to record loud stuff…
I actually use Guitar sims a lot for non-guitar stuff. Guitar Rig is particularly handy for creating really extreme effects on non-guitar sources. It’s a constant in all my mixes. For actual guitar stuff, have you tried Scuffam S-Gear 2? As a long-time Marshall enthusiast & player, I found it to be a really well executed model.

That’s a great way to work - nothing more fun or rewarding than getting great, mix-ready sounds at the source .


Andrew, what are you using for EQ? Do you typically use the four band in Reaper and add another multi-band when necessary or do you have a standard EQ chain for everything on a template? I guess a better question is whether the 4 band is enough for most tracks, or if you are fine tuning a lot more than that.

What exactly is saturation and why is it important? (Serious question.)

That makes sense, yeah I’ve been using fake drums, I wanna start recording real drums though so if I do I will probably change my mind about the gate.

If I may intervene, saturation is basically distortion. You’ll see tape saturation plugs which you add to your 2 bus to smooth things out a little bit. It can be used on just about anything if it’s used mildly. It’s often used to make things sound more analog. Almost acts like a mild compression, but with a little more tonal effect, calming down peaks and adding that little bit of squash that a tube used to do more pleasantly than a transistor.


That sounds fine to me,i need a gate tho I use them all the time.

I use ReaEQ a lot - mainly for cuts though. (BTW. ReaEQ has as many bands as you want - you can add them at will - it just comes in default form with 4 band points). For boosting, I like the Slate Neve & SSL models, as well as their Custom EQ. Boz’s 10dB is also another favorite of mine. I barely touch multi-band comps - only usually as problem-solvers.

Sorry, forgot to answer that. It was this one:

Hey Al - Bob got it:

Great answer…

I think of it like a “mix cushion” - everything sits more comfortably together when there is a bit of “mooshiness”. Because distortion adds harmonic overtones, there is also the sense that everything sounds a little richer; with a little more midrange push and “present-ness”. When used in a more subtle way, saturation tends to push the upfront things in your mix further forward, and the background elements further back, giving the impression of more “depth” in the soundstage.

Yeah, gates come in very handy! I LOVE ReaGate - it’s pretty excellent.


I don’t think you need a gate or a limiter for every mix, or saturation for that matter. EQ is a must, gotta be able to adjust harsh sounding shit. Reverb and delay help make the impact less direct so it’s not a chore to listen to. So I agree with the first four.

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There are a lot of positives to a minimalistic approach - I personally don’t subscribe to it, but whatever makes you (or your clients) happy. :grinning:

I don’t need a gate for every mix either, but I’m often dealing with live drums, so I consider it essential. As for a limiter, I know my clients wouldn’t be happy to receive a mix without some limiting on it to bring it up to level without clipping. Even the most mixes with conservative levels need a limiter to stop the peaks from clipping the mix buss…

I could definitely do a great sounding mix without saturation, but it probably wouldn’t satisfy me.:neutral_face:

I only use three:


I actually know what a limiter is. ha ha My songs usually say “you are 6db’s over, do you still want to export” I say hell yes.


Well how very modern you are, Paul! “Clippin’ da mix buss :wink:” - I’m sure your DAW has a brick wall limiter as one of the standard plugins. Come to think of it, technically a limiter is just a high ratio compressor…

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Hi bud. Studio one has a mastering feature. In fact you can go back and forth to your original tracks very easily. I tried the limiter. I think it had a few settings like zero, -3 etc. Didn’t sound any better to me. ha ha simple minds, you know:slight_smile:

Thanks man, I like listening to audio related nerdcasts at work so it’s nice to find another one.

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Thanks for that tip! Really appreciate it.

I haven’t tried Scuffam, no. But now that you mention it, I will definitely be looking into it. Thanks!