Mixing with only stock plugins? I gave it a shot...and sucked at it lol

Just for the hell of it, I pulled up a mix from last June. I tried doing a mix with the console and only and 8 effects auxes. 3 verbs, a Microshift, saturation, a couple delays, and a bus compressor. It was really a practice exercise to start putting the controls under my fingers and into muscle memory. I’ve been without that console for almost 2 months, and am grateful to have it back. Took it upon myself to really start learning it at a deeper level.

Mixing with only the channel strips in the console (which are basically the stock Pro Tools channel strip) was NOT easy. And my mix sounded BAD. It felt like I couldn’t get anything under control. I had all kinds of trouble with the snare…it took forever to dial in the gate. I wasn’t used to having to pay such close attention to the rise and fall times, because my SSL go-to gates are a lot more forgiving than the ones in the console, especially on drums.

I had really struggled with the piano not having a multi-band compressor. I sort of cheated by sending the piano to 3 busses and filtering them in different ranges, then I compressing them separately. But it felt so weird to try and dial that in, and it took almost 10 minutes to set up. I’m really used to pushing 5-8k with the pink knobs at the top of an SSL E or K channel strip. But there’s some saturation going on there that my console doesn’t give me. Had do just deal with it.

Learning the gates on that console tonight was sheer hell. I had to be really dead on with the attack and release times in the orchestra mics. When I got to the choir, I couldn’t remember how my API 2500 was set…I had to peek at my settings a number of times to try and remember what the attack and release times were. Dialing in the 2 bus wasn’t hard. I usually go 10ms attack, and .1 or auto on the release with about 2-4db of GR. 4:1 with a tight knee. That wasn’t too difficult to duplicate. But getting the console 2bus EQ to act like a pultec was nearly impossible.

The lead vocals, OMG. After the fiasco with the piano, I was tempted to cheat and throw a C6 Multi-band compressor on there, but I didn’t. First I googled the rise and fall times of an 1176 to anchor the vocal down and keep it under control, but the console compressor sounds nothing like an 1176. Then I tried to fader rides to keep the vocal from poking out. And the fucking thing just WOULD NOT glue itself into place. Next I tried hammering and pounding it with my saturation/drive bus to control it, and it made it worse.

5am now, am sick and tired of this, and pretty disappointed for not being able to make a better mix. Oh well. Ups and downs. Tomorrows another day.


I hope every rookie out there reads this and has a deep respect for folks like you that really know what you are doing. It would be interesting to know how much time you have put into your craft thus far?
I am a two on a scale where you are a hundred on this topic. I haven’t done anything to improve my skills and feel very fortunate to be able to hang out with guys like you.
btw I only use plugins except for easy drummer and use that less every day because it takes to time to load and I have a song in my head that I need to get down right away. (run on sentence)


I’ve got nothing but respect for the console freaks who just dial in everything - as you say - from muscle memory. I worked in a “well off” school back in the day with a fully kitted out theatre. Digital console in the sound booth, stunning speakers all around, and enough mic inputs on stage to run a Broadway musical. I was new to the whole thing, so for me it was a case of just adjusting volumes and hoping for the best. My colleague was a trained sound engineer. Watching him check the levels and eq an entire musical ensemble and band was awe inspiring. It took him less than an hour to get everything up to level, eq’d, compressed and balanced.


Thank you for the kind words…though last night I felt like quite the rookie myself, and I work up this afternoon feeling equally disappointed with myself. I’m waiting for this system to boot as I’m typing this, and I’m gonna be hammering away at this for the next few days until I get a lot more comfortable using it.

I study this basically like you’d study an instrument. With technical research and experimenting being the equivalent of spending time in shedding in the practice room, and actual jobs/sessions being the equivalent of being on stage. I resigned as a music director and quit performing and touring full time in 2008…that was around the time when I made my first serious recordings. I had my first part time salaried mix engineer gig in 2011 (which was when I joined Recording Review).

For what its worth, I’m personally very glad you’re here and glad you contribute thought and ideas in any way you’re able. Its all about real genuine community. Thats worth something (at least to me).

lol. Reasons are different for everyone. If anyone else reads this, someone is gonna eventually ask why don’t I just use the plugins I’m used to using its the DAW. I’d like to know this piece of gear well enough to be able to walk into the Lord of the Rings dub room, the Sydney Opera House, the studio at Lakewood Church, or NASA (who all use the same mixer) and know exactly what it is and isn’t capable of. …as well as being better at using it myself of course :smiley:


Totally. @ColdRoomStudio has talked about the point where you become so deeply familiar with your tools that they become an extension of your mind and your ear. Almost like how we type thinking in words. Not in ‘w’ key, then ‘o’ key…and here’s the ‘r’…and oh look, ‘d’ and ‘s’ are next to each other! So when I hear a frequency I want to scoop, you can reach for a knob and turn it without consciously thinking about it. I’ve seen guys so familiar with their SSLs they can navigate a channel strip blindfolded, moving around like an organist moves around on the foot pedals, knowing where each knob is by feeling the knobs next to it. The goal isn’t to say “Hey, I’ve mastered this console”. The goal is to do whatever you have to do to shove technology out of the way so that you can get your job done!

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Did this all come about from the challenge I posted a few weeks ago about mixing with only stock plugins? :grin:

I think that was one of the points (in general) of the exercise Graham Cochrane showed in the link I posted a few weeks ago. When you get used to one magic thingy doing what you expect, then get tossed a different tool and you feel lost, how do you know how to navigate? It’s easy to pilot a decked-out yacht with the latest navigation technology, but what if you only had a sailboat and no compass … could you navigate by the sun, moon, and stars? Same as driving with GPS to guide you, then it breaks. How the hell are you gonna find your destination? People get dependent on that stuff and lose their basic sensibilities. Kids can’t even do math in their head anymore because that’s what a calculator is for … right?

If you focus instead on what you’re trying to get the sound to do, and figure out how that tool gets you as close as it can, you are building your adaptability and fluidity. Having a solid and durable workflow is great when you have it, but what about when you don’t? The master carpenter with the $10 hammer.

That challenge was in the back of my mind, though I guess it was for a more practical reason on my end. If I mix in other studios (which is starting to happen to me more often), the only thing I can ever count on them having is stock PT plugins. I really need to get better at using them.

The ProTools DSP engine (filters/compression/EQ) was and still is modeled after the channel strip on the System 5. So weather I’m using the DSP inside of the ProTools or the DSP inside of the console, the sound and the controls are almost identical. So if I really learn to use one, I’m 90% there for the other. I’ve had it for a year, but my first hundred or so projects on it were spent using it as an oversized mouse to control Nuendo.

Also, this console is the most widely used Post Production machine around. Most universities, dub rooms, and broadcasting venues still have them. Really being familiar with the channel strip config, the automation, the center section, the i/o synchronization system, and the bussing means you can walk into just about any studio that has one and get moving pretty quick. Unlike the SSL’s and Neve’s, the routing is standardized. Everyone’s patch digital matrix can only be configured within a few variations of that standard.

If I ever mix a movie on an S5 in a theater dub-room, the final re-recordign pass uses pretty much all stock PT plugins, and maybe a few surround reverbs. Very minimal processing is done to voices, effects, dialogue, backgrounds and foley. All stock ProTools plugins are pretty much the norm, and the $3000/day the movie producers pay to rent a dub room for you to sit in comes down to leveling music/dialogue/sfx, managing the surround sound translation, and structuring the automation.

A film studio is about to drop me my first full length movie in less than a month! Time to get my shit together :smiley:

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