I love a one-knob plug-in. It’s that sense of relief I have when I can turn a single control and my ears experience a pleasing difference in my mix rather than straining to hear what did what with what knob and by how much. Although I appreciate many of the points made in Simon’s recent rant about this sort of thing, for me it’s about the democratisation of music production.
When sitting down at a mixing console (real or virtual) with associated outboard and processors (or plug-ins) it often feels like that scene from the movie Airplane when ex-fighter pilot Ted Striker casts his eye over a never ending panel of unintelligible instruments in the cockpit of the doomed Boeing 707. Music production often goes to great lengths to appear complex and impenetrable and convinces us that the huge arrays of knobs and sliders should only ever be fiddled with by a fully trained professional sound person.
When I was playing in bands in the ’90’s getting to record in a studio was the most awesome thing imaginable. But two things made the whole thing either unobtainable or rather unpleasant: the enormous cost (unless you were signed to a label), and often discovering that the gear wasn’t the only source of knobs in the control room.
These days of course I’ve got a bleedin’ recording studio on my phone. And for the price of an hour at Abbey Road I can record into professional grade software on my home PC any time I like. Of course, the “quality” of the resultant mix of sounds can vary enormously but the tools are all there if only you didn’t need an engineering degree to access them. Simon said that mixing and mastering aren’t easy – I don’t know about that, I think there are levels at play here and actually mixing and mastering can be as complex as you want it to be.
Brainworx recently released a new “game changing” plug-in that allows you to EQ at various points in the stereo field, letting you tweak the panorama differently. All these producers were lining up to say how awesome that is when all I could think of was how complex must their projects be in order to need to apply EQ again to a mixed signal? Usually you do the EQ bit on a track before it hits the pan knob – why would I need this ability?
At some levels mixing and mastering is difficult. But for the vast numbers of home musicians, bands and creative collectives whose target destination is iTunes, Youtube or Spotify it should be easy and it should be part of the creative process. “Engineer” is such an unmusical term.
We have auto-tuning and we have auto-quantise, which are both commonplace and used by beginners and pros alike. So what’s wrong with auto-EQ, or auto-mixing or auto-mastering? With all the emulated and virtualised stuff these days, why not use an algorithm to analyse your tracks and make decisions on how they best sit together in a mix, how to pull the vocals away from the guitars, keep the bass under control or place that lead in the perfect position? And sure, give us one knob to play with just so that we feel involved in the process. If it’s ok to have a Jimi Hendrix preset on a guitar pedal then why not have a Tony Maserati preset across my mix?
Of course if you want it done “properly” then pay the professionals. But for me it’s like learning an instrument – I don’t need to be a virtuoso, I just like to play and any lack in ability has never prevented me from being creative. Likewise, the engineering side of sound should never be a barrier to people who want to create and release music. Plug-ins that enable us to sound better shouldn’t be sneered at just because it didn’t take sweat, tears and 20 years of experience to achieve. Learning is still a wonderful thing but that curve could be a lot less steep with a lot less knobs.
So if you want some added sparkle, some more X-factor infused into your mix, then pick up my signature MixFixer plug-in and dial in some of my own Charisma.
For Simon’s alternative take on one-knob plug-ins click here: https://www.gearnews.com/plugins-for-knobs/