Producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Green Day) shares his design and specifications for the Butch Vig Vocals plugin, created by Butch himself in collaboration with Waves.
The Butch Vig Vocals plugin is based on what I consider the core parameters of getting a vocal to sit in the mix, to sound really focused. I went back and looked at my notes on albums I have worked on over the last 20 years, and discovered there are some basic parameters I default to time and time again. I designed this plug so you can open it and quickly dial in the vocal. The filters and MidDip are used for cutting unwanted frequencies. The EQ section is designed to boost frequencies, but can be used as a cut if needed. Both the EQ and the de-esser are set to specific fixed frequencies.
The plugin includes the following sections:
Depending on the singer’s voice, the MidDip can remove a problem frequency. You can remove frequencies in the 300–600 Hz range to get rid of the cloudy or mushy tone, and in the 600 Hz–1 kHz range to get rid of too much nasal twang or throat. The MidDip has a fixed 6.5 dB cut.
The De-Esser is set to 6 kHz, which I find to be a very useful area. I don’t like de-essing at lower frequencies because I feel it can start to take away the non-sibilant fundamental tone from a vocal performance. (If the vocal sibilance is lower, you can always use a dedicated de-esser.)
The Compression is set to be smooth when engaged at lower levels and very aggressive at higher levels. This is based on the sonic qualities of some of my favorite compressors, Summit TLA-100 and 1176.
The EQ section has three fixed frequencies I repeatedly default to with vocals. They are intended for a boost in EQ, but can also be used to cut if needed. I designed them to capture the sonic characteristics of several classic EQs I have used over the years: Pultec, Neve, Trident A Range, Sontec and Avalon.
I like to use single-band EQ/compression to focus on where a lot of the fundamental tone of the vocal is. The Focus is a mid-band compressor which boosts information in the 1K or 2K range.
I love to add harmonic distortion to a vocal. Sometimes just a small amount will thicken the vocal and give it character. There are two types of saturation at the end of the chain: Tube and Solid State. They will add some subtle color at lower settings, and will get quite extreme as you turn them up. I added a LoCut and HiCut to clean up the distortion. When I saturate a lot, I usually filter the top and bottom to tighten up the distortion, filter the rizz off the top, and take out the mud on the bottom.
I was lucky to have a great variety of sessions to use when designing the Butch Vig Vocals plugin, and listened to some great singers: Shirley Manson, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Freedy Johnston, Billie Joe Armstrong, Laura Jane Grace, Kurt Cobain and Christofer Drew. Special thanks to Billy Bush and Ross Hogarth for their ears, and to Mike Fradis from Waves for his technical expertise and guidance.
A word about the GUI design: I was looking for something that had a “Retro/Sci-Fi” look, inspired by films like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Brazil and Blade Runner. Thanks to Dani Bar-Shlomo for his beautiful design!