Are there right and wrong ways to use plugins? Not for uber-vocalist, producer and film composer Mike Patton, who shared with us which plugins he most likes to use – and abuse – in albums with Faith No More, Fantômas and Dead Cross, and in his unsettling soundtracks for films such as Netflix’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1922.
By Mike Patton
Sometimes, you just have to ride the wave until it breaks.
Although I am not – and have never been – a traditional engineer, in this day and age one must adapt and learn. So I have done that on the fly, and, in a sense, on the job. I’ve found Waves plugins to be incredibly ‘warp-able,’ which is something that lands directly between my crosshairs and has accelerated my creative process.
I’m a big fan of abusing gear – that is to say, doing whatever it takes to replicate the sounds I hear in my brain – and I have learned that Waves plugins can be particularly elastic in this regard.
These are by no means ‘correct’ ways of using these plugins, so please take my thoughts with a lot of salt and pepper. Believe it or not, I often use them by processing the entire track as opposed to inserts – which is a little strange, but it works for me!
So, here are some of my favorite plugins, how I like to use them, where I used them, and how in some ways they have saved my ass over the years!
dbx 160: I use this plug probably not so much for compression, as I assume it was intended – but more as a distortion box! It’s great both in-chain or for crushing tracks after the fact. A trusted squashing beast! Love it on drums and percussion especially. I have a hardware version of this but lean on the plugin many times, as it can be much more convenient… and no shitty dirty pots to worry about!
Doppler and Doubler are both fun plugins to use while experimenting. Doppler is known as a sound design plugin, but I’ve used these two on voice in Faith No More and Dead Cross, as well as some single note guitar melodies on various projects. This combination a little difficult to describe – but it provides almost a sort of ‘3D’ depth in certain cases.
Dead Cross, “Seizure and Desist”
Eddie Kramer Effects Channel is a go-to when I need a solid slapback delay. It’s all over my soundtrack for A Perfect Place, for example, which had a certain film noir/big band aesthetic: horns, guitars, you name it. The Z Slap and H Slap functions are instant gratification for me, especially when I don’t feel like wrestling with my old tape echoes and their uncleanliness!
Mike Patton, A Perfect Place OST
J37: A juicy tape emulator that can be used on literally ANYTHING. I have used this on entire stereo mixes, and it made them sound as if they were recorded next to a warm fireplace!
JJP Guitars: A nifty post-production tool. I used it on a couple soundtracks, particularly The Place Beyond the Pines, which utilized a lot of featured guitar lines. It really helped clean up some muddy guitar passages and made it easy to dial in certain frequencies in a main melody/chord progression.
Mike Patton, “The Snow Angel,” The Place Beyond the Pines OST
OneKnob Series: For ‘engineer-challenged’ people like me, these plugs are a godsend. OneKnob Brighter, Driver, Pumper – all are delightfully easy to navigate and every tweak makes me smile. You know that horrible feeling when you enable a plug, adjust parameters, and just keep clicking… waiting for something to happen? It’s the worst feeling in the world. These plugs do NOT do that!
Greg Wells PianoCentric: Although this was designed for piano, I find myself using it on many things. It's especially effective when I try to ‘dirty up’ an annoying digital sample. It gives me a sort of ‘dungeon’ vibe that can really come in handy. Greg Wells VoiceCentric also has a similar magic, although i don’t necessarily use it on vocals either. The fact that these two plugs each have one large dial and are uncomplicated makes them instant fun medicines for me!
Mike Patton, Mondo Cane
X-Hum and X-Noise: When you use funky old gear like noisy amps, ungrounded spring reverbs, etc., these plugs can be a lifesaver. During the recording of my soundtrack for Netflix’s 1922, these were indispensable. The musical aesthetic was very minimal, so each instrumental passage had to carry a certain weight, gravity and clarity. These plugs breathed new life into some cranky mellotron and grimy fiddle tracks, saving my ass!
Finally, the API 2500 plugin is something I often use to ‘excite’ a droopy vocal in the mid/high register. I actually have the original hardware, but I use the plugin just as much if not more – it has the ‘teeth’ you would expect from anything API. On 1922, I used the API 2500 to remove unwanted ‘girth’ on low-end bass and percussive instruments, for example on my processed celli – and it was literally like giving them a facial!
1922 Official Netflix Trailer
Got surprising ways of your own to use Waves plugins in your mixes or productions? Let us know in the comments below!