This time around, I’m going to talk about some plugins I use in the studio, oftentimes to mix shows that I recorded live.
There are a lot of fantastic plugins out there these days that are more “guitar pedal” than they are “traditional device.” Jack Joseph Puig and Tony Maserati have new lines of Waves plugins that are specific to instruments, and the controls are not your usual “threshold” and “gain”; they’re labeled things like “breath” and “sizzle.” What happens behind the scenes in these plugs is a lot of number crunching, and may be a number of things: compression, EQ, etc. As you adjust the “breath” slider, it’s changing a bunch of EQ and compression parameters in order to achieve the desired "breath" effect.
I have had a few friends balk at this, saying that this is the easy way out. As an engineer, you should have to know what it takes to achieve the desired result. I agree with this; you should know what it takes as an engineer to get certain sounds. The fundamentals of engineering are a necessity in creating great records. But these new tools can help to create great sounding shows.
So—yet another dilemma in the twisted, flawed, and hazardous world of creating soundscapes for others to enjoy. Some will argue that if you use a plugin that doesn't have the traditional tools, you are cheating in some way.
I look at all these things as tools that one uses to create the big picture. If you are using these types of plugins and getting the desired result, more power to you. I think that the new line of Jack Joseph Puig plugs sound particularly great on vocals and guitars. But they are a TOOL. You should learn the fundamentals of compression, EQ, de-essing, gating, etc. in order to expand your knowledge and become a better engineer.
As an engineer that knows both ways—I use both. I find it very fascinating to move the “Breath” slider and say, “Yup, that IS more breath.” And then I spend a few minutes critically listening to the changes that slider does and try to figure out what is going on behind the scenes. It teaches me things, and turns every day into a learning experience. Who wouldn't want to learn something from world-renowned engineer/producers like Jack Joseph Puig and Tony Maserati?
As a live sound engineer, I spend a great deal of time in front of near field monitors during rehearsals using virtual soundcheck. I make sure that the "breath" of a vocal is just right, and then throw it into a 20,000 seat room that just sounds absolutely horrid. The great thing about the new technologies of today is that the little things that we pay attention to in front of near fields actually do translate in that horrid room. We spend just as much time as studio engineers getting the "sparkle" on that guitar tone, or the right low end in the bass guitar. The two worlds of studio and live are becoming more and more parallel, and I can be more creative than I ever have been.
Here are some plugs I have been loving lately: Renaissance Axx on snare drum; Maxx Bass on bass guitar; and MetaFlanger on vocals. Again—I encourage you to try plugs intended for a certain instrument on something different. For example, try Vocal Rider on an acoustic guitar...
Ken "Pooch" Van Druten
WavesLive Product Specialist