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Stay Creative in the Studio #1: Use your gear for unintended tasks

Apr 18, 2019

How do you get out of a creative rut? Gaining inspiration sometimes means thinking outside the box. See how you can begin using your tools in new, exciting and inspiring ways.

by Josh Bonanno

Stay Creative in the Studio #1: Use your gear for unintended tasks

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Gaining inspiration and thinking creatively sometimes means thinking outside of the box. When most people fall into a creative rut they feel like they can find inspiration by getting a new piece of gear that may do something different than the tools they currently have. While there is truth in this approach, a lot of times new ideas and creative thoughts can be discovered with the tools at hand; it just requires you to think of them in a new and refreshing light.

Get Out of the Rut

Creativity often drops off when you become too comfortable or stuck in a certain routine or workflow. You begin following cycles which lead down paths you’ve already been down, making you feel as if you’re “stuck” or uninspired. While introducing something new to that workflow may very well be the perfect antidote to that rut, it might be more beneficial to instead use the tools that already exist in your current workflow in a new and interesting way. Maybe even in a way they aren't normally intended to be used.

A lot of creative uses for gear stem from earlier days of hardware units where people were limited to the gear they already owned. Buying new gear to introduce into their workflow wasn't nearly as much of a viable financial option as it is now with plugins, so people got creative with what they had.

One of the most common units found in most workflows, both in and out of the box, is a compressor. The cool thing about a compressor is its incredible flexibility and sonic capabilities. Most people know a compressor as a tool to level out the dynamic range of a sound, but because of the nature of what a compressor does, it can easily be used for far more.

Compression as Distortion?

The FET chips inside the famous 1176 compressor that allow it to respond so quickly to transients are the same technology used by many modern-day distortion pedals and saturation boxes. Turning an 1176 (Waves CLA-76 or hardware unit) into a distortion box is incredibly easy and the sound is extremely fun to experiment with.

Hit the ratio to 20:1 and turn the attack up as fast as possible. Depending on the source, this will likely begin to cause some distortion immediately as the attack is so quick that it squares off the transient causing distortion. If that’s not enough for your taste or desired effect, drive the input until it really starts to overdrive and break up. Pull the output down to keep the level steady and correctly monitor the changes happening. With the input driven as hard as you’d like, the release knob can then be tweaked to get the desired effect.

With a quick release, you can dial in sounds that are similar to what most people would consider a “parallel compression” setting, where the attack and release are so fast that they cause a pumping effect. This is a favorite on drum mics or vocals blended in parallel with the dry signal.

Stomp-Box Style

To create a true distortion box of sorts, slow the release down on the 1176 to remove the pumping and let things morph into a grungy distorted mess. Try that on an electric guitar, synth or bass guitar, and you have a unique effect that is sure to inspire new ideas and creativity.

Here are some audio examples of these techniques being used with a Waves CLA-76 on drums and bass:

Continuing with a compressor’s wide array of sonic capabilities, other well-known units like the LA2A (CLA-2A), or Fairchild (PuigChild Compressor) are famous for their tube circuitry. While tubes can also be cranked like the 1176 to create some fun distortion tones, they’re also very much coveted for their subtle warmth without being over-driven at all. Simply running audio through a unit like an LA2A or Fairchild has an almost EQ like effect due to the harmonics introduced from the tubes and circuitry. The fun part begins when you start running audio through multiple instances of a tube-based emulation plugin like the PuigChild. One instance of the plugin might be subtle, but try doubling or even tripling the instances and the saturation will begin to add up and thicken the sources. Your tracks will feel EQ’d in a new and inspiring way that might not have been possible before.

These are just two quick examples but the creative possibilities are truly endless. Try it for yourself, explore the limits of the tools you already own and think outside the box when creating to gain a fresh perspective on the process.

Leave us a comment and tell us how you use Waves plugins for tasks they weren’t intended for!

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