One of the cool things about working on a digital surface is that you can bring your file that you have been working on for months to a different console and scenario, load it up, and fire away. One of the cool things about being the headliner engineer on a long tour is that you get to see a bunch of different opening acts digital files come thru your console. I am here to admit (the first step towards recovery) that I secretly look at files of opening act engineers to see what they are doing. I absolutely do NOT modify the file in any shape or form—I just want to see what people are doing; I guess it is the voyeur in me.
Oftentimes, I discover a way that someone is routing, or using a plugin, that I did not think of. Sometimes I discover why it sounds so absolutely bad every night. (You can learn from others what NOT to do as well.) But the most common mistake that I see young engineers do is put a plugin on everything. They use up every single DSP slot thinking that more is better. In most cases, however, more is less.
Waves makes phenomenal plugins and gives you all kinds of choice in your plugin quest for riotous mix domination. With Waves, you are getting the 144 crayon box, but it doesn't mean that you have to use the cyan and aubergine crayons in every painting.
I come from using analog consoles for 15 years prior to the digital age. We had to make insert decisions with the limited amount of outboard gear that we had at the time. This made for some creative use of bus compression, etc. Now I can put an amazing sounding Waves compressor on every channel if I want.
A couple of well-placed plugins will make your mix shine and give it the extra that will make your mix “go to eleven.” Use your brain when making plugin choices, because for every job, there is a correct tool.
Every once in a while I get an email from a fan that compliments me on my mix for Linkin Park. I am very appreciative of these emails, and thankful that someone else on the planet thinks that my mix sounds good. Yesterday I got an email from a fan that asked me what bus compression I was using on the guitars for Linkin Park. His comment was "I am interested in the way you use dynamics. Especially guitar … they sound very thick and consistent." Unfortunately, I had to burst his bubble and respond that I do not use any bus compression on the guitars. I think what he likes about the guitars is actually the bus compression on the master bus. Currently, I’m using the L2, SSL G-Master Buss compressor, and the C6.
In the past, I spent a bunch of time trying to make very dynamic mixes, literally 6dB volume swings because that was the sound of records at the time. A few months ago, I was honored to spend a day with Jack Joseph Puig, and we got to talking about the sound of records these days. The overall sound is a squashed dynamic range in the never-ending quest for loudness; using heavy mastering limiting and artificial inflation, this is the "sound" of today's records. We can get into the whole philosophical discussion of what sounds better (yesterday or today's recordings) but ultimately, that doesn't matter, because today's records sound very compressed.
So, as live sound guys, and our never ending quest to make our mixes sound like the record, we use the same tools that the big boys use: The L2, SSL, and C6 compressor do this very well. Try them on your mix bus today.
Ken "Pooch" Van Druten
WavesLive Product Specialist