If you’ve mixed for any length of time you might have thought to yourself if it matters in what order you insert plugins on your tracks. Or maybe the thought has never crossed your mind. You simply always reach for the same plugins in the same order on each mix. In either case today I want to answer a reader question regarding the subject and give you a few things to consider as you mix.

In what order should my plugins go in the insert? I usually start with a compressor/limiter and then move to EQ, possibly delay or reverb then desser if necessary…granted this is for vocals. I would really like to know what a good general guide is for tracks. – Michael R.

There Is A Difference

The first thing we should be clear about is that there is a real difference in how your track will sound depending on the order of your plugins. You can take 3 plugins on a vocal track, swap them around and the vocal will sound different. I know it sounds obvious, but plugin inserts (much like their hardware counterparts) operate on a simple input/output basis. What comes in gets processed and sent out.

Why is this relevant? Because you need to simply be aware that if you change the order of plugins you are changing the inputs and outputs of the signal. You are changing what a plugin receives, processes, and then eventually dumps back out. So, plugin order is important and does make a difference.

There Is No Right Way

Now all of THAT being said, there technically is no “correct” plugin order that you must follow. Some mixes call for certain plugin chains and some mixing engineers prefer certain methods as well. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does, it matters what makes the track sound amazing and fit in the mix.

How I Handle EQ And Compression

Personally I use two main plugins on almost every track, EQ and Compression. I’ll use more effects on certain instruments but I can guarantee there will likely be EQ and Compression on everything. I prefer to place my EQ first in the chain and the compressor immediately after.

The reasoning? I personally view EQ as a tool to carve away and “fix” the recorded sound while on the other hand I view compression as a tool to change or enhance the now “fixed” sound in order to sit in the mix better. If I’m going to do a lot of subtractive EQ, then I’d rather remove the unwanted frequencies before I go turning them up with a compressor.

The Rest Of The Effects

After I’ve EQ’d and compressed, then and only then will I add other effects dessers, modulating effects (chorus, flanger, phaser), etc. Again, I don’t want to effect or enhance a signal that still has unwanted frequencies in it, so I’ll make sure to insert these types of plugins AFTER my EQ and Compression. As asked by Michael in the original question, as it relates to delay and reverb effects, I don’t actually insert these effects right on the tracks. Rather I’ll use sends and busses to blend in the amount of wet effect that I want. And this usually comes after the insert plugins.

The only exception to this might be if I’m using some kind of distortion or tape saturation effect. These can work really well as the first insert in your chain as it’s acting as part of the initial sound, which then can be EQ’d and compressed to taste. Again, this is my personal preference and is very characteristic of how I mix. I have many friends who are mixers and they do things very differently. It truly is a matter of taste.