I Don't Care About The NumbersOct 19, 2012
When it comes to plugin settings, I personally don’t care what the numbers are. I’m not really interested to know what threshold or ratio my compressor is at, or what frequencies I’m cutting or boosting on my EQ. I don’t care whether my reverb is a plate or a room. No, those things are meaningless to me. What I care about is am I getting the sound I hear in my head.
Via AJC ajcann.wordpress.com Flickr
The Numbers Are A Burden
When I say the numbers, I’m talking about the settings on a given plugin. When I began my recording and mixing journey years ago I was obsessed with knowing what the pros did to get their great results. I felt this immense pressure to learn the optimal compression and EQ settings to imitate their success. In reality, there IS no optimal setting and so I was chasing a fantasy. I was carrying an unnecessary audio burden.
The truth is, trying to know the “right” plugin settings is a stressful, fruitless, never-ending endeavor. Don’t do it. Just give up. Just because I or anyone else happens to use a 3:1 ratio with a fast attack and slow release set at a given threshold with 4 db of makeup gain on my compressor on one vocal in one mix doesn’t mean anything to you, other than there is likely a purpose behind what I’m doing that is bigger than the final numbers.
Know What You Want To Hear
What’s more beneficial to you and your growth as a mixer is to come to some conclusion about what it is you want your tracks to sound like, learn the tools available to you, and then tweak them until you get there. Get the sound you want and THEN look at the numbers. The numbers are an after thought to knowing where you want the sound to end up. Remember, you’re not doing a math equation you’re making art.
If I want a snare drum to sound fatter (whatever that means), I’ll likely reach for a compressor because I know it can be useful for that effect. I know this from experience (i.e. messing around for a very long time until something worked). Once I slap a compressor on my snare, I start to tweak knobs. Again, I know from experience that if I go in a certain direction with the attack and release settings I’m likely to get in the ball park of my desired sound. I tweak until the snare sound fat. Then I glance down at the settings. Not the other way around.
Tune Out The Noise
I love reading articles about big time mixing engineers and what they used to get a chart topping mix. It’s always fun to look behind the scenes at the plugins they used. But one thing that is totally useless to me is knowing what their plugin settings were. I never understood why we needed to know that. Unless I’m literally mixing the same material as them, their settings are not relevant to me. In fact they are more of a distraction than anything.
I say, tune out the noise of plugin settings. That is too specific. Instead, pay attention to the reasoning behind the plugin settings. Listen for what the challenge in their mix was and how they tried to find a solution. Follow the trends and the logic the employ. This will teach you way more about working with audio than just knowing the numbers, as if there is one big magic formula out there.
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