Mixing With The Channel Strip Principle

2014 Oct 02, 2014

When you mix, do you ever go a little overboard with plugins? I know I do.

It starts with a little EQ here and a little compression there. But 30 minutes later I’ve got effects and emulations and every kind of processing under the sun inserted in my tracks. Are all those plugins making my mix better? Probably not.

So why do we use them?

Two reasons: we underestimate the power of simple volume, EQ and compression and we overestimate the significance of every other kind of effect.

Is A Channel Strip All You Need?

So what does this all mean? Enter The Channel Strip Principle.

A channel strip plugin is simply an emulation of an actual channel of an analog mixing console. It usually contains a few simple tools all wrapped into one: gain, EQ, compression, and phase. Some channel strips will even have a gate or de-esser.

OK – so what’s the big deal?

I would submit to you (and to me) that all we need to craft a great mix is a single channel strip plugin. That’s it.

Insert your favorite channel strip plugin on every track (that even needs processing) and use that alone to accomplish your sonic goals. It’s not only doable, but it’s smart.

Where Most Of Your Mix Comes From

How can this be all you need? Well it’s really quite simple.

Most of your mix comes from three simple mix moves: volume, EQ, and compression. Oh and I’ll throw in a bonus move: panning. When you hear a great mix and think, “I love how that mix sounds!” what you’re hearing is the quality of the recorded tracks and then the volume, EQ, and compression decisions in the mix.

Of course you’re hearing more than that; things like saturation, coloration, harmonics, reverb, delay, distortion, etc. But MOST of what you’re hearing, in fact the core of what you are hearing comes from volume, EQ, and compression.

If this is true then it seems to me that the most helpful and complete plugin you could own and use would be a channel strip.

Using This Principle To Your Advantage

Here is how you and I can use this Channel Strip Principle to our advantage.

When you sit down to mix your next song, give yourself a helpful limitation. Decide right then and there to get a great mix with only a single channel strip plugin. Nothing else.

If you can’t get a great mix with only a channel strip on each track, then the solution isn’t more or different plugins, it’s likely more practice and experience.

The Channel Strip Principle keeps you focused on the big wins, the things that will actually make a difference in your mix. It keeps you from distractions and wasting time. It gets you closer to your goals, in less time.

Can You Ever Use Other Plugins?

So am I saying that you should NEVER use other types of plugins? No.

What I’m saying is, as a learning tool – mix with only channel strips to a point that your mix sounds amazing. Then and only then should you feel the freedom to incorporate other plugins to color or enhance your already great mix. Make sense?

The goal here is to hack your way to focusing on what really moves the needle (volume, EQ, and compression). All the other plugins in the world won’t help you get a great mix unless you know how to wield these three tools well.

As you grow into mixing with more ease and clarity – bringing in some other effects for fun, creativity, and coloration can be a great way to spice up an already great sounding mix. Just know, that is all those other plugins are doing.

Ready To Take The Channel Strip Challenge?

If you haven’t done this before, I highly recommend it it: pick a song to mix with ONLY a single channel strip plugin.

Treat your DAW like a console, using only volume, pan, EQ, and compression and see how far you can take your tracks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at not only the results, but how this exercise makes you a better mixing engineer.

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