The Studio Detox: Uninstalling Plugins You Don't Need

2015 Jan 05, 2015

As we usher in a brand new year, I have big dreams for my music and yours. I want us to experience more freedom, creativity, and passion in our music making and studio sessions than ever before.

But the truth is, our studios are over bloated with stuff we don’t need – creating a lethargic and slow music creation process that both confuses us and holds us back from really creating art that matters.


Via Michael Coghlan Flickr

It’s Time For A Studio Detox

Don’t you just love all the advertisements for health supplements and diets this time of year? (Enter potential sarcasm). One of my favorite concepts (in all seriousness) is a detox, or cleanse.

The idea is simple: a fast and intentional cleaning out of your body of all the junk that is stopping you from truly seeing healthy progress in your weight loss or muscle building regiment.

What I love about a food detox is that it’s designed to not only be healthy for you in and of itself, but it helps make whatever else you are trying to do next with your body that much more successful.

Let’s do the same for our studios!

I firmly believe that the key to getting great recordings and mixes is to simply limit your options and choices in the studio. This allows you to focus on what really matters: the song.

So for the next few weeks I want to address how I am personally doing a detox in my OWN studio and how you can do it too if you want to follow along.

I Have Too Many Plugins

There are many places we could address with this detox, but the first place that came to me was my growing collection of plugins.

I simply have too many.

Oh sure, compared to someone with a hard drive filled with every cracked plugin known to man my list might look small, but it still is way more than I need, and this past year it had negative affects on my mixes.

Wasted Time And Wasted Decisions

Here’s how a typical mix would go: I’d fire open the tracks, do a static mix for about 10 minutes or so, and then start working on basic EQ and compression.

The problem though was how much time I lost when inserting plugins. It came from two angles.

First, when I opened up my plugin list, it was simply too long.

EQ after EQ after EQ was available to me. The same with compressors, delays, saturation plugins, and so on. I know it’s minute, but the added seconds it took to visually scroll that list was pointless.

With too much to look at, my brain would lose focus on the task at hand (tightening up the kick drum let’s say) and for a moment be lost in gear list land. What a waste.

The second waste was the brain power spent in decision making; choosing WHICH compressor or EQ to use.

Granted every EQ and compressor sounds different, and there are many benefits to discovering what your plugins can do on different sources – but 95% of the time I’m going to use the same ones. So why force myself to make that decision over and over again fresh every time?

All that did for me last year was keep the door open to “experiment” with a new plugin. Which, on the surface, seems like a cool idea.

But in reality it took time away from actually mixing.

AND it made me focus on the wrong thing: sound of a plugin vs. what the track needs.

The Core 5 Plugins You Need

If you had to boil it down, all you really need in the studio are 5 plugins. And that’s being generous.

You need an EQ, a compressor, a reverb, a delay, and a saturation/distortion plugin. That’s it.

If you uninstalled everything but those 5 plugins, you’d be set. In fact, you’d likely get more mixing done and with better results than if you had 50 plugins installed on your system.

You see, EQ and compression are the big power tools. These plus simple volume and pan will get your mix 85% of the way done. That’s it.

Reverb and delay aren’t necessary, but can be very helpful in giving your tracks some creative space and depth. They are staples in the mixer’s toolkit.

And finally, distortion or saturation plugins are a great secret weapon because they can add pleasing harmonics to your otherwise clean tracks. This harmonic content is what helps digital tracks have a bit more life. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s nice.

And that’s it.

Honestly, that’s it.

If you and I can’t get a great mix with just those 5 plugins, then we don’t have a plugin problem. We have a skill problem. 

And that’s OK. That’s why we practice. That’s why we keep mixing. The more we mix, the better we get. It’s inevitable.

Your Detox Challenge

So now I want to ask you: are you up for your first Studio Detox Challenge?

This week, see how many plugins you can uninstall. Make it a game. The more you uninstall, the cooler you are. (At least in my eyes).

Personally, I just uninstalled about 70 plugins. I’ll probably do more than that later this week.

If you’re up for the challenge, tell us how many plugins you uninstalled and why! Happy New Year!

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