You know what, eventually it’s not gonna be enough to combine all the random samples you find into the sonic resemblance of a song, and when that day comes you’re going to gave to start digging in your toolbox of plugins (whether you get them from your native software or download it online or something) in order to refine your sound and get it sounding as clean as possible. So here’s a breakdown of the 5 basic plugins that all programs and have and that all producers should need.
#1 – Equalizer (EQ)
I know that when you do start jamming your various samples and loops together to make your own beat, everything sound perfect the way it is but trust me, once you discover the abilities you possess with this nifty little device, you’ll never leave a track without one (or several). There is a wide range of frequencies in the audio spectrum (20Hz – 20kHz to be exact) and they don’t all gel together in harmony at the same time. Seriously, that’s just noise. So we use this bad boy to neaten up our audio and make sure we get rid of any unwanted noise.
Once you get the hang of it, you can let that creative side loose and automate different frequency bands to produce your own unique and cool effects. For a start you can get EQ plugins that have only 3 bands (Low, Mid and High…like in a car you know) but using 8, 10 or even 32 will make a world of difference. This will become a crucial component as you start to learn how to mix your song and create the perfect stereo image.
Lower frequencies would be reserved for low-end instruments like bass guitars, kick drums and sub-bass when it comes to EDM. Mid-frequencies form most of your instruments and vocals while your higher frequencies stem from brighter sounds like cymbals and high hats as well as the pronunciation of sharp letters like “s” and “t”.
#2 – Reverb
Now, this is a stone that trips up many who are new to the game. I mean seriously, even after I was convinced that I needed to use it, it took me more than a few songs to learn how to use it properly (I’m exaggerating obviously….It took a s**t-load of songs). But trust me, when I say, there is not a single song out there on the radio, on iTunes, on Youtube or on Soundcloud that that doesn’t have this plugin somewhere in there working its magic.
You know when you sing in the shower and you get that amazing echo that makes your voice sound all awesome and stuff? Well yeah…that’s reverb. It’s everywhere and in every room, although a lot less obvious, and that is the main goal with your reverb plugin: to make everything sound like it’s in the same room.
You see, when most vocals or instruments are recorded they are done so in a soundproof room (you know) to cut out any outside ambience and record the sound as clearly as possible but you don’t want your song to sound like that now do you? You want everything sounding as organic and authentic, almost as if all the instruments are being played in the very same room as the listener.
It’s a tricky tool to master as too much or too little of it could ruin a song but if you do it just right, they shouldn’t even notice that it’s there.
#3 – Compressor
Compressors are the unsung heroes of yesteryear and are often overlooked by today’s young producers when really, it’s become one of the many tools I simply cannot do without. Not every track needs to have a compressor added but it’s the finesse in knowing when and how that makes all the difference. Compressors…well…compress! And what do they compress exactly? Well, I’m glad you asked!
These bad boys are able to detect whether the incoming audio is either below or above a set threshold and if it goes over it will apply a bit of adjustment to the outgoing volume in order keep it at a decent level all the way through (pretty cool, hey?). You’ll find compressors with all sorts of dials and knobs but the key parameters you need to look out for are Gain, Ratio, Attack, release and Threshold.
This last one should be your main focus as this is where you set the level at which the compressor will kick in and do its job. Attack refers to how fast it does this and Release determines how long until it let’s go and returns the audio to normal. Ratio calculates the math of it all (…I hate math) and your Gain, well, that’s usually to make up for whatever volume you may have lost during the process. That may sound a little counter-intuitive but this is what will add the right amount of balance to keep your levels running smooth.
#4 – Delay
Delays come in all shapes and sizes too but all can provide you with an enticing effect with very little effort. Now the term “delay” has nothing to do with slowing anything down or something. It’s more like the fancy term for echo (like seriously…that’s it!). The speed, duration and volume should be adjusted using the Delay Time and Feedback controls to create all kinds of effects including slapbacks and ping-pongs (more on that later).
Use these and other variations on your claps or even on your snares and definitely, I mean, DEFINITELY try to use a delay effect on your vocal track. You will not be disappointed. Delay Time can either be shown in milliseconds or time signature and most software will allow you to toggle between the two. In milliseconds you have more pinpoint accuracy but setting it according to time signature will allow you to effortlessly synchronise the flow of repetitions.
Feedback will set the amount of times you hear the resulting echo before it fades away. Be sure to watch out for your reverb, though. Delay can provide the same effect by adding a similar effect and may overlap with it to ruin your sound completely.
Never Leave Home Without ’em
I use these four plugins in nearly every song at some time or another, guaranteed. So don’t be shy to get familiar with them as soon as possible. They” soon become of your daily standard and you’ll find yourself seeking out the very best that you can find as time goes on.
Have you had trouble using these plugins? Or want to ask a few questions? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com