The Fantastic 4: Basic Plugins You Will Always Need

The Fantastic 4: Basic Plugins You Will Always Need

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)

Waves Plugins - HEQ Hybrid Equalizer
Waves Plugins – HEQ Hybrid Equalizer

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

Waves Plugin - HREVERB Reverb Hybrid
Waves Plugin – HREVERB Reverb Hybrid

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

Waves Plugin - HCOMP Hybrid Compressor
Waves Plugin – HCOMP Hybrid 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

Waves Plugin - HDELAY Hybrid Delay
Waves Plugin – HDELAY Hybrid 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


12 thoughts on “The Fantastic 4: Basic Plugins You Will Always Need

  1. Amy

    You are my new BFF! I’ve been asked to work on a website for a professional musician. While I understand website creation, I don’t know as much about technical sound production. Your explanations are helpful for a rookie like me to help out my (non hip-hop) client.

    When you used the shower reference to explain reverb, I could understand exactly what you were talking about. Your details about the frequencies – which brought out pronunciation, which were better for different instruments – was an excellent primer. I now feel better about showing off my client’s skills thanks to your easy to understand explanations of can’t miss plugin tools.

    1. Ryan

      I am so happy to hear you say that. I always say that there are more beginners than there are experts and this is all vital knowledge that I wish I had. I wish you and your client all the best!!


  2. Steven Martin

    Great article and being a music producer myself I can agree these pluggins are very important to create quality sound.

    I work in the field of live music mostly so use these tools even in live performances but they are actual components to the sound gear I use.

    I do use the pluggins when recording and mixing down in the studio. I booked marked your site so I could check it out some more.

    Thanks for the info!!!

    1. Ryan

      I’m so glad you found this informative. If someone with experience, like you, can agree with this than a lot more beginners will benefit from this too.

      Thanks for your comment Steven.

  3. Sal

    Great article Ryan. I definitely agree when it comes to recording any type of music, these four plugins are essential to maximizing your sound. They will add so much substance to your music. One thing I think beginners might appreciate is a quick explanation about what a plugin is. Or if you already have an article about it, a nice link would be great. Best wishes!

    1. Ryan

      Whadup Sal.

      You’re so right. I often wonder about the terminology that I use and whether it amy be going over some peoples heads. Maybe a post on the jargon that we would use in everyday production. I’ll definitely have to get an article like that up soon.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

  4. Nico Collu

    Great to find a site that takes it to the basics, YES!

    I would even go as far as saying that EQ & Comp are the basic basic plugins but nevertheless, VERY powerful as no matter what, they are used, always in the majority of any signal that gets into your DAW!

    Compressor itself is great for leveling out and EQ, when used properly can give the sound the space it deserves!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ryan

      Lol, yup!

      To people like you and me they are basic basic but I honestly didn’t bother trying to learn how to EQ until long after I started making beats because I just didn’t know any better. Hopefully more beginners take the time to get familiar with these Plugins.

      Thanks for sharing your comment with us

  5. Lauren

    Thanks for this awesome and helpful article! I have a degree in vocal performance, and just never really understood what the functions of these plugins. I had a DJ friend who tried to show me how to use plugins like this, but he wasn’t as clear as you were. I understand a lot better now, and can hopefully utilize the information in the future!

    1. Ryan

      Thanks Lauren

      Glad someone with experience in the industry can still find an article like this useful. I always think I would’ve had a much easier time starting out if I had this information.

      Thanks for leaving your comment

  6. The Wedding Connector

    This site was so helpful and I appreciate the links below for actual products. I’m sort of new at this so I have a few questions- the waves plugin’s is that company or the app name? And are these 4 plugins a software you can upload to your keyboard or is it an actual separate system you have to bring with your keyboard and plug in. I’m sorry if these are basic questions! I have no clue where to start with this so right now I am trying to learn!

    1. Ryan

      These plugins are available in every software out there today and this was a just a guide to letting you know how to use them.

      Waves is a company/brand that makes versions of these plugins you can add as optional extras to enhance your level of production and are usually sold separately.

      Hope this helps and thanks for leaving your comment

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