Audio Production: Tips for achieving a cohesive analogue feel in your mixes whilst working ‘in the box’
In the world of audio production an interesting technological anti-revolution has occurred that has meant a large majority of its practitioners now strive to work entirely with older analogue technologies rather than their modern digital equivalents. Many reasons are cited for this wish to go back based on the older equipments: sonic qualities, usability, sometimes even its limitations. However because of this increasing interest in certain pieces of analogue equipment prices have gone through the roof (There is currently a Fairchild compressor CLONE on ebay for roughly £10,000!!!). With these kinds of prices not many people will get a chance to work with this kind of equipment, especially those who were too young to use the equipment originally and have subsequently always worked on computers with plugins.
Achieving Analogue Sound with Plugins
So if you can’t afford the real thing there are ways to emulate the desired qualities of proper analogue circuitry beyond using emulation plugins, that many argue don’t really even sound much like the originals.
1. Analogue Signal Chains – One of the first things that no one ever really considers when trying to achieve an analogue feel/sound in their mixes is the way actual studios and signal chains are designed. A traditional fully analogue mixing desk channel strip for example usually features: a gain pot sometimes followed by high and lowpass filters, multiple insert points followed by a three or four band equaliser and finally a pan pot and fader. A desk will also often have some kind of buss compression option. In a modern DAW such as Pro Tools the mix window gives you insert points, auxiliary sends and then jumps immediately to the pan pot and channel fader. You can therefore make your mixes sound more cohesive by applying a basic channel strip plugin, or group of plugins, across every channel before even beginning the mixdown process.
A good chain, that i personally use, consists of: Sonimus’s Satson plugin, a gain plugin with high and low pass filters. After Satson add any other inserts (i.e dynamics processors and distortions etc.). Finally add some kind of equalisers plugin.
A traditional desk eq section would often only include three or four filter bands with set frequency options so i often find one of the various PSP plugins work well here depending on your preferred flavour of eq. By working in this way and emulating the structure of an actual mixing desk you can logically expect your mixes to sound more cohesive than if different collections of plugins are used on every single channel each with their own flavours and characters.
2. Limit Your Plugin Usage – This is sort of an expansion of the first point but try to limit yourself to only using say three types of compressor and maybe two different equalisers beyond the one that forms part of your main channel strip. The reasons for doing this are twofold. Firstly by limiting yourself you will have more of a chance to learn the ins and outs of your preferred plugins and become more efficient in using them. Second, your average studio doesn’t have fifteen types of compressor and twenty two different equalisers; so why should you? Every piece of hardware has its own character as do most software equivalents so find a couple that you like or think compliment each other well and stick with them. Although character and tonal uniqueness may be the ultimate goal you will get better results by using a few select effects in moderation.
3. Use Busses/Groups – As parameter automation wasn’t available on the classic mixing desks it was/still is unfeasible to move every drum channel down half a dB by hand so busses were invented to group multiple streams of audio into one for automation or further processing. In a DAW you can do exactly the same thing. By adding some subtle compression or equalisation you can increase the level of control over your mix without the elements sounding detached. Don’t overdo it though as nothing sounds worse than an over compressed drum sound under an over dynamic (under-compressed) guitar or synth group.