If you want your tunes to sound good you’re going to need some mixing plugins. While there are a LOT of options available, in this article we’ll go through the most common types used.
Your DAW most likely comes with the tools you need to get started, so don’t worry about spending a lot of money on mixing plugins at first. You might want to consider purchasing some at a later time as paid plugins often have additional features, but mark that as an optional purchase for now.
Without further ado, here are the most common plugins used in the mixing process…
Equalizing (EQing) your songs means increasing or decreasing specific frequencies in the audio spectrum. This might mean boosting bass or reducing highs. If you’ve ever played with the advanced tone controls on your stereo or in your music player, that’s a simple version of what equalization is.
We’ve got an entire article devoted to helping you learn how to EQ. Check out our guide on equalization to learn more.
Common premium equalizers include FabFilter’s Pro-Q 2 and the Q10 equalizer by Waves. FL Studio comes with a free equalizer, the Fruity Parametric EQ 2, which is surprisingly good for a free plugin.
A compressor reduces (or to be technical, “attenuates”) the volume of a track when loudness crosses a certain point. That is to say, it makes loud sounds less loud.
Compressors are useful in all kinds of situations. If a singer hits their high notes louder than the low notes, using a compressor on the vocal track will help reduce the volume of the highs. This will make the vocalist more dynamically consistent.
The C4 multiband compressor by Waves is a great premium compressor, as is Maximus by Image Line.
Fun fact: Compressors are able to let controllable amounts of loudness through them. A compressor that provides a hard stop to loudness above a certain threshold is called a limiter. Use a limiter to prevent clipping and to put a ceiling on the volume of a track or the overall mix.
Reverb is the way sound persists in a room after the original sound has been produced. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to speak or play in an amphitheater or large room, you have heard reverb.
While reverb is very obvious in large rooms, it occurs naturally anywhere sound bounces off objects. We’re so used to hearing reverb that music without any can sound weird. As such, producers often add reverb as part of the mixing process.
For a stellar premium reverb check out the UAD EMT 140.
Delay is the repeating of an audio signal in a track. At its simplest its an echo, though there are many more advanced delay effects that can be used (and if you want to get extremely technical, reverb is a delay-based effect). Delay is commonly used on vocal tracks to fill gaps.
The Universal Audio Roland RE-201 Space Echo Tape Delay and PSP 85 are two industry-leading premium options available for delay plugins.
There’s a lot more out there…
There are many more mixing plugins available to producers that we haven’t covered in this article, but if you’re just getting started you probably won’t need them. An honorable mention we haven’t included: If you’re editing a lot of vocals you might want to look into a pitch correction plugin such as Auto-Tune.
Having good EQ, compression, reverb, and delay plugins will take you far. If you’ve invested in a proper DAW, these tools and many more should be included.
Want to learn more about mixing? Check out our introduction to equalization.