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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > May-18 > THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO PLUG-IN EFFECTS


Plug-in effects are important tools in your armoury and can also be used creatively in the compositional process. This month, we look at the best creative effects – plus some utility plug-ins that will help your mixes no end…


PART 9.2

Last time, we detailed the history and importance of the plug-in effect in the world of music production. These common tools have become the glue that binds many processes in music making together and have gradually become essential to everything, from mixing to creative composition. Plug-in effects run within DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) in a similar way to virtual instruments. You insert them on your instrument or audio tracks and open them up in the same way as a synth; and like those virtual recreations of classic gear, plug-in effects can also emulate old gear. In fact, many of the early ones were developed to copy expensive analogue equipment again, just like virtual synths. However, now there’s a whole world of other effects available, from creative and compositional, to those that even do your mixing for you. Before we get into those, here’s a quick recap of what we covered last time…


Your DAW probably comes bundled with a lot of free effects for music production: everything from reverbs that add a nice sheen to your sound, to compressors and EQs to help you take your final master up a level. In the first part of this Essential Guide, we looked at these so-called ‘mixing and mastering’ effects. These are the effects that can be used, subtly, in both the mixing and mastering processes. As with many aspects of production, it’s this restrained approach that pays dividends – and most mix-and-master effects are designed for tweaks and light touches.

An exciting plug-in effects trend is the reference plug-in, which lets you hear your music in different situations

Other kinds of effects include those more creative processors and utility plug-ins that cover more day-to-day tasks, and it’s these two categories that we’re going to focus on this time around. Utility effects can offer quite ordinary – but essential – features like metering. This helps you get a different visual representation of your music, perhaps allowing you to see how it’s acting over time within certain parts of the frequency range and therefore allowing you to make very precise EQ adjustments if you can see any anomalies. Another popular utility process is restoration, where a plug-in is used to repair or iron out any audio problems. A vocal might be out of time with a video in a post production, or there might be audible glitches that need removing in either a track or a stereo mix.

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About MusicTech

Imagine some of those iconic cinematic scenes without the music. The scintillating establishing scenes of Blade Runner’s futuristic Los Angeles, Elliot and E.T. soaring past the full moon on their flying bicycle or Luke Skywalker staring up at the twin suns of Tatooine. In our cover feature this month, we present the complete guide to the process from a professional standpoint, with industry advice and even step-by-step guides to try some of the unique creative processes yourself. In addition to our main feature, we also speak with in-demand composer Junkie XL about his work on top-tier blockbusters and commemorate the 20th anniversary of Air’s Moon Safari in this month’s Recording Spotlight. Our expanded tutorial section now (once again!) covers Pro Tools, as well as our usual range of reviews, tips and the second part of our Essential Guide To Plug-In Effects. We hope you enjoy the issue…