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Option Paralysis: The Curse of Audio Plugins

June 23, 2017

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Option Paralysis: The Curse of Audio Plugins

June 23, 2017


The digital recording world is an amazing thing. Companies are making extremely accurate models of classic analog gear, and even some new types of processing that aren't possible in the analog world. But there's always a catch, and this time it's option paralysis. Companies are getting very good at convincing you that the plugins they're selling you are going to "change your mixes" and "finally give you that HUGE sound!". The truth is that most professional engineers I've seen only use a few plugins that they understand very well. 


I went through a phase of buying every plugin I could. I watched videos and advertisements and thought, "Wow, if I had that my mixes would sound amazing!" And honestly, a lot of the time it did, but after a while I started to notice a pattern: I'd buy something, use it once or twice, and eventually just go back to my original go-to plugins. 


Example: I've been using Waves CLA-76 for years. I know it better than any other compressor plugin I own. But of course, I frequently got caught up in the massive sales and amazing marketing of plugin companies that would convince me I needed more. I ended up buying more compressor plugins, and before I knew it I had so many that I ended up forgetting about them half the time. I felt like I wasted my money and my time, when I should've known that I would have eventually gone back to the CLA-76 anyways. 


The point is that sometimes having less options (but more experience on the options you already have) can be way more beneficial than having a huge selection to choose from. Of course if you're newer, you'll need the opportunity for trial and error to figure out which plugins you like/what works for you, so my advice is to narrow them down along the way.


If you end up getting to a point where you have 10 different types of the same plugin (compressors, parametric EQ's, reverbs, etc), think to yourself, "Are there any of these that I haven't used in my last few projects?" If you find any, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to remove them from your plugin library. Obviously you spent money on them, so don't delete them; just disable them from opening in your plugin list. Maybe give them a try at a later time. But for now, this will prevent that huge library from clogging up your decision making process during mixing. If you do this with all your plugins, you'll have less options to choose from, but you'll feel more confident with all the ones that you have available.


In my personal opinion, the key elements of deciding which plugins to keep are two things: frequency of use, and function. If you don't use a plugin very much/at all, it might be time to remove it for now. Although sometimes you might not use a plugin very frequently, but you use it for one specific function (ex. SoundToys Devil-Loc is an extreme compression/distortion plugin that I rarely use, but only because it has a very specific purpose that it's perfect for when the opportunity strikes). Maybe you have many compressors, but they're all different types (FET, VCA, Opto, etc.)  For me, it's all about the purpose and intent with the software you choose to have available to you.


Ever since I implemented this mindset my mixes have been better, because I spend less time thinking of which plugin to use, and more time listening. When you go for your go-to plugins, you don't have to think about what they do; you just execute. 



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