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3 Ways Plug-In Order Can Give You A Better Mix

Why does plug-in order matter?

A key part of mixing your tracks is manipulating the order of your plugins to create new, interesting, or pleasing sonic characteristics. Focusing on this sequence across all instruments, vocals, or sounds will help you ultimately design a stronger and better mix. So, with that being said, let’s break down three examples and dig into what happens during them.

Reverb before gating

The first thing you hear from people when talking about plug-in order and your signal chain is that there are no exact right ways of doing it… And believe it or not, that’s 100% true! However, there are guidelines that you can follow to achieve a better sounding mix.

Placing your reverb plugin before the gate is a rule of thumb that will help you bring out a more natural sound to a gated kick drum. The reason this can be a good thing to do is that your reverb has a couple of facets to it – pre-delay and the tail – that can either add a natural roomy sound, or a elongated echo. By adding a gate after your reverb you are removing the “tail” of the reverb, thus leaving just the natural roomy sound to blend with the dry tone. Take a listen to this in action below.

Dry Kick

This is an example of our kick sample with no plug-ins or other effects. Notice how we pick up some bleed from the snare and hi-hat, which we would normally get rid of by using a noise gate.

Gated Kick

We’ve removed some of the bleed from the other drums but now the kick sounds a little TOO dry. This might be the sound some people are looking for and I’m sure there are quite a few out there who love it. However, for our purposes bring some life back into this kick with a reverb in our next example.

Gate before reverb

After adding a small room reverb after the gate, there is no longer a harsh cutoff sound from the kick. This is because the tail of the reverb adds some nice ambiance to an otherwise dead or lifeless kick sound. This effect can also be achieved with an overall drum bus reverb – to each his or her own, it’s whatever sounds best to you!

Exaggerated Reverb before gate

For this last example, we’ll move the reverb before the noise gate and exaggerate the effect so you can hear it in action. By doing this we are able to still get the natural room tone of the reverb without the tail, subsequently breathing back in some life to our kick drum.

EQ before and after compression

Before we dig into what comes before what in regards to EQ and compression, let’s look at the general idea of what each of these do. Equalization is a way to add or subtract gain of certain frequencies. While compression, in the most basic sense, is tool used to reduce louder sounds while increasing softer sounds.

Subtract before compressing.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the most common practice when using EQ with compression is to place subtractive EQ prior to your compressor. This is because the compressor will bring out the ugly frequencies that your subtractive EQ was reducing in the first place; therefore, kind of negating it in a sense. Although it doesn’t cancel out the EQ’s effects, it is counterproductive.

Add after compression.

Utilizing additive equalization after your compressor is based similarly off of the subtractive EQ’s principles – by changing the gain of certain frequencies you are inherently changing the mix volume and how the compressor reacts. So, by placing your additive EQ after the compressor you are boosting the gain of the compressed frequencies and not altering the way the compressor reacts.

Delay before reverb…. Or reverb before delay?

Both! This is one of those tips that is sort of in your hands how you take it. There is no common practice for using reverb and delay together, only an ocean of possibilities. But there are definitely some ways to use either order to your advance so for some insight into what happens when messing around with the order lets start with delay before reverb.

Delay before reverb

A great way to smooth out the effect of your delay is to use a reverb after the fact. By adding a reverb, you’re also adding a room sound and elongated tail to your delay. This added tail and room sound is especially useful on a dry vocal because it will help blend the effect into the overall mix.

Reverb before delay

You can get an alternate and unique sound by placing your reverb before your delay. By doing so, you will be creating an echo of the already reverberated sound – leading to some interesting sounds!

Rules? They’re more like guidelines.

Once again, there really are no RULES when it comes to mixing, but these are just some quick tips that will hopefully help you achieve a better sounding mix in the long run. Thanks for checking out Whitefox mixing tips.

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