Every DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) will come with a large slew of effects and built-in plug-ins. Depending on how long you have been producing, you have already started downloading additional plug-ins outside of the native ones that come with your DAW of choice. Whether you just bought the full Waves plug-in bundle or you’re still experimenting with your native effects, you’re going to end up with a few choices that will certainly land in your go-to folder. Typically, producers and mixers will have their favorite reverbs, compressors, EQs, and basic effects racks. While it is arguably better to master a few plugins than to poorly use hundreds of them, there are pros and cons to using the same effects over and over.
1. Developing a masterful understanding
As we previously stated, there are benefits to really taking the time to learn the ins and outs of a specific plug-in. It enables you to truly get the full use of the effect, whereas others might just be touching the surface with its potential. For a true beginner, you may know that distortion sounds good because your favorite band uses it, but if you just just throw on a native distortion without understanding all of the ways it’s used, you’re going to be scratching your head when your distortion sounds nothing like your favorite band’s.
2. Establishing originality with consistency
When an artist produces one of their trademark features, they tend to replicate it over and over. Think of some of your favorite unique artists and what methods they used to innovate? Chances are you heard those methods used again and again. If you tend to use the same creative effects when producing, it allows you to be consistent, so when people hear your unique use of plug-ins, they know it’s you. This instant recognition is what artists dream of because it helps you stand out amongst the rest.
3. Gathering a deeper understanding
In addition, your knowledge of a specific plug-in will translate over to your ability to understand other elements of production. For example, if you learn the ins and outs of a complex reverb plug-in, as you begin to use other reverb and echo effects, your aptitude will be much stronger. However, if you download 100+ reverb plugins and just use them arbitrarily, you may never really learn all that they can do. Once you gain that deeper understanding of the subtleties of an effect — something like compression — you will have a much easier time transferring that skill into other categories from producing to mixing to mastering to engineering.
1. Becoming a one-trick pony
While consistency does give you the pathway to develop a unique trademark, there is also such a thing as overdoing it. If all of your vocals have the same exact delay effect on them, it’s going to get pretty boring to listen to. Many of the best albums have an array of effects and disparate sound design elements. By constantly leaning on the same use of the same effects, you risk becoming a one-trick pony. Yes, you may do that one thing really well, but eventually people are going to want to hear something different.
2. Falling into a creative rut
While your mastery of a select few plug-ins will help your skills as a producer, if you’re constantly leaning on the same effects to be creative with, you risk falling into a rut where you can’t come up with anything new. If every time you sample drum loops, you use the same phaser, it might be difficult to ever feel like you can break out of that habit. Our ears get used to hearing things the way we’re used to. Imagine listening to a demo with vocals that are covered in reverb a thousand times. If you suddenly take off the reverb and leave them dry, your ears will feel blindsided. But by challenging what you’re used to and taking creative risks with new effects and plug-ins, you can light the spark for a productive creative session.
3. Close yourself off to other possibilities
Imagine you just got the stems to start a brand new remix. You’re laying out all of the tracks in your DAW and are getting ready to start putting your own creative twist on the song. What effects will you put on the vocals? Can you already picture a visual of what those plug-ins will be and what their settings will be? If so, you may run the risk of closing yourself off to other ways to be creative with effects. If you always use delay on your vocals, try dropping the delay and trying out a flanger. If you always have snares that pop with a high EQ, try putting a filter on them and making them muffled. By challenging yourself to not gravitate to the same mixing and producing methods and effects, you open yourself up to the possibility of breaking new ground and becoming an overall more versatile artist.
Sam Friedman is an electronic producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, creating music as Nerve Leak. Praised by major publications, his unique blend of experimental and pop music has earned him hundreds of thousands of streams across the web.