Music-Making Tool Reviews from 2018

 

File this under reviews, with the caveat that when it comes to studio engineering, I consider myself something of a promising knave in a world of wizards.

I’ve been quietly and modestly building my own small project studio since the late nineties. At some point, my goal was to operate as a bottom-feeder, serving the penniless musicians who couldn’t pay for real studio time.

But, as a guy attempting to operate a bottom-feeder recording operation, I was always unhappy. I may have looked like this.

Meet Blobfish, a real bottom-feeder. Yes, Blobfish is real.

Finally, I got tired of being broke, and changed my approach to center around the things that I do (vocals, guitar, pedestrian bass, even simpler keys). Now I’m happier, though perhaps no less blobby.

Anyway, one of my main headaches has always been mix-quality. I always feel like my recordings come out as mush.

 

I’ve gotten better at this, particularly in the last year or so. It’s all about subtraction. Remove the unnecessary, make room for highlighted, etc.

Hear my hearty cry! On we sled, away from mush!

We have now reached the age in which there are no limitations to recording, except environment. Aside from a good-sounding space (the importance of this cannot be overstated), all you need is a good microphone, a decent preamp, a decent interface and a computer. All of these can be purchased and made operational in a day.

I thought I would share a couple of tools that have really improved my recordings.

  1. Greg Wells MixCentric, from Waves: This is a magic plugin to drop on the main mix bus. It does some EQ, multi-band compression, and overall compression. In short, it just “makes the mix come alive,” though it can be a little bright. It’s a great addition to vintage-style warm recordings that could use a little shimmer.
Greg Wells “MixCentric” by Waves

 

  1. Greg Wells ToneCentric from Waves: This is a totally different magic plugin. It increased low-end girth and clarity (this would seem mutually exclusive, I realize), making the middle of one’s mix more authoritative. It’s hard to notice at first. Then you bypass it, and all the guts fall out of your mix, and you wonder how that ever sounded good.
Greg Wells “ToneCentric” by Waves

 [NOTE: There is a Greg Wells Plugin Bundle from Waves which includes the MixCentric and ToneCentric plugins, as well as a VoiceCentric (nice tool for vocal tracks) and PianoCentric (great on keys). I think it's pretty cheap now. As of this writ, the bundle is $99 from Sweetwater, and the four plugins purchased individually add up to a lot more than that.]

  1. Avid Eleven Rack Amplifier Simulator: I bought this in early March of 2018, because it was cheap, and I thought I’d risk it. I have not touched my old POD Pro 2.0 (which I had used for a couple of years, almost without exception, up to that point). I have not recorded through an amplifier either. In fact, I am probably going to sell the POD, all but two of my amps, and my Leslie (Vibratone) cabinet. “Nuff said.
The Eleven Rack, by Avid, has been my only source of recorded amplifier tones from March 2018 to the time of this blog publication.

This is not related to recording, but I thought I would share it as a live acoustic guitar solution…

The TC Electronic BodyRez Acoustic Guitar Pedal: This little box apologizes for piezo pickups in wonderful ways. Andy, my partner in our acoustic duo (The Mood Rings) got one too. I discovered that DI recordings of piezo pickups can be greatly improved by multiband compressors. I think the BodyRez is just doing that with a few tone-shaping options. Great little affordable tool for live work.

The BodyRez pedal by TC Electronic – redeems piezo pickups. I would highly recommend that a guitar manufacturer make a deal with TC Electronic ASAP, to put this circuit into their onboard preamp.

Have you landed on any great new solutions? What about old solutions? Any solutions you’re looking to find or improve? What about recommendations? I’d love to hear about ‘em. Let me hear!