In my pond, there once was a guy known as "the Gordon Ramsey of recording” or, as I liked to call him - Preset F**ker. He was by all accounts talented if not an unpleasant human to work with. My issue was Preset F*cker’s stuff all sounded the same, basically because he always used the same settings on everything. At that time, this was heresy as it was before the time when held the well known engineers were plugin pimps, and now...fast forward to 2022, kids are ALL about the presets and mix templates. Is it a bad thing?
Let’s think about it for a second. If I was mixing a record on a desk, and the drums had been tracked at the same place at the same time, I could probably leave my drum faders and channels more or less alone, right? That’s kind of a giant preset. The British mentality is more about uniqueness, which is why the indie music sounds so different, but is also a curse to productivity. I routinely mixed albums not even copying the session settings from track to track, trying to treat each thing as its own, and this is how I developed consistency. The analog gear on my mixes rarely even got adjusted as I was always hitting it at the same level, so that….was that a preset?! Maybe!
So here we are in the land of presets and templates which is a boon to productivity, but not so good for helping get your engineering chops together if you always do the same thing. So what can you do? Personally, I like to play games; let’s say it’s a 70’s style track. I’ll deliberately limit myself to the kind of things that would be available during that time, or even build a pretend studio in my head, and then in the DAW. The past few weeks I have been doing exactly that - plugin-wise each channel has a Neve line amp & EQ (Acustica Navy 2) and tape sim (UAD Oxide) See, they couldn’t even afford a Studer at my imaginary studio, those punks.
Rather than randomly put plugins on your sessions from the 5000 available in your plugin menu, LIMIT yourself. When I get sessions from people with six plugins on an insert, I know we’re dealing with someone who probably didn’t come up in a studio. On the mix bus, of course there’s an SSL comp…because that’s what there would ALWAYS be, or an Al Smart clone, and the fanciest EQ you can find. Why is there an EQ? Because the comp makes your mix less bright, and if you were working on an SSL for example, making things brighter to start with was preferable to adding the high end on the SSL as it sounded like daggers. Add a selection of effects on some Auxes, and off you go. And sure, you can save it as a template and maybe it, or part of what you learned will work super well for that style.
One of the joys of now is you can make yourself an SSL setup, an API setup, An EMI TG…all kinds of previously unattainable crazy things and they all sound different - and inspire you to different results, which you can THEN build into your workflows. Give it a try, and let me know how it worked out for you. Don’t be Preset F**ker. Use the workflow, sure… but stretch your horizons to make better records on the way.