My 5 Most Used Mixing Tools
If you only had to choose 5 plugins or tools for mixing your song, what would they be? I am here to present my opinion on this subject. These are not brand-specific, just the general types of plugins that I use most frequently. Here they are!
EQ - I think this goes without saying, but you usually need to EQ every single track (or bus at least) that you are mixing. This helps instruments pop out and have their own spot in the mix. It can also remove unwanted frequencies from instruments like electric guitar, bass drum, vocals, etc. EQ is the backbone of mixing!
Compression - Compression is a very versatile tool. While I don't use it quite as frequently as EQ, compression can really carve out instruments in a mix, make sure they don't get too loud, keep their volume more consistent, etc. Sometimes compression is used for tone, other times it is just regulates volume and isn't very noticeable. In any case, it is on my list of must-have tools.
Reverb - Ah, the fun stuff, right? Make your guitar sound like it's in a stadium! I've learned over the years to be more sparse with reverb, less is more in most cases. If you have too many instruments with different reverbs, the whole mix will sound washy. It is good practice to only put reverb on instruments that need it. Usually some amount of reverb is needed, so that a song doesn't sound too dry. This is one of the more fun parts of the mixing process, and a staple in my opinion!
Gate - Gates are useful, and often necessary for instruments like drums, guitar, vocals, etc. If I have the time, I usually will manually delete empty spaces from guitar parts and whatnot, but in a pinch, a gate will do the same job with less effort. Voice over work often will demand a gate to remove room noise (if there is any). If you aren't familiar with gates, start using them for your muting needs. Side note: if you are using all digital instruments, you will probably never need to gate them.
Delay - Delay is another fun one, though it can be intimidating. Out of the tools on this list, I use this one the least. Delay can turn a sparse guitar track into an instant homage to U2. I don't record that style too often, but what I like to use delay on is vocals. Sometimes reverb can place a vocalist a bit too far back, whereas delay will still give it that initial in-your-face sound. Delay is also great for guitar solos (or other solos) to give them more depth.
The key to mixing, is not to overthink it. Simplicity is king, and adding too many effects will do more harm than good. You're not trying to change the song, you are just trying to present it the way that it wants to be heard. What are your top 5 mixing tools?