15 reasons why it's important to know your tools.
As a chef of a restaurant, would you start to cook for 30 people without knowing which type of knife to use for meat or veggies? Or without knowing which variety of spices goes into beef or fish? Probably not.
That's why it's essential to know your weapons. Here are 15 reasons why you should know well your tools before producing and mixing.
1. You don't waste time with wrong tools
Time is your most valuable asset, the currency you exchange literally for anything, every time.
If you have a problem of any kind and you are already experienced enough to recognize it, you need to pick the right tool as quickly as possible. In this way, you can solve it and move on to the next thing.
Let's say you want to shape the dynamics of your kick, then you have several ways to do so. A compressor, an expander, a volume shaper, a transient shaper, the envelope of a sampler, a gate are all tools useful developed for doing a specific task. You can achieve the same result with some of them, but not all the time and some tools may be more accurate than others, giving you more space to tweak a specific aspect than you'd be able to do with something else.
Why spending time tweaking an expander when you need a compressor?
2. You don't waste time choosing the right tools
For every tool, there's a lot of variants. Each one with some characteristics that makes it more adaptable to a particular situation than another.
You realized you need a compressor to fix your kick, but what type of compressor? Is the stock one enough? Do I need a FET, an Opto, or a VCA one? These are all legit questions because each compressor set in the same exact way will have a different response, whether it's more or less noticeable.
Why spending time working with the right tool, but of the wrong type?
3. You don't waste time hoping ""it just works""
There's a lot of plugins, especially for boosting the perceived loudness, such as saturators and maximizers that are thrown on everything with the hope that magic will happen. That's an unfortunate mindset that will leave your tracks half-assed all the time. There's just no magic plugin. They all work with some more or less complex logic behind them, and it won't be a solution for everything. Maybe AI will make it possible, but not for now.
4. You don't rely on presets
Presets are useful, don't get me wrong! They are there for a reason, but only because your favorite plugin has a ""Loud"" preset, it doesn't mean it will give you a full and professional result with a single click. Presets are starting points, and they are good enough for not getting lost in the sauce, but they won't adapt to any input you drive inside them, just because that's a variable that can't be controlled by who created the presets.
5. You know when to use a native or an external plugin for a specific task
The same applies to the difference between stock and third-party plugins. In fact, there are effects of the same kind, such as FET compressors that have different timbres, interfaces, and that also affect the CPU, for example, differently.
It's plenty of plugins like bus compressors sold in bundles, plenty of variants, where each one of those is suited for a particular instrument such as drums, guitars, vocals, and so on.
Why not using the most effective tool for your needs?
6. You don't waste time with wrong settings
Once you've chosen the right tool for the task, you want to solve the problem in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort. This is not being lazy, it's just the will to do more and better.
Now you realized the type of compressor needed for the task, but now you have to set it right. Having a foolproof method when using any tool will allow you just to make sure you are using it right.
An approximative knowledge of your compressor of choice most of the time will leave you to make compromises you might not like. There could be a chance that the extra touch you needed was changing the knee, the lookahead, or switching the release curve from the default exponential to linear.
Why using a tool if you don't know it inside out?
7. You know how to fix problems
Awareness is one of the most valuable skills at your disposal. If you can get through the previous points, then your life as a producer will be definitely more comfortable. All those small things, once put together, will give you a significant result. However, missing only one of those steps can make or break the sound you're processing.
The goal should be to know your tools so well that you can focus on the work at hand, without having to think, they should be second nature.
8. You're safe from the plugin fever
You may have read about tons of cool new plugins that will ""change the game."" Well, some actually did, others didn't. When you know how to get the most out of your tools, you just stick with them because they work, and you know how to make them work. The placebo effect of the latest plugin won't affect you anymore, you'll save money, and you'll also have a few trusted tools.
9. You avoid long chains to achieve a result that requires few smarter moves
There are times that you end up solving a problem, but you had to apply lots of processing, making it difficult to make small changes; especially on inserts at an early stage of your endless chain because any little tweak might reverberate itself through the following processors, making it sound completely different. This also allows you to save CPU and having a leaner project.
Let's say you have some EQs and then other compressors. If you even change the output volume of one EQ or touch a node in a crucial point, you might make your kick crushing into the compressors or lowering it in a way that it isn't even detected because it's below the threshold.
10. You have more awareness when you want to experiment
You don't have to be Frankenstein to test, but, as the good old Galileo Galilei taught to the whole mankind,
knowing the variables will allow you to make decisions and achieve your goals quicker.
In fact, you can put the ""wrong"" compressor on your kick, but it actually might sound reasonable. This is because not every kick is the same, and the same applies to the context.
However, you should be able to understand why that particular setting is acting like that, so you know, and when you can replicate the experiment.
11. You know how to combine tools for difficult tasks
It's plenty of plugins that are simply ""boxes"" of effects. They are great sometimes, but they also have some mysterious chains inside that you can't tweak.
Being able to reverse-engineer these plugins allows you to remake and even improve your chains, making them more tailored for your needs.
12. You know how to combine tools for creative purposes
As for the previous point, there are a lot of VSTs used for artistic purposes. Sometimes they are the best choice, sometimes you would prefer doing things by yourself.
There's a lot of things you can do with chains of multiple effects if appropriately set.
One example we're really proud of is our Velocity Hacker, which relies on combining an EQ and an expander to bring some crisp articulations to loops, which is useful when velocity isn't just enough to bring in the needed human touch.
13. You don't waste time looking every time for solutions or instructions in your computer or on the internet
I will be very short at this point. You can find all the solutions you want, but why bothering with stopping every time to look out for a solution when you can have all the answers you want right in your head? It takes some effort, but see it as an investment in your future sessions.
14. You don't hurt your track
As a result, you just do what's best for your record. All of these little pieces will fall in place and complete that puzzle that looked pretty messy before you knew how to handle your tools.
You get better results, you get them faster, you achieve more, and it also feels a lot easier? What else?
15. You don't spread misleading or vague information
This is crucial! Sharing is caring, but beware of how you do it. There's a lot of people with no experience, and feeding them with the wrong information may incredibly hurt them. You don't want to condition anyone poorly as you wouldn't someone to behave in such a way with you as well. Always double check your resources before sharing them with anyone. If you share some terrible information, the best scenario is that someone corrects you, the worst is that you are bringing someone off the right path.
If you’ve found these tips helpful, then you’ll appreciate all the knowledge we’ve packed into Workflow, a bundle comprising a plethora of resources to become a more efficient producer!