Top 5: Nic Hard
Nic Hard’s career has taken him from DJing parties and clubs in the US and UK during the mid-1990s, to recording The Church and working with Steve Lillywhite in the mid-2000s. Most recently it saw him record and mix Snarky Puppy’s marathon new album, Empire Central. Here are his Top 5 essential studio tools.
26 October 2022
This has to be my most used plugin. I use it on almost every track in a mix, even if it is just as a high-pass filter. Besides being so versatile in relation to Frequency, Q, and Slope, I love the fact that any band can be a bell, shelving, HP, LP, notch, or a band pass equaliser. And that I can use as many bands as I want!
This EQ has the ability to have any band on a stereo track effect the stereo, mid, side, left or right signal. This is incredibly useful when EQ’ing a stereo source as I can ‘make space’ in the centre by cutting frequencies out of the mid and leaving them in the sides. Conversely, this is also super useful on things like stereo bass where I want to cut low frequencies on the sides while leaving the middle intact.
The last reason I love this plugin is that any band can be made dynamic. This is extremely useful on things like bottom snare mics — where I only want the top boosted while the snare is played, and not when it rings sympathetically with the kick. Dynamic EQ also works wonders for cutting the low/mid on vocals without leaving them sounding thin.
AUDIO EASE ALTIVERB
Altiverb is my most frequently used reverb because of the sheer range of reverb types. Altiverb is a convolution reverb, meaning that it is, in essence, ‘sampling’ real spaces… and gear! Within Altiverb are impulse responses of real acoustic spaces such as Notre Dame and the Sydney Opera House. There are also lots of classic hardware ‘verbs like the EMT 140, the Lexicon 480, and the AMS RMX. It really covers any kind of reverb one could want. There are also some more peculiar options such as the inside of a car, or a 30-foot metal tank.
It also allows you to make your own reverbs from physical spaces and gear too, and I’ve done this a couple of times: once in a church in Spain, and once with a Lexicon PCM60, because as far as I could tell no one had released a plugin version of it yet.
This is a relatively new plugin, and kind of a new concept too. Think of it as a full frequency multi-band compressor — or as they more accurately describe it: a ‘dynamic resonance suppressor’. It reduces frequencies that ‘stick out’ of a sound. You can focus or reduce the action across the frequency spectrum, and it balances the frequencies so you can subdue… or soothe… frequencies that are too prominent. This does have the effect of pushing some things further back in the mix, but in doing that it opens up space for other instruments to shine through.
SOUND THEORY GULLFOSS
This is another fairly new plugin. I can’t tell you exactly what it does as that is above my pay grade, however, I can say that it makes things sound better. I have found Gullfoss very useful on things like acoustic guitars, pianos, vocals, and even the mix bus. It does a wonderful job of un-muddying things and bringing the ‘real’ tone of the instrument to life.
Here is Sound Theory’s description: “Our technology is entirely different from anything that has come before. So it’s worth mentioning that Gullfoss is not using artificial intelligence (AI), neural networks, Fletcher-Munson curves, traditional DSP methods, or machine learning algorithms. Instead, Gullfoss is the first in a line of products that employ our computational auditory perception technology.”
While RX is more of a standalone app than a plugin, it still deserves a mention. I don’t think I’ve mixed a single record without using it in some capacity since installing it. I won’t list all the functions, as there are too many, but I will discuss the ones that I use regularly.
Firstly, for those unfamiliar, iZotope’s RX is software for ‘fixing’ issues and can be thought of as an incredibly powerful ‘surgical’ tool. My most common use of RX is with the Spectral De-noise module which can more or less remove unwanted hiss, buzz, and squeals from a take.
To use it, just highlight an area of the unwanted noise, click ‘Learn’, then process the rest of the track to remove that specific noise. Hours were once spent during recording sessions chasing down RF noise, or changing guitars, amps and pedals, all because of a buzz. Thanks to RX, I now know that if I don’t get a good result within 10 minutes I can just move on as I have the option to De-noise it later.
Another mighty feature of RX is the ability to remove things such as click bleed. This used to be another area where I might sacrifice the EQ of an instrument in an attempt to reduce click bleed. Instead, with the aid of the Spectral Repair module, I can now see these little bastards and remove them!