PLUGIN WEEK 2023: Mixing is one of the central processes of music production. After the sonic experimentation, writing and tracking is over, the mix stage demands a different mindset, with your ears focused on the aural image and presentation of your piece.
While your DAW will have plenty of on-board mechanisms for the fundamentals, your mixing workflow can be accelerated with any of the following free plugins: from frequency curve-shaping EQ, room-simulating reverb, punchy compression and even a simple ‘magic switch’ that can transform those drier sounds into more lively mix elements. It’s also likely that, during this stage, more musical ideas will arise. Embrace them!
A pivotal tool for arranging your frequencies, it’s handy to have a variety of differently flavoured EQs at your disposal. In the freeware world, your first port of call should be the excellent DDMF ColourEQ. Its custom-made 4th order IIR filter and five bands of super-parametric peaking filters go beyond what even a lot of paid-for EQs offer.
Keeping sonic enhancement very, very simple is Baby Audio’s forte, and the company’s Magic Switch is perhaps the most accessible plugin in their library. Emulating a classic Juno-60-like analogue chorus, the plugin’s single sliding-switch UI encourages users to add some 80s sheen to dry track elements. Other great BA plugins include the random FX-generating Magic Dice.
Quite a different sort of reverb here. Dubbed ‘researchware’ by u-he, the massively deep Protoverb serves as an experiment to create the most accurate room simulator possible (resonant warts-and-all). Using a series of parallel, serial and networked delays, the end results are massively variable. It’s just possible though, that you’ll find that sweet spot.
Used on either single tracks, a grouped array of elements or even your master buss, A1StereoControl provides single-knob stereo-widening which can rapidly enliven the dullest of mixes. The ‘Safe Bass’ algorithm keeps the low end solidly rooted at the core of your track, while Advanced Panning juggles interesting new panning curves.
A smaller-scale version of Klanghelm’s admired DC8C compressor, DC1A reduces the number of controls to two knobs. Don’t think it lacks scope though: DC1A is still capable of adding sizeable power or delicately massaging your frequencies. It can also compress the left and right channel independently. It has a pleasingly retro aesthetic, too.
One free offer that everybody should take up, Melda Production’s staggeringly generous collection of 37 mixing effects, covers every angle of the mix stage, like MEqualizer’s 6-band EQ, MAutopan’s automatic panning abilities and MFreqShifter’s destructive capabilities. Some are only available for 15 days, others are yours for life!
On a DJ tip...
While we’re talking mixing, there’s also that other type of mixing, as employed by DJs and live performers. Mixing in that context is largely built on the literal mixing and matching of distinct tracks, and – as with all areas of music making – freeware abounds.
Mixxx.org is a community-driven open source piece of freeware that provides an all-in-one hub for BPM and key detection as well as effect-chaining and DJ controller support. There’s also Cross DJ that offers a simple way to meld tracks, though it’s likely you’ll hunger for the more advanced features that come in the paid version.