Adding Effects to Your Recording
Now that you know what the effects do, let's actually get to the nitty-gritty of how to use them. Effects can be added in various ways to your recorder. The common ways to add effects are through inserts, auxiliary channels, and patch-throughs.
Back in the discussion on cables in Chapter 8, you learned about an insert cable, called a tip ring sleeve (TRS), with a stereo cable on one end and two individual mono plugs on the other side. This is the standard insert cable. An insert effect is any effect that you add to one specific channel only. Your recorder or mixer will most likely come with some inserts. Basically what happens is that the stereo cable acts as a send-and-receive device for the effects unit. The cable has two wires — one sends your signal to the processor, and the other receives the effects signal and mixes it back into your sound.
An insert sends your entire signal to the processor and mixes all of the signal back. Insert effects work well with dynamic effects (compressing, limiting, and gating), which take your entire signal and affect the total volume of that signal. Since there is no need with dynamic effects for mixing how much effect you use, inserts work perfectly with these effects. But because you have no control over mixing when you use inserts, they aren't appropriate for all the effects. Effects like reverb and chorus, for example, would be overpowering because you couldn't control how much of the reverb or chorus is mixed with your signal.
In software programs, insert effects are usually listed above the virtual mixer's fader for each individual channel. This varies from program to program, so check your manual to be sure.
On a mixing board, EQ is a good example of a “hard-wired” insert effect. All of your signal passes through the EQ and then gets mixed out to the stereo pair.
Auxiliary Channel Effects
One downside to insert effects is that if you use a piece of hardware on one channel, you can't use it anywhere else. So, for example, if you need compression on four channels, you need four hardware compressors! On the other hand, if you use plug-ins on your computer — no big deal — you can use as many copies as your computer will allow.
Auxiliary effects plug into the appropriately named auxiliary inputs on your mixer, recording device, or software auxiliary track. They use similar send and receive cables that insert effects do; the only difference is that each channel (or track) has its own blend knob for setting how much of the effect to mix in with the original signal. This makes auxiliary channels perfect for reverb and other processors that you want to assign to more than one track. You can also get away with having one hardware effects processor to cover many of your needs. Most mixers have at least two aux sends, allowing you to patch in two separate processors. The bigger mixers let you do more. On a computer you can “aux” to your heart's delight, or until your CPU gets overwhelmed. The studio-in-a-box systems supply auxiliary channels in tandem with hardware and software. You can use their effects and virtually mix them together inside the unit, or you can place hardware processors in the auxiliary inputs and use them. This is a very flexible way to go.
If your computer interface has enough inputs and outputs, you can do this with a digital audio workstation (DAW) as well.
Usually you want to record instruments without any effects on them. This allows you much greater control later on when you mix. If you record with effects, the effects are “printed” to the track; you can't get rid of them. But there are some circumstances when this is okay. Guitar players, for instance, tend to use reverbs, delays, and choruses to make up their signature tone. It would be hard to replicate their exact sound later, so it might be best to allow them to record with their normal effected sounds. Keyboard players also do this on their synthesizers — adding effects into their patches. In these cases, it's okay to let the players “patch-through” their effects.
The Pros and Cons of Software Plug-Ins
It's no secret by now that the computer and plug-ins are becoming the cornerstones of the home-recording market. Computer effect plug-ins have specific advantages over hardware. Here are some of the pros:
You can use them as many times as your computer's processor can handle. For example, you can have five different versions of the same reverb, on five different tracks, or aux tracks — all with different settings on each plug-in.
You gain the ability to use one plug-in as an insert effect or an auxiliary effect at the same time.
You can conceivably have a compressor on each track, all for the price of one.
You can save and recall patches from song to song automatically.
You won't need cables, patch bays, and rack mounts — there's no space required, except virtual space.
You might get to upgrade your plug-in version for free if the maker updates it to improve the sound.
You can automate the settings of any plug-in within a song.
There's always a downside:
Just because you bought a plug-in doesn't mean you'll be able to run it.
The more plug-ins you use, the slower your CPU becomes, and the fewer tracks you can use.
Many professional engineers believe that the sound isn't as good as hardware versions.
You can't use plug-ins anywhere else but in a computer, which makes hardware versions more handy for live sound or instruments.
As you can see, there are ups and downs to plug-ins, but most people will agree that the flexibility and cost-benefit ratio make computer systems and plug-ins very attractive.