Sometimes it’s all seem like every engineer has his own preset for every favourite plugin. Which is basically true. But the question is, when do they search, modify and save their own presets? The most obvious answer is during mixing of course. But it’s only partly true.
As a mix goes, if I find something that I really like, I save it immediately. Maybe I’ll tweak it further later but this way I’m sure I don’t loose the new discovery. But this is only one method to create your own preset library. It’s great because if it works in the mix then you can be sure about that it’s not some isolated hit or miss setting, but on the other hand, just because it works on one mix doesn’t mean it will work on any other. The same is true with the built-in presets. Although most of time they are good starting points, most likely you need to tweak them further to really use any of it. Not to mention the fact that we have no idea what material they’d used to make that particular setting.
My preferred way
The other method is to designate sessions for making presets. That is my real go to technique. I always flag material when I’m mixing. Meaning making notes and selecting reference material which is great for listening but also great to experiment with. It can be anything really. A great concert recording, a stellar score or even your own composition. The point is you have to know the material intimately because you’re going to dissect that session.
One thing that is very important is that you need ample time to experiment. Without that it’s pointless to start. You need to listen to the same material with different plugins or adjustment over and over again. You must take breaks in order to hear the tiny details. If your ears are tired, it absolutely makes no sense to try to tweak the nuances.
Usually I start with discrete instruments. Like a violin, a snare, a clarinet, a guitar, etc. Just one bar maybe, looped so the same thing plays over and over again having enough space behind the sample to really hear the tail of the effect, and to have a second or two before the start of the sample again. If I find that something works really well in isolation I make notes, save those settings into temp preset folders. When I have let’s say 5 or 6 really well working setting I put them to test in context. Meaning using them not only on spot things, but on complex symphonic material, synths, drums, etc.
Sometimes it’s a nice discovery that what worked great in isolation absolutely doesn’t work in context, and what you thought wouldn’t work might be the best ever. Very enlightening experience. If you have the few that really works great both in isolation and on complex material too, then it’s time to save it as a permanent preset.
Last thing to remember about presets. They can speed up your workflow, but never ever forget that they’re merely starting points. If you too heavily rely on them, there’s a real danger of loosing creativity and originality in a mix.
Next time I’ll describe how I save, organise and backup my presets to never loose them.